Bats – An Introduction to British Bats


Bats – An Introduction to British Bats

Bats – An Introduction to Bats Native to Britain

There are as many as eighteen species of bat in Britain which surprises most people with this large number and all are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. One of these species, the Greater mouse-eared bat was officially declared extinct in Britain in 1990, but there have been reports of sightings across 29 locations in the UK in the winter of 2011/2012.

Bats are quite remarkable creatures worthy of our interest and respect. They are the only mammals capable of controlled flight – and their aerobatic skills have to been seen to be believed! British bats eat insects and nothing else. This makes them great friends especially with farmers and gardeners seeking to reduce insect numbers, as some insects can cause damage to valuable crops and flowers.

Bats have their own exclusive Order which is known as Chiroptera (meaning hand wing). They have been separated from the other insect eaters because of their capability to fly.

The ‘hand-wing’ description is very apt, as one can see when studying the structure of a bat’s wing. The bones which support the wing membrane are simply extended fingers, with the thumb forming a protruding hook. If we stretch out our fingers as wide as possible and then imagine the skin between them extending out to the finger tips, this will provide some idea of the bat’s wing structure. While the front limbs of the bat have been specially developed for flying, the hind limbs look quite insignificant and almost useless. But, the hind limbs are essential to the bat when it comes to roost, as it hangs upside down from its resting place with its hind legs acting as a firm anchor by gripping whatever object or surface is available.

The commonist bat seen in Britain is also the smallest of the 18 species and it is known as the Pipistrelle Bat. This little bat (wing span about 22 to 25cm) is often mistaken for a dusk-flying bird as it scoots among the trees and hedgerows looking for insect food.

Among the larger bats are the Noctule (wing span up to 38 cm) and Greater Horseshoe Bat, with a wing span of similar size. Bats are difficult to identify in flight as it is usually dusk when they are active and the light fading, but the Pipistrelle can usually be recognised by its small size, while the long eared bat’s ears can be spotted if the light is not too bad.

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