Bats are known to fly around caves, abandoned buildings, and even backyards and open areas when daylight turns to evening. They’re seen by themselves as well as in groups. Occasionally, bats will fly in pairs, and a mother bat will even carry her pup with her as she flies.
So, what is the specific term used to describe a group of bats? In this article, we’ll be answering that question and adding some color to this query by looking more closely at bat flying behavior—especially when more than one bat takes to the skies at the same time.
What’s the Word…?
The term used to describe any group of more than one bat is a colony. The vast majority of bats live in such groups. Bat colonies change in size and location over time, and studies show that many bat species exhibit a certain loyalty to their colony over periods of multiple years.
Female bats tend to maintain the structure of their colonies better than males, and even when large bat colonies are unnaturally dispersed (say, through human intervention or relocation), they tend to reconstitute themselves without much attrition within the colony, if any at all.
The word ‘colony’ comes from the latin word colere, which means ‘to cultivate’. Colere became colonia before the Middle Ages, a term that then referred to an established group of farmers.
Variations of Bat Colonies
Bat colonies come in all sizes. We can go ahead and state that the smallest bat colony that could exist would contain exactly two bats, because that’s the lowest number of bats that would qualify for the definition ‘colony’. But, what about the biggest bat colony?
Remember that bat colonies don’t have to exhibit any particular behavior to be considered a colony. The bat colony simply has to contain more than one bat in the same general location. This can be within the annals of a subterranean canal, an abandoned mineshaft, or even a sinkhole.
In the case of the bats that live in Bracken Cave in Texas, there are more than 20 million of them. That’s right: the largest bat colony ever recorded is well into the 8-figure range. The bats in this cave are the Mexican Free-Tailed bats, also called Brazilian Free-Tailed bats. These little fellas are also the world record holders for flight speed—they’ve been clocked flying as fast as 99 MPH!
Those who have witnessed the swarming of the Bracken Cave bats describe the flying pattern as being similar to a tornado, thus earning the bat colony the title of “Batnado”.
Other Bat Colony Facts
When bats live in large colonies, they’re able to reproduce more efficiently, stay warmer during hibernation, and fend for themselves better against predators. There is, after all, safety in numbers.
A byproduct of larger bat colonies—especially those that roost in caves—is a preponderance of bat feces, also known as bat guano. Bat guano happens to have a high concentration of a substance called saltpeter (potassium nitrate), which is often used to create gunpowder. Who knew that bat droppings could be so…explosive?
An unfortunate feature of bat colonies is that they are breeding grounds for some highly communicable diseases. Among these diseases are viral pathogens like coronaviruses, astroviruses, and adenoviruses. While not all of these viruses can be passed on to humans, there is the potential of some of them to be passed on to other animals, including squirrels, rodents, or weasels.
Bat Colony Establishment
Among all of the mammals on Earth, bats are the most understudied. However, recent research into exactly how bats form colonies is revealing the mechanisms by which new bat colonies form. As it turns out, bat colonies are ‘founded’ by relatives of previously established colonies—often female bats that ‘shoot off’ from earlier colonies to start their own colony in a nearby location.
If you ever encounter a bat colony, it’s very important to not disturb the colony unless it is absolutely necessary. Bat colonies in hibernation are even more fragile, as an early awakening from hibernation could mean death to many of the bats in the colony. Remember that bats are not confrontational animals, especially when it comes to humans, which happen to be bats #1 predator throughout the world.
In this article, we’ve shown that the term used to refer to groups of bats is a colony, and we’ve looked at the various sizes of bat colonies that are known to exist throughout the world. We’ve also identified the largest bat colony to have ever been recorded—the Bracken Cave bat colony—containing a whopping 20 million+ bats.
We’ve also explored some of the other interesting facts about bat colonies, and we’ve restated the important point that bat colonies are sophisticated, often delicate groups of sometimes endangered species.
We hope you’ve learned a thing or two about bats from reading this article, and we invite you to explore the other resources listed on this page to learn more.