Any of various nocturnal flying mammals of the order Chiroptera, having membranous wings that extend from the forelimbs to the hind limbs or tail and anatomical adaptations for echolocation, by which they navigate and hunt prey.
The common bat is small and insectivorous, but in the tropics some bats are huge. The flying foxes of the Malay region may have a wingspread of 5 feet (1.5 meters). These and other large tropical bats are fruit eaters and do great damage to crops.
Vampire bats are common in parts of Central and South America but are never found in the United States. They puncture the skins of animals and sleeping humans and lap up blood as it oozes out. For some unknown reason this process is painless, and the victim is usually unaware of it.
Some vampire bats spread disease among cattle and horses. These bats get their name from the legendary vampires, which were believed to come out of their graves at night to suck blood from the living.
Perhaps because of their nocturnal habits and the ability to navigate in the dark, or maybe because they seem both animal and bird, bats have been linked with supernatural forces and the occult in many parts of the world.
Bats appearance, eerie cries, and nocturnal lifestyle must have terrified our primitive ancestors. There are countless superstitions, fallacies and legends about these flying mammals. Some people associate them with witches, believed to rub a few drops of bat's blood on their bodies before flying on their broomsticks. The common assumption was that it enabled the witches to fly the way bats do, without the risk of bumping into things in the darkness of the night.
If a bat flies near a person, it is considered a sure sign that someone is trying witchcraft on this individual. A bat flying three times around a house is a sign that someone living there will shortly die. If bats fly early in the evening, good weather is on the way.
There is an Oriental belief that the bat is specially adapted to occult uses, and certain groups in South America believe the Devil appears in bat form. In medieval Europe, it was assumed that witches used the blood of bats as one of the ingredients in their flying ointment and their magic charms and love potions.
Throughout history, bats have routinely been considered to be familiars or even the alter egos of witches, and in 1332 France, Lady Jacaume of Bayonne was publicly burned because 'crowds of bats' were seen about her house and garden.