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Poor little bat, impaled on spines

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Here’s one of the most remarkable specimens I own. It’s a very dead juvenile pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus sp., most likely P. pipistrellus) that died after becoming impaled on the long and dangerous spines of a gorse bush. As should be clear, even given my limited photographic abilities, a large gorse spine pierced the base of its left wing, while other spines punched holes in its wing membranes near the left wrist joint, and in the right-hand side of its uropatagium (the membrane between the tail and hindlimbs). The bat is tiny – body length is c. 30 mm.

It seems that the bat tried to pull its right wing off the spines, since it’s preserved with its teeth locked into the right wing membrane – this is hard to make out, so the labelled version might help. Alternatively, the bat might have been biting itself in frustration or desperation. Unable to extricate itself from the spines, the bat died in this pose. The specimen (discovered at Southampton’s Outdoor Sports Centre, Lordswood) made its way to my friend Phil Budd who kindly passed it to me. Numerous cases in the literature attest to the occasional snaring of bats on the spines and tendrils of diverse plants.

Pipistrelles are vesper bats, or vespertilionids. Regular readers may know that the vesper bats of the world have been covered in fairly extensive detail on Tet Zoo ver 2. Go here for links to all parts of the series.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Hydrarchos 7:58 am 11/14/2012

    Are there shrikes in Hampshire?

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  2. 2. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:20 am 11/14/2012

    There are several similar reports in British Birds about small songbirds. Interestingly, some ringer even caught a healthy small bird (Willow Warbler?) which apparently broke away and lived carrying such a thorn.

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  3. 3. greg_t_laden 10:52 am 11/14/2012

    I once found a bat, mummified, stuck to a rock wall in a cave that other evidence suggested has last been open to anything over 10,000 years earlier.

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  4. 4. Ethologist 11:40 am 11/14/2012

    What is your preservation method for this specimen, Darren?

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  5. 5. naishd 4:09 am 11/15/2012

    Hydrarchos: yes, there are shrikes in Hampshire during at least part of the year (Great grey shrike, Woodchat shrike and Brown shrike are all here on occasion; Red-backed shrikes occurred here until the 1980s). However, the sports centre where the dead bat was found is a suburban area where shrikes don’t go. The bat was not a shrike impalement victim. For previous Tet Zoo thoughts on shrikes and the impaling of prey, see this ver 2 article from 2010.


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  6. 6. naishd 4:12 am 11/15/2012

    Greg (comment 3): did you photograph this specimen? Interesting to know what species it might have been.

    Ethologist (comment 4): the carcass is completely desiccated, so no need of preservation so long as insects don’t find it (which they shouldn’t: the specimen is in my house, on top of a large piece of furniture).


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  7. 7. Chelydra 8:46 pm 11/15/2012

    A few years ago I found a dead bat, probably Eptesicus fuscus from the wingspan, entangled in the invasive shrub Rosa multiflora. It wasn’t nearly as badly impaled, but looked as though it had freed itself only to fall farther into the center of the rose. I’m sure I have a photo somewhere (and the bat).

    Dried specimens are invariably eaten by clothes moths in my home.

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