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

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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

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