Flight, food & echolocation
What do bats eat?
All UK bats eat insects. Each species has its favourite types and hunts them in its own special way. Most insects are caught and eaten in mid-air, though bats sometimes find it easier to hang up to eat larger prey. All bats have very big appetites, because flying uses up lots of energy. A common pipistrelle can eat over 3,000 tiny insects in a single night! You can help to provide food for bats by planting a wildlife friendly garden.
How do bats catch their prey in the dark?
Bats are not blind, but at night their ears are more important than their eyes. 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. This system of finding prey is called echolocation - locating things by their echoes.
Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly (rather than glide). Their wings are actually hands that have adapted for flight, which means they are very flexible and able to move independently. This fantastic manoeuvrability arguably makes bats better at flying than birds!
How do bats mate? How do bats give birth?
Bats mate during the autumn and sometimes into the winter when they hibernate. The females then store the sperm and do not become pregnant until the spring, when the weather gets warmer. Pregnant females gather together in maternity roosts to have their young - some groups use the same site each time. Pregnancy lasts between 6 and 9 weeks depending on the species and can be influenced by weather, climate and availability of food. Females usually give birth to a single baby each year, which they keep close to them and nurture.
Bats are very sensitive to disturbance during the maternity season and may abandon their young if they are disturbed. For 4 to 5 weeks, the young are suckled by their mothers until they are old enough to fly. They then begin to venture out from the roost to forage for food.
Where do bats live?
Bats do not make nests, but choose various places throughout the year to roost. Bats are roost in houses, both new and old but some species prefer hollow trees, or caves. In buildings they often shelter behind hanging tiles and boarding or in roof spaces. For several weeks in summer, female bats choose somewhere warm to gather in a maternity roost. They have their babies here and stay until the young are able to fly and feed themselves. You may realise that you have bats roosting in your house during the summer months, when they are most likely to be active. If you think you have bats in your house, call our National Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228 or take a look at our Living with Bats guide, which gives advice and information for roost owners.