Cayman Brac’s distinctive landscape provides an ideal home for Cayman’s elusive and fascinating indigenous bats.
The craggy limestone topography of the Bluff with its many caves plays host to numerous species of bats, some easier to find than others. Bats found in Cayman Brac include the Caribbean fruit bat (Artibeus jamaicensis parvipes), the brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus dutertreus), the buffy flower bat (Erophylla sezekorni), the big-eared bat (Macrotus waterhousii minor), the velvety free-tailed bat (Molossus molossus tropidorhynchus) and the white-shouldered bat (Phyllops falcatus).
According to the National Trust, bats are Cayman’s only native mammal, can live up to 30 years, and the oldest bat fossil found in Cayman to date is 14,000 years old.
Bats are mammals in the family Chiroptera which means “hand-wing;” they are the only mammals that can truly fly. They are more closely related to monkeys than mice, and, according to the Trust, “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.”
Cayman’s nine species of bats play a key role in Cayman’s ecosystem, performing many crucial functions, including controlling night-flying insects (just look up at dusk and you will likely notice bats swooping around gobbling up mosquitoes), and pollinating hundreds of plants, such as agaves, silk cotton, naseberry, vine pear, neem, cactus and calabash. Through their droppings, like birds, bats disperse seeds far and wide, which keep Cayman’s forests healthy and diverse.
The Trust underscores, “Bats in the Cayman Islands carry no diseases and rabies is not found here. They are not interested in tangling in your hair and they are not vampires.” Cayman’s bats tend to stick to fruit, pollen, nectar and insects.
The Trust notes that visitors to caves housing bats should be calm and quiet and never shine flashlights or camera strobes on sleeping bats.
“Entering caves inhabited by bats during the spring or early summer months when newborn baby bats are present, can cause the mother bats to abandon the roost, and flightless young bats may die as a result.”
Of the bat species on the Brac, the insect-eating velvety free-tailed bat, emerges at dusk. Notes the Trust: “It may be our most important species because it is so numerous and has enormous impact upon insect populations. We hope to never find out what would happen here without this bat.”
The Brac’s brown bat, which eats insects, sometimes lives in roof spaces and will use bat houses, though, according to the Trust, so far no Cayman Islands bat houses have been occupied by this species.
The big-eared bat eats insects and according to the Trust flies lower and slower than most other local species and feeds on larger, slower-moving insects like cockroaches, beetles, moths and even sleeping dragonflies.
“They can maneuver among thick leaves and tree branches and will actually take caterpillars and other nighttime garden pests directly from the leaves of bougainvillea and other landscaping plants,” the Trust states.
The Caribbean fruit bat eats fruit and is Cayman’s largest bat. Emerging several hours after sunset, it feeds mainly on wild fruits, dispersing seeds throughout the islands. Often piles of chewed Indian almond tree seeds or Christmas palm berries can be found under feeding roosts. This bat can cause staining on the sides of buildings from its droppings as it flies around, and can also sometimes be a crop pest.
The very rare buffy flower bat eats pollen, nectar and occasionally small insects, and has a long nose and a long sticky tongue like a hummingbird.
“This amazing little bat pollinates night-blooming jasmine and all the beautiful column cactus and agave plants that grow on the Bluff on Cayman Brac,” the Trust notes.
“These bats are known to be highly intolerant of human disturbance and should never be disturbed in their caves.”
The extremely rare white-shouldered bat eats fruit, mainly figs, and is sometimes called the fig-eating bat. The Trust notes it had not been seen in the Cayman Islands since the early 1900s, though its bones had been found in owl feeding roosts. Wildlife biologist Anne Louise Band rediscovered the white-shouldered bat in a small remnant patch of forest in Lower Valley in Grand Cayman in April of 2000, and they may also be on the Brac.