I love bats, yet because they’re nocturnal we see them far too rarely. The order Chiroptera, containing the bats, is the second most species-rich of all of the mammalian orders, with about 1240 species. Only the rodents (Rodentia) is more numerous, with about 2270 species.
At any rate, although there are many species, the ones in North America are endangered by white-nose disease, a fungal growth that has a mortality rate up to 90%. Other bats are simply rare. One of them is the Florida bonneted bat, (Eumops floridanus), which appears to have a population of only about 500. It is listed as “critically endangered,” which I think is the most critical status a species can have in the U.S.
As the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission notes:
Florida bonneted bats are thought to be exceedingly rare. Only a handful of bonneted bat nursery roosts have been documented and none are in natural habitat (i.e. all are in bat houses).
The Florida bonneted bat faces many threats to its population. The species’ small range leaves the population vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes since the impact could occur throughout its entire range. Diseases such as White Nose-Syndrome may be a threat to the bonneted bat population, although to date the disease is only known to impact cave-hibernating species. The loss of habitat, including natural roost sites, threatens the population. Pesticide use could also threaten the bonneted bat population by affecting their food source, although it has not been proven (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2008).
And, like all bats, they’re adorable: here’s one. Don’t you just want to give it a belly rub?
Here’s their distribution:
According to an article in Takepart published two days ago,”The world’s rarest bat is discovered living on a golf course in Miami,” a new group has been located near a golf course, though we don’t know where they roost:
Only an estimated 500 of the bonneted bats are left—no one knows for sure how many—and they are scattered around six South Florida counties. The small and high-flying bats have long eluded biologists’ attempts to capture them or even discover where they roost. Then one evening recently, Kirsten Bohn, a Florida International University bat biologist, was standing on her balcony in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables when she heard the distinctive call of Eumops floridanus. She used a high-speed recorder to capture the sound and make a positive identification of the species.
It’s not the first time the bats have come to the big city. An injured and pregnant bat, for instance, was found in Coral Gables in 1988, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which listed the Florida bonneted bat as endangered last year.
“One individual recently reported that a single Florida bonneted bat had come down the chimney and into his residence in Coral Gables in the fall about five years ago,” the FWS stated in its listing decision. Over the years, people occasionally recorded the bats flying near two Coral Gables golf courses but never found where they roosted.
“This is the same location they were recorded years ago but no one knew if they were still there until I moved here and started hearing them in my backyard,” Bohn said in an email on Tuesday.
The biologist started organizing a brigade of citizen scientists to fan out across Miami as the sun set to search for the bonneted bat and listen for its call. Members of the Miami Bat Squad—yes, they have a Facebook page—can download bat sounds on their iPhone to help identify the critters.
“As of yet, we haven’t located a roost site but we have added multiple new locations, never known before, where they have been observed around Miami,” said Bohn. “In fact, tonight volunteers are meeting at a location that may have a roost site to help observe at dusk where bats come out.”
Here is one being rehabilitated before release, and nomming a grubworm.
We all need to love bats more. Although they’re often cited for their abilities to control insects (conservation all too often depends on the usefulness of a species to humans), they’re just marvelous animals: the only flying mammal; and we know very little about their evolution.
And, on another encouraging note, a snail in the Seychelles once thought extinct has been found—though only 7 individuals were seen. To read about that, and other “Lazarus” species once thought extinct but recently found alive, go to this piece in the Global Post.
h/t: Matthew Cobb, Barry