Learn How Bats Navigate the Dark

Whoever said bats were blind is wrong. Bats are far from blindness! In fact, megabats, like the fruit bat, can see quite well, and have broaden optical visual centers that allow them to navigate during dusk and dawn hours. Microbats, on the other hand, can still see just fine, but do not have the acute vision of their relatives the megabat. For this reason, microbats use different methods for hunting and navigation. Let’s discuss the differences between the two species and how they navigate in the dark, or the day!


Megachiroptera, or megabats, are the larger species of bat between the two main species. They are thought to originate from the same ancestor, but somehow evolved separately. Megabats are larger, with pronounced optical centers and an acute sense of smell. This is how they navigate through the daytime, as megabats are not always nocturnal. This is also how they locate and hunt their food. Megabats eat fruit, nectar, pollen, and some small prey, like birds and fish. Certain species of megabat, like Flying Foxes, can also see in color! On the other hand, they sometimes have trouble navigating on moonless nights because they rely on some light to see. Microbats do not have this problem so much because they use a separate method to nighttime navigation.


Microchiroptera, or microbats, do not have prominent visual centers that give them the equal visual ability as their cousins, the megabat. Instead, microbats are small, and have poorly developed eyes. In the past, scientists thought microbats only retained rods in the photoreceptors of their retinas, which are used for nighttime vision; but recent studies conclude that microbats also retain cones, for daylight and color vision, but these cones are just not as developed as they are in other mammals. For this reason, microbats use a method called echolocation to navigate in the dark, even though they can see okay during the day.

Echolocation is like a sonar system for bats. As they fly, they emit small beeps that bounce off their nearby surroundings and listen for the beeps to return back to them. This creates a mental grid of their surroundings and allows them to better hunt for food and prey. Microbats eat insects for the most part, but some are known to also drink blood from other animals, like the Vampire Bat. Aside from echolocation, microbats use their regular vision to travel long distances as well.

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