It’s not uncommon to hear a bat being referred to as a rat with wings, or a flying rodent. In truth, some bats have similar furry features and faces. Though it’s more common for a bat to have a similar face to a weasel or ferret (not rodents) than a squirrel or a beaver.
Many people have a fear, dislike or distrust of bats. They are commonly viewed as pests or vermin just as many rodents are viewed as the same. With the many parallels of perception it is not entirely without merit that some would rightly or wrongly put them in the same category. But are bats rodents, are they related, or are they something entirely different?
What Are Rodents?
Rodents are of the class Mammalia and the order Rodentia. They are the largest order of mammals, and includes mice, rats, hamsters, capybaras, beavers and porcupines. They are placental mammals, as are bats. The most defining feature of a rodent though, is not their tail or limbs, but their teeth. A rodent can be characterized by its two incisors in the upper and lower jaws that continually grow.
Rodents use their incisors to gnaw food into small pieces, which they then swallow. They have very sharp incisors that can cause a lot of damage to wood, furniture, electric cables, water pipes and other objects in their environment, be it rural or urban. Some rodents have incredible teeth. Beavers for example can eat a variety of hardy foods, and gnaw their way through trees due to their exceptional teeth. They have large amounts of iron in their teeth making them tough and able to take down a tree in minutes.
In general, rodents are small animals, though the capybara can weigh up to 45 kg (100 lb). The smallest rodent is the common shrew, which weighs about 5 g (0.18 oz) and is 12 cm (4.7 in) long.
Are Bats Rodents?
Bats are also mammals (of the class Mammalia), but they are in a different order than rodents. While rodents are in the order Rodentia, Bats are in the order Chiroptera, and thus bats are not rodents. While Rodentia in Latin means ‘to gnaw‘, Chiroptera translates to ‘hand wing‘ and so it is no surprise that the features which set these orders apart are right there in the name.
Bats have wings and rodents do not. Some rodents, such as flying squirrels, have features that enable them to glide, but none of them can fly.
Some bats – like the bumblebee bat in Thailand, are as small as a penny coin, while others, particularly flying foxes are very big. They can have a wingspan on par with the size of the average adult human. There are over 1400 species around the world and can look very different from each other. The big-lipped bat for example looks completely different to the vampire bat, other than they both have wings.
Bats are unique creatures that play an important role in the ecosystem. They help to control insect populations and pollinate plants. They also provide food for other animals, such as snakes and owls.
Are Bats Related To Rodents?
Bats are not related to rodents at all. They are in a different order than rodents, and they have different characteristics. In fact, bats are more closely related to primates such as humans and monkeys, than they are to rodents like mice and rats.
They may look more closely related to rodents, particularly if you took the wings away, with furry bodies, rounded ears and in some cases a similar nose. But other than both being mammals, they are not related at all.
Difference Between Bats And Rodents
The most obvious difference is that bats are flyers, while rodents are not. Bats have wings made of skin and membrane, while rodents have four limbs which are all employed for walking or climbing.
Bats also have very different teeth. Rodents have two sets of incisors in the front of their mouths that grow continually, while bats have only one set of incisors that they use for grabbing things. Bats also have molars for chewing, which rodents do not have. While rodents gnaw, bats do not, they chew or in some cases, squeeze food in their mouth to release juice (particularly with fruit bats).
Rodents and Bats also differ in their reproductive habits. Most bats give birth to a single offspring, while rodents typically give birth to a litter of several young. Baby bats are called ‘pups‘, while baby rodents may be called ‘pups‘, ‘kits‘ or ‘kittens‘.
Bats and rodents differ in their habitats too. Bats prefer warm climates, while rodents are found throughout the world in a variety of habitats.
In terms of lifespan, bats can live much longer too. Some species can live up to 35 years, whereas some rodents such as rats live around 1-2 years. There are rodents that live longer than this but on average, bats can live longer.
Unique Features Of Bats
Bats are unique creatures for a variety of reasons. One of the most obvious is that they are the only mammals that can truly fly. Their wings are attached to their arms and they use these wings to navigate through the air. Flight makes them very versatile when it comes to hunting.
Bats are also the only land mammals that can echolocate. This means that they make high-pitched noises and then listen to the echoes that bounce off of objects around them. This helps them determine where things are, what they are made of, and how big they are. This is an incredibly useful ability, especially since many bats have very poorly developed eyesight and rely on their sense of hearing and smell to find food and avoid predators.
Some bats have great eyesight, particularly fruit bats that eat a diet of fruit, leaves and nectar. But species that are insectivores or carnivores often rely on echolocation. They are nocturnal by nature, and even those that can see, benefit from this feature in poor light. It is also a useful feature for those that dwell in caves.
Lastly, many bats are incredibly social creatures. They often live in colonies of up to 1,000 bats and they rely on one another for guidance, protection, and food. Believe it or not, the largest bat colony Bracken Cave, is host to in the region of 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats! This colony in Texas, USA, is a key maternity site for this species of bat. When a colony of bats is disturbed, even if only one bat is alerted, they may wake the whole colony who then might chose to relocate to a quieter spot.