Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Batty Biology

Costa Rica has approximately 110 out of 1,100 species of bats. Out of all the species of mammals in Costa Rica, bats make up approximately 50% of the mammals found in the country. 

There are several different types of bats, classified by their diets. Found only in Central and South American countries, there is Desmodus rotundus, or the common vampire bat, which is a sanguivore, meaning they consume blood. There are also nectarvores, which eat the nectar of nocturnal flowers and are major pollinators. Fruitivores are fruit eating bats, and finally, carnivore bats, which eat frogs, insects, fish, and even other bats. Costa Rica is home to all of these kind  of bats.

In 2006 renowned bat biologist Richard LaVal opened the Bat Jungle, a world-class bat exhibit. The attraction includes a microphone that can pick up on ultrasonic sound waves, allowing their guests to hear when the bats echolocate, a bat cave with 100 bats. They have  feedings scheduled throughout the day and have a small bat that cannot fly that guests can see up close and personal.

Scattered around the reception area are several posters with lots of bat information, ranging from common misconceptions to skeletal structures of popular bat species.

After one long week of no bat sightings, we finally to got to see some bats. Our tour guide impressed me greatly. He was very well informed on current bat information. During the tour he told the group about the white fungus issue happening in North America and about the nearest information on how scientists are finally able to treat bats with it. This information was released about two weeks ago, so it was very current and a good thing to share when touring with a group of biologists. Our guide took us into the bat cave, which was amazing, and held a flashlight on the bats for us to get pictures of them. He even feed them so our group could see them dive in for some watermelon chunks.

After we left the bat cave he brought out Oscar, the little bat who couldn't fly, and allowed our group to pet him to feel his tiny body shake from his rapid heartbeat. As an aspiring bat biologist, this tour was the highlight of the trip so far.



Photos by Vickie Grotbeck and Kayla Yi

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Searching for a Solution to White-Nose Syndrome


In the five years since the fungal disease white-nose syndrome was discovered in New York, the disease has spread to more than 190 sites in 16 eastern states and two four Canadian provinces. At one Canadian site alone, 5,000 bats died.

In this week's ScienceNews, the bats -- and the scientists working to study the disease -- are the subject of the cover article. 

Named for its devastating impact, the fungus,  Geomyces destructans latches onto living bats in the dead of winter. The fungus takes root during the winter hibernation period for bats such as the little brown bat, which suffers a 90 percent mortality rate from the fungus. At one New York location, the number of bats hibernating there went from 200,000 to only 2,000 in just three years. 

Scientists aren't just documenting the disease's spread and its potential devastation to ecosystems. They are also looking for antifungal solutions to halt the spread of the disease or help the bats resist it. 

You can read more this research in the latest issue of ScienceNews (

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bat Visitors Offer Insect Opportunity

batsWe occasionally noticed a bat flying around our lab space but didn’t pay too much attention to it. On our last night however, when it was unseasonably cold, several bats decided to use our lab as shelter. Often when the door opened one would fly in and around and then perch underneath one of our lab benches; five in fact were roosting together there at one point. I didn’t think too much of it until I recalled that bats have some pretty bizarre fly parasites that wander about through their fur. Suddenly this became an opportunity to make a novel entomological find. So eventually we got one in a butterfly net, and, while Choru held it down, I picked off the small flies with forceps. We let the bat go outside, but I suspect it may have flown right back in again.

—Dan Bennett