Bats are one of the animals most strongly assosciated with Halloween. Why?
Most would think that the answer is obvious, and lies in their blood-sucking habits. But no, their spooky connotations began long before the discovery of the vampire bat. Some believe it started with very early Halloween tradition, where people gathered around fires to ward off evil spirits. Bats feasted on the insects that were attracted to these fires, and so were noticed by the people, as they flickered in and out of sight.
This link was strengthened when rumours appeared from Spanish explorers of blood sucking bats feasting on the unwary.
However there is no need to be afraid of these creatures – out of over 1000 species of bat, only 3 survive off blood, none of which live in the UK.
The other common fear is that they will get stuck in your hair. Anyone who has ever witnessed bats in flight will know this is highly unlikely. Bats are extremely adept at both echolocation and flight; so much so that they can detect the strands of a spiders web. Some even specialise in plucking the spider from their web without actually touching the web itself - this amazing example of agility should be enough to convince anyone that their hair is safe.
Bats are in fact fascinating creatures, and wonderful to watch. They are apex predators, flying at speeds of up to 60mph and catching as much as 1200 insects in an hour.
We have 18 species in the UK, which come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and with a range of different techniques to catch their prey. Locally I can see our smallest bat, the pipistrelle, weighing about the same as a 20p coin. This is also the one you’re most likely to see. I often spend ten minutes trying to photograph them on the way back from walks - I don't often succeed, but the extraordinary experience of feeling bats pelt right past your face, sometimes even brushing your hair, is more than enough to compensate for their frustrating camera-shyness.
By Halloween bats are starting to become less active, going increasingly into states of torpor and only coming out on warmer evenings. However, that's not to say there's no point trying to see them.If you do want to see bats (and I highly recommend it) try the following:
If you're interested in finding out more, please visit the bat conservation trust's website
Happy Halloween!James Miller
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