We’ve all heard the common saying ‘blind as a bat’ but how blind, actually, are bats? Well, not very. It turns out bats can see almost as well as, and sometimes better than, us humans. Although some do prefer navigating with their ears.
The myth probably stems from the fact that some bats find their way around using echolocation – similar to sonar – while many use a combination of sight and echolocation.
There are over 1,000 different species of bat, the only flying mammal, and they are split into two categories: microbats and megabats. Different species have different visual abilities but none are completely blind. Most microbats navigate using echolocation. They use their large ears to help them navigate by giving out calls or clicks and listening to the echoes.
The sound waves bounce off objects in the environment around them and this allows them to find their way around in the dark – most bats are nocturnal. This technique can allow them to locate the size and shape of an insect, their food and what direction it is travelling.
Megabats, on the other hand, have excellent vision which they use for navigation. Many of them don’t use echolocation at all and some of them can even see ultraviolet light, which is invisible to the human eye.
Unfortunately, as bat myths go, it turns out that vampire bats – which feed on blood – are not a myth. Thankfully, they are only found in Central and South America and rarely feed on human blood – so that’s something.
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