Greater horseshoe bat in cave

Cave dwelling bats in the UK

In Bat biology and ecology by Hannah MulvanyLeave a Comment

Bats live in caves in all corners of the world. The largest bat colony in the world can be found in Texas, and is home to a staggering 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. The UK’s bat colonies are not quite 15 million strong, and most of our caves are only used during the cold winter months for hibernation purposes.

Showing the entrance to a disused quarry which is now used as a bat roost

Cave dweller ecology

The horseshoe bats are our most iconic cave dwelling bats, and have a unique ecology which is linked to living in caves. They:

– Fly directly into roosting sites
– Hang from the ceiling
– Cluster to share body warmth

All of the other species, known collectively as vesper bats (members of the family Vespertilionidae), also use caves. However, these species are able to land and crawl. This allows them to tuck themselves out of sight into rock fissures.

Not just caves

Bats need cool temperatures, high humidity and secure sites for hibernation. As humans have modified the landscape and roosts have been removed or become unsuitable, new hibernating sites have been created opportunistically in the form of ice houses, railway tunnels, mines and quarries.

With habitat loss being one of the main conservation threats to bats, protecting and enhancing hibernation sites is a key conservation objective. Partially blocking entrances (as shown in the photo above) helps slow air flow, stabilising temperatures and increasing humidity. Grilling the entrance allows bats to enter whilst offering protection from disturbance.

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