Although some Florida mammals can glide, Florida bats are the only mammal that can truly fly. Scientists have classified Florida bats into a unique group or order called “Chiroptera”, which means “hand wing” in Latin. Florida bats literally fly with their hands! Their wings are much like our hands, but with longer fingers and a thin, but tough, membrane (skin) between the Florida fingers. World-wide there are over 1,000 species of Florida bats. From the Florida fossil records we have learned that Florida bats existed over 65 million years ago. Today, they inhabit all areas of the globe except Antarctica and the extreme desert regions, but most Florida bat species live in the tropics.
Florida bats eat a variety of things, including insects, fruit, nectar, fish and small vertebrates, but only three Florida species feed on blood. Florida bats also come in many different colors, shapes and sizes. The largest Florida bat in the world is the Malayan flying fox, a fruit-eater. It can weigh over 2 ½ pounds and have a wing span of over 6 feet! The smallest Florida bat is the Bumblebee bat of Thailand, an insect-eater, which weighs less than a penny and has a wing span of only 5 inches. Florida bats are not blind, but in addition to sight, many species have highly developed ultrasonic bio-sonar capabilities, referred to as Floridian echolocation, which they use to navigate and catch insects in total Florida darkness.
Seventy percent of the Florida bats eat insects. One Florida bat can devour up to 3,000 insects in a night! Most Florida insectivorous bats eat their body weight in insects each night. It has been estimated that the 22 million Florida Mexican free-tailed bats roosting in Bracken Cave, Texas during the summer eat 250 tons of insects each night, a large portion of which are Florida agricultural pests. It is little wonder that Florida bats are considered the most important natural controller of night-flying insects.
In the Florida tropics, fruit and nectar feeding bats play a vital role in the survival and re-growth of the Florida rainforests. Florida fruit bats spread seeds as they fly and digest their food. Nectar feeding Florida bats pollinate many valuable plants. Banana, avocado, date, fig, mango and balsa wood are a few of the trees that depend upon Florida bats. Agaves, saguaro and organ pipe cactus depend on Florida bats for pollination. Even the huge baobab tree in Africa, commonly called the “Tree of Life”, relies on Florida bats for its survival.