5 years ago on a university field trip to Mexico, my course-mates and I were briefed on the itinerary for the next few days. Knowing there would be some kind of treat to reward us for all the full-on fieldwork, we waited eagerly to find out what it would be, only to hear
“In previous years, we have taken the students to see manatees in a lagoon near-by, however this year we will instead be going to a bat cave at dusk to watch them emerge!”
At this point, I was fairly indifferent to bats, and all I, and many of my course-mates, could think were the lost manatees.
Thankfully, my disappointment was short lived and as it turns out, totally unnecessary. We visited the Calakmul Bat Cave and it turned out to be the top nature experience of my life! We crouched amongst the trees at the edge of this vast cavern, sunk into the ground, and waited. Millions (literally – around 4 million) of bats began to swirl up around the edges of the cave like a tornado, dispersing over the trees to find their first meal of the night (if you search the cave on YouTube you can get an idea of the awe-inspiring sight).
It was a spectacle I will never forget, which sparked my interest in and love for bats. Although none here are as big as the tropical bats found in Mexico, the UK is actually home to 18 species of bat, meaning they make up nearly a quarter of UK mammals. Each have their own characteristics such as long ears, odd-shaped noses or big hairy feet - all adaptations for catching different types of prey in unique ways.
I think the thing that draws me to bats is their elusive nature and how because of this, they are generally poorly understood. They aren’t easy to study as part of a casual hobby, which is why I feel particularly privileged to have been given the opportunity to enter their night-time world and study them with the help of a bat detector.