Bats have long been connected with Halloween, or 'All Hallow's Eve'. A time when the boundary between our world and the next is at its thinnest point, with death lurking just around every corner and when ghosts and spirits roam freely. But why do bats conjure up such supernatural notions at this time? Is it because they like to hang out in haunted houses? Probably. Or because they are mysterious, nocturnal flying creatures? Probably that too. I guess they do seem a bit unearthly, and Halloween relishes that sort of thing.
Bats hibernate over winter in caves, mines and other cool, damp, underground dwellings, which gives them an eerie connection with the underworld. Before hibernation, bats swarm in large numbers as part of the mating process, usually in October. At this time, bats will also be attracted to feed on moths and other insects around well-lit areas, such as the bonfires and torches that people would traditionally have at Halloween festivals or 'Samhain', the Celtic harvest festival.
What about Dracula and all the vampire bats? Out of the known 1,400 species of bat worldwide, only three species are considered vampire bats. They are a type of haematophage (a blood-feeding animal) and only exist in Central and South America. Vampire bats do not suck blood, instead they make a small cut with their very sharp front teeth and then lap up small amounts of blood with their tongue. They prefer to feed on large slow-moving mammals like cattle, and they even have a nifty infrared sixth sense to detect their next unsuspecting warm-blooded host!
Bats are also an in-between kind of animal. Having been misunderstood in many cultures for so long, some folk consider them a 'liminal' animal - not like a mammal, yet not like a bird - appearing at dusk and dawn when it is neither night nor day. Halloween is also liminal, as I mentioned earlier, it's a transitional time between life and death, and lightness and darkness. This connection with in-between-ness is maybe something else that draws bats into the theme of the spooky season.
The truth is, most bats in the UK aren't that scary - most will fit easily in the palm of your hand and the smallest bats are cute little 'crevice dwellers'. As in, they don't hang upside down with their wings wrapped around their bodies like you see in films set in haunted buildings. Many of our native bats like to squeeze themselves into little gaps and cracks so they're well hidden and protected. Some pipistrelle bats are so small they can fit into a matchbox!
All bats in the UK are insectivorous. You can help to support bats by planting a range of insect-attracting plants in your outdoor space, avoiding the use of chemicals, and limiting the amount of outdoor artificial lights at night. A small patch of native wildflowers will encourage a wide variety of moths (a popular bat snack) and a wildlife pond will attract caddisflies and midges for the Daubenton's bat and other water-loving bat species.