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High-speed bats hunting for prey in rare night-time video footage

Rare footage of a bat hunting for insects at night has been filmed in the New Forest National Park using a heat sensitive thermal imaging camera.

The video shows a Daubenton’s bat flying close to the surface of the water at up to 25 mph, at Eyeworth Pond near Fritham. It can even be seen echo-locating small insects on the water surface - pitch darkness and high winds are absolutely no problem. They’re known for scooping prey with their tail membrane or spearing them with their large feet. The bats fly back and forth over a beat, and interact aggressively with other Daubenton’s bats. The white body shows that the bat is very hot, and even has a heat reflection in the lake.

These medium-sized bats roost in hollow trees near water during the summer, and are sometimes called water bats. They are found throughout Britain. The New Forest is a particular stronghold for bats and it is thought that 13 out of the 18 UK species can be found in the National Park. At least three species were flying over Eyeworth Pond during the filming.

A Daubenton’s bat. Picture credit: Gilles San Martin

The footage was produced using a high definition thermal imaging camera called Merlin, developed by Selex ES, a Southampton-based company. Merlin is used in many nature documentaries and currently the BBC Springwatch series. The sensor at the heart of the camera is cooled to liquid air temperature so that it can detect the tiny amount of emitted energy from things around us. Only a small amount of thermal imaging of wildlife has been studied that almost every project reveals behaviour never seen before.

Selex spokesman Ian Baker said: ‘The video is providing evidence that bats emit enormous amounts of infrared radiation from their body core. Bats are designed to be lightweight and are very energetic, but most of the normal body cooling mechanisms are denied to them. They appear to have evolved a body that radiates heat away to keep them cool. If this is the case, then this is a new area for scientists to study. It is awesome to see the agility of these small animals in complete darkness, and maybe there is even more to discover about these amazing animals.’

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This entry was posted by Communications on Wednesday 21/05/2014


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