Even though bats exist all over the world in great numbers, they have a much more difficult time surviving in Western- Europe. Trees are increasingly being felled, hollow walls are being filled, and old buildings are being renovated. This way the bats are losing their hunting area and spaces to hibernate. The fortifications surrounding Antwerp are crucial to the survival of bat colonies in our country because this is where the animals can find what they need: natural habitats, peace and quiet, and cool yet frost free dark spaces and cavities where they can drift off in a deep winter sleep from October to April.
The underground passages and chambers of the Railway Fort instantly attract bat colonies. About forty of them on average stay there and the numbers are on the increase. The bat is a protected animal, meaning that you are not allowed to damage their living space and cannot catch or kill them.
Bats are the only mammals in the world that can fly. Instead of feathers on wings they have a wing made of a unique type of skin that sends them whizzing through the sky. There are 17 bat species in Flanders. The most frequently seen ones are the pygmy bat, water bat, bearded bat and the orange tailed bat.
Even when it is pitch black bats are able to fly at high speed, and catch insects at the same time without bumping into anything. That is because they do not see with their eyes, but with their ears. Similar to dolphins and whales, bats use echolocation or sonar sounds to see. They produce high pitched tones or vibrations that cannot be heard by humans. Their tiny shrieks hit objects and are being bounced back. By the returning echoes the bats are perfectly capable of localizing obstacles and catching insects.
Bats also make screechy sounds that we can hear. These are not used for flying but for quarrelling or to defend their living space.
Bats are not overly keen on winter. They feed on insects and those are hard to find in cold times. During cold periods they retreat and hibernate. To save body energy they let their temperature drop until close to freezing point. They no longer move and almost seem dead. Some species crawl their way into a crevice crack, others prefer to hang upside down completely motionless. Bats are highly fragile during the hibernation period. If they are to be disturbed and suddenly awake, it demands such a big amount of energy that the exertion may kill them.
Did you know?
Bats are proper gluttons. In one night only they can eat half their weight in insects.
The domestic cat is the bat's greatest enemy. When your cat comes home with a bat, it is best to keep her in the house for a couple of days. It is very likely that she has discovered a bat colony somewhere and is adamant to catch more bats.
A vampire is a type of bat of about 10 centimetres long and occurs in South America. It does not eat insects, but drinks blood instead. It will bite an animal in the legs and licks off the blood afterwards.
The bat's hind legs are positioned backwards. That way they are able to attach themselves to the wall and hang faced towards it. They hang upside down because it is the best way for a swift departure when danger looms.