Bram Stoker has a lot to answer for! Bats have suffered from a bad press thanks to their fictitious association with vampires and witchcraft. In fact, British bats are entirely harmless and their insect diet makes them more friend than foe.
If bats flew during the day everyone would know how abundant they are along our canals. These night-time visitors to the waterways are major consumers of flying insects, a fact that should be music to the ears of boaters!
Britain has 18 different kinds of bat. The most common is the tiny pipistrelle, which weighs less than a 2 pence coin.
Daubenton’s bats, also known as the 'water bat', are common on the waterways. They use the canal and river network extensively for foraging and getting around safely. For bats, the canals are a cross between a supermarket and the M1.
Homes for bats
In the days when Britain was covered in trees, bats often roosted in hollowed-out tree trunks or caves. However, now that so much deforestation has taken place, bats have been forced to seek alternative roosts.
Many of our 200-year-old tunnels, bridges, buildings and aqueducts are home to bats. This means we have to take care when working with any of our heritage structures or trees, in case bats, which are protected by law, are present.
The waterways provide an incredibly important natural passage for the movement of bats, bringing the countryside into the heart of our towns and cities, as well as some of our intensively farmed landscapes. These corridors bypass the perils of our roads, providing vital links in an increasingly fragmented countryside.
Bats can be spotted around dusk as they venture out to hunt their insect prey. They use a highly sophisticated form of radar (or high-frequency squeak) which bounces off objects back to the bat. This tells it the size, location, velocity and even texture of whatever is in its path.
Bats are less likely to be seen during the winter months, when they hibernate in cool and humid shelters. During this time the bat's body system slows down and its heart rate drops. It's important not to disturb bats during hibernation. The act of waking will use up vital fat reserves, which are needed to sustain the bat until spring.
Appearance: Bats often display characteristics peculiar to their species, for example the long-eared bat has unusually lengthy ears. In Britain, the most common bats have a small body, short legs, fairly narrow wings and a short tail. Colours vary from colony to colony, but ears and muzzle are dark and body hair a shade between orange-brown and grey-brown
Size: Again, this is dependent on species. Pipistrelle bats measure 3-5cm with a wingspan of 19-25cm. The greater horseshoe bat and the noctule bat have a wingspan up to 38cm
Weight: 3-9g (Pipistrelle)
Lifespan: Average 4-5 years
Diet: Small flying insects
Family: Chiropetra, meaning hand-wing in Greek. This is an apt description, as the bone structure of a bat's wing resembles extended human fingers with the skin stretched tight between them up to the fingertips
Last date edited: 12 November 2020