'Olympian’ bat takes the medal for long distance migration

The ‘Olympic bat' has been crowned after one of the greatest ever known flights

A tiny bat has been nicknamed the ‘Olympic bat’ by scientists after she beat all known British records and flew 2,018 km across Europe - one of the greatest ever known flights by a bat.

Photo credits Cecilia Montauban

Resident Svetlana Lapina discovered the female Nathusius pipistrelle bat in her small Russian village of Molgino in the Pskov region. She noticed its arm was ringed, with London Zoo written on it. Remarkably, the little bat had been ringed back in 2016 at Bedfont Lakes Country Park near Heathrow in London by bat recorder Brian Briggs. It was about the size of a human thumb and weighed just 8g.

Brian said: “This is very exciting. It’s great to be able to contribute to the international conservation work to protect these extraordinary animals and learn more about their fascinating lives."

This is one of the longest known bat travels globally, the furthest known record from Britain across Europe and the only long distance movement recorded like this from west to east. The majority of records have been males that have flown south-west from Latvia.

Sadly, this little one fell prey to a cat. She was found injured on the ground and rescued by a Russian bat rehabilitation group, but later died.

The discovery was reported to the Bat Conservation Trust, which runs the National Nathusius Pipistrelle Project. Lisa Worledge, Head of Conservation Services at BCT, said: “This is a remarkable journey and the longest one we know of any bat from Britain across Europe. What an Olympian!

“Her journey is an exciting scientific finding and another piece in the puzzle of bat migration. The movements of Nathusius’ pipistrelles around the UK and between the UK and the continent remain largely mysterious.

Projects pioneered by citizen scientists have helped to shed light on the migration pattern of these winged wonders. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated volunteers and researchers, we are beginning to understand the needs of this species and how to conserve them.”

Bat experts in Russia and the UK are working together to understand more about this remarkable voyage, for important reasons. The range expansion of Nathusius pipistrelle is linked to climate change, with future climate change predicted to further impact on this species. More information is essential to fully understand these effects.

Hotspots have been identified in Britain with help from bat groups, citizen scientists and licensed bat researchers using harp traps, mist nets, acoustic lures, ringing, collecting droppings and fur samples.

Detective work examination of their fur by scientists, using mass spectrometry to analyse isotopes, is also helping to unravel details about the huge migration journeys they take between north-east Europe and Britain.

There have been more than 2,600 Nathusius pipistrelles recorded in the UK since the National Nathusius Pipistrelle Project launched in 2014 to shed light on their breeding, distribution and migration behaviours. Maternity colonies are known in Kent, Northumberland, Surrey and Greater London.

As a migratory species, the Nathusius pipistrelle needs suitable habitat throughout its whole range. Its travel route can be jeopardised by wind turbines, both onshore and offshore. Better knowledge can help inform the positioning and management of wind turbines to reduce risks.

Discoveries like these are possible thanks to a wonderful network of bat groups whose members have spent many long nights carrying out trapping and recording.