West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The cutest thing in the rain forest

What's the cutest thing at La Selva? I know many who would nominate Steven for the title, and some who would nominate Dennis, but personally I think the cutest thing here is the bats. This week I've had the good fortune to see a bunch of particularly cute ones.

On Wednesday evening, the German bat researchers caught a leaf-nosed bat about the size of my hand, with a little baby clinging to it. It was a ball of brown fluff all except for its bright pink nose and its itty bitty wings. The babies in a lot of bat species here can weigh up to a third of the mother's body weight. ("That's like giving birth to a turkey!" Erin said. For me, it would have to be an extraordinarily large turkey, like the one my family got for Thanksgiving one year from a farmer in the next town. It was so large we had to slice it in half with a crosscut saw before we could fit it in the oven. I have a whole new respect for bats.)

On Friday I got to see an even cuter bunch of bats: Ectophylla alba, the white tent-making bats. They produce their own shelters by gnawing along the midvein of a Heliconia leaf. Every few days, when the leaf wears out, they move to a new roost. I check for bats every time I see a folded-down leaf, but I've only found them twice. Erin's excellent field assistant Mauricio located these guys while he was doing a survey of understory herbs. He guided a bunch of us out there around noon. It was the best lunch break I've had in a long time.


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