October 11, 2021

They are small, they are cute, and sometimes they can be a little scary, too. Bats are fascinating mammals and they have some amazing adaptations that are a lot like a superhero’s super powers! Let’s take a closer look!


What if your fingers were super long and were connected by a membrane that was so tough it gave you the ability to fly? Well guess what — you’d have arms and hands like a bat! Bats are the only mammal species that can fly, and they are more agile and faster than most birds. Mama bats even fly with their pups hanging on!


Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) specimen in the collection.


Close up of the underside of the bat’s wing.


Bats locate their food, drink, enemies, and other objects thanks to their power of echolocation. While flying, they emit sounds that are undetectable by the human ear. When the sound waves hit an object, they bounce back to the bat’s ears. This allows the bat to detect the object’s position, size, and even shape!

What do bats eat? All of our bat species in Illinois are insectivores, which means they eat insects. They actually use echolocation to detect them! They can eat up to 3,000 insects a night (almost their body weight in insects)! Bats are important ecologically because they help to keep these insect populations under control.


Evening bat (Nycticeius humeralis) specimens in the collection.

Upside-Down World

How long can you stand on your head? What does the world look like upside down? Bats spend a lot of time hanging upside down and even sleep that way! Hanging upside down is an adaptation, meaning these animals have developed certain traits that enable them to better survive in their environment. Bats have very short hind legs and cannot run along the ground, but hanging upside down allows them to drop from their perch into flight mode.


Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) specimen in the collection.


Pipistrelle bats in a display.

Super Smell

Bats have a strong sense of smell. Some fruit-eating bats use their sense of smell to seek out sweet fruit, while vampire bats use the heat sensors in their nose to detect other animals’ warm blood from a distance.


Bats live in big groups called colonies and are very social amongst each other. This social behavior provides protection against predators and warmth during their winter hibernation.

Fast Bat Facts

Illinois has thirteen species of bats, and seven of them are found in Cook County: Big brown, little brown, red, hoary, silver-haired, tri-colored, and Northern long-eared. All bats in Illinois are protected under the Wildlife Code and four are state or federally endangered. Bats are active in summer during the warmer months and can be seen at dusk around neighborhood parks or in larger green spaces such as forest preserves.


Specimens like these are used for study and education purposes at the Nature Museum.


Use Your Super Powers & Be a Superhero for Bats!

Share how important bats are

  • Celebrate Bat Week
  • Install a bat house in your backyard
  • Plant native plants to support insect populations
  • Limit use of insecticides and pesticides to prevent accidental ingestion
  • Volunteer with land restoration work groups
  • In the warmer months, check for bat walks happening at your local forest preserves
  • Avoid the possible spread of white-nose syndrome (a disease that is devastating to bats) by cleaning your shoes and gear before and after entering caves
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