Bats: East Tennessee's Favorite Flying Mammal

Sustainability Director

Erin Gill
egill@knoxvilletn.gov
(865) 215-4430

400 Main St., Room 503
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Bat Facts!

A handy guide to one of the night's most misunderstood little creatures.

A Little Brown Bat
Did you know?
  • Bats thrive in every continent except for Antarctica, with over 1,200 species worldwide!
  • There are 16 different species of bats in Tennessee alone, with the Little Brown Bat being the most common. 
  • The Little Brown Bat can live to be over 20 years, one of the longest living mammals of its size!
  • If you weigh 120 pounds and eat 60 pounds of food each day, you just might be a bat. Bats often eat 50% of their body weight in bugs each night; that adds up to over 3,000 insects!
  • The flying squirrel should really just be called the gliding squirrel; bats are the only true flying mammals.
  • Bats are masters at echolocation, which works a lot like sonar. By emitting ultrasonic calls as they fly and listening to the echoes, bats are able to build a sonic map of their surroundings. Their ability is so acute that they can avoid a piece of thread in complete darkness!
  • It's a good thing that the screeches bats make are out of our hearing range; the sound can get up to 120 decibels, the equivalent of having a smoke detector a couple inches from your ear!
  • "Blind as a bat" is a bit of a misnomer; in fact, most bats are able to see as well as humans!
  • If you see bats flying around your home at night, don't fret! All Tennessee bats feed exclusively on insects like mosquitoes, making them one of the most beneficial creatures of the night. 
  • If you look closely at the picture below, you might notice that the bones in a bat's wing look a lot like the ones in your arm and hand; only a lot more stretched out!

A closeup of a Little Brown Bat's wingspan.

Tennessee Bats are in Danger

White-nose syndrome, a disease marked by a white fungus that grows on the nose, ears, and wings of affected bats, has taken a massive toll on Tennessee bat populations.

A group of bats with White-nose syndrome.The fungus, much like athlete's foot, infiltrates the tissue and eats through it. Fighting off the disease uses up a lot of energy, causing the bat to prematurely use up all of its fat reserves, essentially starving the bat before the winter ends. 

Since bats cuddle up so close to each other during hibernation, the disease spreads like wildfire. Entire colonies have been wiped out by the disease, with the typical mortality rate being documented at 80-97%. While no cure has been found, scientists are working around the clock to combat the disease.

How Can I Help Tennessee Bats?

Install a bat house!

Bats don't always live in caves. Most bats spend summers in trees, under bridges, or in old buildings. As forests are cleared, it's getting harder for bats to find a place to raise their kids. With a bat house, not only will you be helping animals in need, but they'll help you by keeping your yard insect-free! A win-win situation any way you look at it. Visit your local hardware store to buy one, or check out NWF.org for information on how to build your very own bat house from scratch!

Want to have this information in an easier format? Click on these links below!

Bat Facts Chart [PDF]
Bat Facts Tri-Fold Brochure [PDF]

A Little Brown Bat perched on its wings
Sources

The Tennessee Bat Working Group
National Wildlife Federation
"How Stuff Works" Podcast, Episode 125: "How Bats Work"