Fascinating hunters of the night
Many animals exist quite close to us, but live hidden lives. This includes bats. They can be found everywhere in the national park. Observing them is not so easy since they are nocturnal animals.
Over 950 bat species, about one fifth of all known mammal species, live on earth. Most of them live in the tropics or subtropics. Because of climatic conditions, there are only very few bat species living in our latitudes.
Of the 24 bat species native to Germany, 20 can be found in Thuringia. Bats have been intensively searched for in the national park since 1999. Up to now (2017), 15 species have been identified.
Over millions of year, bats have evolved as varied like few other classes of animals. Many specialist feeders have developed.
Most bat species feed on insects. In addition, there are about 50 species that feed on nectar and pollen, and also those that subsist on fruit (about 230 species). Seven species hunt small vertebrate. The best-known are surely vampire bats (three species) that live in South America. They feed exclusively on blood.
Bat species in Hainich
In the national park, nature takes care of itself. The primeval deciduous woods in Hainich are a true paradise for forest bats. Thick-trunked, old trees with cavities, rotten sections and loose bark offer many hiding places. The wealth of insects here makes for a richly set table.
The situation is worse outside the boundaries of the national park: Building activity causes the loss of bat quarters in and on buildings. The animals fall victim to road traffic and wind turbines. The destruction of natural landscapes and the use of pesticides deprive bats of their nutrition base. Therefore, the natural areas of the national park are a very important part of their habitat for many building-based bats. There is busy nocturnal "air traffice" between the villages surrounding the national park and the woodland.
All native bat species receive strict protection from German and international laws. Six species are specifically protected by the FFH Directive of the European Union; three of those species live in the national park.
leaflet (in German) "Identify – Bats in Hainich National Park"
The Bechstein's bat is a typical forest dweller. It is characterised by long, broad ears with a long, lancet shaped tragus (a soft cartilaginous projection in front of the ear). It favours mixed forests and can be found all over the forest areas of the national park. The small reproduction colonies often change their quarters in summer and elude observation.
The greater mouse-eared bat favours attic quarters in representative buildings such as churches and palaces. One quarter with approx. 800 animals can be found in Mihla. Every evening, most of them fly into the national park. They mostly feed on flightless ground beetles, which they can locate and capture on the forest floor. The largest native species – weighing about 35 g – needs 12 g of insects daily. That means the colony requires 9.6 kg per night.
The barbastelle bat is very rare. The small, black-brownish bat with its pug-like, stout snout region and the large ears framing the face, is unmistakable. The species favours woodland as a habitat that feeds on small, soft-skinned insects.
The noctule bat and the lesser noctule are typical forest dwellers. You can see the noctule bat in the national park throughout the summer. So far, however, no reproduction activities have been detected in the national park. The animals living here are territory-occupying males. As far as the lesser noctules are concerned, after chance finds in the national park, reproduction and nursery roosts of this species can also be confirmed.
The Daubenton's bat is easy to spot thanks to its ties with water bodies. If you sit by the Hünenteich pond on a warm summer evening, you can see it flying very close to the water surface. Here, it chases after small mosquitoes, crane flies and moths.
The brown long-eared bat with its oversize ears can be found everywhere in the national park. It lives in trees that have numerous cavities. Its hunting ground are the woods, its edges and richly structured open areas. The bats hibernate in tree cavities and in the few subterranean man-made hollows in the national park, such as the old bunker complex on the Kindel that are only accessible to bats.
The common pipistrelle is tiny. It lives in human settlements, but you can also see it in the national park quite regularly. Here, it favours mature trees, where it lives and goes hunting in the canopies. It also likes to hunt above water bodies. You can easily mistake it for the soprano pipistrelle, which also lives in the national park.
These two species are very similar and were recognised as independent species only in 1970. The Brandt's bat has a closer connection to woodland. The whiskered bat lives predominantly in houses. Both species have a similar diet: They feed on small butterflies and crane flies, but also flightless prey such as spiders.
The Natterer's bat is a medium-sized bat that lives in residential areas and woodland. It favours crevices for hiding and likes to change its quarters frequently. Here in the national park it finds excellent conditions thanks to numerous old cavernous trees. Similarly to the brown long-eared bat, the Natterer's bat also collects a large share of its food from vegetation.