Like a bat out of hell
The notions that bats get entangled in your hair and that they’re all bloodsuckers are just plain batty, says David Profumo, as he takes a closer look at the tiny common pipistrelle
Cindery, crepuscular and mysterious, they’re not blind, don’t inhabit belfries and never get entangled in your hair— although one in five of earth’s mammals is a bat, whereas birds are generally beloved, the poor old flittermouse is widely regarded as repulsive.
Their bone structure is so flimsy that the fossil record remains weak, but it seems bats evolved about 54 million years ago. Today, more than 1,100 species worldwide range from the tropical, frugivorous ‘megabats’—which may attain a wingspan of 6ft—down to the bumblebee bat, which weighs just 2g. They’ve adapted to feed off everything from nectar to scorpions and fish—not forgetting the infamous vampires, although the notion that all bats are bloodsuckers is plain batty.
We have 18 species in Britain, but the layman—dimly glimpsing some on the wing at dusk—tends to lump them all together. They include the nose-leafed horseshoe, the large noctule and the water-hawking daubenton’s (sometimes accidentally caught by fly-fishers), but the smallest, and most populous, is the delicate, prettily named pipistrelle.
Since 1999, geneticists have actually indentified two different species—the soprano (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) and the common (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), also known as the ‘bandit’; both are gregarious, communally roosting in colonies with a preferred habitat of barns, lofts and eaves near deciduous woodland and water, unfazed by human proximity. each weighs the same as a 20p piece and is so tiny it would fold up into a matchbox.
Glitmouse, reremouse, Die Fledermaus— the bat’s mouselike names are misleading, as it has little in common with rodents beyond mammalian body fur (despite a reputation for dirtiness, it spends much