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Batty at the Zoo

by Steve Wing

General Curator

The Louisville Zoo currently exhibits one species of bat, the Rodrigues fruit bat (Pteropus rodicenis). Large fruit bats are sometimes called flying foxes, as their faces resemble a fox or small dog. Rodrigues fruit bats are much larger than our native Kentucky bats, with a wingspan of 2.5 feet and weighing about a pound each. Thickly furred, most of the coat is a dark chestnut brown except for a mantle of golden brown hair that covers the head, neck and shoulders. Fruit bats are mainly nocturnal and have excellent eyesight. They are important pollinators in many regions of the world, redistributing pollen and seeds from a wide variety of plants.

Fruit bats are found throughout the tropical forests of Africa, Asia and Australia. Rodrigues fruit bats are only found on Rodrigues, a 36 square mile island that is located 1,000 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Rodrigues fruit bat as endangered. In 1974, there were only about 70 bats left in the wild. Deforestation on the Island of Rodrigues is the largest contributing factor to the decline of these bats in the wild. The limited numbers of trees deprive the bats of a valuable food source. Also, due to the limited amount of cover, bats can be blown out to sea during the many cyclones that hit the island. Louisville Zoo houses 13 captive born bats which are on display in the Islands exhibits.

Bat Taxonomy (Classification)

The scientific order Chiroptera (winged-hand) includes the 1000+ species of bats worldwide. They are thought to be most closely related to primates (monkeys and apes) and insectivores, and are not related to rodents at all, a common misconception.

Bats are further divided into two main groups, the fruit bats of the Old World tropics and the insectivorous bats, which are found worldwide, including Kentucky and Indiana. The insectivorous group also contains the nectarivores (eat nectar), carnivores (meat-eaters) and sanguinivores (blood) bats. All bats in the United states eat insects.

Bats eat 600 insects (including mosquitoes) per hour which can be pretty handy. If you'd like to have some bats in your backyard we've included some tips for attracting them. You'll need a bat house, of course. These are available locally and over the internet. Check the websites listed below for more information.

Tips on Attracting Bats

  • Kentuckiana bat houses should be stained a dark color, such as brown, gray or green to help hold heat.

  • Place the bat house on a building or pole and at least 20-25 feet from any trees, if possible, to discourage predators.

  • The bat house should receive over 6 hours of full-sun per day, preferably more.

  • Mount your bat houses away from bright lights at night.

  • Do not be discouraged if bats do not move in to their house right away. It can take a year or two for bats to take up residence in a new home.

Bat Resources