Standing in the pitch dark of night, a sound of flapping wings breaks the silence and then that of my mist net shaking. In that brief moment before I turn on my head lamp and flood the net with light, a thought flashes in my mind, “not another Glossophaga.” My net assuredly has been set too close to a flowering plant. This thought, I’m sure has crossed many researchers’ minds.
These relatively tiny creatures feed on the nectar of flowering plants. Nature has gifted them with unique physical attributes: a long, narrow mouth and a very long, thin tongue so they can reach inside flowers and suckle the sweet nectar found inside. These Glossophaga are quite common, not as exciting as other more rare species, and under-appreciated. Not only that, but from all the species of bats we captured in our mist nets these are undoubtedly the hardest to extract for as small as they are they do not go down without a fight and before you know it they have entangled themselves so deeply in your net that it becomes a nightmare to extract. Once extracted however, these creatures exemplify the resilience of ecosystems and show at a very basic level the mechanisms nature has evolved over time to survive.
Almost always there is the unmistakable trace of pollen on these bats from their close interaction with flowering plants. Pollen sticks everywhere from their brown fur to crevices in their wings. It is quite impressive to look at and sometimes they look like they have been dipped in a bag full of pollen and then released. This goes to show the importance of bats in an ecosystem. Their role as pollinators are tangibly visible and, while birds may get a lot of the credit from most people because we can see them throughout the day, bats work tirelessly throughout the night in a similar capacity to ensure that nature survives. They work the night-shift of nature.
As an intern and more importantly a biologist, never having worked with bats before and with very limited knowledge about bats, there was much to learn. Every night was something new and awe-inspiring, but being able to appreciate the fundamental processes and benefit that bats provide was the most valuable lessons learnt. Nature is unique and as such it has given us bats, which vary in sizes as well as looks, but each is uniquely evolved to provide valuable services to an ecosystem. In Belize, we have much to learn about bats and much to do, this is only the beginning for us!
Article by Ingvar Alonzo.
Ingvar (image left, on right) and Tyrell (on left) worked on the project for six weeks from November to December 2015 as interns. Their positions were funded by a Rufford Small Grant.