All bats big and small: Southern California is a popular home for the winged creatures of the night


Halloween and blood-sucking vampires in the movies give bats a bad name, but around here, bats eat insects and nectar and are very beneficial to us nonflying mammals.

Heres a little bit about bats that live in our area:

Bat basics

Worldwide, there are more than 1,300 species of bats, and the majority of them inhabit tropical forests.

There are 45 species of bats in the United States and Canada and there are at least 25 known species of bats in California. About 24 of these are in Southern California, which has the largest and smallest known bats found in our region.

Bats are the only mammals that fly. They prey on moths, mosquitoes, wasps, beetles and arthropods (crickets, spiders, scorpions). Some can eat their weight in insects in a night.

Need for speed

Most people think of a cheetah when asked about the fastest mammal. Cheetahs can reach speeds of 75 mph on land, but a 2016 study by the University of Tennessee found that the Brazilian free-tailed bat could reach speeds up to 100 mph, making it by far the fastest mammal on Earth.

Bat facts

  • The worlds largest bats, flying foxes, have a wingspan about 5 feet long.
  • Bat wings are skin that is stronger than Saran wrap. If a wing gets a hole, it can heal.
  • The oldest known lifespan of a wild bat is over 40 years.
  • Bats reproduce slowly. The average female bat rears only one pup per year.
  • The mating season of most local bats is in the fall before entering hibernation during winter.

Handy wings

Bats have bones in their wings similar in structure to human hands with a thin membrane of skin between each finger and body. The scientific order of bats is called Chiroptera, a combination of the Greek words for “hand” and “wing.” Their control of wing shape makes them more maneuverable than birds.

Bat wing

SoCal bats

Townsends big-eared batBig ear batThese bats have about an 11-inch wingspan. They feed mostly on moths but eat other insects as well.

Canyon bat

PipsqueakThe smallest bat in our region is the canyon bat, formerly known as the western pipistrelle. Here are a few facts about them:

  • Wingspan: 8 inches
  • Body length: 2.5-3 inches
  • Weight: They weigh a little more than a penny. They are so small that if a strong wind blows them into a spider web, they may not be able to get out.
  • Known lifespan: 10-13 years
  • Interesting fact: Canyon bats are usually the first bats to come out at night.

How they hunt, hunt, huntBats that echolocate (all of our local species) produce anywhere from one to a few hundred pulses per second. Contrary to the saying “blind as a bat,” they have decent vision.

With echolocation, they can figure out pretty much anything we can with our eyes, except color. They can also determine things we cannot see, such as the wing-beat frequency of moths.

Ecolocation graphic

Rabies reports

Bats have been reported to have rabies, but it is extremely rare for that to impact humans.Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of wild bats have rabies. A bat must be sick with the disease to pass it to another animal through a bite.

Bats with the disease become progressively paralyzed. The mere presence of bats does not pose a health threat to humans.

Heres more to know about rabies:

  • If you see a dead or injured bat, do not handle it with bare hands.
  • Contact if there has been no bare-handed contact.
  • You can download the app Animalhelpnow on your phone.
  • Contact your local animal control if there has been bare-handed contact with a bat.

California rabies stats

Sources: Stephanie Remington, wildlife biologist; “California Mammals,” by E.W. Jameson Jr., and Hans J. Peeters;;, California Department of Public Health,

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