Bats have and will always be a long-discussed topic amongst many mythologists and antagonists in folklore. This is especially true when it comes to the world of vampires. You honestly cannot blame people from associating the two, given that the bat has different anatomical features when compared to other mammals. This is especially true for the wing membrane. Bats contain a wing membrane that stretches between their fingers and resembles the human hand.
Bats do have tails. However, this is not entirely true for the whole race. There are currently over 1,000 known species of bats, and all of them have tails, except for 3 species.
Now, when the term tail is being thrown around, you should not conjure up images of a little puppy dog tail that wags when it’s happy. It’s not even a tail that is similar to what other mammals in the animal kingdom posses. The tail of the bat is one that is much different and even much more difficult to spot with the human eye.
Another interesting fact that you need to know right off the bat is that the anatomical features of the bat’s tail will vary from species to species.
Take the free-tailed bat, for example. With this species, it isn’t as hard to spot the tail extending out of the wings. With some other species, the tail doesn’t even make it out of the membrane of the wings.
Whatever the situation is, this is a fascinating concept none the less. And, one you’ll need to know all about if you want to study and learn more about the bat. Luckily, that’s exactly what this article is here to do. It will tell you all about the bat tail.
[Related Article: What Sounds Do Bats Make]
Bats And Their Tails
As was already mentioned, the bat does have a tail, except for three species. There are currently over 1000 known species and all of them have tails, except for three. And, what’s even more interesting is that with most of these species, the tail does not extend beyond the wing membrane or uropatagium.
This is why most people aren’t even aware of the fact that bats have tails. The membrane makes it incredibly hard to spot the tail.
Out of all the known species, it is the free-tailed bats that have the longest tail. Their tails extend way beyond that of their wing membrane and can usually be seen with the human eye.
What’s even more interesting is that this specie’s tail is covered with cartilage. Cartilage, that was designed to protract and retract. It does this so that it can help the bat navigate and maneuver during flight. Another thing to note right off is that the tails of all the species are also attached to the wing membrane.
In fact, their hind legs are also partially attached to this membrane as well. There are some species where the legs will be completely attached, but none the less, the membrane cover the tail bone of the bat as well.
The bat’s tail is usually a component that is supported by their hind legs, tail skeleton, and special cartilaginous extensions of the ankle commonly referred to as calcars. Going back to what was said before, most of the time, the tail of the bat doesn’t even protrude beyond the wing membrane.
However, there was an exception to this. And, it was that three species of the 1000 do have a long enough tail that protrudes beyond the wing membrane. In these cases, the tail might appear to be naked or nude, but this is not the case at all.
There will be tiny hairs covering them. In some cases, there are also distinctive patterns on the tail as well.
In fact, this is one of the very ways that a lot of researchers identify with the varying species. Take the molossids species for example. It seems that with this species the tail will extend far beyond the membrane and is vital for function.
When moving into crevices or making crevices of their own, this species will use their extended tail to feel around the surface. There are even some species like the emballonurids where the tail does extend beyond the membrane but is still more than hard to spot with the human eye.
Comparing Bat Tails To Bird Tails
Maybe people find themselves wondering if the tail of a bat is similar to that of the bird. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. One reason this is not true is that the bat is a mammal with the capability of flight.
This is not the case with the bird. The entire anatomical and morphological features of the bat and bird are completely different, including the tail. As has been mentioned several times, the tail of the bat is actually a membrane that covers the tail bone supported by the hind legs, tail skeleton, and calcar.
In the case of the bird, the tail is nothing more than elongated feathers supported by weightless bones.
Bats, Tails, And Flying
Disregarding the above information, both the bat and bird do utilize their tails in flight. To understand more about this, you’ll first need to understand how the bat flies. And, this starts with the takeoff. Most people probably assume that bats just leap right into flight.
While they do have extremely powerful hind legs, this is not the case at all. The legs are extremely powerful, but they aren’t powerful enough to give that initial burst they need to get high enough in the air for proper flight.
A bat will take flight from the hanging position. You’ve likely seen a bat hanging from a tree or cave. At the very least, you know that they hang. Well, this is also how they take flight. They hang upside down using the elongated sections of their fingers located in their body, not their hind legs.
Even in this case, the hind legs are not capable of supporting the total body weight of a bat, so it has to rely on the fingers of its body.
They simply let go of the surface that they are hanging from, flap their wings, and take flight. This is the common behavior and flight pattern of most bats because they cannot lift off from flat surfaces.
However, once again, there are some exceptions to this theory. And, the exceptions would be the species with the longer tails. The longer tailed bats are capable of taking flight from a flat surface, thanks to the assistance of their tail.
They can flap their tail faster than they can their wings and this is what gives them the properties to take flight from a standing position, rather than a hanging position. Although, they could still take flight in this manner if they chose to do so.
The tail not only plays a vital role in the takeoff process, but it also acts as a stabilizer of sorts. It reduces the drag during the flight and gives overall more stability. The tail is considered pretty aerodynamic and can come in handy during the landing process as well.
Other Uses For The Tail
As you can see the bat species with longer tails use their tails for flying, stabilization, and landing. However, there are other species that utilize their tails for other reasons as well. Just take the insectivorous bats like the little brown ones.
They utilize their tail membrane to snag and eat insects during flight. Above all else, it probably the female that utilizes her tail for the most important purpose. She uses it to carry her newborns.
Believe it or not, bats do have tails. They might be hard to spot on some species, but they are there. And, you can clearly see that these tails are pertinent for a wide range of activities.
It really depends on each specific species as to how they use their tail, but all species utilize their tails and would have a hard time getting by without them. Even the species that cannot take flight weight their tails use the tails during flight for stabilization and control.