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Bats Northwest

"helping bats in Washington State"

Scientific Classification and Names - Translations

A Bat by any other a Bat.... So...what are these fancy names and what do they mean?

Classification, taxonomy, scientific names... these terms are enough to send chills down the backs of those who have taken an Introductory Zoology course, and for the rest, a miasma of terms that might as well be a foreign language. Well, in fact, it is.

As humans, we seem to enjoy naming things – our cars, pets, and computers – but why do scientists need such complicated terms? Common names may or may not be of any help. After all, in Nebraska, a 'gopher' is a rodent, while in Florida, a 'gopher' is a turtle - go figure. Other problems exist, such as finding enough names to cover 45,000 Chordate species, 120,000 Mollusk species, and the five million or so Insect species alive today on our planet.

To solve these problems, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) prepared a classification scheme that we still use today. At the heart of it are latinized binomials, i.e., two-part names that use root-words of a language that most of us don't think very much about these days - Latin (sometimes Greek). Often, latinized names are intentionally descriptive (Marmota flaviventris: one who lives among the rocks + yellow belly = Yellow Bellied Marmot), sometimes they honor a special scientist (Koopmania concolor, Koopman's uniformly-colored bat, named after the late Karl Koopman, one of the world's most respected bat taxonomists), and sometimes they use common, immediately recognizable, commonly-heard terms (Bison bison: the American Bison). When mixed around, there are plenty of Latin roots and "latinized" terms to keep systematists quite content (perhaps someday, one of them will explain to me why the American Robin was named Turdus migratorius?). When we use this detailed terminology, we must relate the entire binomial (genus and species), capitalize the genus, and if we need to save space we can abbreviate the genus name, e.g., Homo sapiens; H. sapiens.

Equipped with our binomials, we are faced with a greater challenge of fitting each taxon (species) into the greater framework. Keep in mind that of the nearly 4000 species of mammals that are still alive on our planet, we are but one, Homo sapiens. Remember Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species? Each category is progressively more narrowly defined such that humans are classified as Vertebrata: Mammalia: Primates: Hominidae: Homo sapiens. Translation? "We are animals with backbones: We are warm blooded and the females produce milk: We are bipeds with relatively unspecialized skeletons and large brains: For our body size, we have really, REALLY large brains." For those of us wishing to study vampire bats, Vertebrata: Mammalia: Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae: Desmodontidae: Desmodus rotundus. For those of you wishing to ward-off vampires, Garlic (Monocotyledoneae: Liliales: Liliaceae: Allium sativum) does quite nicely.

Bats belong to the mammalian Order, Chiroptera; the term is derived from two words that pretty much sum it all up... [Chiro-hand + ptero-wing = hand-wing]; bats fly with wings that are really greatly expanded hands. Within the Order, there are two distinct kinds (Infraorders) of bats, the Megachiroptera and the Microchiroptera, literally the big and little bats. [NOTE: There is some argument as to the exact number of bat species and even bat genera; Herein I will follow the statistics listed in "Walker's Bats of the World"; Nowak, 1991; ISBN 0-8018-4986-1].

The Megabats (aka. Mega,s, Old World Fruit Bats, Flying Foxes) aren't particularly "huge" as the name would imply, but are good-sized animals in the grand scale of things. [NOTE: human beings are very large animals and are ranked in the top 5% of mammals on the basis of body size.] Megabats have large eyes and large brains and range from 15 to 1500 grams in body size (if converted to common weight, say a quarter (25¢), then Mega,s range from 3-300 quarters -- up to about 3 pounds). Megabats have never evolved true echolocation, though several species within the Genus Rousettus do quite well at navigating using tongue-clicking noises when they are in caves or in dark jungles. Mega's are most often active during the daytime when they forage for fruit, pollen and nectar. Several species have distinct faces that resemble those of foxes, and it is incorrect to apply the term "flying foxes" to all Mega's. Most megabats are communal, that is, they live in family groups, in tropical and subtropical regions of the Old World (Africa, Asia, Australia, South Pacific). There is only one family of Megachiroptera (Pteropodidae) that is further divided into three distinct sub-groups (sub-families) with 42 genera and 166 distinct species:

The Micro's/Microbats aren't really all that small. Actually, many of the largest microbats are considerably larger than the smallest megabats (range: 2-190 grams; the weight of a single penny up to a small sack of 33 quarters). Microbats navigate through the night skies with the aid of ultrasonic echolocation -- vocal cries produced in the voice box (larynx). As a group, microbats exhibit an extraordinary degree of anatomical and ecological diversity: their eyes may be large or small, their faces may or may not be adorned with fleshy pads of skin that aid echolocation (nose leafs are attached to bats that emit their echolocation calls through their noses), their ears may be small and mouse-like, or the ears may be longer than the bat's entire body! They are found world-wide with the rule of thumb that if there are insects present, microbats won't be too far behind. Though each species has specific dietary needs and tastes, as a group, the microchiroptera will eat just about everything: fruit, nectar, pollen, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals including other bats.

It is easiest to pool the microchiroptera into four distinct sub-groups (Super-families) of microbats with 135 genera and 759 distinct species:

Pacific Northwest bats

Now it's your turn! Below, you will find a listing of our local bats - all of them are microchiropteran vespertilionids. Perhaps, the scientific names will be less intimidating this time! Here are some helpful hints: