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Shetland Bat Records

Please note: since the recent unfortunate death of a bat worker who contacted rabies, members of the public are strongly advised NOT to handle any bats, even if they are ill or in distress.

Bats, the world's only true flying mammals, comprise the world's second largest mammalian species group (beaten only by the rodents) with about 950 different species worldwide, are found everywhere except for the polar regions. Flight clearly distinguishes them from other mammals, their entire bone structure is modified for it, with the wings formed by elongated finger bones, over which is stretched an extremely thin skin membrane arising from the sides of the body and enclosing the legs and tail.

Most people will know that bats use echo-location to find flying insects but what is probably not known is that the majority of bats also have reasonably good eyesight and do-not blunder around flying into peoples hair! In flight they constantly emit high frequency clicking sounds, up to 200 per second and beyond the range of human hearing. The reflected clicking sounds from objects in the bats path enable it to literally hear its way about.

Bats can usually only be specifically identified in the hand, and even then the separation of some species is difficult. Many flight records of bats have gone unrecorded in Shetland, and records of unidentified bats are in general not included in this account unless the species involved could be reasonably inferred. The earliest mention of bats in Shetland is by Low (1879), who was informed that bats were occasionally seen in the islands while visiting Unst in 1774.

To date 7 species of bat have been recorded in Shetland, the records are as complete as possible, but details of any omissions, including any additional records, would be welcomed.

Parti-coloured Bat Vespertilio murinus

There are three records:

1927 Whalsay, 31st March (Venables & Venables 1955) 1981 Anderson High School, Lerwick, 19th November 1984 Mid Yell, 16th November This species is a rare vagrant to Britain, with only about ten records altogether. It is highly migratory, breeding in eastern Europe, including southern Scandinavia, and flying to southern Europe to hibernate.

Serotine Epstecius serotinus

There is one record:

1991 Whalsay, 18th October, sent to Aberdeen This is the only record of the species in Scotland. Its European breeding range only extends as far north as southern England and Denmark.

Leisler's Bat Nyctalus leisleri

There are two records:

1978 Ollaberry, 24th August 1996 East Burrafirth, 16th October, alive and sent to Aberdeen University These are unusual records, as the nearest breeding colonies of this predominantly eastern European species are in Northern Ireland and Yorkshire.

Noctule Nyctalus noctula

There are three certain records:

1977 Burravoe, Yell, 25th July (Thorne 1983) 1986 Asta, alive, 20th August (Nature Conservancy Council) 1987 Voe, female, 23rd November In addition, a large bat, thought to be either this species or a Serotine, emerged from the unfurled sail of a Swedish vessel in Scalloway Harbour in summer 1922 or 1923, and remained in the area for several days (Venables & Venables 1955). Another unidentified large bat, most likely of this species, was seen at Burrafirth on 29th March 1980. Noctules are the most widespread of the larger European bats, although absent from northern Scotland and most of Scandinavia.

The majority of the bats picked up and examined in the hand and most of the small bats seen in flight in Shetland are believed to belong to one of these two closely related species. Separation of the two species requires detailed examination, so few records have been assigned to a particular species. Venables & Venables (1955) give a record of a pipistrelle found in North Roe in 1904 and mention occasional sight records of small bats during their residence in Shetland, without any further details. One was picked up on Whalsay on 2nd November 1940 (Shetland Times), but most sightings have undoubtedly gone unrecorded.

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