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Twilight, around 5 pm now, the bats at Sharpham Farm wake up and make their nightly commutes. As they dance through the violet-blue skies, we wait patiently below. Bat detectors at the ready, we look as though we are filming for the latest season of ghost hunters. We wait and wait, until… a symphony of alien-like ‘clicks’ and ‘plops’ fill our ears, translated to a frequency we can hear by the detectors. Common and Soprano Pipistrelles and even a Lesser Horseshoe fly overhead! These once silent, swooping silhouettes from my childhood suddenly became loud; they were making all this noise the whole time?! Swifty, we are a part of the bat’s world, listening in as they use echolocation to see. Most exciting, the ‘feeding buzz’. A fast assortment of clicks, turns into a ‘buzz’ as a bat homes in on its prey. When you hear one of these, a bat has just found its dinner.

Learning the ecology of bats from Mike, the nature guru, puts us in awe of these tiny flying mammals. So tiny in fact, that some are just the size of your thumb, weighing the same as around 10 paper clips! Most surprising is the range of feeding strategies used by each species. My favourite: gleaning bats. These are the silent assassins of bats, relying solely on their hearing as opposed to echolocation. Hovering over their prey, they wait for tiny sounds such as mating calls. Even tiny movements are enough to trigger a bat to ambush its prey, swooping down as the insect meets its end.

After learning so much about bats, these once fictional beings depicting vampires in scary movies now seem intelligent. They are otherworldly, something that seems so far away from us. They can navigate using only sound, creating a map of their surroundings as they commute into the darkness. Being the only mammal to evolve flight, I think bats are pretty cool.

✍ Laura O’Brien – Ambios Nature Conservation Trainee (Autumn 2022)

???? Image by Alexandre Roux from Flickr

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