With winter closing in, the UK's bats will soon be heading into hibernation. The world's only flying mammal, these creatures are best known for their connection with Halloween and the supernatural. But what is the real story behind Britain's bats? We take a look a below.
A big family
A total of 23 bat species have been recorded in the UK, which is significantly more than any other group of mammals. Indeed, bats are some of the most numerous animals in the world, accounting for between a quarter and a fifth of all mammal species.
All of the UK's bat species are resident, meaning they stay in the country all year round, with the exception of the Greater Mouse-Eared Bat. This species was declared extinct in Britain in 1990, until a single male was found hibernating in Sussex in 2002. The bat has been recorded at the same site ever since and, as the only known member of his species in the country, could possibly be the UK's rarest animal!
Greater Mouse-Eared bat (iStock)
Bats will probably always be associated with vampires, but none of the UK's species share Dracula's taste for blood. All of Britain's bats are insect eaters, feeding more or less exclusively on invertebrates. Only the vampire bats of Latin America feed on blood and, with their range stretching from Mexico to Argentina, you've got no chance of encountering one in the UK!
Britain's bats actually play a key role in controlling insect numbers, with the Bat Conservation Trust reporting that a Common Pipistrelle may eat as many as 3,000 small bugs in a single night!
You may be surprised to learn just how small Britain's bats are. The Common Pipistrelle is the most diminutive, with an average weight of just five grams and a typical wingspan of around 20 cm. This means the bat is more or less the same size as Britain's smallest bird: the tiny Goldcrest.
Even the UK's largest bat species - the Noctule - weighs in at no more than 40 grams, making it similar in size to a sparrow. Bats can grow to much greater sizes in other parts of the world, however. The Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox, native to the Philippines, is the largest, reaching a maximum weight of up to 1.5 kg and a wingspan nearing 6 ft!
Noctule bat (iStock)
Blind as a bat?
We all know the old saying 'blind as a bat', but this actually couldn't be further from the truth. All bat species can see and the majority can do so far better than humans. However, bats' most impressive way of getting around is echolocation. When flying, bats make a number of sounds, by listening to the returning echoes they are able to establish a sonic map of their surroundings - perfect for getting around in the dark. The majority of bat calls cannot be picked up by the human ear, but technology can provide a helping hand. Bat detectors allow you to pick up the sounds made by these creatures and can help identify the exact species that is making them.
Coming home to roost
Originally, bats evolved to sleep in trees and caves. However, the animals have since adapted to the impact of humans on the environment and many now make their homes in buildings. It's worth being aware of the fact that all bat roosts are protected by law and it's a criminal offence to disturb the creatures, even if you're only hoping to get a closer look. If you'd like to attract bats to your garden, you can provide them with a comfortable place to roost by installing a bat box, which is specifically designed for the flying mammals.