WHAT DO BATS EAT?

Bats are the group of mammals with the highest dietary diversity. They can feed on different kinds of animal and plant parts. Only three among the 1,116 extant species feed on blood. In the world 70% of all species eat insects. In Brazil, frugivores are the majority, comprising 50% of the country’s bat fauna.

There is a wide continuum of feeding preferences among bats, ranging from high specialization to total opportunism. Bats can be assigned to three main categories:

   
  • Animalivores – they hunt other animals, like insects, birds, rodents, frogs, lizards and even other bats. Some of them may be specialized in five main kinds of food:

    1. Insectivores: feed on moths, grasshoppers, beetles and other insects. They are important controllers of agricultural pests, especially Tadarida brasiliensis.

    2. Generalist carnivores: they prey on different kinds of vertebrates, like birds and lizards. One common species in Brazil is the leaf-nosed bat Chrotopterus auritus.

    3. Piscivores: those bats feed mainly on fishes. The most specialized fishing-bats are the Noctilionidae.

    4. Ranivores: prey upon frogs, but do not depend only on them for survival. The most famous species is Trachops cirrhosus.

    5. Hematophages: the world-famous ‘vampire bats’. They belong to the subfamily Desmodontinae, endemic of the New World. Two species attack mainly birds (Diphylla ecaudata and Diaemus youngii) and the third one prefers mammals (Desmodus rotundus).

 
  • Phytophages – they feed on plant parts:

    1. Frugivores: they eat fruits of thousands of plant species. There seems to be some association between particular bat genera and some plant families, like the Piperaceae and the Cecropiaceae. Only the subfamilies Carolliinae, Stenodermatine and Brachyphyllinae are specialized in fruits. They are important dispersers of pioneer plants, especially the species Carollia perspicillata.

    2. Nectarivores: nectar of flowers is their main food, but some do also digest pollen grains. They play a crucial role in pollination, like hummingbirds.

    3. Folivores: additionally to fruits or nectar, those bats eat also leaves of plants. One species that likes leaves is the big fruit-eating bat, Artibeus lituratus.

    4. Granivores: recently (in 2003) a Brazilan reseacher discovered a new feeding-habit among bats: the consumption of seeds by Chiroderma (Nogueira et al. 2003). Those bats are specialized frugivores that can also chew and digest seeds, thus they have an ambiguous role as dispersers and predators of seeds.

 
  • Omnivores – They feed both on animals and plants, so are very generalistic, like Phyllostomus hastatus.