ONE of the world's most fascinating creatures, bats play an important role in many environments around the globe. SOPHIE BROWNSON discovers what types of bats can be found in Gwent and where to find them.
WITH over a thousand bat species in the world, bats come in all shapes and sizes but only a select few mark the landscapes of Gwent.
With sizes ranging from large as a small dog or as small as a bee - bats in the UK eat only insects but around the world they have been known to consume unusual foods including frogs, other bats, nectar from flowers, blood, and fish.
Species typically found in Gwent are the Greater Horseshoe, Lesser Horseshoe, Common Pipistrelle, Daubenton’s Bat, Brown Long-Eared Bat, Serotine and the Noctule.
Kevin Dupe, manager of the Newport Wetlands, said that the Noctual and Pipistrelle bats have been known to reside at The Newport Wetlands as bats ‘roost’ and at different times of the year they will often move around to find a roost that meets their needs.
In summer, female bats form maternity roosts while in winter, bats use hibernation roosts.
A Bat Conservation Trust spokeswoman said: “Some bats use echolocation to navigate and hunt, while others rely on smell and vision to find food.
“Traditionally, bats are divided into two major groups - Megachiroptera or megabats (sometimes called fruit bats or flying foxes) and Microchiroptera or microbats.
“These names were already a bit misleading, because some ‘megabats’ were small and some ‘microbats’ were big.
“Families of bats were classified as microbats if they used 'true' echolocation (with calls produced from their larynx or voice box) to navigate or hunt, other families were classified as megabats; it was thought that microbats evolved to echolocate while megabats did not.”
But recent research suggests a more complex picture.
Studies of genetics have identified different relationships between some families of bats, resulting in two alternative proposals for the new groupings of families of bats: Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera, and Vespertilioniformes and Pteropodiformes; currently researchers do not all agree which is correct and both sets of names are used.
The Noctule is one of the largest British species and is usually the first bat to appear in the evening, sometimes even before sunset.
Noctules have broad brown ears and a distinctive mushroom-shaped tragus (a fleshy projection which covers the entrance of the ear) and a typical characteristic is its powerful, direct flight on narrow pointed wings.
They fly in the open, often well above tree-top level, at around 50kph with repeated steep dives when chasing insects, with most food caught on their wings and eaten in flight.
The Noctule bats are primarily tree dwellers and live mainly in rot holes and woodpecker holes and can be found hibernating mainly in trees or rock fissures and hollows, but have also been found in bat boxes, buildings and other man-made structures during the winter.
A Bat Conservation Trust spokeswoman said; “The Noctule bat has declined in Britain, owing to modern intensive agricultural practices resulting in the loss of suitable feeding habitat.”
Meanwhile Gwent’s other favourite bat the Pipistrelles remains the most widespread of all British bat species.
There are two common Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle and they appear fast and jerky in flight as they dodge about pursuing small insects which the bats catch and eat on the wing.
Medium to dark brown, with a pink face, the single Pipistrelle can consume up to 3,000 insects in one night.
Soprano Pipistrelles usually feed in wetland habitats, such as over lakes and rivers, and also around woodland edge, tree lines or hedgerows, and in suburban gardens and parks.
They generally emerge from their roost around 20 minutes after sunset and fly two to 10m above ground level.
Bats also have many uses including pollination and pest control through eating insects.
A Bat Conservation Trust spokeswoman added: “Many people are unaware that over 500 plant species rely on bats to pollinate their flowers, including species of mango, banana, cocoa, durian, guava and agave (used to make tequila).
“So, next time you eat some chocolate, say thanks to the bats.
“The pollination of plants by bats is called chiropterophily.”
Plants pollinated by bats often have pale nocturnal flowers. While these plants rely on bats to pollinate their flowers, bats also rely on the fruit and flowers of these plants to survive.
Another interesting fact about the species is that despite the common misconception- bats are not blind but at night their ears are more important than their eyes.
As they fly they make shouting sounds with the returning echoes giving the bats information about anything that is ahead of them, including the size and shape of an insect and which way it is going. This system of finding prey is called echolocation - locating things by their echoes.
For more information visit http://www.bats.org.uk/