Flying fox

5 Uses for Bat Wings

By Anne Cissel; photos by Doug Gimesy

These amazing body parts have more jobs than you might think!

Are you holding this magazine with your hands? Take a look at them. Think of all the things your hands do for you: grasp, pull, clap, scratch, and more! Bats use their wings in many ways, too. The bats in this story are Australian bats called gray-headed flying foxes. Hold your arms straight out to the sides. That’s about as wide as a flying fox’s wingspan. These bats are so big, it’s easy for us to see all the clever ways they use their wings. Let’s take a look!

bat wingsA bat wing is made up of the bat’s arm and hand, connected by strong skin. The bones in the wing are a lot like the ones in your arm and hand—they’re just different sizes. The four long ones are actually the bat’s fingers!


Of course, the main job of a bat’s wings is to allow the animal to fly. Bats are the only flying mammals. (Other mammals such as flying squirrels can glide for long distances, but that is not really flying.) This flying fox has just completed a high-speed belly dip into a river to cool off on a hot day. Its tongue is out because it just licked its fur to get a drink.

Flying foxes use their hook-like “thumbs” to cling to and climb up trees. The smaller, insect-eating bats we have here in North America often use them to cling to cave walls.

flying fox


This flying fox’s wings are keeping the bat dry during a rainstorm. See all those bends in the wing bones? Those joints allow the bat to wrap its “raincoat” tightly around itself. The leathery skin of the wings keeps the water out.

bat mother and baby


A baby flying fox, called a pup, needs to stick close to Mama to stay warm. Good thing the mother has a built-in baby blanket! Those wings keep the cold air out and the warm air in. After a month or two, the pup can hang out” by itself. But it won’t leave Mom completely for as long as six months.

flying fox


Bats are day-sleepers, and sometimes they like to sleep in sunny spots to stay warm. Wings come in handy to keep the bright light out of their eyes. It almost seems as if this bat were saying, “Please do not disturb!”


You learned that flying foxes keep cool by taking belly dips in water. They have other tricks to stay cool. By stretching its wing out, the bat below is letting the heat escape from its body. Flapping its wings to fan itself also helps beat the heat.

There are so many things a bat can do with its wings!

bat wings video



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