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Introductory Chapter: Bats Eaten by Owls

Written By

Heimo Mikkola

Submitted: February 23rd, 2018 Reviewed: March 1st, 2018 Published: July 4th, 2018

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.76099

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Edited by Heimo Mikkola

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1. Introduction

Bats and owls are very popular hoppy and research subjects of nature loving people as shown by BatLife and Owler groups all around the world but what is the relation of bats and owls in the wild. An assessment of owl dietary studies and anecdotal accounts was made but the huge material (well over 10 million prey animals) is in print elsewhere [1]. However, the role played by owls in the mortality of Eurasian bats is shortly reviewed for this book.


2. Bat-eating owls

The owl diet studies revealed that most owls are sometimes eating the bats although none makes a living out of them as other prey are much easier to capture. Well-studied European owl species ate a total of 19,864 bats [1]. At least 49 bat species have been identified in the diet samples (Table 1).

Bat speciesWeight of the bat species in gNo of owl species as predatorsPercentage of the Total
Pipistrellus pygmaeus5.11/80.26
P.pygmaeusor P.pipistrellus5.31/80.19
Pipistrellus pipistrellus5.56/816.02
Myotis mystacinus6.17/81.51
Myotis brandtii6.53/80.87
Pipistrellus abramus6.52/83.41
Murina huttoni6.71/80.01
Rhinolophus hipposideros6.94/81.07
Murina hilgendorfi7.01/80.02
Pipistrellus kuhlii7.34/811.85
Hypsugo savii7.53/80.10
Asellia tridens8.03/80.27
Myotis nattereri8.36/83.18
Myotis emarginatus8.73/80.52
Myotis capaccinii8.82/80.19
Plecotus auritus9.36/83.19
Myotis petax9.51/80.01
Myotis annectans9.71/80.01
Barbastella barbastellus9.73/82.46
Rhinopoma microphyllum10.02/80.05
Pipistrellus nathusii10.24/80.82
Myotis bechsteinii10.24/80.87
Plecotus austriacus10.33/81.52
Myotis daubentonii10.95/81.17
Nycteris thebaica11.51/80.02
Eptesicus nilssoni11.66/80.48
Miniopterus schreibersii11.94/80.50
Rhinolophus blasii12.51/80.02
Rhinolophus eyryale12.93/80.27
Myotis dasycneme13.22/80.25
Rhinolophus bocharius15.11/80.03
Nyctalus leisleri16.02/80.16
Vespertilio murinus16.65/89.82
Vespertilio sinensis17.01/80.06
Rhinolophus mehelyi17.61/80.01
Otonycteris hemprichii19.03/80.40
Eptesicus bottae20.53/80.17
Myotis blythii21.35/81.64
Eptesicus serotinus23.45/87.31
Rhinolophus ferrumequinum23.53/80.93
Taphozous nudiventris28.04/80.23
Nyctalus noctula28.35/89.12
Myotis myotis32.86/815.24
Tadarida teniotis38.03/80.07
Nyctalus lasiopterus40.12/80.02
Cynopterus sphinx46.01/80.01
Scotophilus heathi50.01/80.01
Rousettus leschenaulti60.01/80.01
Rousettus aegyptiacus135.02/80.49
Total number of bats eaten19,864

Table 1.

Occurrence of the bat species in increasing order of weight in the diet of eight most studied owls in Eurasia [1]. Bat weights from [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10], as an average of values given. Sp. weight is the average of the species of that family. Owl diets included: Aegolius funereus, Athene noctua, Asio otus, Tyto alba, Asio flammeus, Strix aluco, Strix uralensisand Bubo bubo.

Barn Owl Tyto albaand Tawny Owl Strix alucohave captured most of all bats (47.1 and 42.6%), and Long-eared Owl Asio otuscomes next (7.3%). Short-eared Owl Asio flammeusand Eagle Owl Bubo bubotake similar amounts of bats (1.2 and 1.3% respectively). For Tengmalm’s Aegolius funereus, Ural Strix uralensisand Little Owls Athene noctuabats were fairly rare prey item, with less than 0.1–0.4% of this material [1]. Scops Owl Otus scopsand Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinumate less than 10 bats, so they are not included in Table 1.


3. Bat prey species

Most commonly owls are taking Pipistrellus pipistrellus(16.0%), Myotis myotis(15.2%), Pipistrellus kuhlii(11.9%), Vespertilio murinus(9.8%), Nyctalus noctula(9.1%), and Eptesicus serotinus(7.3%), that is, six most eaten species make 70% of the material. All these mostly eaten bats weigh less than 33 g (Table 1). Rest of the numerous species represents less than 5% of each of this material, and bats heavier than 33 g represent only 0.6% of this material. None of the bat species are eaten by all eight European owl species but Myotis mystacinusis in the diet of seven out of eight owls, when P. pipistrellus, M. myotis, M. nattereri, Eptesicus nilssoniand Plecotus auratusare the prey of six owl species (Table 1). The heaviest bat species eaten by two owl species is 135 g weighing Rousettus aegyptiacuswhich is illustrated in Figure 1 as a prey of the Eagle Owl.

Figure 1.

Eagle Owl has brought to its nest aRousettus aegyptiacus♀ with a sucking baby still alive when photo was taken in 2008. Courtesy of Ezra Hadad/prof. Motti Charter, Haifa, Israel.


4. Owl predation

Bats are captured by owls probably mainly during the periods of emergence or return from roosts, but owls are in general not well adapted for catching bats. An interesting calculation from the UK shows that the predation of birds (mainly owls) would account for about 11% of the annual mortality of bats despite the apparent low representation of bats in the diets of predatory birds [11]. Owls are regulated by the availability of their food, more bats there are in the territory more they can harvest, explaining why the bat predation is higher in the south. In Britain, bats comprised only 0.03% of prey taken by Barn Owl while in Morocco the percentage is 0.05% [11].


5. Bats can defend themselves

That bats could be dangerous if consumed whole is borne out by the report of the death of an Oriental Bay Owl Phodilus badiuspicked up dead disclosing the cause to be the wing bone of the bat protruding through the stomach [12]. In Poland, on its turn, a western barbastelle bat Barbastella barbastellushas been observed to attack an owl [13]. And in the same country, there is an interesting observation on a Tawny Owl trying to catch Nyctalus noctulain the air but the bat “hid in the predator’s shadow” by flying very close behind it and waiting until the owl gave up hunting. Finally, the bat flew away safely after the owl ceased searching for the lost prey [14].


6. Conclusion

It is safe to conclude that owls prey on bats rarely and opportunistically, but also that bat aggregations could be a locally important food source for some species and individual owls during certain periods. Also, the decrease in the main prey (rodent) abundance can lead owls to expand their diet and include bats.

Further work is needed to evaluate the possible effects of owl predation on bat populations, and to determine the ecological and environmental dynamics between owl species and their main prey species. Owl predation on bats deserves future research also because on one hand, it might contribute to our limited knowledge on bats biodiversity and distribution, while on the other hand, it can sometimes represent an additional risk for small populations of endangered bats.


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Written By

Heimo Mikkola

Submitted: February 23rd, 2018 Reviewed: March 1st, 2018 Published: July 4th, 2018