In our newest guide to native British wildlife, we are looking at more of the country’s resident bats, the only flying mammal in the world. There are 17 species of bat which are known to breed in Britain, counting for almost a quarter of the country’s native mammals. There are over 1,300 species of bat found across the world, with more being discovered nearly every year. Be sure to read part one of our guide to bats.
In the UK, all bats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Acts, and disturbing a bat or its roosting place is punishable with a fine. The best time to see bats is between April and October when they are no longer hibernating and head out each night to hunt for food.
Grey Long-Eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus)
The grey long-eared bat is very rare in Britain but easy to recognise, as its ears are as nearly as long as its body and it has grey fur. This species is more commonly found in southern Europe, so Britain is at the northern edge of its range and it is found only in southern England. It emerges at dark to forage for moths, flies and flying beetles using echolocation. Its hunting habitats include grasslands, large gardens and the edges of woodlands. In the summer, they form mixed-sex colonies, and in winter grey long-eared bats hibernate in caves, disused mines and cellars. When resting, the bat tends to curl its ears back or tuck them under its wings!
Brown Long-Eared Bat (Plecotus auritus)
The brown long-eared bat is similar to the grey long-eared bat as its ears are also nearly as big as its body, but it has grey-brown fur. It is much more common than the grey, being widespread across Britain but absent from some Scottish islands. Brown long-eared bats hunt flying insects such as moths along hedgerows but will also fly through foliage, picking prey from the leaves. They will also stop on perches to eat rather than in flight. Maternity colonies formed in the spring are all females, and they will roost in holes in trees and in old buildings.
Daubenton’s Bat (Myotis daubentoniid)
Daubenton’s bat can be found foraging for food in twilight over wetlands across the UK. Its flying is quick and agile, skimming over the surface of the water, which has given it the nickname of ‘water bat’. Its prey is mainly midges, caddisflies and mayflies, and it will use its feet and tail to scoop insects from the surface of the water. Daubenton’s bats also roost near water, under bridges or in tunnels, and hibernate underground in winter. They can be identified by their fluffy, brownish fur and pinkish face. Though they can live up to 22 years, the average lifespan is four to five years.
Bechstein’s Bat (Myotis bechsteinii)
The Bechstein’s bat is very rare in Britain and found almost exclusively in woodlands, such as the Forest of Dean and several woods in Herefordshire. Like other bats, they hunt flying insects at night, hibernate over winter and mate in autumn and spring. They form maternity colonies between 10 and 30 females with pups born in June and July. Bechstein’s bats can be recognised by their pink face, long ears, reddish-brown fur on its back and pale grey belly.
Lesser Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros)
The lesser horseshoe bat is rare in the UK, and its numbers are declining. One of the smallest bats found in Britain, it’s about the size of a plum, and like the greater horseshoe bat, it has a fleshy nose shaped like a horseshoe. It has grey-brown fur on its back and white underneath. The lesser horseshoe bat roosts in old houses, stables, barns and churches, and feeds among vegetation in lowland valleys, rarely flying more than five metres above the ground. They form mixed-sex maternity colonies and hibernate in caves and disused mines in winter. Its distribution is mostly western England, Wales and western Ireland.
Greater Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)
The greater horseshoe bat, like the lesser horseshoe, is also rare and declining in numbers, and can be found in farmland and woodland habitats around South West England and South Wales. The greater horseshoe is one of the largest bats found in Britain, about the size of a small pear. They tend to emerge at dusk and dawn to hunt midges, moths and flying insects, as they prefer to roost through the middle of the night. Greater horseshoe bats will choose a perch to watch for passing insects and will fly out to catch them in the air, returning to their perch to feed. Insect remains can be found underneath their perches in the spring and summer.
Barbastelle Bat (Barbastella barbastellus)
The Barbastelle bat can be identified by their long blackish-brown silky fur with white tips, rounded ears and short, upturned nose which gives it a pug-like appearance. They are only found in southern England and Wales and they have few breeding sites, making them one of the most rare and elusive bats in Britain. They live in woodlands and feed on flying insects in a wide area. Barbastelles only mate in autumn, hibernate over winter and give birth to a single pup in late spring.
Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus)
The common pipistrelle is one of the most widespread species of bat; its range extends across most of Europe, North Africa and southwestern Asia. In Britain, it is widespread though absent from Shetland and parts of Orkney. Common pipistrelles can be found in a variety of habitats from grassland, farmland and woodland to towns and gardens and wetlands. They can be identified by dark, golden-brown fur, paler underside and darker face and it flies rapidly with twists and turns. The common pipistrelle is also the smallest bat in Britain, small enough to fit into a matchbox. They will roost in tree holes, bat boxes and the roof spaces of houses in small colonies. During the summer females have just one pup. There are two species of pipistrelle bat; the common and soprano which are nearly identical, best distinguished by their echolocation’s differing frequency.
As spring comes around and you are out looking for bats at dusk, be sure to have your ladies country clothing and comfortable footwear, and that your wildlife watching won’t disturb the creatures you are looking for.
Image credits: Alexandre Roux (grey long-eared bat), Mnolf (brown long-eared bat), Gilles San Martin (Daubenton bat, Bechstein’s bat), Matthieu Gauvain (Lesser horseshoe bat), Oleksander Zakletskiy (Greater horseshoe bat), C. Robiller (Barbastelle bat), Barracuda1983 (featured image), Bio Blitz (common pipistrelle).