Nathusius' pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii), hunting at night, Netherlands.

Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats have a wingspan that tops out at 25 centimetres, but one managed to make a migratory flight across a continent. Credit: Alamy

Animal behaviour

The record-setting flight of a bat that weighs less than a toothbrush

A creature so small that it could fit into a matchbox if it folded its wing made an epic migration.

The record for the longest recorded migration by a bat has been broken by a small, brown, fuzzy creature that flew at least 2,224 kilometres from Latvia to Spain.

Nathusius’ pipistrelles (Pipistrellus nathusii), which typically weigh less than 10 grams, are known to migrate from summer breeding grounds in northeastern Europe to winter in warmer areas of the continent, where they hibernate in trees and buildings.

Juan Tomás Alcalde at the Spanish Association for Bat Research and Conservation in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and his colleagues put a ring on a male Nathusius’ pipistrelle in a park in southwestern Latvia in August 2015, as part of a research project on the bats. The same individual was found dead two years later in Navarra, Spain.

The record-breaking 2,224 km figure is likely to be an underestimate, the researchers say: the number represents the shortest possible distance between those two points, but bats of this species are known to follow the convoluted coastline of the Baltic Sea as they migrate.

The researchers think that the northern Iberian Peninsula might be an important wintering place for migrating populations of Nathusius’ pipistrelles.