Specimen of the Week 231: Common Pipistrelle
By Rachel H Bray, on 18 March 2016
In case you haven’t heard, it’s UCL BAT WEEK! So it seems appropriate that this week’s Specimen of the Week is a small nocturnal friend of ours… the common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus).
Mighty and Mini
Since it was first described in the 18th Century the common pipistrelle was thought to be a single species. However, Pipistrelle bats are a group of over 34 different species that belong to the genus Pipistrellus. As well as being one of the UK’s most common bat of the 18 species resident here, Pipistrelle bats are also the most widely distributed of all bats species, found across Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
This small bat is found in a wide range of farmland, woodland, suburban and urban habitats. On average these insectivorous bats weigh 5g… which is less than a £1 coin! They prey on a variety of flying insects such as caddis flies and mosquitos, and can consume over 3,000 insects in one night…. such mini-feasting makes it mini and mighty in my book.
ECHOLOCATION… Echolocation… echolocation…
Many species of bats navigate and forage for prey in the total darkness of the night using a high frequency system called echolocation. Bats emit an ultrasound generated in their larynx and listen to the returning echoes reflected off objects to create a sonic map of their surroundings. This allows them to determine how far away their prey is by judging the time it takes for the sound to return. The frequency of the sound bats emit varies between species, ranging from 14kHz to up to 100kHz.
By looking at the frequency of echolocation calls scientists have been able to split this species into two different pipistrelle species: the common pipistrelle which uses a frequency of 45kHz to echolocate and the soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) which uses a 55kHz frequency.
London, a Healthy Soundscape?
The common pipistrelle is increasingly found in cities such as London. Researchers here at UCL are using bats like common pipistrelles as indicators of the ‘health’ of urban habitats. Scientists are listening to audio recordings taken across London to understand how the design of green spaces in future building developments could impact these and other urban species.
Feeling inspired by UCL Bat Week? Please do get involved with the online citizen science project Bat Detective and identify bats from a series of audio samples. They’re trying to help them add 100,000 classifications of bat vocalisations to their database… no small feat!
Rachel Bray is the Learning and Events Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology