The University of Edinburgh's Home Page
Sculptures by Phyllis Bone

What do bats look like?
Where do bats live?
What do bats eat?
What Do Bats Eat?

Despite sharing a very similar basic appearance, bats have adopted an amazing variety of different feeding habits.
Microbats feed mainly on insects, using their echolocation ability to find flying or crawling insects and their superb flying skills to catch them. This involves gathering prey in their wing or tail membranes, and transferring it to their mouths mid-flight! Insect-eating bats are supremely good at what they do - a single little brown bat can catch and eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour1.
insect eating
An insectivorous Egyptian slit-faced bat

vampire bat
A pickled vampire bat!
Other microbats feed on fish, frogs, lizards, small rodents, small birds, and even other bats and while bats have a reputation for sucking blood, only three out of the thousand or so species of bat actually feed on blood12. This picture shows a specimen from the museum, click on the image to see his face.
Vampire bats usually feed on livestock, although humans may occasionally be unwitting blood donors. They make a small, painless incision in the skin and lap up the blood with their tongues while anti-coagulant chemicals in their saliva ensure that the blood meal continues flowing.

Still other microbats have adopted a diet of fruit, flowers, pollen, or nectar - a lifestyle that they share with the larger megabats, or fruitbats. Fruit eaters grab food with their mouths and carry it to a suitable perch12. Epaulette fruitbats living in tropical regions regularly handle up to 3 times their body weight in figs every night2.
An African long- tongued fruit bat

A nectarivorous fruitbat skull
There is also a correlation between the shape of the head and the type of food eaten. For example, most fruit-eaters have short, broad faces good for biting rounded fruits12, while nectar feeders have long, narrow muzzles that are good for reaching into flowers. This picture shows the skull of a nectarivorous fruitbat, notice the forward-facing orbits that provide powerful binocular vision.

The Evolution of Diet

The first megachiropterans were probably already specialised for a diet of fruits. By the late miocene, the microchiropteran frugivores (family Phyllostomidae) had evolved in the New World, probably deriving from insect-eating microbats that had moved through temperate Europe and America before entering the New World tropics17. The later adoption of frugivory and nectarivory in these bats meant that they were exposed to plants already pre-adapted for visitation by insects. The transition from insectivory to eating nectar or fruit probably occurred through bats catching insects near or on plants. For example, an extant African insectivore (Hipposideros commersoni) has been seen attacking figs to extract weevil larvae, thereby incorporating plant parts into the diet3. Wounds also attract insects, so a diet of blood would similarly have been open to gleaning microbats - an opportunity welcomed by the vampire bats. Thus, slightly different starting points may explain major differences been the feeding habits of megabats and fruit-eating microbats.

It should be clear by now that the reputation that bats have as evil, bloodthirsty, winged- demons of the night is somewhat unjustified. Bats are not only elegant and fascinating creatures but they are also an integral part of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, because of human misunderstanding, as well as practices such as habitat destruction, many bat species are now on the brink of extinction.