Bats good for the environment

Bats are the only native mammals in the Cayman Islands.

Velvety Free-tailed Bat

Velvety Free-tailed Bat

There are nine distinct species of bats here and one endemic subspecies found only on Grand Cayman.

All are beneficial to the environment and rarely interact with people. Most of our bats live in caves or in dense foliage.

Of the 10 kinds of bats that live here, only two eat fruit. This information is sourced from www.caymanwildlife.org and the information sheets on the National Trust website written by Lois Blumenthal and photographs were provided by Carla Reid and Courtney Platt, www.courtneyplatt.com .

Bats are thought to have evolved 60 million years ago, however, the oldest fossil found in Cayman to date is 14,000 years old. They are the only mammals that can truly fly.

They are extremely vulnerable to extinction because they bear only one baby (or pup) per year and because they often live in large colonies that can easily be wiped out by one misguided or uninformed act. Bats are of vital importance to a balanced ecology. They perform many crucial functions such as controlling night-flying insects, including many kinds of crop pests and mosquitoes. They also pollinate hundreds of plants such as the agaves, silk cotton, naseberry, vine pear, neem, cactus and calabash. In addition, bats disperse seeds throughout the islands, helping to keep our forests healthy and diverse.

Velvety Free-tailed Bat

Molossus molossus tropidorhynchus
These tiny bats are named for their velvety soft fur. Their bodies are about the size of a person’s thumb. Their ears are short and triangular and their wings are very narrow. Their tails extend beyond the edge of the tail membrane. This species is one of the fastest flying of all bats. Velvety Free-tailed bats hunt thousands of insects every night, including mosquitoes, beetles and moths. Because they are our most numerous bats, they are the most important of all our bat species for insect control. (Many bats = many insects eaten!) They are usually found in roofs and bat houses but they are also known to live in caves, especially on Cayman Brac. They do not hang upside-down, as do most other bats, but clutch the ceiling or wall with both the feet and wing claws. When disturbed they do not take flight but scurry away to a safer place on all fours, rapidly and with considerable agility. Like most bats, Velvety Free-tails only produce one young per year, but there are two birth peaks, one in June and another in September. Thus, exclusions from roofs and attics are only possible from November through May when all young bats can fly. The Cayman Islands subspecies lives in Cuba, Grand Cayman, and Cayman Brac.

Antillean Nectar Bat

Brachyphylla nana nana
These fascinating bats are the second largest in the Cayman Islands, though they are still very small! They have long, fluffy fur and large rounded ears. They have no tail. They have very long legs, big feet, and flexible toes and can climb around in a strawberry tree, eating fruits, like a monkey. They are also known to eat insects found on fruits. Their soft, furry faces are extremely endearing and most resemble a tiny flying piglet! This nectar, pollen, and fruit eater is responsible for pollinating and dispersing seeds for many different native plants. No roosting sites have ever been found, though they are thought to live in caves. These bats are found only on Grand Cayman, Cuba, and the Isle of Pines. Other subspecies are found in Hispaniola and Grand (Middle) Caicos.

If you find a hurt bat call 917-BIRD!

Bats are not birds, but this phone number is for all injured wildlife. Thanks to a donation from Cable & Wireless, we have an easy-to-remember cell phone number. The Wildlife Hotline will be answered seven days a week by volunteers who will help you to deal with wildlife problems or questions. Please do not call after 9 p.m. or before 7 a.m. except for emergencies. 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.ky, or call 949-0121.The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust.

Last week’s answer: The relatively narrow trough trends east-northeast to west-southwest and has a maximum depth of 7,686 meters (25,216 ft); it is the deepest point in the Caribbean Sea.

Trivia question: What do nurse sharks eat?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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