Bats are currently killed in large numbers at wind turbines worldwide, but the ultimate reason why this happens remains poorly understood. One hypothesis is that bats visit wind turbines to feed on insects exposed at the turbine towers. We used single molecule next generation DNA sequencing to identify stomach contents of 18 bats of four species (Pipistrellus pygmaeus, Nyctalus noctula, Eptesicus nilssonii and Vespertilio murinus) found dead under wind turbines in southern Sweden. Stomach contents were diverse but included typically diurnal flies, e.g. blow-flies (Calliphoridae), flesh-flies (Sarcophagidae) and houseflies (Muscidae) and also several flightless taxa. Such prey items were eaten by all bat species and at all wind turbine localities and it seems possible that they had been captured at or near the surface of the turbines at night. Using sticky traps, we documented an abundance of swarming (diurnal) ants (Myrmica spp.) and sometimes blow-flies and houseflies at the nacelle house. Near the base of the tower the catches were more diverse and corresponded better with the taxa found in the bat stomachs, including various diurnal flies. To evaluate if flies and other insects resting on the surface of a wind turbine are available to bats, we ensonified a house fly (Musca) on a smooth (plastic) surface with synthetic ultrasonic pulses of the frequencies used by the bat species that we had sampled. The experiment revealed potentially useful echoes, provided the attack angle was low and the frequency high (50–75 kHz). Hence resting flies and other arthropods can probably be detected by echolocating bats on the surface of a wind turbine. Our findings are consistent with published observations of the behavior of bats at wind turbines and may actually explain the function of some of these behaviors.
Journal: Mammalian biology