Pipistrelle bat in flight by Barracuda1983 from Wikipedia Reproduced under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Bats may be the most elusive inhabitants of the Park but we have proof, at least since 2010, when the Count Bat project run by the Bat Conservation Trust offered a bat expert to educate locals and lead bat walks. This funding has finished and subsequent walks have been led by enthusiastic Members.
You may have seen one of the 6 flat bat boxes hanging south facing on trees along the path next to the big field. These are B&B stops for the bats in season and were built to the specs of the Kent Bat Group.
They’ve been up since April 2012 and we keep hoping for signs of some occupants !
Bats must be one of Britain’s most misunderstood mammals. Here are some “facts” that many people believe about bats:
- They are vampires, associated with Dracula, feeding on blood by flying down and latching on to your jugular vein;
- They are blind, after all everyone knows the phrase “as blind as a bat”;
- They are a kind of mouse, in German known as die fledermaus (flying mouse) and in French chauve-souris (bald mouse);
- They live in church towers – “bats in the belfry”;
- They fly into people and get caught in your hair.
There is very little truth in any of these so called bat facts. No British bats feed on blood. Only 3 of the 1100 species of bat in the world do, and all 3 are in Central or South America. All British bats feed on insects. Our smallest bat, the Pipistrelle , can eat 3000 midges a night – think how many more flying insects there would be if bats weren’t around to keep the numbers down!
Bats aren’t blind, they have very good eyesight, but because they are nocturnal they have another very sophisticated sense to find their way around and catch their insect prey – echo-location. They shout loudly at frequencies above the range of human hearing and detect the echoes bouncing off their surroundings. They do this so accurately that they can catch an insect in flight. They rarely fly into people and catch in their hair, though they do swoop just above head height when we see them on bat walks.
Bats aren’t a kind of mouse, they are not even rodents but a different order of mammals called Chiroptera. This name comes from the Greek words for hand (cheir) and wing (pteron), reflecting the construction of their wings: they are made of membranes of skin stretched between elongated finger bones. This gives them very fine control over the shape of their wings, yielding amazing agility in flight.
Like all mammals bats give birth to live young and suckle them. They only have one pup a year, which makes them vulnerable to poor seasons. They aren’t bald and different species have different fur colours. There are 18 species of bat resident in the UK, of which we have detected 3 on our bat walks in Shrewsbury Park – the Common Pipistrelle, the Soprano Pipistrelle and the Noctule. The Pipistrelles are the smallest (and most common) bats in Britain, weighing less than a pound coin and with a wing span of between 18 and 25 cm. The Noctule is one of our largest bats, weighing up to 40g and with a wing span of between 33 and 45cm.
Some bats do live in churches, but they live in many other places too, such as trees, houses, caves and tunnels. Pipistrelles often live in modern houses, in crevices or small cavities behind soffits or bargeboards under the eaves. They sometimes hibernate in bat boxes like those in the park. Noctules mainly live in trees, liking old woodpecker holes and spaces in rotten trees. A dark stain beneath the hole may mark a Noctule roost.
There are regular bat walks in the Park and we have our own detector to loan out (see below). For these guided walks we have access to several other detectors so everyone gets an opportunity to use one. Look out for the 2016 Bat Walk in September!
For more bat information and news, visit: