One of the most important steps for any pet owner is making sure that you are buying the right kind of food for them. Every animal has its own special nutrition needs and diets, and you need to get them right to ensure that they live the happiest, healthiest life possible.
This is especially true when it comes to an animal that has a diet as particular as bats. Whether you should own a bat as a pet, even if you keep one as part of a certified bat sanctuary, you need to know how and what to feed them because not just anything will do. What’s more, not all bats are created equal. Despite the fact that they are closely associated with vampires, not all bats eat blood in equal measure, and they have a much more varied diet than many people realize.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how bats eat, what they eat, how that may differ between domestic and wild bats, and what all of this means for your bats’ diets.
How Bats Eat
First, let’s take a look at how bats eat in the first place. Bats tend to eat prey in midair, which already should hint at the answer to the common question, “is a bat a carnivore?” Well, it’s not like they’re catching flying kumquats out of the air – yes, while bats eat noncarnivorous things as well (such as fruit, as we’ll see in a moment) many species of bats primarily feast on insects. In addition, bats can eat a lot of insects in rapid succession, with it theoretically possible for them to feast on as many as 10 per minute, leading to the popular myth that bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitos a day, thus making them the best mosquito control you’ve never thought of.
Well, as it turns out, there’s a reason you may not have thought of that – it’s not true, or, at the very least, a gross exaggeration of the facts. For one thing, though people have extrapolated that “10 mosquitos per minute” figure to mean that bats can eat hundreds of mosquitoes per hour, the fact that bats can eat that much doesn’t mean they naturally do. The study that found this rate of consumption also found that they only did this when there was nothing else around to eat, and even then they only kept it up for a few minutes. What’s more, as we’ll see, bats don’t just eat mosquitos but a ton of insects, so it’s not like they’re exclusively a lean mean mosquito-controlling machine.
Bats and Insects
There are over 1,100 kinds of bats in the world, so there is naturally going to be some variation in what different bats prefer in their diet. That said, insects are the most commonly preferred food choice among them. There are more than 40 kinds of bats in the United States alone that eat primarily or nothing but insects. Since bats are nocturnal, and prefer to catch their prey out of midair, most of the insects they eat are also active at night. Among bats’ favorite nighttime snacks include beetles, gnats, moths, mosquitos, wasps, and crickets.
While bats may be prey to large spiders in the tropics, they are still predators to still larger animals. Some bats in Mexico, for example, can eat not just insects but all manner of frogs and lizards as well as other small animals. Bats navigate by echolocation, which is bad news for those frogs as they communicate via different calls that create ripple effects in the water. Bats can identify these ripples via their echolocation abilities and then swoop in for a midnight snack.
Bats and Fruit
Do bats eat fruit? Oh yes, they do – aside from insects and the occasional small animal, fruit is the big dietary option for most bats. Bats that subsist primarily on fruit are called frugivores and they are an important part of the food chain in the lifecycle of the fruits that they eat. These bats are typically pollinators, able to transport fruit seeds and pollen from site to site as they nibble away. They can eat fruit and excrete seeds, fertilizing the area with new fruit trees and plants.
When it comes to their fruity diet, these bats have great taste. They enjoy a wide range of fruits from mangos and apples to bananas and other tropical fruits. In addition, several bat species enjoy nectar, and can even eat pollen sometimes. Speaking of pollen and nectar, some bats even find and eat flowers, increasing their diet even more.
Bats and Birds
Do bats eat birds? Once again, the answer is yes, though they are less commonly targeted. Insects are smaller and easier to catch, while horses and pigs are big targets who are comparatively easy to find for bats looking to suck their blood.
Birds, on the other hand, are far nimbler, making them a harder catch. That said, some bats target migrating birds. Analysis of the noctule bats in Spain found traces of birds’ flesh in bat tissues in the region, hinting at their predatory nature. Bats are able to attack these birds by wrapping their wings and tail around the bird, essentially tackling them midair before delivering their fatal bite.
Let’s quickly run down a few other common bat dietary questions.
Do bats eat flies?
Do bats eat wasps and bees?
Yes, though given the fact these can sting and fight back, they are much less commonly targeted than the flies, beetles, moths, and mosquitos mentioned above.
Do bats eat mice?
Much less frequently, as only 1% of bats eat mice, frogs, and the other vertebrates on this list.
Bats and Blood
The stereotype of bats being blood-sucking creatures of the night exists for a reason – it’s true. They may not transform into Transylvanian counts afterward, but several bat species nevertheless subsist on blood. If you are worried about these bats sucking your blood, though, don’t worry – it’s much more likely for bats to suck horse’s blood. In addition, they can target pigs, cows, and other mammals. Bats have anticoagulant saliva, which makes sucking blood much more important.
The Diet of Wild Bats
Now let’s start to take some of these disparate food choices and put them together into a coherent diet for bats, starting with those in the wild.
As stated, bats are nocturnal hunters, which means that they don’t have a ton of competition for those aforementioned insectoid entrees. Their main competition are spiders, and if you’re wondering why they don’t just chow down on these as well, the reason is they’re prey in this case, not predators. Many larger spiders can eat bats, with their webs able to trap the mammalian creatures of the night.
Naturally, the diet of bats is typically various and impacted by whatever they can find. They are most likely to eat insects or fruit, both of which are typically in abundance in areas in which bats live, while it’s typically larger bats that take on larger prey, and then occasionally you get a vampire bat who’s hungry for some blood.
The Diet of Domestic Bats
At first glance, you may not notice too much difference between domestic and wild bats in terms of their diets. Domestic bats still eat a ton of insects, such as beetles and mosquitos, the former of which, as we’ll see, plays a huge role in their domestic diets and why some people are so keen to keep them. If you happen to have some of the fruits mentioned above on hand, you can also feed these to bats and help keep their diets the same as in the wild.
So far, so good, so consistent.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any deviation between these categories at all.
For one thing, those who keep bats domestically probably don’t want them sucking the blood of any horses or pigs they happen to own. That means that those who keep these kinds of bats in bat sanctuaries need to take a lot of extra steps to make sure they get the nutrients they need. This can involve everything from feeding them more mosquitos (given their own blood-sucking nature) to buying pigs’ blood to finding other ways to keep them healthy.
When it comes to other bats, you need to make sure that you keep them healthy by providing them with the same kind of diet they would get in the wild. For example, different kinds of fruit bats need to be fed the same kinds of fruits they are used to eating. This is yet one more reason why bats are best left to professional bat sanctuaries. It is extremely unlikely that you’ll have the money to pay for not just the type of bat enclosure needed to house the bats but the fruit necessary to feed them properly.
What and how we eat is a huge part of our lives and the same goes for bats, wherever they live and whatever they eat.