Stage 4: Mondorf-les-Bains > Vittel
Belles of the day and queens of the night
The stage on 4 July 2017 runs alongside two Natura 2000 sites, one of which is located within the Lorraine Regional Natural Park, which has many remarkable species: Pelouses du pays messin (Metz Region grasslands) (FR4100159) and Bats’ dens of the Colline Inspirée – Maple farms, grasslands, Vandeleville church and castle (FR4100177).
Among these species, wild orchids are resplendent during the day under the rays of the sun while bats reign supreme at nightfall.
The wild orchids on the limestone-rich grasslands of the Metz region give this natural environment its priority habitat status. They bloom in warm and dry conditions.
These grasslands sit on slopes that benefit from good exposure to the sun. They develop better on sloping limestone soils, which are also dry as rainwater filters through quickly.
Of all the species of flora on the limestone grasslands, wild orchids are among the most remarkable and surprising.
The names given to most orchids are very often related to their appearance:
- the pyramidal orchid is cone shaped and mauve coloured
- each flower on the monkey orchid looks like a monkey's body
- the smell of the goat orchid evokes that of the animal.
Some orchids (especially the ophrys genus) use the strategy of mimicry to reproduce. They can perfectly resemble the female of the insect that pollinates them: in order to attract the insect, they copy all its characteristics, be it its shape, its colour, its hairiness, and sometimes even its scent! Among these species are the bee orchid, the bumblebee orchid and the fly orchid, whose names are once again evocative.
At dusk, these delicate ladies give way to nocturnal species which are just as fragile, of which bats are probably the most mysterious and sadly the most misunderstood.
The bats’ dens of the Colline Inspirée are currently home to the largest population of Lorraine’s lesser horseshoe bat during its breeding season as well as to significant birthing colonies of two other species of rare bats.
These zones can thus justify their European importance and their inclusion as a Natura 2000 site, which has enabled these three species to maintain and perhaps improve their conservation status despite their vulnerability.
Bats (also called Chiroptera, from the Greek those who fly with their hands) are the only flying mammals. In Europe, they hunt at night and feed on almost all small flying insects, which they spot using the ultrasounds they emit.
All species found in France (currently 34 in mainland France) are protected by law. They weigh between 10 and 40 grams, with a wingspan of up to 40 cm.
Unfortunately, they are the victims of their own bad reputation, mostly due to mistaken beliefs.
Here are some facts about bats:
- bats are harmless! The "vampire" species are only found in Central and South America.
- they will not grab your hair
- they only give birth to one pup per year and are therefore far from being prolific.
The life cycle of bats is fascinating and still largely unknown:
- they hibernate (from November to March) most often in old quarries, mines, or disused military structures. These locations have a constant temperature and humidity. During this period they are extremely fragile and sensitive to disturbances.
- As soon as they wake up, in the spring, bats seek food and shelter where the females gather to give birth (hollow trees, granaries, bridges, etc.) and watch over their pups. In fact, although mating takes place in autumn, fertilisation actually occurs several months later and the pups are born on average after two months of gestation (June).
- during the summer, mothers nurse the young, and then they quickly learn to fly and hunt alone.
- in the autumn, the females leave the birthing dens and go in search of males to mate. Bat colonies then gather in hibernation dens to spend the winter, sometimes very far from their other living environments.
Do not pick flowers on protected sites. Some species are protected so it is prohibited to pick them. Take a picture instead!
If you encounter bats in a cave or hollow tree, do not disturb them. These species are very sensitive to disturbances, especially during hibernation. Disturbing them in the summer can also cause the death of their only pup, who clings to its mother. If it falls, it will not be able to get back to her!