International Bat Night has been celebrated since 1997 in over 30 countries, mainly in Europe but also in the US and Algeria. Its aim is to encourage people to learn about and respect these sometimes very misunderstood members of the mammal world.
Bat facts and batty myths
Bats make up at least 20% of all mammal species. There are over 1400 known species of bats. They range from the smallest, known fondly as the Bumblebee bat, which weighs the same as a prosecco cork. The largest are the Fruit bats of the tropics, which can weigh the same as a full bottle of prosecco.
Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind, but because they are nocturnal and usually hunt in the deepest dark, they also make use of a sonar system (echolocation) to help them identify the distance and size of objects near them. In fact, many bats, such as Fruit bats, have excellent eyesight and don’t need to echolocate to find the fruit they want.
Bats do not fly into your hair either. That’s another myth that gives bats a bad name.
The value of bats
Bats are living creatures, worth protecting for their own sake. They are also very useful to humans as they are a good biodiversity indicator for an area (if the bats are doing well, then whatever they feed on is also doing well). They control pests for farmers, pollinate plants, and eat berries and fruit and disperse seeds in their droppings. Research is ongoing into many aspects of bats’ lives, such as ageing, which may be useful for us. They are protected in the UK because their numbers have been dropping in recent decades.
Learning from experts
Norfolk and Norwich Bat Group decided to try a new venture for International Bat Night this year to celebrate and help people understand more about bats. We organised a family event at Swanton Morley village hall, with information stands and experts at hand to chat to people about these fascinating and unique mammals.
There were games, crafts and activities to learn about bats – the agility of a Pipistrelle, the stealth of a Barbastelle, the speed of a Noctule. There were specimens of bats to look at – not for the squeamish, but a great way to see the anatomy of these little creatures close up.
Moths are an important part of the diet of bats. One member of the group had brought a moth trap, so that participants might have an opportunity to study the different kinds of moths in the area – the moths would of course later be released unharmed.
Bat and moth: games and activities
We played Scoff the Moth (think Splat the Rat), a very competitive and popular game. There were bat jigsaws. Children could colour their own bat and then take it into the bat cave to hang up, or make a bat potion and a bat mask.
The bouncy castle was a bonus and fully enjoyed by the children (and definitely some adults wishing they were younger)!
And to round it all off, there was a bat walk to find out which bats were flying around the local area.
A bat walk
In Norfolk, we are home to 11 of the 18 species of bat living in the UK, all of which only eat insects. On a bat walk, we might expect to see and hear a few of those species: the Common, Soprano and Nathusius’ pipistrelles, the Noctule, or the Daubentons over water.
And yes! We did see Pipistrelles in the park!
As sunset came, we set off for a walk from the hall. Bats were flying along the hedge line around the playing field as soon as we started – they like tree lines and hedge lines to navigate using echolocation. Their shouts echo off the trees and they are able to find their way to their favourite feeding places. There were Common and Soprano pipistrelles (yes, the Sopranos do call at a higher frequency) and they were enjoying the insects along the hedge and in the allotments we passed. The allotments had a good variety of plants to attract different species of insects for the bats to feed on. We knew when an insect had been caught as the clicks of the echolocation calls became so close that it sounded like someone blowing a raspberry! A few Noctules were also around.
At the end of the walk, we returned to see what moths had been caught in the moth trap. The moths were in labelled pots for people to handle and see close at hand, before being released to carry on with their night. Ruby Tiger, Maiden’s Blush, Burnished Brass and Dusky Thorn – fascinating names of just some which were trapped.
Taking the bat knowledge home
To reinforce all the learning, there were a variety of bat-themed items for sale, including bat boxes with full instructions on how to put them up. Obviously, there was cake – home made and tasty – and a bar provided by the excellent village hall.