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Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 09:51 UK
'Nature's ghosts' caught on film
Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News


Presenter Steve Backshall describes the action for the BBC series Deadly 60.

Eerie-looking ghost bats have been filmed in the wild for the first time.

A BBC camera team filmed the bats flying deep inside an abandoned mine in the Northern Territory in Australia.

Ghost bats are the largest type of predatory bat and are thought to kill other bats on the wing, but little is known about their biology.

The BBC team gained exclusive access to film the creatures living in an old disused gold mine for the programme Deadly 60.

"I would say it was one of the spookiest experiences I've ever had," says Deadly 60 presenter Steve Backshall.

"There's cockroaches and assassin bugs and all sorts of other nasties crawling all over the walls. Then all of a sudden these ghostly white bats just appear in the air. The sound of their wings is just extraordinary. And they are big, they are really, really big bats."

It was a really ethereal experience
Steve Backshall, Deadly 60 presenter

Ghost bats are the largest species of carnivorous bat. They usually feed on a range of animals including insects, frogs, lizards, birds and other bats.

"They are generalists," says Backshall. "They'll take all sorts of things. When you look inside their mouth and see the size of their teeth it's not surprising, they are a big powerful animal."

However, what we know about the bats' diet comes from studies examining their stomach contents and faeces.

"People haven't actually seen them snatching bats on the wing, they just know it happens from the scientific evidence," says Backshall.

"They are not well known, their biology is not that extraordinarily well known, there are very few people studying them."

The ghost bat
is named for its extremely thin wing membrane, which gives it a ghostly appearance at night
is also known as the false vampire bat
is one of the largest species of microbats. Other bigger bats, such as fruit bats, are grouped as megabats

The Deadly 60 team were granted exclusive access to film the bat colony, capturing what they believe is the first film of the mammals flying in the wild.

Led into the mine by an expert, Backshall and his camera crew had to move incredibly quietly, so not to scare the bats away. They captured the images of the bats flying by briefly turning a light onto the creatures and also filming in infrared.

"They were the first shots ever of this incredible ghostly bat, with the light shining through the wing membranes," says Backshall. "It was a really ethereal experience."

Backshall says he only wishes his team had the time to film the ghost bats actually hunting.

"I would love to have the time to film them hunting. To actually film a ghost bat taking another in mid air. To see one snatching a frog off a leaf. Those kind of things would be extraordinary. There's so much left to discover about how these bats go about their business."

Deadly 60 is broadcast on the CBBC channel each Thursday at 5.15pm.

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