(back to index of Mammals in Ireland)
(1) Mammals of the air:
The bats are the only true flying mammals. There are 9 species of bats in Ireland. They make up almost one quarter of all our land mammals. The bats have long been surrounded by myth and superstition. One such myth states that bats commonly become entangled in women's hair or that if a bat escapes carrying a strand of hair, then the woman is destined for eternal damnation! There are very few records of bats ever becoming entangled in someone's hair. All our Irish bats are insect eaters and one possible explanation is that they are in pursuit of the swarms of insects that follow people at night.
The term "as blind as a bat" is a common expression. However, bats are not blind. They do possess functional eyes. They choose to fly by night to exploit the food source that is present at night (e.g. moths) and also to avoid competition with birds for this food source and also to avoid predators like hawks. Many bats leave their roost before dusk and use local landmarks to guide them before dark. Bats have often been referred to as "mice with wings". Unfortunately, this is nowhere near the truth. Bats belong to the Order, Chiroptera, meaning hand-wing. Mice belong to the Order Rodentia.
Bats suck your blood! Of the 800 or so species of bats worldwide, only 3 feed off blood and none of these are found in Europe, never mind Ireland.
Many people believe that bats are harmful. This is not so. Bats may roost in the attic of your house but they do no harm. They do not chew electrical cables and their droppings form a dry harmless powder.
However, bats can bite. In general, all their teeth are sharp and may bite if roughly handled. There is a very small chance that bats may carry rabies. In general, bats are considered to be beneficial. They consume vast quantities of insects nightly, thereby, reducing the need for the use of insecticides. This is a good example of biological control, where one species (in this case, the bat) keeps another species in check.
Although bats mate in the autumn, fertilisation does not occur immediately. The sperm is stored in the female's body throughout the hibernation period to be used the following spring when she becomes pregnant. This is known as delayed fertilisation. In summer the females form maternity colonies and the single young is born in either June or July. The 9 species of Irish bats are as follows:
Brown long-eared bat
Lesser horseshoe bat
Batwatching is an enjoyable and rewarding hobby. If you live near a river, lake or canal, then your chances of seeing bats are very high. If there is a bat roost in your area, then you can observe them as they leave just before dusk to feed. By using a bat detector, you will be able to listen to them also.
For further information on batwatching activities contact the Bat Conservation Group Dublin at 01-8347134 or [email protected]
Because of their endangered status and importance in nature, bats are protected under the Wildlife Act, 1976.