River Wissey Lovell Fuller


July 2018

When I was a kid living in Sussex we used to call bats ‘fluttermice’ which I think is a good description of them. Only being active after dark most people don’t know much about them and regard bats as unpleasant and mysterious creatures of the supernatural. Seeing them conjures up spooky visions of disease, vampires, evil and witchcraft. Although it’s very unlikely in this country they can carry two diseases - rabies and histoplasmosis. Many superstitions surround them, some good and some bad. In truth it is ignorance that causes people to fear bats. They are certainly peculiar looking creatures with their fold up wings which act as front legs and their habit of hanging upside down to sleep. World-wide there are 1,300 bat species. Weighing only 2 grams Bumblebee bats are the smallest while the flying fox is the largest at 1.5kgs with a wingspan of two metres. Seventeen species are known to breed in Britain which is about a quarter of the total mammal species found here. Some are common and some are rare. The Pipistrelle is our commonest species and weighs the same as a 20p piece. Its cousin, the Soprano Pipistrelle, has a higher pitched call. Brown Long-eared and Grey Long-eared bats, as the name suggests, possess exceptionally large ears. Greater and Lesser Horseshoe bats have horseshoe shaped noses and the rare Barbastelle has a distinctive pug like face. Daubenton’s hunt for insects over water and the Noctule is our largest species even though it’s smaller than the palm of your hand. Others are Bechstein’s, Alcathoe, Brandt’s, Leisler’s, Natterer’s, Serotine, Nathusius’ Pipistrelle and the Whiskered which has shaggy fur. Bats are nocturnal spending the daytime hidden away in caves, trees, churches, barns, tunnels or roof spaces. Fully protected by law it’s a crime to cause them harm, disturb them or damage their habitat. They have daytime roosts, hibernation roosts and breeding females gather together in maternity roosts. Bats will begin to emerge from hibernation on a warm March night and are particularly active during April when they need to replace the weight they lost during their long winter sleep. In some countries bats pollinate crops such as bananas, cocoa, and guava but ours are all insectivores and can account for thousands every night including mosquitoes. They can starve if there aren’t sufficient insects. Depending on the species they can be found foraging over pastures, woodland or water. In June females give birth to a single ‘pup’ less than an inch long which they suckle. The babies become independent in August. Bats mate in October and will also be concentrating on building up their fat reserves prior to hibernation. Although they can see very well they locate their prey in the dark by using a high frequency system known as echolocation. They make calls as they fly and listen for the returning echoes to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. Humans can’t hear these calls because they are too higher a pitch.

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