Sometimes it’s nice to imagine that you are a tiny, nocturnal mammal with wings for hands. Instead of relying on your eyes to see what’s around, you sense your surroundings by shouting at them over and over and listening for the echoes to tell you what and where things are. Also, you can hear sounds with frequencies above what the human ear can detect so the world sounds different. Our weird world seems even weirder when you think about what it’s like for a bat.
The Common pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, is a minute mammal member of the Order Chiroptera (“hand-wing”). Weighing in at about a nickel, with a shorter body length than that of the smallest living bird (1.5-2 inches), and a 7-10 inch wingspan, these little insectivorous bats take down about 3,000 insects a piece each night.1
Every night pipistrelles set off after sunset like moths with a cause, nailing flies and mosquitoes on the wing. Like many of their fellow bats, they see with their ears, using echolocation to detect their prey and navigate their surroundings. They give loud, high frequency shouts, listening for the echoes to tell where an object is and what that object is like based on what the echoes sound like and how long it takes them to return. They shout so loudly that they have evolved special muscles that close off their inner ear to keep them from deafening themselves.2
Common pipistrelles range across Europe (where they are the smallest bat around!), into northern Africa, and over to Asia where they forage over open fields and ponds and roost in buildings and trees. Although Pipistrellus pipistrellus is the most common bat species in Europe, their populations have declined significantly since the 1970s due to factors including the use of agricultural chemicals that mess with their food sources.3
Power Bat Facts! Bats are the only mammals capable of true, powered flight. Science suggests that this flying ability may have arisen sometime pre-50 million years ago when small insect-eating, tree canopy-dwelling, shrew-like mammals evolved wings from their hands all of a sudden. One study claims that changes to a single gene coding for growth during development may have been all it took to turn that tiny paw into a wing.4 Think about it.
- Bat Conservation Trust- Common pipistrelle
- Natural History Museum- Secret life of bats
- Conserve Ireland- Common pipistrelle
- Organization for Bat Conservation- Bats Evolution