How does a greater horseshoe bat find its way in the dark? What’s its favourite food? And why is a cow pat home to their favourite snack?
Find out all about this amazing animal.
The Greater Horseshoe Bat is named after its horseshoe shaped nose ‘leaf’, used as part of the bat’s echolocation system. The ears are leaf-shaped and have a sharply pointed tip, while the thick fur is coloured ash-grey.
Greater horseshoe bats can live for up to 30 years due to their large amounts of torpor and low numbers of young (one pup per year). For an animal that weighs just 30g (the same as 3 pound coins) this is very unusual – a 25g wood mouse lives for just 18 months.
Hawking & Perch-hunting
Greater horseshoes feed in two main ways:
– Hawking – catching and eating insects in the air during flight.
– Perch-hunting – flying out or ambushing from a hedge, catching the prey and returning to the hedge to dismember and eat it (while hanging upside down from a hedgerow tree).
Like all bats greater horseshoes use a system called echolocation, making high frequency calls as they fly and listen to the returning echoes to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. Most bats shout sounds from their mouths but the greater horseshoes unusual-shaped ‘nose-leaf’ allows them to concentrate the sounds really effectively like the foil behind a torch bulb.
While greater horseshoes are voracious hunters, they are also food for bigger animals. Sparrowhawks often pick off bats as they leave a roost, and owls will take them too. But their biggest enemy is the domestic cat who will take them in their roosts or as they fly low along hedges.
What do Greater Horseshoe Bats Eat?
Greater horseshoes only live in landscapes where all the following are found – like Devon.
A large beetle, a perfect meal for a greater horseshoe.
The Cockchafer beetle likes meadows rich in grasses and flowers.
Moths provide 40% of the greater horseshoe’s diet, without them bats couldn’t survive!
The Dung Beetle
A favourite food of greater horseshoes. Most important are those on cow pats
Dung (poo) is home to 40 species of dung beetle in Britain, which are a favourite food of greater horseshoes. Most important are those on cow pats.
The horseshoe-shaped nose leaf focuses the nasal sonar in the same way as the foil behind a torch bulb – great for catching night-flying insects
Mostly made up of the hand bones – giving excellent control and dexterity in flight in tight places – try waggling your fingers to see how their wings can move.
Light and tough (feels like a let-down balloon) this is the perfect material for a lightweight flyer – horseshoes also wrap this around them while they sleep like a leathery blanket.
Tendons automatically close the toes so they can hang on even when asleep – the sharp claws make excellent hooks for hanging onto almost any surface.
Keeping warm is essential for saving vital energy – the young are born naked so need a warm place to start life.
Crunching through tough insect bodies needs sharp teeth like pins – this also stops the wriggly creepy crawlies escaping while they fly.
Big ears listen out for their sonar bouncing back from everything around them – making a picture of their world from sound as there is no light to see.