Bats keep vegetation healthy, varied

Know Your Islands

The health of our environment depends on a healthy connection between all flora and fauna of our islands.

Fruit bat

Fruit bat and almond

Caribbean Fruit Bats are our largest bats, but are still quite small with a torso about the size of small child’s fist.

Fruit bats do not stay on the tree to eat the fruits, but pluck them and fly to a feeding roost in another tree.

In this way, they spread seeds through woodlands, helping to keep the vegetation varied and healthy.

These bats pollinate many of our native plants. Local Caribbean Fruit Bats like almonds too!

They often eat Indian almonds, and piles of chewed almond seeds can be found below feeding roosts all over the islands and in the entrances to some caves.

The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; Photographs by Paul Watler and Dr. Merlin Tuttle.

Indian Almond

Terminalia catappa

This tree is easily recognized by its large, distinctively shaped leaves, which tend to grow in tight clusters at the end of each twig.

Ageing leaves turn red before they fall.

The large oval and flattened fruits ripen from green to dull yellow: their flesh is tough and fibrous, but the kernel of the large hard seed is somewhat edible and tastes rather similar to the commercial Almond nut (which is actually quite unrelated).

The bark is often heavily pitted with Sapsucker drillings.

It is fairly smooth and pale on younger trees, but progressively roughens as the trunk ages, with irregular vertical and horizontal cracks.

Lichen colonization is usually quite subdued and inconspicuous. The tree tends to branch is distinct layers while young, giving a characteristic tiered appearance.

The large leaves were traditionally used to cover baking bread, to prevent burning, and the buds have been used as a component of a tea used to treat high blood pressure (combined with aloes, breadfruit leaf and banana skin).

The Indian Almond is native to tropical Asia, but has been planted widely in tropical regions around the world.

In Cayman it has taken to the wild, growing particularly successfully in sandy beach ridges, where it is now a common and familiar tree usually in association with our native Sea Grape. It can be found on all three of the Cayman Islands.

This weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust.

Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.kyor call 949-0121.

Last week’s answer: The Green Anole is the endemic (found nowhere else in the world!) anole on Little Cayman.

Trivia question: How were Silver Thatch tree trunks historically used?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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