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The Home of the Honduran White Bat

by:Annika Keeley.

Humans live in many different kinds of houses: dug-outs, igloos, Victorian style houses, bungalows, cottages, geodesic domes, log cabins, tipis, tree houses, yurts – the list is long. The same is true for bats. Bats live in caves, rock crevices, bridges, attics, hollow trees, palms, termite nests, and even in tents . Most of the approximately 1100 bat species in the world don’t construct their own shelters, but a few (24) do. Most of these actually build tents out of leaves. One tent-building bat, the Honduran White Bat (Ectophylla alba), occurs in a rather small area that comprises the Caribbean lowlands to up to 700 m in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. This bat looks very different from most other bats: it has bright white fur and yellow ears and nose.

Bernal Rodríguez -Herrera, director of research at Tirimbina, and his colleagues were curious about these bats that construct their own roosts and studied them in detail . They discovered some amazing facts. Both males and females construct the tent by biting the leaf veins and pulling the leaf into shape. At the end it always looks like an upside-down boat. They only use seven types of plants for their shelters, and most tents are built in two different kinds of Heliconia species. A good tent- leaf has to be less than 2 m (6 feet) high. Probably to avoid high temperatures in the roost during the day, tents are built where the canopy is nice and thick, although the plant species used for tent building grow under thick as well as under more open canopy. Another important characteristic of useful leaves is that there are only few plants underneath, which is the bats’ way to avoid having predators sneak up to their roost. Honduran white bats only use fresh, new leaves to build their tents, probably because they are undamaged and still softer and therefore easier to bite. After all, these bats are tiny; the body is barely bigger than a nice juicy cherry. Thus the leaves cannot be too tough for the bats to be able to modify them.

the home of the honduran white bat 1
the home of the honduran white bat 2

Because of these preferences for roosts, Honduran white bats live primarily in mature secondary forests. Very young forests are unsuitable for the bats because they have a very thick understory and an open canopy, whereas mature forests have very few suitable tent plants. But even though secondary forests are common where Honduran white bats occur, the bats are vulnerable to habitat loss because they have very specific needs with respect to roosts. Therefore, continued conversion of forests to agricultural areas will decrease the options for Honduran white bats.

Nowak, R.M. 1994. Walker’s Bats of the World. JHU Press. Rodríguez -Herrera, B., R.A. Medellín, and M. Gamba- Ríos. 2008. Roosting requirements of white tent-making bat Ectophylla alba (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae). Acta Chiropterologica, 10: 89–95. Rodríguez -Herrera, B., R.A. Medellín, and M. Gamba- Ríos. 2006. Tent building by female Ectophylla alba (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae) in Costa Rica. Acta Chiropterologica, 8:557-560. Rodríguez -Herrera, B., G. Ceballos, and R.A. Medellín. 2011. Ecological Aspects of the Tent Building Process by Ectophylla alba (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae). Acta Chiropterologica, 13:365-372.

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