Bats are misunderstood creatures, often feared when they should be celebrated for the unique and important role they play in our ecosystem. There are two main types of bats, those who eat fruit and those who eat insects, as well as some carnivorous bats that eat mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
The bats who eat insects do so with gusto. Bats can eat almost their full body weight in insects every night, including but not limited to mosquitos, beetles, flying ants, moths, scorpions, and most insects that are active at night.
Rather than fearing bats, we should appreciate their contributions to our ecosystem, controlling explosive numbers of insects including many pests that can cause serious damage to many important crops.
Because bats are nocturnal, they don’t rely on their sight in order to hunt and catch insects. Instead, bats use an adaptation called echolocation, emitting high-frequency sounds that bounce off of objects and return to them and allowing bats to locate obstacles and dinner without sight.
Because of the hours they keep, bats eat a variety of night-flying insects. Read on to discover 11 insects that bats eat!
1. Bats Love Mosquitoes
One of the most common prey of bats is mosquitos. This is largely because mosquitos usually swarm in high densities, with group sizes that rival those of the bats that consume them.
There is a common study that claims a bat can consume ten mosquitos in a minute, but the University of Massachusetts clarifies that this statistic is under laboratory conditions and doesn’t necessarily reflect bats’ feeding habits in the wild.
UM’s study goes on to say though, that their own studies do support the fact that bats consume a whole lot of mosquitoes. They consume enough to make a significant dent in the population as a whole.
Mosquitos are a quick way to ruin a relaxing lake visit or fishing trip in the warm, humid summer months, and I for one am grateful that bats keep the populations under control.
So if you have a lot of mosquitoes near your home, it could be one of the reasons why a bat came into your house!
2. Bats Commonly Eat Beetles
The University of California explains that one bat species called big brown bats occupy the Midwest U.S. and show a preference for different species of beetle such as cucumber beetles, June bugs, and stink bugs.
This is effective and necessary pest control in this region, which houses a significant portion of the country’s agricultural industry. Beetles are common pests who consume many agricultural crops including grains, corn, and as their name suggests, cucumbers.
Bats can eat beetles on the wing or as they rest on plants, scooping them up off of the crops. Beetles are more frequent prey of larger-sized bats. Some bat species are as small as an adult’s thumb, so you could imagine how big of a meal a beetle would be to such a tiny creature.
3. Crickets Attract Bats By Sound
The soft chirping of crickets as night falls is a sound that many people are likely familiar with. Crickets are another nocturnal insect that is commonly eaten by bats.
These insects come out at night to feed and mate, and the chirping they are known for is actually their mating call, and the males sing with the hope of attracting a female.
This chirping can help bats to locate the crickets due to their extremely strong sense of hearing. Some believe that crickets have evolved a sensitivity to the sound of a bat’s wings flapping, and they will silence themselves if they detect one in the area to conceal themselves.
Unfortunately for the crickets, the bat’s ability to echolocate can mean these efforts to hide can be in vain, and bats do still manage to snag some dinner.
4. Large Bats Love Grasshoppers
Often confused with crickets, grasshoppers are an even bigger insect that is sometimes targeted by larger bats.
Though they do look similar, there are some other differences between crickets and grasshoppers that are important to note aside from their size. Grasshoppers are strictly herbivores, while crickets will feed on smaller insects as well as plants.
Also, grasshoppers are not nocturnal but diurnal, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. These waking hours happen to overlap with the two feeding periods of bats, who mate, play, groom, and rest in the very late hours.
Their large size makes grasshoppers easy to find as they hop from plant to plant, and bats take advantage by scooping them on the wing or off of the surfaces of plants.
5. Swarms Of Flying Ants Are Easy Targets
Flying ants, unlike wingless ant species, become airborne as they begin to search for a mate in preparation to start a new colony. According to the National Park Service, a colony can have as many as 50,000 individual ants.
These ants take to the air at night, flying up toward the light of the moon and searching for a new queen among the massive swarm.
If you can picture 50,000 ants taking flight at once, you may get an idea about why bats will target these colonies. Because flying ants take to the air in swarms at only certain times of year, this isn’t the most reliable food source for bats throughout the year, but rather a periodic buffet at which the bats feast.
However, during the times they do swarm, bats can scoop up massive amounts of ants with ease as they swoop through the cloud of insects.
6. Urban Bats Eat Roaches
Roaches are targeted by insect-eating bats because of their nocturnal habits. Roaches emerge at night to feed on detritus and are especially populous in urban areas where there are plenty of decaying food items on which to feed.
Because of the hours they keep, urban-dwelling bats will often feed on roaches along with other urban pest insects.
Some roaches do fly, but most are found scuttling along across the ground. It is a good thing that bats will target roaches, too, because their large family groups can cause huge infestations in homes and buildings. This is just another example of how having bats around can be incredible natural pest control.
7. Moths Are One Of Bats’ Favorite Snacks
Unsurprisingly, moths are another nocturnal insect that is eaten by bats. Moths are targeted by many bat species, depending on where they live. They emerge at night in search of food and mates and are attracted to light sources.
The attraction to light is one reason why you will often see bats flying quickly through the light from street lamps and the hordes of insects that tend to hover nearby. While the insects are distracted by the light, bats take advantage and feed on the unsuspecting individuals.
We should feel lucky that bats are present in agricultural areas to feed on moths because they are often considered pest insects whose larvae feed on many different crop species.
Moths will lay eggs on the undersides of the leaves of these crops, and when the larvae emerge, they will eat copious amounts of food before pupating and reaching adulthood.
By feeding on the adults, bats prevent many individual moths from laying eggs in the first place, which goes a long way to prevent the young from destroying a significant amount of crops.
In fact, according to a study by the University of California, the Mexican free-tailed bats only feed on corn earworm moths, which target corn, tomatoes, and beans, all important crops to the country they live in.
8. Gnats Are Easy Prey For Small Bats
If you have been paying attention, you should begin to see the pattern between swarming insects and bat predation. Specifically, gnats are another type of swarming insect that lends itself to predation due to the huge number of individuals who congregate together.
Much like a school of fish, or a group of birds, the large numbers of individuals moving together can be a sort of protection for the individual, but it also creates a higher likelihood for the predator animal to make a catch.
Gnats are much smaller than some of the other insects on this list, and so are generally targeted by smaller bat species such as the little brown bat which are very common in North America. Like mosquitos, bats can sometimes consume hundreds of gnats in one night.
9. Cicadas Are A Special Treat
One of the most defining characteristics of cicadas is their reproductive habits. This is because cicadas are known for gestating for sometimes years underground and emerging all at once in the thousands.
Anyone who lives in an area with cicadas will recognize the loud, unrelenting buzzing sound they make, making them easy targets for bats with supersonic hearing. Additionally, the sheer amount of cicadas present at once makes for a feeding frenzy for bats, birds, and other predator animals.
Cicadas emerge for a short time to mate and don’t live much longer than it takes to find a mate and reproduce, so the bats have limited time to gobble as many as they can before they are gone again for another two to five years.
10. Southwestern Bats Eat Centipedes
Though not technically an insect, centipedes are creepy crawly arthropods more closely related to crabs that are sometimes consumed by bats.
The University of California Master Gardeners explain that there are one species of bat, called the pallid bat, that is especially known for consuming centipedes. They go on to explain that the pallid bat is actually the largest species of bat in the state, with ears so large and sensitive that they can detect prey from several feet away.
Residents of the Southwest United States will be glad to hear of bats’ affinity for centipedes because they are pest insects that are venomous and can deliver a painful bite if taken by surprise.
11. Scorpions Are Another Desert Bat Prey
Related to centipedes are the bat’s next prey animal, scorpions. Like centipedes, scorpions are often mistakenly referred to as insects, when they are really arthropods, a type of animal with an armored and segmented body.
They share another similarity with centipedes in that they have a painful venomous sting! This southwestern species is another prey of the pallid bat which emerges at night to feed and mate.
How Can You Support Bats?
By now, you may have a better idea of why bats can actually be beneficial to us. Bats play an important role in our ecosystems and are one of the only major predators of nocturnal insects.
Bats control populations of insects that contribute to crop damage, bloodborne illnesses, and other detrimental environmental impacts. Because of their contributions to their environment, you may want to consider some ways that you can actually help protect bats and provide a safe place for them to reside on your property.
We talked a little bit about excluding bats from the home, for reasons of safety for the bats and for you and your family. Another way you can prevent a bat colony from taking up residence in your attic is by making sure that any cracks or holes in your home are covered and sealed.
Bats can squeeze through a hole as small as a half inch, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
If you already have a bat infestation, call a professional for help to remove them, because timing can really impact the survival of their young and of the bats themselves, especially during winter hibernation.
Another way you can help bats in your area is by installing a Kibaga Wooden Bat House, or some other roosting site for bats on your property. By providing them with a welcome alternative, bats are likely to stick around without invading your home’s attic or garage.
Why Bats Are So Unique
One of the most interesting and unique things about bats is that they are actually the only mammals that can truly fly, according to the Smithsonian Institution. They have all of the characteristics of mammals, including body hair, and the ability to thermoregulate, and they birth live young and produce milk.
Other mammals who “fly,” such as flying squirrels actually just glide in the air, and bats can actually fly in the same way that birds can, by flapping their wings. This makes bats extremely unique in the animal kingdom.
Bats also roost in large numbers, much like crows do in the winter, but unlike most birds, they are nocturnal, sleeping the day away and becoming active at night.
Bats seek shelter in areas that are dark during the day and protect themselves from natural elements like wind, rain, and predators. Another unique characteristic of bats is that they rest suspended from the ceiling by their feet, hanging upside down.
They are social creatures and will sleep, groom, and even fight amongst themselves in groups as large as hundreds of bats.
Why Bats Are Super Beneficial To have Around
Bats are extremely beneficial predators who contribute significantly to the ecosystems they inhabit. Bats play a huge role in controlling insect populations and as pollinators and seed spreaders.
Additionally, bat droppings are called guano, and are rich in nitrogen, which is an essential component of plant growth. Because of its nutrient value, guano is sometimes sold as fertilizer and will benefit the soil wherever it falls.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of having bats around is the enormous number of insects they can eat. Being nocturnal, bats feed at night and so consume a wide variety of night-flying insects. Many of these insects are pest insects that parasitize or feed on crops.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife quote recent studies which estimate that bats save the U.S. corn industry more than $1 billion per year, and $3 billion for the agricultural industry as a whole.
Bats Can Also Be Prey
Bats are good predators to have around, but they can also be prey. You can check out another piece of ours to learn more about 9 natural predators that eat bats.
If you want to work to utilize bats as a protector of crops, fertilizer of soil, and insect controller, then it is important to know how to keep them safe, even if that includes wanting to keep bats away from your trees.
Where Bats Live Determines What They’ll Eat!
Bats can be found all throughout the world, on every continent except Antarctica. According to the University of Arizona, there are 986 species of bats throughout the world. They inhabit each of the United States and are most populous in the deserts of the Southwest.
As nocturnal animals, bats must seek special places to roost in, which provide darkness, shelter, and safety from predators. We also have an article on where bats really go and live during the day, if you’re interested in learning more.
In the wild, they are commonly found in caves, hollow trees, and rock crevices but bats who live near agricultural areas and urban areas may find shelter in barns, attics, and even abandoned mines that are common in the Southwest.
For the safety of all involved, it is best to take steps to exclude bats who take shelter in your attic or home. You can install something like the Briidea Bat Valve, which has a trapdoor that lets bats out, but through which they can’t re-enter and must instead find a new place to stay.
How Do Bats Determine What They Eat?
There are bats that consume fruit and even carnivorous bats that consume mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, but the majority of bats actually eat insects.
A big part of what determines a bat’s diet is where it lives. Bats adapt to what is available to them, and so their diet changes regionally. In the midwest United States they will feed on crop pests such as moths and beetles, while in the Southwest, they prefer scorpions and centipedes.
Feeding on small, fast-flying insects has adapted bats to become experts at scooping up these tiny moving targets.
Some bats hunt entirely on the wing, swiping up insects in midair. Still, others are skilled at catching insects off of the ground or even off of the surface of the water such as ponds and lakes.
Because of their adaptability, bats consume a large variety of insect species from moths, beetles, and flying ants, to crickets, grasshoppers, and scorpions. Many of these insects are considered pests to humans, so if you see bats around, you may want to encourage them to stay!
How Much Do Bats Eat During The Night?
Bats use a lot of energy flying. Because of this, they have huge appetites.
A bat the size of a thumb can consume four to eight grams of insects per night, or about the weight of a grape, according to USGS.
Put another way, bats can eat half of their body weight, according to Ohio State University. Even though bats are quite small, at around 7 grams, a colony of hundreds eating up to 1,500 insects per night can make a significant dent in the population as a whole.
In fact, bats eat such a significant amount of insects that the USGS estimates that recent population declines of one million Northeastern bats have increased the insect population by between 660 and 1,320 metric tons per year.
Time To Wrap Up!
Hopefully, this post has given you a better idea of what types of insects and related species a bat feeds on. Some of the characteristics these prey have in common are being nocturnal, making distinct noises, or having the tendency to swarm.
To recap, the most common insects that bats eat are:
- Flying Ants
With many of these insects being common and detrimental pests, we should be thankful for bats for their role in controlling the populations of these insects. Next time you see a bat, try not to be fearful and instead tell it thank you!
O’Rourke, D., Rouillard, N.P., Parise, K.L. et al. (2022) Spatial and temporal variation in New Hampshire bat diets. Scientific Reports. 12, 14334.
Schondube, J.E., Herrera-M, L.G., Martínez del Rio, C. (2001) Diet and the evolution of digestion and renal function in phyllostomid bats. Zoology. 104,1: 59-73.
Vaughan, N. (1997) The diets of British bats (Chiroptera). Mammal Review. 27, 2: 77-94.
Whitby, M.D., Kieran, T.J., Glenn, T.C., Allen, C. (2020) Agricultural pests consumed by common bat species in the United States corn belt: The importance of DNA primer choice. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. 303.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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