Close your eyes and picture a bat. What color did you imagine? How big or small? Did you picture a furry, black body with black wings? If you touch your thumbs together and spread your fingers wide, does that match the size in your mind? That describes the bat decorations that pop up around Halloween. It even describes some real, live bats, but not all of them.
Even though it doesn’t match the description in your imagination, the tri-colored bat may be the Halloweeniest bat of all! For one thing, tri-colored bats aren’t black. They may even look like a bat in a costume. As you probably guessed, they are three colors. Not top to bottom like the popular candy corn treat. Instead, each strand of fur is three colors: dark at the base, lighter in the middle and dark at the tip. Not lighter as in gray though. Tri-colored bats look orange or yellowish! Maybe carve your jack-o'-lantern into an orange tri-colored bat this year!
Their wings are black, like you’d expect. But their forearms look reddish or pink, like they are wearing pink sleeves and a black cape.
Tri-colored bats are pretty small compared to other Will County bats. Their bodies measure about the length of a package of Smarties (3 inches) with wings just a bit longer than a king-sized candy bar (8 inches to 10 inches). They only weigh about as much as 4 pieces of candy corn.
Did all that candy talk make you hungry for treats? Although tri-colored bats are out at sundown, during prime trick-or-treating time, they won’t be trying to get into your candy bag. Instead, they hunt for small, flying insects like flies, beetles and moths.
They can eat 25% of their body weight in just 30 minutes! Could you eat that much that fast? Let’s find out. How much do you weigh? Divide that by 4 to figure out how many pounds of candy you would have to eat to match the appetite of a tri-colored bat. If you weigh 80 pounds, you would have to eat 20 pounds! I bet your grown-ups would say “no way” if you tried!
Words to know
Echolocation: Reflecting sound to determine the location of objects.
Erratically: In a matter that is not regular or in a pattern.
Fluttering: Moving with an irregular or unsteady motion.
Maternity: Motherhood or relating to pregnancy and the period after birth.
Tri-colored bats also head out for a midnight snack and again just before sunrise to keep them full throughout the day while they sleep.
Bats may not call out “trick or treat” in hopes of food, but they do make sounds. While hunting, they use echolocation, chirping sounds that bounce off objects to tell the size and even the direction they are moving. You wouldn’t need a flashlight when out at night if you could use echolocation too!
They also make different sounds to communicate with each other. They understand each other so well that a mom and her babies can find each other in a cave full of other mother and baby bats (called a maternity colony) just by listening for each other.
Do you think you and your grown-up could find each other at a crowded Halloween party just by listening for each other? No peeking!
Don’t expect to easily find a tri-colored bat. During the day, they wrap their wings tightly around their bodies like a blanket. They roost (or settle and rest) in trees, tucked into leaf clusters. With their orangish fur hidden by their black wings, they can easily camouflage as leaf shadows. They might also roost among pine needles, in caves or by tucking themselves tightly into the cracks and crevices of buildings or porches.
Try your luck at finding them at edges where forests meet water — tri-colored bats’ favorite spots. Here they have a place to roost (the forest) and their favorite place to hunt (over water), like having a bedroom close to the kitchen fridge.
Snapper Pond at Plum Creek Nature Center is a great place to look for tri-colored bats, but lots of water spots exist in other Will County forest preserves too. Which one is closest to you? If you see a small creature fluttering slowly and erratically, or without a pattern, over water at treetop height, you might have spotted one. If it’s not too dark, use binoculars to check for the tell-tale pumpkin orange body. What a treat!
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