International bat night
When you think about bats what springs to mind? Do you imagine vampires or spooky haunted houses? Do you imagine the horror of getting one tangled in your hair?
International Bat Night is held on the last weekend in August and hopes to change our perception of bats. During this annual celebration, bat events for the public will take place across the country. There will be bat walks and talks organised by bat conservation groups, wildlife trusts and park rangers at a venue near you.
Bats are fascinating creatures. They make up just over a quarter of the UK’s mammal population and they are the only ones that can fly. Britain is host to eighteen native species plus occasional migrant visitors. Pipistrelles are the commonest British bats. They weigh just 5 grams (less than a £1 coin). Bat populations are under threat from predation, crime and loss of habitat so UK bats and their roosts are now protected by law.
Many people who profess not to like bats cite their wings as the reason but bat wings are actually beautiful pieces of biomechanical engineering. Bat wings are constructed in a similar way to human hands, only with membrane of skin stretched between the elongated, delicate fingers. Bat bones are not hollow – unlike bird bones – but they are very slender and flexible. Because their wings are much thinner than bird wings they can manoeuvre more easily at speed. They are also more vulnerable to damage but tend to heal very quickly.
Bats in the belfry ?
These unique creatures fly and feed in the dark. Across the world there are fruit and nectar-eating bats, and even real vampire bats which drink blood, but all UK bats live on insects. They find them using echolocation, producing a stream of high-pitched calls and listening to the returning echo. This provides a ‘picture’ of their surroundings. Although they can hear better than they can see, they are certainly not blind. In addition, their impressive navigational systems mean they are extremely unlikely to get caught in your hair!
The old saying about bats in the belfry is a bit of a myth. In fact, bats rarely seek out church towers, preferring somewhere quiet, and less draughty. They favour houses, both old and new, and cause few problems as they come and go. They are neither noisy nor smelly and householders are usually unaware of their presence. If bats do set up home in your roof, their access must not be impeded. If you’d like to encourage these interesting little creatures to your garden you can buy or make specialist bat boxes to fix to outside of your home to encourage them to take up residence.
Help, advice and general information on Britain’s bats is available at www.bats.org.uk.