A tiny bat has become the first on record to fly from Britain to mainland Europe – despite being the size of a THUMB.
The Nathusius’ pipistrelle completed an epic 370-mile journey from Bristol to the Netherlands.
Tragically, the intrepid creature was found dead – possibly through EXHAUSTION – but his achievement will live on in the record books as the first bat to have crossed the North Sea.
Researchers from Exeter University attached a miniature identity ring to the creature in October 2012 as part of research into the migration habits of British bats.
The 7.6g mammal’s last know UK location was Blagdon, a small village in the Mendip Hills just outside Bristol.
But in December 23 last year a wildlife expert found it dead inside a farm shed used to store fruit in Pietersbierum, on the North coast of the Netherlands.
Its exact route remains unknown, although it is likely the bat would have relied upon a favourable wind to fly past Kent before crossing the English Channel and heading north-east along the French and Belgian coastline.
Experts say it is important to track the tiny creatures’ movements so that wind turbines aren’t built in their flight path.
However, bats as small as the Nathusius’ pipistrelle are hard to tail because they are too small to carry the sort of sophisticated satellite trackers used to monitor bird migration.
Daniel Hargreaves of the Bat Conservation Trust said there had been occasional reports of bats landing on North Sea oil platforms – but this was the first proof that they were capable of reaching the continent.
He said: “We have hypothesised for a long time about the migration of bats to and from the UK but it’s very difficult to prove.
“This finding was a great surprise and is helping us to understand the huge journeys that these bats can make.
“We already knew that bats migrated over incredibly long distances over land, but were not sure whether they flew over the sea.
“As a result of this finding, we suspect that this in fact happens quite a lot.”
The reddish-brown furred Nathusius’ pipistrelle typically grows to between 46 and 55mm in length, with a wingspan of 220 to 250mm.
It is extremely rare in Britain and experts are anxious to prevent the remaining numbers from facing certain death by flying into wind turbines.
Biosciences expert Dr Fiona Mathews, who is spearheading Exeter University’s Bats and Wind Turbines project, said: “Nathusius’s pipistrelle is one of the species most at risk from land-based wind turbines throughout Europe.
“We now urgently need to identify the migration routes they use to cross the sea between the UK and continental Europe – offshore wind farms in the wrong place could be very bad news.”
Dr Mathews will now analyse samples from the bat in an attempt to establish whether it originated in the UK or the Netherlands, and whether it had only recently arrived or had spent the summer there.
The Nathusius’ pipistrelle is a protected species in many countries.
Threats to the species include the loss of hollow trees and toxic chemicals from the treatment of timber in buildings.