Adorable Bats: Some of the Most Endearing Winged Creatures on Earth
You might hold a different opinion, but there’s no denying the undeniable charm of these bats, which rank among the world’s most adorable!
While most bat species possess rodent-like countenances, the hammer-headed bat (Hypsignathus monstrosus) stands apart in a category all its own. This peculiar airborne mammal boasts an incredibly elongated face, prompting many who chance upon images of it on social media to question its very existence. Yet, despite its seemingly otherworldly appearance, the hammer-headed bat is very much real.
Image credit: SARAH H. OLSON.
Also known as the hammer-headed fruit bat and big-lipped bat, this megabat species calls the tropical forests of central Africa its home. It favors lowland moist forests, riverine forests, swamp forests, as well as mangroves and palm forests, where it finds respite among the trees.
Sporting an enormous wingspan of up to 38 inches (97 cm), the hammerhead claims the title of Africa’s largest bat. However, its average body length is a more modest 10 inches (25 cm). Notably, males significantly outweigh females. In fact, it’s the males who exhibit the distinctive large head with an enlarged rostrum, larynx, and lips that render the species so recognizable, while the females resemble other fruit bats.
In contrast to other bat species that segregate based on sex, male and female hammer-headed bats often congregate in groups ranging from as few as four to as many as twenty-five.
Males and females adopt different foraging strategies, with females utilizing trap-lining—a behavior where they follow established routes with predictable food sources, even if the quality of the food may be lower. Males, on the other hand, opt for a riskier approach, traveling up to 6 miles (10 km) in search of particularly bountiful food patches. Once they locate favored sustenance, they might nibble at the tree before carrying a portion of the fruit to another site for consumption.
Their breeding season spans one to three months. These bats engage in classical lek mating, wherein numerous male suitors gather at a site to engage in competitive displays and courtship rituals, known as lekking, aimed at attracting visiting females. To captivate females assessing potential mates, the males emit a distinct and peculiar calling sound.
Image credit: SARAH H. OLSON.
“I’m truly captivated by hammer-headed fruit bats (Hypsignathus monstrosus). Every feature, be it an eye, fur, pose, ear, wing, or foot, holds extraordinary allure. Up close, whiskers exhibit unique patterns for each individual, and the nasal and lip folds of adult males, as shown here, lend a sculptural finish to their overall moose-headed appearance. As we handle them for sample collection, they exhibit distinct behaviors ranging from docility to teeth-grinding intensity, hence the thick leather gloves. Functionally, being Africa’s largest fruit bats (males weighing in at around one pound), they serve as flying seed dispersal machines, vital to equatorial forest health,” wrote Sarah Olson, an Associate Director of Wildlife Health at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in a blog post from 2018.