Ever wondered which hunting style a bat species uses? Or why there are different hunting styles at all? In this blog post I will explore different locations and ways bats catch their food.
All UK bats are insectivorous, meaning that they feed on a variety of insects, bugs, spiders and arthropods. However, whilst all bats feed on insects, the way they catch their prey varies between species.
Bats have evolved some special tactics to enable them to find and catch their food. The most significant is echolocation; the ability to navigate using high frequency sounds. This allows them to locate food in a range of locations and even in complete darkness.
Aerial hawking hunting style
If you have ever watched bats feeding on a summer’s evening, no doubt you’ll have seen pipistrelle bats feeding on small flies. The bats can be difficult to follow due to their fast, erratic flight. Their odd flight pattern is a result of their hunting style.
In this hunting style, the bats chase the prey down whilst on the wing.
Hunting over water
Fresh water is a great source of insect prey. Many insect species will spend several years as larvae in the water. When they emerge, the bats can take advantage of this food source.
In this hunting style, the bats fly close to the water surface (within 20cm) hoovering up their prey.
In the UK, Daubenton’s and Brandt’s bats adopt this hunting style.
Flying requires a huge amount of energy. To save energy horseshoe bats have evolved to hunt from a perch. Whilst hanging, they survey the landscape waiting for an unlucky insect to fly past. When one passes, the bat swoops out to catch it and then returns to the perch to feast.
Gleaning hunting style
Not all insects are active at night and some may not fly at all. This doesn’t stop bats catching their prey. Some have evolved an ability to take prey off of foliage or even out of spider webs.
In this hunting strategy bats fly among foliage in search of food. As they approach, they change their flight to allow them to hover. Whilst doing this they can pinpoint the prey and pick it off of the surface.
This video illustrates Natterer’s bat taking a spider out of a web (from BBC’s Life of Mammals).
Hunting on the ground
It may seem counter intuitive that an animal capable of flight would choose not to use it. However, flying takes a lot of energy and, don’t forget, there is a great deal of food available on the ground.
In this hunting strategy, bats will land on the ground and chase the prey down on-foot. They use their big ears to listen for the sounds of rustling leaves to find their prey.
Bechstein’s bats use their broad wings to allow them to land and take off form the ground and their big ears to listen for their prey.
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