Habitats that support bats

Over the years, the Cayman Islands have built an international reputation for providing world-class banking services to clients.

However, they have also built up a habit for providing bats with first-class accommodations. If you’ve seen a utility pole with a tiny house perched on top and weren’t quite sure what to make of it, this article is for you.

There are nearly 1,200 species of bats worldwide and some types are often overlooked by scientists. Cayman is home to nine distinct species of bats and one endemic subspecies found only on Grand Cayman.

Bats are divided into two groups: the microbats and the megabats.

Megabats, also called flying foxes, are vegetarians and feed mainly on nectar and fruit. Flying foxes are the best known tropical bats because of their huge size. They are called flying foxes because their large eyes, pricked ears and long snouts make them look like foxes or dogs.

Microbats are small bats and weigh less than 170 grams. They are insectivorous and can eat up to 2,000 insects per night and this group can be found in the Cayman Islands. They roost in dark places, such as crevices, caves, tree holes, folded leaves, under the bark of trees and even in roofs.

Over the last 20 years, hundreds of acres of Cayman’s mature bush land have been cleared for commercial and domestic use which resulted in loss of habitat for bats. This action then forces the bats living here to find alternative shelter. Bats are highly opportunistic and will enter a dwelling from any exposed or unfinished opening. However, the bats that find their way into the roofs are simply looking for a dry place to sleep. They never chew wood or wires and usually fly out after sunset unnoticed.

Programme Director Lois Blumenthal manages the most successful Bat Conservation Programme in the tropics and attributes much of the programme’s achievements to Caribbean Utilities Company.

CUC has donated numerous hours to the programme and has installed 92 bat houses across the island. Ms Blumenthal now consults with non-governmental organisations in the Bahamas, Jamaica, the US Virgin Islands, Madagascar and Central Africa on ways they could start and maintain their own bat conservation programmes. She works closely with Bat Conservation International in the USA and with the British Bat Trust in the UK.

The bat houses are specially designed by Ron Moser and each house is carefully outfitted with plastic mesh for the bats to hang from. The houses were put in place in an effort to combat the on-going problem of bats residing in roofs and have successfully reduced the number of bats living in roofs.

Where are the houses?

If you find yourself sightseeing out in the eastern districts and are looking for an inexpensive way to entertain yourself or your family, look no further than a bat house.

Bats fly out 10 minutes after sunset, at dusk, but while there is still enough light in the sky for them to see clearly. A bat house is located at the northern end of East End Primary School. Just before sunset many neighbourhood children congregate in these areas to glimpse the bats as the fly out in single file.

In North Side, the bat house is situated at North Side Primary School and accommodates close to 300 bats. About eight miles away vacationers watch as bats begin their nightly ritual at Rum Point Club Resort.

In scenic Breakers, a bat house is positioned next to the seaside restaurant and bar overlooking the ocean. If you’ve ever had tequila you might be surprised to know that bats help pollinate the cactus from which this popular liquor is derived.

In Bodden Town, the bat houses are located on the grounds of the historic Mission House and at the local primary school. As you drive into Savannah, you can access the bat house on the site of the Agricultural Pavilion which supports more than 300 Velvety-Free Tailed Bats. These furry mammals can also be found at Ocean Club condominium complex in Spotts and many residents have witnessed bats flying out just before sunset to hunt for their meal.

In George Town there are several opportunities to observe fly outs. Both the George Hicks and St. Ignatius campuses offer spectacular views of these creatures in flight as they prepare to feed for the night. Although the bat house at the Lion’s Centre is fairly new, this is another ideal spot to exam bats as they fly out. The bat house at Treasure Island Resort is accessible to both tourists and tenants.

Are Bat Houses Enough?

While bat houses are successful for three of our nine species, the other six kinds of bats need caves and forests to survive. Cave species are especially threatened as land is filled and small caves are covered over.

The bats that live in Cayman Islands caves are important pollinators for local plants and one species that lives only in caves is an important control for larger insects, including roaches and moths that can be crop and garden pests. Together, caves, forests and bat houses can provide habitat for these important native mammals.

Bats are not rodents and can live up to 30 years. They are very sociable and are Cayman’s only native mammal – all other mammals were introduced. Unlike rodents, bats give birth to just one live pup per year which, statistically, puts their population at risk.

Megabats are the main pollinators of a number of important rainforest trees and regenerate cleared areas by dropping seeds as they fly by. Microbats are beneficial to humans in that they assist with insect control and do so naturally without pesticides that are harmful to crops and people.

The Bat Conservation Programme welcomes volunteers to help with painting the houses and is currently looking for schools or organisations to paint designs or logos on completed houses.

For more on the Bat Conservation Programme, or to find out how to help construct or repair bat houses or for assistance with safe, humane and environmentally sound bat removal from roofs, contact the National Trust at 749-1121, the Wildlife Hotline at 917-BIRD or visit caymanwildliferescue.org or nationaltrust.org.ky.

Please join us in creating habitats that support birds, bats, butterflies and other wildlife.