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News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week 288: Pipistrelle bat skull

By Dean W Veall, on 21 April 2017


Pipistrelle sp. LDUCZ-Z617

Pipistrelle sp. LDUCZ-Z617

Hello Specimen of the Week fans, Dean Veall here. This week I have chosen a specimen that requires some very delicate handling as it’s a tiddler. The specimen is beautifully delicate and I would say demonstrates expert skills in preparation. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


**Pipistrelle  sp. skull **

Pipistrelle sp. skull LDUCZ-Z617

Pipistrelle sp. skull LDUCZ-Z617

1).  Pips

Pipistrelle bats are a group of over 34 different species of bats that belong to the genus Pipistrellus and is the most widely distributed of all bats species ranging across Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

In the UK the most common bat species of the 18 that are resident in the UK is the common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus). These insectivorous bats weigh on average of 5g (which is less than a £1 coin) and prey on a variety of flying insects such as caddis flies and mosquitos, and can consume over 3,000 individuals in one night.

2). Echolocation

Many species of bats navigate and forage for prey in the total darkness of 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 allowing them to determine how far away their prey is by the time it takes for the sound to return. The frequency of the sound bats emit varies between species ranging from 14kHz to up 100kHz.

Pipistrelle in flight By Barracuda1983 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2077104

Pipistrelle sp.  in flight By Barracuda1983 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, comomons .wikimedia.org


3). When 1 becomes 2

The pipistrelle  was first described in the 18th century as a single species. However, using frequency of echolocation calls, scientists 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.

Pipistrellus pygmaeus By Evgeniy Yakhontov - Page - Image, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14637689

Pipistrellus pygmaeus By Evgeniy Yakhontov – Page – Image, CC BY-SA 3.0  commons.wikimedia.org 

4). London flyers

The common pipistrelle is found in a wide range of habitats across the UK from woodlands to grasslands and increasingly in cities such as London. Researchers here at UCL are using bats such as the common pipistrelles as indicators of the ‘health’ of urban habitats. The idea being that the presence of this predator would suggest a habitat that is in good health. The research is being used in the design of green spaces and could impact these and other urban species in future developments.


5). Get involved

You can get involved in helping to develop a computerised programme systems for identifying bats based on their calls. Bat Detective is an online citizen science project which visitors can listen to bat calls in recordings collected all over the world. Using these recordings participants are asked to classify the sounds into insect and bat calls. The more classifications made via Bat Detective the more reliable the computer system will become, helping to develop a vital tool in the monitoring of bats for conservation.


Dean Veall is Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zoology

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