With Halloween fast approaching it’s probably no coincidence that the 27th of October each year is National Black Cat Day, and the whole of the last week of October is International Bat Week. Well, we hate to play favourites, but in our book bats win the spooky contest hands-down. So today we’re taking a closer look at Britain’s spookiest mammal!
Why Are Bats Spooky?
Bats are a symbol of Halloween and no good Halloween party would be complete without a bat or two hanging around. But take a closer look at bats and they are actually pretty cute. So why the ghoulish reputation?
To understand why we find bats creepy we need to go back over 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which is the predecessor of Halloween.
The Celts believed that on October the 31st the barrier between the spirit world and our own became thin allowing humans and spirits to mix. They held huge parties with much food and drink and typically a big bonfire at the centre. The light of the bonfire would attract nocturnal insects, which in turn would attract bats. So the Celts believed that the bats were spirits who had crossed over into our world to join in the fun.
“Skin of Toad and Blood of Bat” in legend witches liked to put some pretty interesting stuff into their magical potions. Some of their traditional ingredients, especially herbs, we know do actually have medicinal properties.
Bats’ blood was said to be used by witches to help them fly. We suggest you don’t try this one at home!
Blame Bram Stoker
Then to put the final nail in the coffin of bats’ spooky reputation, in his novel Dracula Bram Stoker had blood-sucking vampires turn into bats. And so the legend of the Vampire Bat was born.
In fact of around 1,500 species of bat in the world only 3 drink blood, and none of those live in the UK.
So What Are Bats Really Like?
So if bats don’t really deserve their scary reputation, and they’re not actually blood-sucking spirits from another world, what are they really like? Here are just a few fascinating facts for you.
1 There are around 1,500 different species of bat in the world and 18 in the UK. In Britain bats make up over 70% of our native mammals.
2. “Blind as a Bat” is a misleading saying. Bats’ eyesight isn’t that bad, actually, it’s about on a par with average human eyesight.
3. Bats are the worlds’ only true flying mammal – how cool is that?
4. Bats use echolocation to get around and find their prey. They also have amazing hearing. The Brown Long-Eared Bat, for example, can hear a ladybird step onto a leaf.
5. Bats are great at pest control. A tiny pipistrelle, which weighs about the same as a 20p piece, can eat around 3,000 insects in one night.
6. Although British bats are all insectivores, bats in other parts of the world are important pollinators. Some of the things we get from plants that depend on bats include: bananas, vanilla, dates and Tequila!
7. Like hedgehogs, bats hibernate for the winter. But unlike hedgehogs they hibernate pregnant. They mate in late summer and don’t give birth until the following spring.
8. Bats share more of their DNA with humans than they do with mice.
9. Bats are an important indicator species. They are sensitive to environmental changes. So the health of a bat population in a particular area can give an early warning of changes in the health of the local ecosystem.
10. 40% of bat species worldwide are endangered, including 4 of our native British bat species.
How Can We Help Bats?
So how can we help the amazing, unique and really not-so-scary creatures? Joining The Bat Conservation Trust would be a good place to start. They do amazing work with British bats. You could donate, adopt a bat, volunteer or just browse the website to find out more about the wonderful world of bats.
Encourage Bats in Your Garden
Our gardens are becoming increasingly important as habitat for all wildlife, and that includes bats. And there aren’t many sights quite as magical as spotting bats flitting around in the twilight on a summer evening.
Here are a few things you can do to make a bat-friendly garden.
- Plant night scented plants. These attract nocturnal insects – the main food of all our British bats.
- Build a pond. Like all wildlife, bats need to drink, but some species of bat also feed mainly on water insects, so a pond is a double win.
- Get a bat box. Bats’ traditional nesting sites can be hard to come by in modern urban areas. A bat box; will solve that problem for many species.
- Reduce artificial lighting. Bats like the dark. Artificial light disrupts their routines and they may even avoid feeding or nesting in brightly lit areas altogether.
- Avoid pesticides. UK bats eat insects, so any pesticides you use are likely to end up in your local bats stomachs – not good!
Better The Bat You Know
The more we know about bats, the more we realise what a fascinating species they are. And how much, like all our wildlife, they need our help.
So if you’re celebrating Halloween this year. why not do something different and celebrate by adopting a bat?