Tropical bats

Platyrhinus-helleriWhile I don’t have a specific research program in this area, I have participated in other projects in the Caribbean (Lesser Antilles) and in Belize, catching and studying bats especially in the Phyllostomid and Mollosid families.  One study examined the impact of volcanic activity on the island of Montserrat on fruit-eating bats I have also surveyed bats on the island of St. Lucia.  At the Lamanai Mayan ruins in Belize, I was part of a group investigating the effect of predators on evening exit flights of Mollosid bats.

Bats in the Phyllostomid family are an amazing and fascinating group of animals, displaying a phenomenal range of diet and behavior adaptations.  For example, some bats in this family specialize in nectar from specific flowers and perform important pollinator functions.  Other bats eat fruit from a variety of different trees and have been shown to be crucial in re-establishing forested areas in the tropics.  Yet another species listens for male frogs calling and swoops down to catch and eat them.  Many of these bats construct their own tent roosts!  And, of course, the three species of vampire bats eat only blood, generally from mammals or birds.  I was lucky enough to encounter the common vampire bat, Desmodus rotundus, very frequently in Belize. This bat is notable for many reasons; for example, it’s the only bat that can actually gallop on the ground.  It flies to an area where there are cattle and lands on the ground, then walks up to the animal and uses its razor-sharp teeth to cut a slit over a vein.  Then it laps up the blood as it flows out.  Its saliva contains an anti-coagulent that is used in medicine to help stroke victims.   Also, it’s one of very few examples of altruism in animal behavior.  These bats have to feed every 24-48 hours, and if for some reason a bat can’t find a meal, another bat will share food with it.  Gerry Carter has shown  that a vampire bat is more likely to share with other bats that have shared with it in the past, even if they are not related to each other

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