Bats- super spooky or marvellous mammal?

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog

That’s what the Three Witches used for their famous brew in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But did you know that the Three Witches were probably referring to mustard seed, buttercup, holly leaves, and houndstongue! In ancient times this is what these plants were often referred to.

This, along with Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, might be one of the reasons why we associate bats with Halloween and general spookiness. Or it could be because these amazing mammals are nocturnal, or perhaps even because of their totally unique, but beautiful, looks.

Hibernation explained

Depending on the weather most bats start to hibernate in late October to early November. Hibernation can last around 5 months, so you might not see another bat until May!

As they hibernate their heart rate drops to around beats a minute, which is a huge contrast to their flying heart rate which can be as high as 1,000 beats per minute. A bats amazing speed and agility needs a lot of power. Bats also lower their body temperature and metabolic rate. Doing this means that they can live off the fat they have stored up, rather than having to rely on dwindling numbers of insects.

Where do bats go to hibernate?

In late autumn bats will start to look for their winter residences. Often, we think of bats living in caves, but they also roost in trees, old mines, abandoned or disused cellars, old barns, and tunnels. As they can’t build nests, they’ll simply look for a quiet, sheltered spot, where they can avoid dramatic temperature changes and the worst of the winter weather. In fact, bats can squeeze themselves into tiny gaps, and they’ll hibernate in any position.

Which bat species can I see?

It’s not too late to spot bats this year, but you’ll need to act quickly before they go into hibernation. The best time to spot them is at dusk, when they’re feeding. If you are lucky they might get very close to you if you stand still enough.

The good news is that bats love feeding near rivers. Tree-lined rivers provide ideal foraging habitat for bats, as lots of insects gather above the water, in the shelter provided by the trees. So bats use rivers as feeding spots, and as maps to move around their areas.

Here are five bat species you might find near water.

Common pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus

A small bat with brown fur, a black face, and black wings. You are likely to spot these in your garden, as well as near water.

Where to see them: water, woodland, farmland, grassland, urban areas

Diet: invertebrates

Roosts: buildings and tree holes

Brown long-eared Plecotus auratus

These are medium sized bats, but their ears make them very distinctive. In fact, their ears are almost as long as their bodies! These bats are a lighter brown with a pale underside. They can swoop very low to the ground and even land to eat larger prey.

Where to see them: parks, gardens, and woodlands

Diet: moths, beetles, spiders, earwigs, and flying insects

Roosts: trees and old buildings

Daubenton’s Myotis daubentoniid

Daubenton’s bats are often spotted near rivers, swooping in search of insects like midges, mayflies, and caddisflies. This bat has a distinctive pink face and a brown body, black wings, and a pale belly.

Where to see them: woodland and grassland close to fresh water

Diet: invertebrates

Roosts: close to water, swooping under bridges, old mines or works, caves, or tree holes

Natterer’s Myotis nattereri

Natterer’s bats are medium-sized, with long ears, a pink face, and light grey brown fur. This bat hunts on the wing over water, but also forages for beetles and spiders which they catch directly from plants. Their slow flight makes them distinctive.

Where to see them: water, woodland broadleaved woodland, hedgerows and tree lines

Diet: midges, moths, and other flying insects

Roosts: old buildings, caves, and old mines

Noctule Nyctalus noctule

These high-flying bats are sometimes mistaken for birds as they are so large and they fly much higher than other bats. A bat watchers’ favourite, they can sometimes be heard chirping by those with good ears. This large bat is golden brown with a darker face and wings.

Where to see them: woodlands

Diet: beetles, midges, and moths

Roosts: rotten holes in trees

For more information on bats, or what to do if you find a bat visit:

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