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ENDANGERED: Mouse-Eared Bat

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The Mouse-Eared Bat was declared officially extinct in 1990. However, in 2002 a young male was discovered in a cave in Sussex and he has been seen every year since. Male bats in the wild usually have a hareem of lady bats to look after, but this chap is definitely single. There is no way of knowing if this bat is lonely, but it is a sad fact that he is the sole solitary survivor of his kind in this country. Their near extinction is because of human activity.

Greater mouse-eared bat flying, Myotis myotis

Image Credit: C.Robiller/ Naturlichter.de on Wiktionary

 

The greater mouse-eared bat was only discovered in the UK in 1958. Two hibernating colonies were found in the 1960s along the south coast of England, but the last record of a greater mouse-eared bat in the UK was in 1988. They are still present elsewhere in Europe, although their numbers there are also declining.

Myotis myotis, to give it its proper name, is no ordinary bat - this is a super bat. At first look it’ size and appearance resemble that of an upside-down rabbit; most bats are the size of small mice, so this one is a whopper. In flight its wings can stretch to almost half a metre. Rather than flying zig zags at twilight to catch insects, this bat prefers to choose from a menu of larger creatures - grasshoppers, dung beatles and other flightless insects are particular favourites; they are caught by getting wrapped into the bat's wings in a sort of death cuddle.

Being a bat in a human world is challenging. They are one of the oldest species of mammals and have constantly evolved and adapted to changing habitats and environments. However, interference from humans has not helped with their fight for survival.

Mouse-Eared Bat

Image Credit: Dietmar Nill on Nature Communications

How humans have contributed to their extinction

Bats need to hibernate during the winter months. Disturbing a hibernating bat can kill them. In the 1950s, when the first colony of mouse eared bats was discovered inside a gold mine on the Isle of Purbeck, they immediately gained celebrity status. Newspapers published photographs, and a media frenzy like that enjoyed by today's reality TV stars followed. Bats were whisked out of hibernation and transported to TV and photographic studios, where they were filmed for weeks before being returned to their hibernation hole. Tragically, this pace of life does not suit a bat and many found the stress too much and died. 

What makes bats special

In keeping with their associations with all things Gothic, there was also a healthy trade in bat bodies in the past and many were sold at great expense to collectors. In past times bats have been feared and associated with witches and Halloween. However, bats are not blind and are unlikely to cause harm or get tangled in your hair.

Bats are are the only mammal that can truly fly rather than glide. Their wings are actually hands that have adapted for flight. As they fly they make shouting sounds. The returning echoes give the bats information about anything that is ahead of them, including the size and shape of an insect and which way it is going. Like bees, bats play an important role in many environments. Some plants depend on bats to pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds, while other bats also help control pests by eating insects.

Bats live in the countryside, towns and cities across the UK and are most active in the summer months when they come out of hibernation, hunt insects, give birth and raise their young. You are most likely to see a bat during sunrise and sunset.  The solitary mouse-eared bat has never been seen during the summer, clearly preferring the warmer climes of Europe to our unreliable British summers.  

In Britain bat species and their roosts  are now protected by both domestic and international legislation. It is an offence to do anything that causes harm to a bat or its roost. However, despite this legislation and the work of groups, little is known about many of Britain’s 18 bat species,  some of which exist in perilously low numbers.

Today they are threatened perhaps more than ever by the loss of their prey, the conversion of old barns and derelict buildings in which they roost, and the bright lights of new suburbs. Wind farms can be lethal to them, as well as speeding vehicles.

The mouse-eared bat was the first animal to be declared extinct in the UK for 270 years , however bats are one of the most adaptable creatures and left undisturbed by humans can live for up to 35 years. The unexpected reappearance of the greater mouse-eared bat in its West Sussex tunnel is a symbol of hope. Against the odds, one bats is surviving in our human-dominated landscape and is an example of the tenacity and resilience of this amazing animal.

Read more from the ENDANGERED feature

Lead Image: Gilles San Martin on Wikimedia Commons




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