A study recently published in the journal Mammalia reveals that a female bat belonging to the species Pipistrellus nathusii (Nathusius’s pipistrelle) migrated all the way from Russia to French Alps — a journey that covered more than 2,400 km. This is a truly shocking record, as migratory bats rarely go over even 1,000 km, and this is more than double that.
Researchers from Darwin Nature Biosphere Reserve in Russia attached an information tag to the female bat in 2009. The bat flew from Russia to different parts of Europe and after 63 days of flight, it was found dead in France’s Lully village. Researchers suggest that it is possible the bat may have traveled more than 3,000 km because the information ring provides only the shortest distance covered by the bat from the day of tagging to its death.
“It’s a very big surprise. We thought that our bats were migrating to countries in south-eastern Europe and other neighboring countries, not France,” said lead author Dr. Denis Vasenkov.
Bat migration saves both bats and the planet
Many species of bats living in both temperate and tropical regions change their habitat during different seasons for various reasons. Some species such as the Nathusius’s pipistrelle and little brown bats migrate during winters to hibernate in warm places. Others like the hoary bats migrate so that they don’t have to face food shortages (bats primarily feed on insects that require warm temperatures for growth). Meanwhile, Mexican-free-tailed bats migrate in large numbers to give birth to the young ones.
However, bat migration is not just important for the survival of bats but also for the stability of our ecosystem. Migratory bats pollinate numerous plant species, disperse seeds, kill insects and pests that are detrimental to farmlands, and even prevent the spread of pathogens that infect humans. A report from the US government suggests that due to the various ecosystem services that bats perform, they hold great significance for the adequate production of bananas, figs, mangoes, and cacao (the plant source of cocoa/chocolate).
Therefore, understanding bat migration might help us uncover new strategies for improving the health of our ecosystem as well as strengthening bat conservation efforts.
Coming back to the recent findings, the female bat that covered the 2,484 km of distance between Russia and France weighed less than 11 gms and scientists are not sure why but the bat chose a migratory route longer than the usual. It is interesting that a male bat of the same species (Pipistrellus nathusii) previously held the record for the longest migratory distance.
The male bat traveled 2,224 km from Latvia’s Pape Natural Park to Lagoon Natural Reserve in Spain between 2015 and 2017 – 260 km less than the length covered by the female bat tagged by the researchers in Russia.
In their study, the researchers also highlight that recently bat migration has emerged as a hot topic among researchers because a serious number of bat deaths are caused by wind turbines in the US and northwestern Europe.