Despite its name the Jamaican fruit bat, Artibeus Jamaicensis, is resident in a large number of countries in the Americas, ranging from the Mexican states of Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas in the north to Ecuador and Peru (West of the Andes only), and is found in the majority of the Antilles.

It is a medium-sized fruit bat, however it was still large enough to intimidate this novice bat handler as it wriggled and bit into my glove. It’s most distinctive feature is the absence of a tail and minimal tail membrane. Whilst the generic name Artibeus means ‘facial lines’, they are normally faded or absent in this species (Ortega and Castro-Arellano, 2001).

The Jamaican fruit bat is part of the new-world family of leaf nosed bats, Phyllostomidae. Phylostomids are traditionally known as ‘whispering bats’ as it was thought that their echolocation calls are generally of very low intensity, however A. jamaicensis has been documented emitting some pretty loud calls when recorded in a controlled environment, as well as normal quiet calls (Brinkløv et al., 2009).

A. jamaicensis flies in cluttered environments where quiet echolocation calls are adequate for orientation and don’t bounce around too much amid tangles of leaves and vines. They often have to travel large distances to find fruiting trees however, as fig trees in the tropics fruit irregularly. This means that A. jamaicensis may have to cross open spaces in the hunt for food, where a loud echolocation call is needed to orientate in a wide open space. This means the Jamaican fruit bat has evolved a flexible navigation strategy and can adjust the intensity of its calls, as well as relying on olfactory and visual cues.

We have first hand experience of this bat being noisey – A. jamaicensis often emits loud distress calls when being extracted from the mist net, and this can draw in other bats. So one Jamaican fruit bat quickly turns into 3, then 5 Jamaican fruit bats.

The unfortunate downside of this bat’s fruity diet, for me at least, was the mess it made of it’s bag whilst awaiting processing. It was almost as if it was making a dirty protest at the indignity of it all. It was certainly clear from the seeds in its faeces why it is considered to be a specialist in the consumption of ripe figs and their seed dispersal (August, 1981). Once it had got everything out of its system though it seemed happier being handled. Or maybe I was just getting braver.

It’s wide distribution and tolerance of disruption mean it is listed as least concern on the IUCN red list, however it may face threat of persecution by fruit farmers as they’ve been known to steal crop fruits.

Article by Tom Irvine
Tom is currently an intern at Toledo Institute of Development and Environment where he is producing expedition risk assessments and performing marine data analysis. He has spent several nights helping with our project.




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