India has over 100 species of bats including the flying fox, considered the largest in the world. They are found high in the Himalayas, to the deserts of the North West, to the tropical forests of the East and South. Old caves and tunnels are their most favoured locations, followed by dark niches and big crevices of heritage sites, tombs and forts. Bats are also found in hollows of old trees usually adjoining temples. They become active at sunset when they emerge from their roosts, drink water and then eat ripe fruits they can find such as figs, bananas and mangos, seeds and pollen from flowers. Sapota/chikoo and areca/supari trees attract them.

Fruit bats play an important ecological role as seed dispersal agents of fruits and medicinal plants, whereas the insectivorous bats consume crop pests. So besides fruit, nectar and insects some eat small fish, frogs, lizards, birds, and even other mammals. Only the vampire bats found in South America feed on blood. However, bats are known to carry a number of zoonotic diseases, including rabies.

Bats themselves are predated upon by owls and hawks and cats, even other bats. Humans are also a big threat to bats due to renovation of old structures and new constructions. For example, the Archaeological Survey of India has protected structures such as the Qutub Minar from birds and bats by replacing crumbling doors and cracked windows in the four balconies with wood-frame jaalis and iron grilles so that they can not enter. Many colonies of insectivorous bats have been exterminated by pest control because insecticides have killed the insects they eat – they consume insects equalling their bodyweight.

Unfortunately birds are not the only creatures who get hurt with manja (sharp nylon kite string). It was reported in February 2023 that bats living in Kolhapur’s Town Hall were severely injured. They come outdoors in the night and return in the morning. When they alight on trees the manja entangled there, injures them. These bats migrate daily to the jungle 60 kms away in Radhanagari in the Western Ghats where they find wild berries etc. A few flowering plants such as the cucumber tree which blooms at night are in fact completely dependent upon bats.


Bats are usually feared because of their association with death, darkness and despair. But in traditional Chinese culture bats represent good fortune. In China “wu fu” or “five blessings” (health, long life, prosperity, love of virtue, and a tranquil natural death) are created when five bats group together. The Chinese word “fu” used for “bat” sounds exactly like another word “fu” used for “luck”.

Bats and owls are clubbed together in Indian superstitions. A bat or owl flying over a house is said to be a harbinger of death. The sacrifice of nocturnal owls and bats on auspicious occasions are recommended by tantriks.

Bat’s blood ink referred to for writing spells and pacts in blood, contains no blood.

Hunting by Tribe

In January 2009, thousands of men, women and children belonging to the Adi tribe gathered together to celebrate their 200th annual festival ritual of hunting-killing-eating bats. They stormed into a cave at Pongging in upper Siang of Arunachal, with bamboo poles and caught about 1,000 bats.

Flying foxes are hunted and eaten on special occasions on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These bats are therefore classified as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List.

All fruit bats were classified under Schedule V (vermin) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 till the entire Schedule was scrapped under the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2022. In some parts of India bats are killed for medicinal purposes. For example, the meat of flying fox is said to cure jaundice and asthma.

However, eating fruit bats is linked to a neurological disease called lytico-bodig disease. The SARS virus that struck China in 2002 killing over 700 and sickening thousands was found in the horseshoe bats.

Bats are eaten in China and were one of the creatures suspected to have caused the outbreak of the deadly Covid-19.

Collisions with Wind Turbines

Bats collide with tall anthropogenic structures such as TV towers, communications, towers, large buildings, power lines, barbed wire fences and wind turbines.

Bird and bat mortality searches were undertaken around wind turbines in Gujarat. Both were found, thus confirming that they can be harmed by collision and disturbances in India too. Bat collisions are mainly due to disorientation caused by ultrasound noise.

Killing by Zoologists

Almost every one condemns animals being used in labs for testing products and so-called research, but what about the zoologists who collect animals from the wild, even threatened species, to study them? How can their killing be justified?


Over two decades, 222 studies mentioned the collection of 7,482 bats of 376 species from India, China and South East Asia and South America. The research mostly aimed to compile checklists or establish geographic ranges.

In a study published in Genome Biology and Evolution journal, researchers sequenced the genomes of two bat species – the Jamaican fruit bat and the Mesoamerican moustached bat. They carried out a comprehensive genomic analysis with a diverse collection of bats and other mammals. The study found that cancer-related genes were enriched more than two-fold in the bat group compared to other mammals. In short, they had an extraordinary ability to both host and survive infections as well as avoid cancer. The research was undertaken not for the benefit of bats, but to help understand treating ageing and diseases such as cancer in humans!

Bats are Guests

It is commendable that people living in villages around the Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary of Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu, have for decades been celebrating Diwali without crackers – they don’t even beat a traditional drum as it could scare the birds and bats in the area.

It started over a century ago at two villages, Unathur near Thalaivasal in Salem district and Agraharam Nattamangalam in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu, where Diwali is celebrated without fire-crackers. Thousands of bats live in the area and their well being is much more important than any celebration, to the inhabitants. Since the bats are considered guests, they are not disturbed or troubled in any way, which would happen if fire-crackers were burst.

Also in Tamil Nadu, the Indian flying fox is protected by the local community that worship them at the Madhukaatu Kali sacred grove in Pudukottai district. In Puliankulam village (55 kms from Madurai) there is a huge banyan tree which is home to a huge colony consisting of hundreds of fruit bats that are considered sacred. They are believed to be protected by Muniyandi, a spirit who lives in the tree. Other places where flying foxes are protected include Keelarajakularaman (95 kms from Madurai) and Sri Vaikundam (230 kms of Madurai).

People of Tabakad Honnalli village in Kalghatagi taluk, Hubballi in Karnataka perform a puja every month at a small temple below the tamarind trees on which bats roost. Decades back bats moved out of this village, after which it suffered severe drought which got attributed to their desertion. The villagers then performed a grand puja, offered sarees, beat drums, blew trumpets and other musical instruments and succeeded in inviting the bats back from Hindasageri village. Since then thousands of bats hang upside down on trees at Tabakad Honnalli village throughout the day where they know they are revered. But at dusk they fly out, nearly 100 kms away in search of guavas, bananas and other fruits. They return at the crack of dawn and wake the villagers with their screeching and fluttering noises of their wings.

Last but not least, the role of fruit-eating bats as seed-dispersers may vary with the type of forest that they inhabit, but in each they play a vital role in the preservation of forest trees. They should therefore be considered vital to tropical forest restoration.

Page last updated on 26/09/23