Not just for Halloween- Why we should all protect bats.

Bats often get a bad press due to their associations with vampires and disease. However, people’s perceptions of them are often misjudged and they’re actually really important animals! This week I’ll be highlighting the reasons we need bats just as much as they need us!

So, first off let’s get some more background on them. There are over 1,400 bat species throughout the world, living in a wide range of regions from the Amazon rainforest to UK cities [1]. They use a variety of habitats for roosting, feeding and travelling. The roosts are where they sleep and can often change place throughout the year. Just like us, different species of bats have preferences to where they live, these can include caves, hollow trees, buildings and underground structures [2, 3]. At warmer times of the year, pregnant females can form maternity roosts, which help them keep warm and look after their ‘pups’ after birth. Bats usually forage where there’s lots of their food available such as in woodlands or over waterbodies. In the UK, all our bats only eat insects, although globally they’re known to also eat fruit, lizards and frogs [3]. They use commuting routes to travel between their roost and foraging site, these corridors are usually dark to protect themselves from predators.

Photo credit: IUCN

Bats are the only mammal capable of true flight thanks to their wings, which are actually made up of their fingers and live skin! This helps them manoeuvre through the air and catch their food with amazing precision. Many bats use echolocation which allows them to essentially see with sound, they send out calls (which are too high for us to hear), which reflect off objects. This echo can tell a bat all sorts of information about their prey, such as the direction and speed it’s flying, as well as its size. They can also use their call to choose their preferred meal!

Bats populations are declining, but why should we want to protect them? Even though their unique nature and unusual faces are enough motivation to want to conserve them, bats also help our environment in a number of ways.

Firstly, many a species are ‘bio-indicators’, meaning they are able to tell us about our natural environment [4]. This is because bats can be sensitive to changes such as habitat loss, climate change and even pesticide use. Therefore, decreases in bat populations can highlight an issue which may be affecting other species and is not obvious. Bats also eat massive amounts of insects, for example, the common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) can eat 3,000 insects a night! They act as a pest-control, preventing damage to many plants and saving us from getting bitten by mosquitoes at night.

Photo credit: The Northern Echo

Although our UK bats don’t eat fruits and flowers, we are still impacted by those that do [5]. This is because they disperse seeds and pollinate the plants of our favourite foods and drinks, including chocolate and tequila! Therefore, without these bats we wouldn’t have the plants (and their products) which rely on them.

Protecting bats is really important, particularly now as their populations continue to decline. If we make small changes to our lifestyles such as turning lights off in unused rooms and closing curtains at night, we can help to reduce our impact on them! So, join the fight to turn off the light!

Next week I’ll be discussing the different bat species within the UK and to a much more local level, in Stoke Park.  

You can access information on this issue and find out how to help by following Blinded by the Night’s Facebook and Instagram pages. If you have any questions about the campaign or would like to get involved, please contact me via email at Beth2.Gerrard@live.uwe.ac.uk.

How to get involved:

Facebook: Blinded by the Night @blindedbythenightbristol

Instagram: @blindedbythenight_bats

References:

  1. URL: https://www.bats.org.uk/about-bats
  2. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237651158_Conservation_of_bats_in_British_woodlands
  3. URL: http://www.allaboutbats.org.au/habitat/
  4. URL: https://www.int-res.com/articles/esr2009/8/n008p093.pdf
  5. URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989419302422