Mysterious Bats

Local Species: Their Place in the Ecosystem and Why We Must Protect Them

Chiroptera, commonly knows bats, are the only mammals that are capable of flapping flight. The word “chiroptera” comes from Greek and means “winged hands“, which refers to the fact that bats use small elongated arm, hand and finger-like bones to stretch their wings. A clawed first finger [t.n.: similar to a human thumb] is used for walking.

Although a bat’s body is covered in hairs and looks remarkably like a mouse’s – so much so that bats are called “rattopennugo” [t.n.: pronounced /ratopenu:go/], meaning “mouse of the clouds” in the local language their wings are made of a thin, hairless layer of skin (called patagium) which must stay damp (70% humidity) to avoid tearing.

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Indeed, humidity is the reason why several bat species live inside caves, although some may also choose to roost in woods or damp man-made habitats, such as attics and abandoned farmsteads. Indeed, some types of bats are particularly adaptable and tend to seek shelter inside cracks or shutters during the day.

Despite being quite rare in Liguria, the caves of Finale are home to some rather important families of bat species, such as the greater and lesser Horseshoe Bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum and R. hipposideros), who tend to roost in the Pianmarino area or in such man-made cavities as the ancient silver mines of Bric Gettina. Again, Mouse-Eared Bats (Genus Myotis) live along the larger waterways in Calice and Rialto, and especially by the Mulino Dam, where they hunt for insects over the water.

Local bat species are nocturnal creatures that hunt for mosquitos and small insects and can eat as much as 30 or 40% of their bodyweight every day. Bats use echolocation to find food, as special skin folds on their ears and nose allow them to accurately locate sound waves bouncing back to them off objects. Indeed, bats are able to pick up sound frequencies that the human ear cannot hear, but which can be recorded with special equipment called bat-detectors.

During hibernation bats are at their most vulnerable and a sudden, unexpected awakening during the winter, when insects are unavailable, may lead to starvation. People should therefore be extremely mindful of the peace and quiet of places where bats may be hibernating.

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