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Object of the Month: Lesser Horseshoe Bat
Lesser horseshoe bat from loans box Z34
- Bats are the only mammals that are capable of active flight.
- Bats are not rodents – in fact, they are actually more closely related to humans than they are to mice.
- Bats are not blind, but as most species are nocturnal their sense of hearing is far more important to them.
- They find their way around by echolocation – giving a series of ultrasonic calls and listening for the echoes which tell them where things are. They are very unlikely to fly into you and get caught in your hair!
- The smallest and commonest British bat is the pipistrelle – actually three different species distinguishable only by their calls. They measure as little as 3cm long and are the species you are most likely to see in your garden.
- The largest British bat is the noctule. It weighs about the same as a dwarf hamster.
- Vampire bats are real – there are three South American species which feed on blood. However, the large bats used to scare people in horror films are generally harmless fruit bats, actual vampire bats being smaller than our noctule. Other odd things eaten by bats are fish and frogs.
- All British bats eat insects - a single pipistrelle can get through 3000 midges in one night!
- Almost a quarter of Britain’s mammal species are bats. Worldwide, there are about 1200 bat species, about 20% of all known mammals.
The lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposiderosis) is one of our smaller species, measuring about 4cm long and weighing up to 9g, and with a wingspan between 20 and 25cm. They roost in unused parts of buildings, such as roof spaces and cellars – substitutes for caves. It is one of two British species with distinctive flat facial structures which look like the underside of a horse’s hoof, giving them their name. These help them echolocate. (The spike you can see on the photo is part of the structure - follow the links below to find out more.) The horseshoe bats are also distinguished by the way they wrap their wings around their bodies when they roost, making a sort of diamond shape.
This species has been in long-term decline due to agricultural pesticides and disturbance, which the bats are particularly sensitive to. It is rare in the UK, being restricted to the west of England and Wales. However, surveys of roosts and hibernation sites by the Bat Conservation Trust have shown a small increase over the last 15 years.
If you find an injured bat, pick it up gently wearing gloves or using a cloth (some bats may carry a rabies-type virus, European Bat Lyssavirus, so you don’t want to get bitten). Put it in a shoebox or old icecream tub with a bit of fabric hanging down the inside for it to hang onto, make small air holes in the lid (3-5mm, so it can’t get out) and leave it some water in a milk bottle top. Then call the Berks and South Bucks Bat Group helpline (0845 1300 228) to get in touch with a local bat care worker who can look after it until it can be returned to the wild.
Date updated: 31 Oct 2016
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The Bat Conservation Trust's website
The Berks & South Bucks Bat Group's website