Bat Teeth: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: December 26, 2021
Image Credit Daily-Images/Shutterstock.com
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Bats are truly incredible animals. They may be underrated as they are often seen as pests in cities, but they actually possess a plethora of unique qualities that make them distinctive and quite different from all other animals. 

To start, bats are one of the few animals who are able to fly without the need for wings. There are some other mammalian species that can fly or glide through the wind, but bats are the most well-known among them. Moreover, bats also have a highly sensitive sense of hearing, which makes them survive through the night. As nocturnals, bats wander their habitats during the night, and despite having low visibility at this time, bats rely heavily on their echolocation for survival, hunting, or exploring their surroundings. 

Bats are also winners when it comes to racing with other animals. The Mexican free-tailed bat, for instance, can whiz through the air at 99 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest mammals. Bats are often portrayed as a symbol of Halloween because of many reasons. For one, some of them suck blood, and they are also known to have fear-inducing fangs, like those of a vampire. But what kind of teeth do these mammals really have?

What Kind of Teeth Do Bats Have?

Close-up of Little Brown Bat.
Bats are heterodonts that have cheek teeth which they use in crushing their food.

Daily-Images/Shutterstock.com

Bats have highly customized teeth used to eat soft fruit and insects. Like many other mammals, bats are heterodont, which means they have a dental structure composed of different types of teeth. Bats have a set of canines, incisors, and cheek teeth containing molars and premolars which all work together in their own unique ways to aid the bat in crushing and grinding their food.

Both top and bottom teeth in bats are made up of four types of dental structures: teeth for chewing and teeth for biting, as well as molars, which are used for grinding food. Known as fangs, the canines are a set of teeth in the mouth of a mammal, especially omnivores and carnivores. All bat species have these, regardless of their diet. Bat species evolved to eat a broad variety of foods, and the form and texture of their teeth and the anatomy of their mouths reflect this diversity.

Bats differ in size depending on their species, but their sets of teeth are the same. The largest bat species is the golden-crowned flying fox found only in the Philippines, measuring up to 11.2 inches long with a wingspan of 5.6 feet.

How Many Teeth Do Bats Have?

Bat Teeth - Side View
Bats have anywhere from 20 to 38 teeth.

Stephen M/Shutterstock.com

Different species of bats have varying numbers of teeth, but they all have anywhere from 20 to 38. The shape and number of the bat’s teeth are determined by what it eats. The evening bat, for instance, which feeds on beetles and bugs, has a dental formula of: incisors 1/3, canine 1/1, premolars 1/2, molars 3/3.

While bats that consume insects have sharp teeth to break through the hard carapaces of beetles, bats that consume nectar and feed on pollen have lengthy tongues and weak teeth since they wouldn’t need to do much grinding to get nectar and pollen from the flowers.

How Do Bat Teeth Work?

Bat Teeth - Greater mouse-eared bat
Different bat species use their teeth for nectar, fruits, insects, and animals.

Geza Farkas/Shutterstock.com

Bats’ teeth work in many different ways, depending on the diet of a certain bat species. Bats that feed on bugs, for instance, use their canines and incisors to catch and grab their prey before choking them. The fangs of a fruit bat, on the other hand, are used to open tough fruit shells. The bat’s teeth serve a lot of purposes depending on what they eat.

Here are different bat diets and how their teeth work for each:

Nectar – For bats who feed on nectar and pollen, their dental structure is as long and tapered as their tongues. Their tongues, however, are quite huge in comparison to their set of teeth. Bats who feed on nectar have evolved to rely more on their tongue than their fangs. Their canines, on the other hand, are extremely little, and they don’t stand out much.

Animals – Small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are the preferred prey of a few bat species. Some bats even have a particular interest in fishing. Bats who feed on small animals have sharp, pointed teeth used to kill their prey, and possess a varying set of molars and premolars to help them chew the prey’s meat. Prey who are thrashing and struggling are also no match to their razor-sharp fangs.

Fruit –  Bats who eat fruit occupy a large portion of the bat species. These bats, known as flying foxes or fruit bats, eat primarily fruit. Fruit bat fangs are very noticeable and take up a lot of space in their mouth. The fangs of these bat species often act as blades to open fruit shells and to grip on their food more tightly. Bats frequently harvest and fly away with fruits larger than their heads, making this wide grip critical for them to gather food. Unlike other non-fruit eater species, bats that mostly consume fruits have their premolars and molars more pronounced. 

Bugs – There are some species of bats who feed on bugs. Snatching and suffocating insects with their incisors and canines is their primary method of prey predation. For bats that eat insects, the front teeth normally take up more area than the premolars and molars, and the fangs can be seen extremely clearly.

Do Bats Suck Blood?

Bat Teeth - Vampire Bat
Each night, vampire bats drink about half of their body weight in blood.

belizar/Shutterstock.com

One of the most famous bat species, yet also the smallest in number, are vampire bats. These flying mammals do not really suck blood, but rather lap it as it flows from their victim’s skin using their tongue. 

Due to their liquid diet, these bats have few teeth, but those they do have are extremely sharp. When a bat spots warm blood streaming just beneath a victim’s skin, a sensor on their nose guides them to that direction. Anticoagulants in their saliva slow clotting and allow them to eat for longer periods of time. 

Close-up of Little Brown Bat.
Close-up of Little Brown Bat.
Daily-Images/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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