Bats as we know them today have been on earth for at least 55 million years. Their evolutionary origins are a subject of debate. Bat fossil records are unfortunately rare due to their delicate bone structures.

There are approximately 1,200 species of bats around the world. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and make up approximately 20% of the world’s classified mammal species.

All bats, no matter their size or dietary preferences, are of vital ecological importance. The flowers of many rainforest trees throughout the world have evolved to be pollinated only by bats. Birds and insects which may visit the same flowers are ineffective in causing fertilization and fruit set. A large number of commercial plants used in the production of food and medicine are pollinated by bats. Insectivorous bats are voracious and efficient controllers of insect populations, including agricultural pests.

Bats in Australia

Are protected native wildlife. It is an offence to kill or injure them, or to interfere with their roosts.

Click on the image to discover the national and local distribution of every species of bat in Australia

Distribution maps have been developed by leading bat experts and are updated and maintained by utilising the collective knowledge of the members of the Australasian Bat Society.


Bats belong to the order Chiroptera (meaning ‘hand winged’). Previously bats were divided into two suborders: Megachiroptera (Megabats) and Microchiroptera (Microbats). Reclassification in recent years to reflect genetic relationships rather than physiological differences has renamed these suborders as Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera respectively.


includes Pteropodidae – more commonly known as flying-foxes or fruit bats. These megabats often travel large distances using their excellent sense of smell and sight to seek fruiting and flowering trees. Blossom bats and tube-nosed bats are smaller members of this family which feed on nectar, blossom and fruit. Australia is home to four species of flying-foxes, one true fruit bat, two blossom bats and one tube-nosed bat.

The carnivorous Ghost bats (Megadermatidae), and the insectivorous Horseshoe Bats (Rhinolophidae) and Leaf-nosed bats (Hipposideridae) are also now classified as Yinpterochiroptera.


includes Evening (Vespertilionidae), Bentwing (Miniopteridae), Sheathtail (Emballonuridae) and Freetail (Molossidae) bats. These microbat families are mainly insect-eating bats which rely on echolocation rather than their eyesight to hunt prey.

There are approximately 68 different microbat species in Australia, ranging from the tiny Little Forest Bat (4gms) to the Yellow-bellied Sheathtail Bat (45 gms).


Anatomy for Flight

Bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight and are perfectly adapted to achieve this.

A flying-fox’s arm and hand bones are similar to our hands, with four fingers and an elongated thumb. On the end of each thumb is a hook. Flying-foxes use these important tools to invert when excreting waste. They can be used as defensive weapons and as grappling hooks to climb. The hook is also useful to bring food sources closer within reach. A strong flexible membrane forms the wings.

Flying-fox bones are light and their upper bodies very muscular to enable flight. These adaptations mean they have comparatively weak legs and are unable to stand upright. Hanging by their feet requires little effort due to leg tendons that ‘lock’ the claws in place on the branch.