This year, Cayman’s bats got some special attention as part of a research project looking to shed some light on the distributional patterns and species diversity of bats in the Caribbean.

In April, researchers from Canada spent time in the Cayman Islands, including at the Old Man Bay area of North Side, attempting to catalogue Cayman’s nine species of bats.

“Bats are the most diverse group of mammals in the Caribbean, representing about 80 percent, with most endemic to the region … Although the current diversity is well known, there have been few published studies based on genetic analysis or acoustic monitoring,” researcher and University of Toronto Ph.D. student Livia Loureiro wrote in an article published in the Department of Environment’s June/July 2016 Flicker bulletin.

“Therefore, our goals were to establish a DNA reference collection and an echolocation call library from the Cayman Islands in order to access the genetic and behavioral variation among Caribbean bats and to explain the biogeographical patterns across the New World tropics.”

Researcher Livia Loureiro releases a Jamaican fruit-eating bat.
Researcher Livia Loureiro releases a Jamaican fruit-eating bat.

Ms. Loureiro, working with Burton Lim, the Assistant Curator of Mammalogy of the Royal Ontario Museum, used mist nets, harp traps, and hand nets to survey bats in various habitats across the Cayman Islands, including forests, clearings, caves and urban areas.

“Research will focus on analyzing the DNA samples derived primarily from wing punches and the echolocation calls from Cayman Islands to compare with other Caribbean and mainland populations,” wrote Ms. Loureiro.

The findings may determine whether all the bats of a known species are the same across the region, or may be different sub-species.

The researchers, with assistance from National Trust volunteers, succeeded in capturing five of Cayman’s nine species of bats. The most common of these, the velvety free-tailed bat, along with four other species are insect-eaters, which Ms. Loureiro noted consume about half their weight in invertebrate prey every night.

The researchers found the most widely occurring species was the Jamaican fruit-eating bat (Artibeus jamaicensis). - Photo: National Trust for the Cayman Islands
The researchers found the most widely occurring species was the Jamaican fruit-eating bat (Artibeus jamaicensis). – Photo: National Trust for the Cayman Islands

“They eat all kinds of bugs. Of those insects, we can’t really say how much of that is mosquitoes, but they do eat them,” said National Trust environmental programs manager Paul Watler.

Bat houses attract, among others, the insect-eating velvety free-tailed bats which Mr. Watler said are naturally inclined to roost in trees, caves and covered areas, including attics and eaves provided by human habitation and development.

“In recent weeks, we’ve been getting a very high number of requests for bat houses,” said Mr. Watler, which he thinks may be linked to local Zika concerns and the bats’ ability to eat copious amounts of mosquitoes.

The bat houses, which are installed for free by CUC, cost $750 per house, with the funds going to the Trust’s bat exclusion program, which humanely removes bats from people’s homes and other buildings.

“We just need to ensure that the CUC vehicles can access the spot where the bat house is to go, and that there is enough drop-down space beneath the house to allow the bats to get in and out safely,” said Mr. Watler.

For more information on bats and bat houses, email [email protected]

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