Bats have always been a part of mythologies and antagonists in many folklores, especially the ones that are related to the story of blood-sucking vampires. Well, you can’t blame those writers because though bats are mammals they do have very different anatomical features from the other mammals. Especially that winged membrane which is stretched between their elongated fingers that closely resembles a human hand. If you have closely observed a bat, you can see that bats have totally different anatomical features. But have you ever wondered whether they do have tails? Or have you ever spotted the tail of a bat?
So, do bats have tails? Yes, bats do have tails. Among the 1000 varieties of bat species in the world, except for 3, rest all have tails. When we say tail, do not conjure up the images of commonly seen tails in the mammal world. The tail of a bat is generally small and is very difficult to spot.
It is interesting to note that the anatomical features of a bat’s tail vary greatly with each species of bats. For instance, in the case of a free-tailed bat, the tail can be clearly seen extending out of the wings. While in the case of some others, the tail does not reach out to their winged membrane.
In this article, we will have an in-depth look into the morphological & anatomical features of a bat’s tail, for what purpose does a bat use its tail and a lot other interesting facts about bats!
Let’s get going.
Do all bats have tails?
As mentioned in the previous section, almost all bats have tails except for the three species among the 1000 different bat species. In the case of most bats, their tails do not extend beyond the thin membrane that’s stretched between their long fingers (uropatagium). It is why most people fail to spot their tail and wonder whether bats really have a tail or not.
Among the notable bat species, the one with the longest tail is the free-tailed bat. In the case of these species, they have tails that extend well out of their uropatagium (winged membrane). It is interesting to note that the tail of a free-tailed bat is covered with cartilage that can protract & retract helping the bat maneuver while flying.
The tail of a bat – Sneak Peek
The tail of a bat is connected to its membranous wings in all species of bats. In the case of most bats, their hind legs are partially or completely connected by a membrane known as uropatagium. This membrane also covers the tail bone of a bat. A bat’s tail is supported by their hind legs, the tail skeleton & a special cartilaginous extension of the ankle known as the calcar.
As mentioned, the tail bone in most cases is covered by the uropatagium and is not long enough to protrude from it. In the case of bat species that have a long tail, the tail membrane may appear to be naked but it is not. These tail membranes will have tiny hairs covering them. And in some species of bats, they might even have distinctive patterns too.
It is important to note that the anatomical & morphological features of a bat’s tail are among the criteria used in the classification of bats. For instance, the bat species molossids are identified by the tail that extends considerably beyond the edge of the membrane. It is interesting to note that Molossids use their long tail in feeling the surface when they make their way into a crevice.
Another species of bat which is most commonly identified by the structure of their tail is the emballonurids. A tail that is shorter than the membrane is a distinctive feature of bats belonging to this category. In the case of these bats, the tail emerges from the membrane well before the end and cannot be spotted easily.
Is the tail of a bat similar to birds?
No, the tail of the bat is not similar to that of the birds. This is one among the most asked question about a bat’s tail. Before we proceed further, it is important that you understand the fact that bats are mammals that can fly and are not birds.
This means that the anatomical & morphological features of a bat are different from that of a bird, including its tail.
As mentioned in the earlier section the tail of a bat is actually a membrane covering the tail bone supported by its hind legs, tail skeleton & calcar. Whereas in the case of birds the tail is actually elongated feathers supported by weightless bones.
Is it true that bats use their tail while flying?
Similar to how a bird uses its tail in flight, bats also use their tails to assist them in flying. Before we discuss how a bat uses its tail in flying let us first have a look into how do bats fly.
Most of you may have seen a bat flying but ever wondered how they take-off? Are they capable of leaping from a surface and then fly?….. No, bats cannot do that because of their body weight. The hind legs of a bat are not powerful enough to give it the required initial boost needed to fly.
You might have all seen the way bats hang upside down from branches of trees or cables. They do so because the elongated fingers in their body nor their hind legs cannot support a bat’s body weight.
In most cases, the bats simply let go from the branch they are hanging down from and start flapping its wings and it flies. This behavior is quite common among bats because most bats cannot lift off from a flat surface and they need a push.
This is where the tail comes into significance. Now let us have a look into the species of bats that have a longer tail. For instance, the free-tail bat or the Vesper bat family (these are the most commonly seen bats also known as the evening bats). These bats, unlike others, can easily take-off from a surface which has been a matter of interest for scientists.
Scientists who studied the flight of these bats found out that, these common bats are capable of taking-off from a flat surface because of their tail. It was observed that these bats flap their tail faster than their wings which help them generate sufficient lift for take-off from a surface.
Apart from generating sufficient lift, the tail also helps a bat reduce its drag giving it more stability while flying. The calcar which supports a bat’s tail actually helps the tail have a better aerodynamic structure which helps the bat fly seamlessly. The tail also helps the bat with the landing.
Do bats use their tails for anything other than flying?
As mentioned in the previous section, the length and size of the tail of a bat vary with each species. Similarly, the uses of the tail depending on the species. For instance, the free-tailed bay with the longest tail mainly uses its tail to take-off from a surface & to reduce drag while flying giving them extra stability.
Whereas in the case of insectivorous bats such as the little brown bats, they use their large tail membrane to catch insects during the flight and bring the insect to its mouth to eat while flying.
The most important use of tail is for the females. Female bats after giving birth carry their newborn in her wings & tail membrane.
Are there bats without tails?
Yes, there are species of bats without a tail. As mentioned in the previous section, only a very few species of bats lack a tail. For instance, the Bumblebee bat that lacks a tail. In the case of these bats, they cannot use their tail to generate lift to take-off from a surface. Rather they use their short tails in-flight stabilization.