The addictive nature of research – Lesser Horseshoe bats in Bowland.

The object of all our effort.

It’s that time of year again when survey effort switches from the anti social dawn and dusk hours to the easier daytime, and we start to head underground to monitor swarming and hibernation sites.

Like Captain Ahab and his white whale, a somewhat smaller mammal has been keeping us searching for four years now since we first encountered a Lesser Horseshoe bat while out surveying caves in Bowland, Lancashire on Halloween (you couldn’t make it up).

The cave in question has a peak in temperature from mid October to mid November and our theory is the the bats use this to extend feeding opportunities a little bit longer as the nights get cold. And then they disappear possibly into inaccessible areas to hibernate.

From the DNA work we’ve done so far we know the Bowland bat seems to take a more basal position to current populations in North Wales and Somerset supporting our theory that we’re dealing with a remnant of the former northern range of the species rather than a recent arrival. Lessers survived in Yorkshire until 1944 in the Helmsley area so it’s not too hard to believe that an overlooked colony in a little surveyed area of ideal habitat survived unnoticed.

But the advances in our knowledge of the species here have come scattered amongst a whole load of survey effort (I don’t want to add up the hours) a bit like the return on a slot machine that makes them so addictive.

So we’re at that point again when an encounter will fill in another little gap of information, one step closer to understanding. Addictive, frustrating, time consuming and verging on an obsession but so so worth it, let’s face it if there wasn’t a challenge, if the answers came easily, it wouldn’t be half as much fun would it?…

Lesser Horseshoes, Museums and DNA

As part of the East Lancs Bat Group research into Lesser Horseshoe Bats in Bowland, Lancashire I headed over to York Museum over the Easter break to sample the Lesser Horseshoe bats in their collections to enable us to carry out some dna analysis.

Lesser Horseshoe bats in the Adam Gordan collection

Lesser Horseshoe bats in the Adam Gordan collection

The Adam Gordan collection is interesting as it provides voucher specimens of two species until recently thought to be extinct in the North; Lesser Horseshoe and Barbastelle bat. In fact the Barbastelles in the collection are voucher specimens for the first Yorkshire record of the species in 1920.

Museum collections such as these which are accompanied by good date and location data are highly important now that dna anaylsis is an affordable tool for bat researchers and groups to use.

In the case of our Lesser Horseshoe research we’re hoping that comparison between former northern range specimens and our current Lancashire population will prove that our bats are a remnant population rather than a recent expansion. Comparison with other current UK populations is hinting at it, but hopefully we’ll have an answer just as soon as the results come back.

There’s a similar bit of research with Barbastelles just waiting for someone to carry it out there. Anyone?