Bats (Order Chiroptera) are the only group of mammals to have evolved powered flight. Many taxonomists now believe that bats evolved from a common ancestor with the Primates. They are divided into two suborders, the Megabats (Megachiroptera), which are fruit eaters such as the giant Flying foxes (Pteropus spp.), and the Microbats (Microchiroptera), which catch insects in flight using a radarlike system of echolocation— emitting high-frequency sound pulses and listening to the echo as those pulses bounce back from solid objects.
The earliest known fossil megabat is Archaeopteropus transiens from the Early Oligocene (30 million years ago) of Italy, while the earliest known fossil microbat is Icaronycteris index from the Early Eocene (52 million years ago) of Europe and North America. Contenders for the largest living bat are the Great flying fox (Pteropus neohibernicus) of New Guinea and New Ireland, with a wingspan of 5 feet 6 inches–6 feet; the Large flying fox (P. vampyrus) of Malaysia and Indonesia, with a wingspan of 5 feet 6 inches; and the Indian flying fox (P. giganteus), with a wingspan of 4–5 feet. All are megabats and quite timid.
Although vampires are not strictly a subject for cryptozoology (since they are said to be either shape-shifting supernatural beings or reanimated dead members of our own species), their association with bats adds an eerie, symbolic element to the quest for Chiroptera that are unknown to science. Though feared or revered as creatures of the night in European folklore from ancient times, bats were first explicitly connected to the vampire mythos with Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula in 1897. Since then, they have made a substantial contribution to the concept of the vampire as an exclusively nocturnal entity.
Only the microbats of the Subfamily Desmodontinae are blood feeders, and these are confined to tropical America. There are three known species: The Common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), the White-winged vampire bat (Diaemus youngi), and the Hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata).
The largest carnivorous bat is the Australian false vampire bat (Macroderma gigas), with a wingspan of up to 32 inches. The largest carnivorous bat in Africa is the Yellow-winged bat (Lavia frons), with a wingspan of only 16 inches.
Winged cryptids are often difficult to classify unless they are observed up close. From a distance, the surprised observer might find it difficult to distinguish between an unknown giant bat, a Big Bird, a Flying Reptile, or even a Flying Humanoid. A pterodactyl might look very much like a large bat when swooping down an African river at dusk. Consequently, only the most mammalian of flying cryptids are included in this section. Of the eight listed here, five are giants and three are smaller, although they have peculiar habits. Five are African, two are South American, and one is Asian.