There are three species of Pipistrelle bat in North Yorkshire – Common, Soprano and Nathusius’.
Common and Soprano Pipistrelles are our commonest two bat species. Until the late 1990s these two species were thought to be just one, but differences in their echolocation calls, appearance and habits raised suspicions and scientists have now confirmed them as two separate species.
The Common Pipistrelle is the species of bat that most people are likely to see. They live in both town and country and roost in trees, buildings and other structures. You don’t have to have an old castle to have bats – Common Pipistrelle roosts are quite common, even in modern houses! The bats emerge around sunset to feed on small flying insects such as midges. Their flight is fast and erratic, their manoeuvrability allowing them to hunt between buildings and around trees. Like most bats the males live alone for much of the year, spending the day squeezed into tiny crevices. The females gather into maternity roosts for the summer, where they give birth to a single pup. Maternity roosts may hold between thirty and one hundred adults.
Soprano Pipistrelles are slightly less widespread, but make up for that in often having larger maternity roosts. This bat also feeds on tiny flying insects, but prefers those associated with freshwater, so roosts are usually fairly close to lakes and rivers. Whilst some maternity roosts may have only a few tens of bats, there are several in the county with around 1000 bats.
Both Common and Soprano Pipistrelles are small bats that weigh just 6 grams (about the same as a 2p piece). They are around 4cm long and, with their wings folded, will easily fit in a matchbox. Despite that, they have a wingspan of about 20cm, so look much bigger when in flight.
Our third Pipistrelle species, the Nathusius’ Pipistrelle was, until recent years, little recorded in the UK, although it is widely distributed occurring from Western Europe to Asia Minor. First recorded in the UK from the Shetland Islands in 1940 it was not recorded in North Yorkshire until 2006. Known roosts are few and far between in the county, though a maternity roost was located near Barton in 2019 and a few other small roosts are known. Bats in flight have been recorded in a number of locations, especially in the Harrogate area. Although now known to breed in the UK, Nathusius’ Pipistrelle is particularly known as a migratory species, flying to Britain especially in the autumn from northern Europe. It is frequently recorded on North Sea oil rigs and along the north-east coast of England. Inland it seems to be attracted to large bodies of freshwater. Although slightly larger than Common and Soprano Pipistrelles and with shaggier fur, it seems amazing that these tiny creatures can make it across the North Sea. A number of Nathusius’ Pipistrelles have been ringed to find out more about their migration – so far the record distance travelled is of a bat that travelled 1499 km from Latvia to Feltham, London.