Enjoying the Bats

Long-tongued bats emerging, Asa Wright, Trinidad

Long-tongued bats emerging, Asa Wright, Trinidad

As the second largest order of mammals (after rodents) with over 1,200 species, bats represent 20% of all mammals worldwide.

 

They pollinate flowers, disperse fruit seeds, and consume insects–very important workhorses of our planet. More about bats here.

 

Last month, while lodging at Asa Wright Nature Centre in the rainforest of Trinidad, my partner and I had the thrill of watching a bat emergence every night.

 

bats-emerging-2At first glance they looked like brown birds at the nectar feeders. They swooped in and out so quickly, we didn’t know what they were; but soon it became apparent.

 

The next night Athena was photographing with the last light of the day, when she discovered where they were coming from. In a matter of minutes, dozens and dozens of bats were emerging from a narrow basement corridor underneath our lodge.

 

Long-tongued bats at nectar feeder

Long-tongued bats at nectar feeder

She came and got me, and we watched for 20 minutes as they stopped at the feeders, drank, and flew off. We estimated we saw over a hundred bats.

 

The next night we went early, in order to see them before they came out. And then like clockwork they began flying out of the basement corridor–five or six, then five more, ten more. They left the lodge structure, drank at the feeders, then disappeared into the night.

 

Using echolocation, or biological sonar, they emit calls (we humans cannot hear) that produce echoes. The echoes help the bat to locate and identify objects as they navigate.

 

Pallas' long-tongued bat, Trinidad

Pallas’s long-tongued bat, Trinidad

We were standing about 12 inches (30 cm) apart, when one bat zoomed between us. It was so fast that I didn’t see it, but I felt the breeze on my left ear.

 

Athena said, “They didn’t fly like this last night. They went more directly to the feeders.”

 

“Maybe we’re in their way.”

 

So we stepped back two steps, and instantly the bats’s flight patterns changed; they headed more directly to the feeders.

 

Once we all had our proper place in the world, Athena and I watched while the bats continued emerging, quickly and in abundant numbers.

 

This species is the Pallas’s long-tongued bat.  Glossophaga soricina have the fastest metabolism ever recorded in a mammal, very similar to a hummingbird. Over 80% of their energy comes directly from the simple sugars of nectar.

 

Pallas's long-tongued bat.jpg

Pallas’s long-tongued bat. Photo: B. Wills. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Interestingly, the long tongue of this bat has a mopping ability powered by blood. Elongated hairs at the tongue-tip trigger blood vessels, immediately increasing the length of the tongue by 50%, thereby expanding the bat’s ability to consume more nectar.

 

How does it feel to have dozens of long-tongued bats zipping around you?

 

It was a little intimidating at first, but after that…it was heavenly.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

 

 

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93 thoughts on “Enjoying the Bats

  1. OMG! You two were brave souls! I am aware that bats are an important animal for our eco system but it’s very difficult for me to consider them cute; I prefer to stay clear of them. We see them here at dusk cleaning up the bugs that remain in the evening air. Right now there is a nest under the eave at the peak of the roof. I don’t mind them being there but their droppings land on our window a few feet below the nest. Thanks for sharing your interesting story

  2. That is so neat that you found where they spent the day! We only saw them when they came to the feeders in the evenings.
    Enjoy your weekend! Regina and John

    • Oh we were VERY excited to find them, so much so that we just kept going back. It’s really fun to share them with you Regina, and if we could rewind a few weeks, we would have loved to have shared them with you and John. But since life doesn’t do rewinds, this is the next best thing. I am so glad you stopped by today, thank you. 🙂

  3. All right you two have taught me a great deal, however elongating bat tongues is the icing on the cake. Or possibly the next great horror movie In the making! 20% of mammals are bats? What an astounding fact in the animal world. I am sure to win a trivia game with that one!
    Bravo to Athena for spotting these wee winged sugar lovers. The photo of them emerging is jaw dropping.

    • Your comment makes me smile, as always, Sue. What a pleasure to share the world of bats with you. Thanks for your kind words and visit. I hope you are out enjoying the winter snows of Canada this weekend. 🙂

  4. What a wonderful post…bat-tastic! They don’t have a great reputation, but anyone reading this would have to think again. Another splendid piece with words and images combining to show an amazing species (and experience!) I love how you went from not too sure to loving the time you had with the bats. Unforgettable!
    Thanks, and have a great weekend!

    • You wouldn’t have believed all the bats swarming around us, pc, it definitely gave me pause to walk further into the swirl. But that’s when it became so fun. I appreciate your astute reading and enjoyment of the post, pc. Always a joy, my friend.

  5. I was a little skeptical when I read your title that I would be enjoying the bats, but that photo of them at the nectar feeder was enjoyable. I’m not sure I’m ready to be out photographing them in droves flying by my head, but the thought of that photo at least may stop me from running in the house if I’m outside at night with Gabby and I see them circling the house. Wonderful photos and thanks again for sharing your travels!

    • I very much enjoyed your words here, ACI. We all have our processes, don’t we. My first steps into the bat swirl were ginger too. I am delighted you enjoyed the bats and overcame your skepticism. 😀

  6. What a coincidence! Tyler went to the movies on Thursday to see “LEGO Batman”. He loved it because he likes bats and he’s been talking about these mammals because he had lessons in School all about them. He mentioned to the teacher that we sometimes see them buzzing around early in the morning in winter (dark as night) while waiting for the school bus! We used to have bats in our attic in New Jersey. They are very interesting animals that need to be studied more! Great post my friend, you rock! 🙂

    • I love this story, HJ, and the coincidence of Tyler’s school lessons with the bat post. And what a wonderful school to teach him the importance of bats. Thank you, HJ, so very much.

    • Your vampire comment made me laugh, David. I am delighted you enjoyed the bats, and yes, isn’t echolocation an incredible thing? Many thanks for your visit and fun comment.

  7. over 1,200 species, bats represent 20% of all mammals worldwid, Wow! What an adventure you and Athena had. Great captures, thank you for sharing, Jet! 🙂

    • Always a pleasure to share the beauty of bats with you, Amy. I have never seen the bat emergence down in your part of the world, in Austin, but I intend to one day. I have heard and seen photos of its dramatic beauty.

  8. Wow! What an interesting post, Jet! I had never thought of bats as the workhorses of the planet I think I would have been intimidated too 🙂 Great pictures!

  9. Good Sunday morning, – Another fascinating post….three things struck me. One your words “once we had our proper place in the world’ – which I thought to be so telling. Maybe this is something we have forgotten in our fast paced techno age….finding our proper places in the world, rather than trying to force issues. The other amazing piece of information is the likeness of these bats to the hummingbird – well you knew that would peak my interest. 🙂 Then, Athena’s amazing photograph of the bats at the feeder….incredible.
    Thank you so much – hope you enjoy a lovely Sunday and that your weather has calmed. My daughter Christie was in Chicago last week on business and said the temps were in the high 60s all week – and when she returned to Boston, the same thing….amazing. Janet.

    • What a joy to read your thoughtful comments, as usual, Janet. There are so many rhythms in nature, and the more one is out in it, the more we blend into them — an element I just love so much. And I, too, enjoyed the similarities of these bats to the hummingbird — both species situated in a rainforest filled with nectar, how wonderful! I, too, have heard some of the colder U.S. climates have had unusually warm weather lately — how terrific for your daughter to be in Chicago during warm temps. Chicago can be so bitterly frigid this time of year — she lucked out! Always a joy to visit with you, Janet — and much appreciated.

  10. Phantastisch dein Bericht mit den Fotos. Es war sicher ein beeindruckendes Erlebnis. Grüße aus den Alpen.
    Fantastically your report with the photos. It was certainly an impressive experience. Greetings from the Alps.

  11. What a great experience especially so “up close and personal”. I love the way their flight pattern changed just by you two taking a couple of steps. I have seen the nightly migration from a large cave from a distance (I think it was Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico)…again…from a distance…to be that much a part of it…incredible! Great photos Athena!!

    • Thanks for your great comment, Kirt. I, too, thought it was so cool to take a few steps back and watch the bats’ flight pattern change. I’m delighted you enjoyed the bat post, Kirt.

  12. Jet, I approached this post with a chill up my spine–an old bat reaction. But i really enjoyed it and found what you always find when you delve into something: there’s so much more there than you realized. Thank you.

  13. I was taught to fear bats because they would get into your hair. Really enjoyed reading this Jet. We have bats here and this year I’m going to get rid of my fear. I think they are beautiful.

  14. How exhilarating! Bats (and cockroaches and snakes) get such a bad rap, though they are HUGELY important to our lives. We occasionally see brown bats fly over our heads at dusk and would love to host them on our property. Unfortunately, we don’t have a good spot for them that wouldn’t be predator-free.

    One of my favorite bat encounters was when one tried to fly through our apartment (we lived on the end unit, ‘open air’ in Malaysia) but couldn’t escape as easily; he just kept flying from wall to wall, trapped. Scott and I used a bed sheet — standing on chairs — to carefully bring him safely to the ground, then to the outside. We were ALL exhausted.

    Athena’s pics are fantastic; so glad you got to witness that. You’ve already seen our bat post, I think, the one with the bat tornado. Super duper fun.

    • We have pipistrelles at our house, too, Andrea — very cute little tiny bats. And yes, one or two or three, but not dozens and dozens. I’m happy you enjoyed the bat post, thanks so much for your visit.

    • Me either, RH. So not only did we have the surprise of the long-tongued bats drinking nectar at the feeders here, we also learned (and saw) a daytime bat on the trail. They eat the insects that occur during the day. Glad to have piqued your interest, RH, thank you for stopping by.

  15. I’ve always been a bit leery of being close to bats, as I read that they can become tangled up in one’s hair. Horrible thought! 😯 If you say that the experience was “heavenly”, I guess I’ll take your word for it. That little face does look kinda cute. though. 🙂

    • The bat-tangled-in-the-hair myth terrified many of us for decades, but I am happy to say it has never happened to me and there’s been plenty of chances for it. I think it’s from the days when bats were considered evil and disgusting. Fortunately bats are revered now, I am happy to say. Thanks so much Sylvia, I appreciate your visits and comments.

  16. That must have been thrilling! I love bats, but sadly our little brown bats have been decimated by white-nose fungus, an immeasurable loss. Glad to see these Trinidadian bats are in good shape!

    • It was, indeed, absolutely thrilling, Eliza. I’m sorry to hear your bat population has been decimated, as it has in so many places in the U.S. It’s a tragic development. Both state and federal agencies are working really hard on combatting the white-nose syndrome. Yes, it is great that Trinidad still has a healthy population; and great that we got to be right in the middle of it. If you are missing bats, now you know where to go. Wonderful to see you here, thanks for stopping by.

  17. You know my fear of bats…so your words “bats,” “rodents”,”long-tongued bats,” and “intimidating,” outweighed “enjoying,” “very important workhorses,” “thrill,” and “heavenly.” Interesting how fear trumps perception. Thanks for trying, though! 😉

  18. This is a great read. I love all wildlife though I must admit when I was young and found myself surrounded by a crowd/flock/GANG of bats, I didn’t like it one little bit. I am trying to love them though.

    • Bats are wonderful wildlife for so many reasons, I am glad you’re trying to love them, Helen. And wonderful to “see” you here, thanks so much for your visit and comment.

  19. I like bats and feel so sorry that people in Ohio, Kentucky and this area have somehow given them germs, they call it white nosed bat syndrome. They are gentle creatures and a few times my son had to us my potholders to capture ones coming into my attic when I was a single mom. This was sweet, Jet. Smiles, Robin

    • Thank you, Robin. Yes, the white-nosed bat syndrome is a problem, a big one; but scientists and citizen scientists are dedicated to rectifying the situation and helping our beautiful bats to survive and reproduce. Let’s keep our fingers crossed….

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