Thursday, 3 September 2015

20 Useful Things To Know About Bats

I have mentioned before that I do Daubenton Bat Surveys for the Bat Conservation Trust. We do two a year during August along a beautiful stretch of the River Test incorporating two separate beats (fishing areas). Access between the two beats is over two ancient, narrow and very wobbly single planks laid above the fiercely bubbling waters. There are no rails to these make-shift bridges, just whimsical branches that droop close-ish and provide the ephemeral illusion of something to grab on to in the event of slippage. There is also an insouciant sign declaring 'no entry' that hangs at a rakish angle across the chain at the start of the first 'bridge' which we merrily ignore as we clamber over it (having got both landowner's permission). 

The nature of the surveys means that we cross these planks in the pitch black. Twice on each survey. I don't know how old they are, but I do know that they are nearing the end of their lives, judging from the way one of them dropped suddenly as M trod on it this week. He wobbled alarmingly, grabbed a flimsy branch and managed to remain upright (and dry) and I scuttled across after him on a wing and a prayer and made it to the other side safely. Just. 
I'm generally rather scornful of Health and Safety, but there are times when even the briefest nod towards it would be a good idea.

It is quite an overhead doing the survey- you begin 40 mins after dark, stop at 10 marked points along the mile or so route and count the number of bat passes during 4 mins at each stop. It takes us two hours. As lovely as it is to see the bats and associated wildlife down by the river after dark, I think this will be the last year I do the surveys. There is so much else I need to have time for and I much prefer to be asleep at night these days instead of trampsing about the countryside :o) I am not very bat-like in that regard. When I was younger I was certainly a night-owl, but Old Age has crept up over the last few years and now I need my sleep!

Last night I attended a Bat Ecology course run by the Wildlife Trust and Very Interesting it was too. The chap doing the talk was very knowledgeable but Goodness could he talk! I thought you might like some of the info (in condensed form), so here are Twenty Useful Things To Know About Bats.

1. There are 17 breeding species of Bat in the UK and one immigrant who doesn't breed.

2. There are 1500 species of bat worldwide.

3. There are no bats in Antarctica.

4. Recent DNA tests have shown that Bats are more closely related to chimps than mice (as was previously thought).

5. Their eyesight is as good as human eyesight. Most see in black and white but Fruit bats see in colour.

6. They live for up to 30 years (depending on the species. Pips live 6-9 years).

7. They have suffered widespread population decline in the last 50 years years due to habitat loss and poisoning (timber treatments are particularly bad for bats and houses are now built without the cracks and crevices they need. Woods have been chopped down and hedgerows - used for navigating- removed. Hay meadows are no more (and the loss of associated insects) and wetlands have been built on).

8. Bats are important pollinators and hoover up insect pest species such a mozzies and those that can wreck havoc on plants (I use the term 'pest' lightly because basically, it gets applied to anything that people find annoying). It has been estimated that bats save the US economy over $6 billion a year by cleaning up crop-destroying insects. Pipistrelles eat 3000 midges every night. We have two Pips who live in our house. Perhaps we have them to thank for the low incidence of mosquito bites we get?

9. All UK bats and their roosts are protected by law. If you have bats in your roof and go up there to get a suitcase down you are technically infringing the law and could be prosecuted. To me that is where wildlife laws don't help themselves. Bats and humans have been living together for thousands of years- I don't believe that one person spending 5 mins in their loft is going to upset the resident sleepy bats so much that they all take fright and leave.

10. Bats are most active in the hour after sunset and again around sunrise, with some small activity to feed in the middle of the night.

11. Bats hibernate from November through to April (ish). They can and do wake on warm days to fly, drink and feed. Dehydration can be a big problem for them during hibernation. Babies are born in June.

12. Noctule bats (quite large) can fly at 40 mph. Serotines (bit smaller) fly at 28 mph.

13. You can id a bat from the frequency it calls at (with practice and a bat detector). Different species sound different- for eg Daubs rattle like a machine gun while Pips run up and down the scale. They also sound different when they catch an insect. In Daubs, this sounds a bit like a burp. You get your ear attuned to this when you go out regularly and listen to them.

14. Bats do not fly into people's faces/ hair/ rooms. This may very occasionally happen when they are babies and not used to flying (I've never had a bat fly into me once, despite being out among them more times than I can remember over many many years and having had them come extremely close to me on numerous occasions to check me out).

15. The Soprano Pipistrelle is the UKs commonest bat but it was only separated as a different species from Common Pips 20 years ago.

16. The single biggest predator of bats is cats- they take a 1/4 million bats every year (can't tell you the total UK bat population because no one knows).

17. Bats in the UK are rabies free, although some carry a European lyssavirus which is similar to rabies. This is why bat handlers use gloves when holding bats and are vaccinated against it.

18. It's estimated that there were 10 million Pipistrelles in the UK 40 years ago. Now there are thought to be 3 million.

19. Bats sleep inside small cracks in trees, between roof tiles, under branches. Anywhere that has two surfaces so they can get between them and feel safe and secure. Horseshoe bats sleep hanging upside down with their wings folded around them.

20. If you wake to find a bat in your room sleeping on the curtains it is most probably a juvenile. Leave it there (you need a licence from Natural England to handle even a dead bat). Leave the window open and it will find its way out again once darkness draws in. 

21. (an extra one because I though it was Interesting). Some bats have learnt to fly from house to house setting off security lights and returning 5 mins later to hoover up the insects attracted to the light. Clever. Very clever. I have watched ours do this when the Moth Box is out- they usually hunt in the front of the house (their roost hole is by the front door, I've watched them crawl back into it before and swoop out as well) and out across the lake (fairly sure they are Sopranos who like water), but when the box is out they swap to the back garden and take turns to swoop over the light collecting whatever is there.

Here's a pic of a Serotin from last night. Sorry he's upside down. My mobile is doing strange things with photos at the moment. He was lovely. Had been injured so was unable to live Wild and Free but seemed content enough and was chattering away. He also had a good groom of his face and fur.


If you're interested, you could have a look tonight as it starts to get dark- there are Pipistrelles (Sopranos) all round the UK so in all likelihood you'll have a roost not far from you. They are less common in towns but if there's a river with a bridge over it it's worth hanging about there for an hour around dark and seeing what appears. You could see Sopranos, Common Pips, Noctules, Long-Eared Bats and Daubentons to name a few :o)

Hope all are well,

CT :o)

24 comments:

  1. Absolutely love this post so much information. I adore bats & love watching them fly past the house. Low too as I spy them flying past the sitting room window. Sometimes I can be found hovering in the small cut through by the lane opposite my house as it seems to be one of their flight paths, until Mike hooks me back in to stop me scaring the neighbours! It really is a fascinating post, thank you my dear xx

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    1. So pleased it was useful. I am a big Bat Fan too- such lovely little creatures. xx

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  2. Interesting facts about bats. We have either one or two bats, we are never sure which. They fly up and down our farmyard every night. We don;t know where they spend their days and they never increase. It has been like this for all the time I have lived here (22 years).

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    1. They are possibly two boys who have been living together all that time. Sometimes you get 'bachelor' pads where two males roost together- I'm fairly sure that's what we've got here.

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  3. I fear I have been breaking the law for many years then, as when the cats have caught a bat and left it for me, I am not going to call out the Bat Police to remove it! I just do that myself.

    I had a very interesting evening with a friend in Herefordshire, as she had been on a bat talk where they were loaned her a bat-listening device and we went up into her fields and listened to two or three different types hunting round the trees.

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    1. I was surprised to learn it was illegal to handle dead bats. I understand why you need a licence for live ones. And I doubt local Bat Rescues have the resources to come and move every dead bat. Some time spent listening to them flying about is a magic experience.

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  4. If you give up on bat survey you can take up fly fishing which you should do living close to the Test. An absolute no brainer. Very good for the soul and if you use barbless hooks not bad for the fish as anglers are the only people who seem to care about fish. Everyone loves insects, birds and mamals but you rarely find anyone sticking up for the stickle backor having a soul to sole conversation.

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    1. You'll be horrified to hear this, Charles, but I've been fly fishing and found it a bit boring! My pa in law is an avid fly fisherman and one of our boys enjoys it too, although not on the Test- where I survey for Water Voles a day's ticket is £450 for two fish!

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  5. Bats are amazing, we see them in the churchyard at home and saw lots on our sunset walks on holiday. Thanks for all the interesting facts. How lucky are you to have them living in your house.

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    1. I know, I love the fact they are asleep under the roof during the day and I'm working a few feet from them :o)

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  6. We have pips here and I love watching them at dusk, although it's been so cold this summer I haven't sat outside once! A couple of years back one flew through the bedroom window and then around my head as I was half asleep. All we needed to do was open the window fully and it was out again and on its way. Gorgeous little things.

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    1. They are such superior flyers it always puzzles me when people worry about them getting lost/ tangled in things. Yours is the perfect example of what to do if they ever do find their way inside the house.

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  7. Good lord, that's a serious price for fishing. I used to do conveyancing and I remember selling a property where little stretches of river were £1,000 in the height of the season. We have bats here sometimes, I'm not sure what variety though. I love to watch them flying. Very sad to see them declining so much. I'm quite amazed at the amount of insects they eat, they're doing a good job. CJ xx

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    1. Fishing is huge business, especially here with the famous Hants Chalk Streams. I also hadn't appreciated quite how many mosquitoes batty people gobble up :o) xx

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  8. I have pipistrelles in my garden area. Interested in the rabies info, I thought the only case of rabies ever caught in this country was from a Daubentons Bat - perhaps the news stories of the time conflated this with Lyssa virus.

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    1. Daubs carry the European virus so it may have been that.

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  9. We have a lot of bats were I live, I love to watch them in flight.
    We even have several bat bridge that in the summer ten of thousands of bats fly out from the bridges and fly away at sunset. Not sure if they still do this but at the two Bat Bridges, every Thursday evening during summer, docents from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum are there to answer question.
    I used to love fly fishing but I can not do it any more.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Wow! I've heard of mega roosts like that, although never seen it in real life before. I bet that was amazing.

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  10. Tell your son to sign up with the Salisbury and District angling club. £200 a year, and they have 30 miles of Chalkstream scattered around southern england. Yes if you pay the full Test price you do go a bit pale. I go once a year to pretend that I am a plutocrat. Normally at the back end of the season when its is more close to reasonable.

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    1. Thanks Charles, I'll tell him. Although at the moment Grandad takes him for a few hours on one of the lakes nearby.

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  11. I didn't know there was so much to know about bats!!! I am especially interested by point 21, it really shows how incredible animals are and how they can adapt to the modern world and use it to their own advantage! xx

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    1. They are interesting creatures, and clever xx

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  12. what a wonderful post!! i'm very fond of bats -- we have a fair few around our house...although not as many as we had the first summer we lived here. there is/was a fungal ? infection wreaking havoc on our bat populations and it really did suffer.

    but there are still some stoic hangers-on and i just LOVE to see them flitting about hoovering up the mosquitoes [for which i thank them profusely]...mostly i see them in the dawn hours [because i'm an early-to-bed type] but i often hear them outside the bedroom window just after dark. *happy sigh*

    and that's so interesting that they know how to trigger the motion-sensor lights! very clever bats!! xo

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    1. White nose syndrome. I'd heard it has been catastrophic. Fortunately we don't have it here. I was accompanied up to the seat at the top of the garden by the pond last night when I went out in the gloaming. A small dark shape came with me then flew up and down the garden looking for mozzies. Love 'em xx

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x