Bats 101

Are you afraid of bats? Well, did you know that bats are afraid of you? These amazing mammals have long been misunderstood! In fact, bats actually help the environment and people by eating tons of flying insects that destroy crops and spread diseases. Bats also pollinate night flowers, such as cactus, and help spread seeds to create new fruit trees.

Begin your science study just in time for the Halloween season by immersing students in learning about bats. Provide them with fiction and nonfiction books, poetry, magazines, videos, websites, and other media.

Then have students create a class KWL chart decorated with bat die-cuts. Building up students' background knowledge first will make their use of the chart richer. After reading about bats and viewing some photographs, ask students: What do you now know about these animals? What else do you want to know? Refer to the chart often during your unit; as students find the answers to their questions, invite them to add their knowledge to the learned column.

Going Batty

The structure of a bat is unique. Help your class understand bat anatomy in a fun way by inviting them to dress as bats.

Each student will need a bath towel and two small sandwich bags to simulate both the span and transparency of a bat's wings. Explain that a bat's wing doesn't have feathers, like a bird's does; it is actually made of thin, tough, and semitranslucent skin. Have students drape their towels around their shoulders and put their hands into the bags. Since bats use their thumbs which stick out from their wings to grab onto walls and trees, have students push their thumbs through the bags. Explain that bats come in different colors and patterns (brown, gray, black, tan, red, frosted, spotted, etc.), just as students' towels may look different.

In order to fly, a bat moves its wings in the same way a person would move his or her arms to swim the butterfly stroke. Have students practice this maneuver by flying around the room.

Then tell students that, when bats sleep, they wrap their wings around themselves and hang upside down. Have students wrap their arms close to their bodies and pretend to sleep.

Home Sweet Home

Bats live in all kinds of homes: Caves, barns, tall trees, attics, and garages are some of their favorite roosting spots.

After discussing these habitats with your class, invite small groups of students each to choose a favorite bat habitat and create a diorama of it. Provide cardboard boxes and art materials such as construction paper, paint, markers, crayons, glue, tape, and fishing line or yarn. For the bats, students can use their own drawings or cutouts from the Bats Challenge Reproducible (PDF), below.

As groups plan their models, encourage them to use the backs and outsides of their boxes as well as the insides. For example, if students chose a barn as their habitat, they could paint the back of the box like the front of a barn. Viewers will see the front of the barn and be able to turn it around to see inside, too. Encourage each group to present its diorama and include facts about the bats inside it.

The Benefits of Bats

Bats have an image problem! Most people think they are aggressive or dirty animals. In fact, bats are nature's exterminators because they eat so many insects and other pests. Bats are also nature's farmers; without bats, many plants would not be pollinated to grow new plants, and fruit-bearing trees would not produce nearly as many new trees.

Encourage your class to educate people about the benefits of bats. Start a campaign by making posters, buttons, and bumper stickers to promote a positive view of bats. You could even invite students to give public-service announcements over the school loudspeaker in the mornings, or write editorials for the school newspaper.

Echo! Location!

Have you ever wondered how bats are able to hunt for food at night when it is dark? Scientists have discovered that bats use echolocation to find their prey. When a bat is flying, it makes a series of high-pitched squeaks that humans can't hear. The sounds hit an object and bounce back to the bat, like an echo. The bat is able to tell the size and distance of the object just from the echo. This allows the bat to lock in on its prey, swoop down, and catch it.

Give students a chance to practice their own echolocation. Choose one student to be the bat, and blindfold him or her. Arrange the other students in a circle around the bat, and select another student in the circle to be the bat's prey. Ask the bat to call out echo from the center of the circle. The prey should respond location. The bat continues to say echo, moving slowly toward the location of the prey. Once the bat has found the prey, he or she stops and takes off the blindfold. Allow other students to take turns at being the bat or the prey.

Becoming Bat-ologists

Bats eat a variety of food. Although a few drink the blood of livestock, most eat fruit, insects, and fish. Tell students that they are going to be zookeepers in charge of a bat exhibit for the day. An important part of this job is to plan meals for the bats.

Divide the class into small groups. Assign a few different bats to each group, such as the vampire bat, flying fox bat, bumblebee bat, big-eared bat, bulldog bat, and little brown bat. Have each group research what its bats eat and look like. Then encourage students to create menu posters to share their findings with the class. Students in each group can work together to draw pictures of their bats, or find photographs on the Web or in magazines. Below these images, they can draw or glue cutouts of the foods they've selected for each bat.

The Genuine Article

There are more than 1,000 species of bats in the world, and all of them are fascinating. Invite your class to put together a class magazine to share their knowledge about these intriguing creatures. Ask each student to choose a bat to research in depth using books, websites, and the library. Encourage students to find photographs of their chosen bats.

Next, have small groups of students each cut apart one or more 81/2" x 11" sheets of paper into rectangles or squares of equal size, and write their information on them. Show students how to work together to arrange their articles and photos into layouts on fresh sheets of paper and paste them in place to create a complete page. Gather all the pages and bind into your magazine of the coolest bats in the world.