Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight, that is, flight powered by muscular movement as distinct from gliding. The wing is a double membrane of skin stretched between the enormously elongated bones of four fingers and extending along the body from the forelimbs to the hind limbs and from there to the tail. The thumb is small, clawed, and free from the membrane. The hind limbs are small and may be rotated in such a way that the knees bend backward rather than forward, as in other mammals; this is presumably an adaptation for takeoff and flight. Bats at rest hang head down, grasping a twig or crevice with their clawed feet; they take off into flight from this position.
Nearly all bats are nocturnal and many live in caves; although they see well, they rely primarily on their highly developed hearing, using echolocation (sonar) to avoid collisions and to capture insects in flight. The bat emits high-pitched sounds (up to 100,000 hertz) that echo from objects it encounters; the echo provides the bat with information about the size, shape, and distance of the object. The rate at which bats emit these squeaks is sometimes as high as 200 per second. Blinded bats easily find their way through complex obstacle courses, but deafness leaves them helpless.
Sections in this article:
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology