In a Flap: Facts from International Bat Weekend
Photo Credit: Kirsty Grant
The weekend just gone was international bat weekend; 28th and 29th August 2016. Set up by the Bat Conservation Trust the aim of the weekend was to encourage thousands of people to see and hear bats in their natural environment. Events were organised across the county by local bat groups, wildlife trusts, countryside rangers and other organisations.
Brenna from Wild Capital led a guided bat walk in Grovelands Park, Enfield. Over 90 people came to experience the sights and sounds of London’s bats. Four species were detected; Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubenton’s. One of the highlights of the evening was catching a glimpse in the torchlight of a Daubenton’s Bat skimming low over the lake. Many thanks to Black Rainbow Events for organising the evening.
Brenna gives an intro to bats in Grovelands Park. Photo Credit: Black Rainbow Events
If you didn’t manage to join in the nocturnal festivities this bank holiday, get up to speed with one of our countries most important mammals. This article is written by Kirsty Grant.
IN A FLAP: FACTS FOR INTERNATIONAL BAT WEEKEND
Brown Long Eared Bat, at a rescue facility in Bristol – Avon Bat Group
Shapes and Sizes
Bats account for one quarter of our mammal species. 18 species are present in the UK with 17 known to be breeding. They come in all shapes and sizes from the smallest, the Common Pipistrelle at just 4cm to the impossibly cute Brown Long Eared Bats. The Noctule is the largest, although still fitting comfortably in the palm of your hand, there’s the beautiful velvet black coat of Serotine bats and Daubenton’s bats who favour still bodies of water- just to mention a few.
Why Should We Care
Bats act as an indicator species for larger environmental happenings. They are so sensitive to changes in the environment that some scientists believe they can act as early warning systems, giving us some indication of how our human activities are affecting the natural world. This means all the fantastic research to improve bat conservation may also provide information about our ecosystems as a whole, facing the pressures of climate change and habitat loss.
Bats also help keep some pests at bay. They are impressive hunters packing away up to 3,000 flies and mosquitoes a night, especially when fattening up for hibernation.
Delta Echo Foxtrot
Bats have an incredibly specialised sensory system which allows them to navigate the word around them. High pitched sounds are emitted through the nose or mouth to reflect off of objects in their path and bounce straight back to the bats who can not only gain information about what’s in their immediate surroundings, but how fast it’s flying and exactly how far away it is. These sound waves are incredibly accurate and give bats their characteristic ‘fighter jet’ mode of flight – twisting and turning and never bumping into obstacles in their path. Being privileged enough to tune into some bat chat is a treat. Notwo species sound the same, emitting at different frequencies to suit their prey and environment, and by listening in with a bat detector you should be able to tell exactly which species you have found.
Serotine Bat, Avon Bat Group
Do Not Disturb
All bats are endangered in this country with some of the rarest species roosting in unlikely locations across the county. A beautiful old church, outbuildings on a farm, maybe the ruins of a castle. When visiting some of our historic places, spare a thought for the guests that may be sleeping during your visit. If you come across a bat roost in your own home remember it’s illegal to damage or disturb it in any way. Bats react badly to any disturbance, and interfering with the roost may cause them to abandon their young. For information on what to do if you do discover roosting bats, or any other problems look on the Bat Conservation Trust’s website.
Fruit Vs Flesh
All bat species found in Britain are insectivorous, meaning, of course, that they only eat insects. The ghoulish tales of blood thirsty vampire bats, even if they were true wouldn’t affect us humans anyway, because we’re not insects! Far from any of these tall tales, if you are lucky enough to observe bats in the natural environment or even at a rescue sanctuary you’ll discover they’re very charismatic and charming animals who deserve more of our positive attention.
If we take a trip across the world to the tropics- Asia, Australia and the Indian Subtropics, we find fruit bats. The Greater Flying Fox is the largest in the world with a 6ft wingspan. Just like bees and butterflies, bats act as brilliant pollinators carrying seeds from the fruit they eat and depositing elsewhere.
Our British friends are known as microbats and the fruit bats as megabats. Around the world one fifth of all are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. Our native bats and their cousins around the world really do need our help.
The fruit bats are the ones who have relatively poor eyesight, most cannot echolocate and instead use their sense of smell to find food- fruit and nectar don’t usually try and escape so there’s no trouble there. Using their sharp teeth they cut through the soft flesh and extract the nectar. All echolocating microbats have good vision, especially at night to help them move with such agility.
This time of year is ideal for impressive sightings, in the lead up to the breeding season (between September and November) males will put on flashy flying displays to impress the females. Their performance can win the up to ten mates, however after winning all the attention there’s still a delay until the young are actually produced. Bats are capable of delayed implantation, where the females’ eggs will get fertilised immediately but the embryo will only start to develop when hibernation ends four months later.
Good news! At least 8 of our bat species are currently thought to be living in London. For urban bats, the huge expanse of Regent’s Park in the centre of the city is a haven. At this time of year it still may be light enough to spot the silhouettes as they being to emerge 20 minutes or so after dusk. Around 75% of all sightings tend to be Common Pipistrelles. Most of the large green spaces across the city will play host to a collection of a few different species. Bushy Park in Richmond regularly has sightings of brown long eared bats along the avenues of trees and Daubenton’s near the water. Any open water areas, ponds, lakes, rivers etc are always a good place to start out for spotting Daubenton’s. You can also find a good range at Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath. Check out London Bats for areas near you.
Representing the only known record of flight in mammals, bats have a good reputation to uphold, but where exactly did they come from? The oldest know fossilised remains show that even up to 60 million years ago, bats looked remarkably similar to the way they do today. The certainty of their ancestors still remains a bit of a mystery as the vital link between non-flying mammals and bats is still ‘missing’. Just how this evolutionary trait took place is still the source of much research but scientists do believe that bats came from small gliding mammals. Today these would look like small rodent-like creatures that feed on insects such as shrews or moles. These early bats may have developed the ability to fly to escape predation, or to have access to the increasing wealth of flying insects that were evolving about the same time.
They need us as much as we need them. Lots of charities are working hard to educate and provide information about bats or to rehabilitate and provide a safe home for those who have been too badly injured (neighbourhood cats I’m looking at you) to return to the wild. Even after this weekend is over, support some of your local trusts by getting involved in bat walks and events, donating to the cause or even sharing information.
Written by Kirsty Grant. Read more of her work at WildScotPlace