The Pretty Little Tent Making Bat

On my first night out helping identify the bats of the Maya Golden Landscape I came across Uroderma bilobatum, or as its more commonly known, the tent making bat. At first sight it looks like a few other stripe faced bats, so a bit of investigation was needed to make sure we identified this pretty little American leaf nose bat correctly.

We started with its U shaped leaf nose, then checked it had 2 distinctive pairs of white stripes on either side of its face, one set running between and behind the ears, and the second pair running just below the eyes. It also has a single white stripe running from the back of its head to its rump. Next we checked it had a bicolor coat, with lighter hair close to its body and darker hair at the ends, and looked at its tail membrane to see that it was hairless and curved into a U shape. Finally we look at its incisors to find the most conclusive characteristic of this species: bilobed teeth (below). Then we concluded that it was, in fact, Uroderma bilobatum.

A native of Belize, this common and widespread species is found from southern Mexico, throughout Central America and as far south as Bolivia and south eastern Brazil (Reid, 2009). It is considered to be of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. The loss of lowland forest habitat could however change the fate of these currently widespread bats.

The tent making bat prefers to set up home in evergreen and deciduous lowland forest like Bladen Nature Reserve, where we found it in March. It takes its common name from its curious behaviour of constructing tents out of large, fan-shaped leaves which provide great protection from the tropical rains. They tend to choose a tall banana or palm tree and bite the leaf rib or vein so the leaf folds to create a tent like structure. Once made, the ‘tent’ could be used for up to 60 days before the roost moves on to make a new tent (Baker and Clark, 1987).

The roosts are usually mixed sexes and are could be made up of between two to ten bats, but they have been seen to run to 60 (Baker and Clark, 1987). The prominent stripes on the face may act as camouflage when roosting in a ‘tent’ that has multiple leaflets (Reid, 2009).

These bats generally eat fruits of the forest, picking the fruit with their mouth and returning with it back to their roost to eat them. This habit makes them important seed dispersers for certain plants (Eisenberg, 1989).

So as I settled back in my hammock, strung between the trees, in the early hours of the morning, I felt a little like Uroderma Bilobatum.

Article by Jenny Wain
Jenny is currently volunteering as Ya’axché’ Conservation Trust’s Development Officer. Since helping on our bat project she is now looking for funders to continue bat research in Belize.




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