One of my main characters lives on an island where people bet on bat races. My story is set up so that bats are domesticated and race one another in dark caves. The bats would use echo location to find their way through the cave.

Question: How could bats be raced (motivation, deliniation, and of course, gambling)?

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    $\begingroup$ Nobody has ever successfully domesticated bats. The incentive is food. Bats, like cats and dogs, are not identical - those close to bats can tell them apart. Betting has a long cultural history, and Wikipedia will happily tell you ways to make it work. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jun 11 '18 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ You tagged [magic], but haven't explained any limits. Are you sure your magic isn't up to the task? $\endgroup$ – user25818 Jun 11 '18 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit our help center to learn more about us. I removed your comment about imagining the bats in swarms because, given the size of a bat, that's hundreds if not thousands of bats. That seems a bit much when it's more likely you only have dozens of racing participants. If I'm wrong, please edit your question and reinstate it. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 11 '18 at 16:53

Skip a feeding or two before the race, give them something to eat, and watch them eagerly fly back to their roost to eat it. A little colored ribbon around their feet and judges keeping an eye on the roosts will let you know which bat won.

Bats which eat fruit or small animals will take their food back to either their nesting roost or a special feeding roost in order to enjoy their meal in comfort and safety. Thankfully, bats roost in close groups, so the racing bats simply need to be from the same roost in order for the race to have a single finish line that they will all fly to.

Corral them a day before, attach a little ribbon to make them distinct, lay out some fruit at the cave's starting line, and have them skip a meal in order to make them motivated to quickly fly home and eat.

An adorable bat with a fig

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I would race them in a similar way to pigeon racing today, run by various bodies in different countries such as The Royal Pigeon Racing Association.

The bats would be habituated by their domestication to live in particular roost sites, which they would return to on release. A number of bats would be taken to a release site and the first to return to their home roost would be declared the winner.

A small amount of magic would be used to tag each pigeon and find out which one was the winner.

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Mark the bats with painted symbols

The idea of trademarks and brands are almost as old as humanity. A little paint and a symbol registered with race officials and you know exactly whose bat won.

Place your bets!

Betting on bats would be no different than betting on any other sport, but let's stick to horse and/or dog racing. Bets would be on first, second, and third (win, place, and show).

Fly! you little stinker! Fly!

You tagged your question "magic." Cool. Motivation is easy with magic. Put something pungently tasty at the end of the race and then magically cause your bats to feel desperate hunger. They'll fly like a bat out of... well... you get my point.

None of which is your actual problem

How do you determine who won? Bats are small, fast, and (thanks to echolocation) notoriously difficult to catch. And if two bats are flying closely together, they're hard to see as two bats (much less more). Here are some ideas:

  • Have a magical "photo finish." In this case, it's not paint used to mark the bats, it's a magical symbol, unique to every bat. A magical "ward" is placed across the finish line that tells the magician which bat crossed it (and hope he's sensitive enough to know which came first between two flying neck-and-neck).

  • Have a rotating set of nets at the end designed like lobster cages or deep butterfly nets. This helps to avoid the echolocation response to avoid the nets, but the turning net (think "pinwheel") could capture bats as they come in (other than the neck-and-neck bats).

  • After the "finish line" have the bat owners at their own tables (somewhat separated, like by 10' or more) and rather than using one pungent and tasty food, use a unique one for each bat, magically driven mad to get to that fabulous treat as fast as possible! Each table is overseen by a judge/referee with a flag that must be raised once the bat is back in its cage.

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Training is out of the question. You can't train bats. But you can have them painted, then wait until they leave their nests to swarm into the night, then follow them with spyglasses and see who makes it back to the caves first. Only one winner, only one loser as the last to come back in, while nature does its job

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