The Dark Night Rises: Flying Bats and Echolocation – Science Lessons for Elementary Students

This post contains Amazon affiliate links – I recommend really great books that I have loved and learned from. You can get them from any source. Clicking on the Amazon.com links below may result in a small revenue for me. I link the products here mostly as a search engine – you can get these same great books at your local library, Betterworldbooks, or the local bookstore,

Sometimes we all just want to eat fruit, bugs, and hide out in a cave.

Being a bat means never having to stub your toe. (But you eat from those toes.)

Let’s fly into learning about some of the world’s most air-bound mammals, the bat. Bats live around the world, eating everything from fruit, to half their weight in bugs, to actual cow’s blood (if they are a vampire bat). Their diet depends on the species. One of the key takeaways of bats is how much they help keep insect populations under control, and how they help humans in that regard, and in turn we need to help them protect their habitats.

Below are discussion questions that will get you ready for a Bats and Echolocation Unit Study. These questions are based around the young children’s book, “Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats” by Anne Earle, part of the Let’s Read and Find Out science series (one of my favorite series for beginning science learners). Every question listed below in the discussion can be answered by this detailed, accessible book! It is designed that an elementary student can follow along and answer this non-fiction text by themselves, or young students in preschool and elementary can answer questions orally after hearing each page read aloud to them.

I really recommend checking this book out in the library or buying a copy of this book if you want to follow along.

Click here if you want to jump ahead to videos of bats and echolocation.

Discussion Questions:

Do bats hunt for their food in the daytime or nighttime?

What do bats eat?

How much food do bats consume in a day?

Do bats eat humans?

Do batch catch insects fast or slowly?

What are some more of bats’ favorite snacks?

What sense do bats use in order to find their food?

Do the sound waves travel away from the bat, or do they bounce back?

What caused the sounds to bounce back?

Do all objects create the same bounce?

What should you do if a bat flies into your home by accident?

How many fingers does a bat have?

What does their body look like?

Do bats have longer or shorter fingers than birds?

Thinking question: How do bats look like an umbrella? How are they not like an umbrella?

Do bats use their tails to eat?

How does a bat eat?

Bats are often seen upside down. How do bats stay that way, without falling down?

How is a bat like a cat?

What makes bats a scary animal to people?

Bats are the inspiration for what character?

Also, the bat has inspired what comic book character?

What country sees bats to be good luck, and has incorporated 5 of them into their symbol for good luck?

What do bats do in the winter time?

Why would bats sleep and slow their breathing and heart rate?

How do bats prepare for hibernation?

What would happen if bats got startled too many times while hibernating?

When are baby bats born?

How are baby bats fed? How often each night?

Where do bats live if caves aren’t an option?

What do humans do that takes away bats’ homes?

What effect does it have on farming if there are no longer enough bats? What will happen?

What are people doing to protect bat habitats?

How many types of bats exist worldwide?

What are the world’s smallest mammals?

How are California leaf-nosed bats different than most bats?

What do vampire bats look like? What makes them different?

How wide is a flying fox”s wings?

What role do they play in protecting plants?

Connection Questions: [after finishing the text]

Geography: Some of the locations mentioned where bats live can be located on a map. Can you find Thailand? Australia? Mexico? Texas? Tennessee? Arizona?

Art: Draw a bat and its cave. Why is its home important to it?

Art prompt: Draw a vampire bat.

Creative prompt: If you could be any of these species of bat, which would you be? What would you eat? Where in the world would you live? Who would be your enemy?

Flying Fox is one type of bat (named for it’s furry animal appearance. You can see the hooked claw of the bat, useful for holding on upside down.

Wow, that’s a lot of information about the world’s most interesting flying mammal. These questions do not have to be written down by the student. They can be asked and answered orally. They can be used as trivia questions. They can be a jumping off place for researching more. The discussion questions might want to be asked across several read-throughs, so that the first reading lets the child make a first impression – learning what is a bat? what do they do? – and then later readthroughs have the student exploring bat claws, species types of bats, and locating the bats on a map.

Again, all answers for this discussion book can be found in “Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats” by Ann Earle, the book illustrated by Henry Cole. It is a really rich resource for young readers – I feel like I tripled my knowledge of bats from this children’s book, and it makes me want to keep learning about bats.

This book Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats along with the Flying Fox documentary below would go great with an Australia unit study, while Vampire Bats would be a good addition to a Mexico Unit Study.

Bats could also be paired with a mythological component – how does the characteristics of bats get added into our popular cartoon character Batman? What does Spiderman have in common with house-spiders? If a child created their own superhero based on a superhero, what would Foxman, Rabbit Girl, or Narwhal Woman act like?

Best Bats and Echolocation Videos for Elementary Students

Echolocation

Excellent introduction, explained so preschoolers can understand but extremely thorough and rich in facts. Explains the phrase “blind as a bat”, echolocation, and goes deeply into sound (intensity, pitch). After it covers bats, it then moves into whale echolocation underwater. VERY informative!

Best Bat Video – 5 minutes

This video covers microbats and megabats. Megabats survive off of fruit and nectar, so they aren’t catching moving prey. As a result, they rely on their sense of smell to find their sweet food sources, and they don’t engage in echolocation.

This is an excellent video that includes the comparisons between bats and birds, discusses vampire bats and their unique traits, and explains many of the species of bats. It has a lot of bat footage in its 5 minutes. You can even see a bumblebee bat! (It is smaller than a hummingbird – a bat that is almost the size of a bumblebee)

Fun Facts About Bats – 2 minutes

Discusses bat babies (pups), bat mothers, and nurseries. The beginning is a very introductory explanation of echolocation, too introductory, but it picks up with fun facts about bat’s life cycle and those baby bats. Baby bats and mother bats can find each other each night based on their scent

Echolocation heard, voiced by David Attenborough – 2 minutes

This 2-minute clip is slow-going, but it has one benefit in the final seconds: it plays echolocation so you can hear it. Also, it has the voice of David Attenborough, narrating from a bat cave.

It begins looking at the cockroaches on the cave floor, the roaches eating off of bat poop, but then moves into the million bats on the cave ceiling, and what echolocation sounds like (slowed down and lowered in pitch so that we can hear it.) It sounds a lot like sonar, which was designed to be a mimic of whale echolocation for humans to see underwater.

Bat Symbols for Good Luck, in China – 5 minutes

This 5 minute video discusses why bats are seen as good luck in China. They share the same sound as the Mandarin word for blessing. So if you say 5 bats, it sounds like you are saying 5 blessings. The video shows a lot of imagery from traditional culture where bats are used as a symbol for good luck.

This lesson can also be an important place for cultural sensitivity, confronting anti-Asian sentiments. Racial “jokes” led to the physical harm of many Asian Americans in 2020 and 2021. People around the world eat many variety of things, like fried gator or fried squirrel (to name American cuisine).

There is no evidence that supports the idea that coronavirus came from “eating” bats. As the “Vampire Bats” video shows, just proximity to a bat can cause illnesses to spread between species. Having an animal in proximity to you, in your country, does not necessitate the harm or ‘joking’ of any other country or culture. Be respectful to other people. ‘Jokes’ hurt feelings and do harm, while demonstrating a lack of cultural awareness.

The Truth About Bats – 6 minutes, Batman-themed TedED

This video compares bats to Batman, and is jam-packed with facts about bats and how they help the ecosystem and economy. It confronts the role that bats play in preventing illness (eating bugs that would spread illness) and in transmitting it (sick bats are more likely to come into contact with humans because they are injured). The video will be LOVED by your students who love Marvel superhero characters, while teaching them about bats.

Vampire Bats – 8 minutes, like a podcast

This is a special interest podcast episode by NPR about Vampire Bats. It discusses the problems with Vampire Bats, which drink from cows and who can spread the rabes virus. Some of the interviews are from Panamanian farmers. There’s also an explanation of Vampire Bat behaviors, as social creatures. (This video is upper elementary, middle school in terms of interest level)

Flying Foxes – a 49 minute nature documentary ❤️

This hour-long documentary is on Australia’s Flying Foxes, a type of bat. The bat at the focus of this documentary is named “Cindarella.” The documentary shows Australia’s wildfires and how the bats live when there’s not enough food to eat. Grey-Headed Flying Foxes eat fruit and cause damage to farmers’ crops. They also risk extinction.

If you made it this far, thank you for spending this time with me learning about bats, who are some really exciting creatures. Don’t forget to join us on more science adventures by subscribing with your email address.

Final Question

Which species of bat was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below. I’m going to go back into my bat cave now.

Pun time: Why do bats poop anywhere? To them, every room is the batroom.

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