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Bats of the Hispaniola Island: Much More than “Blood Suckers”

When we think about bats we usually associate them with the sentinel watching over Gotham City, and we forget that they are flying mammals, that they are the most abundant faunal group, and the only mammals with the ability to fly.

Bats play an important role in ecosystems, both for their value as predators of insects, potential carriers of plagues, and their role in pollination and seed dispersal of numerous species, equally in natural forests and agricultural plantations, and in some urban centers.

As a link in the food chain, they play an important role because they are food for a variety of predators such as owls and snakes. But, in general, we think that the Joker and the Penguin are the main enemies, something completely oblivious of the reality, which confirms once again that Bruce Wayne is not a biologist, ecologist or veterinarian! If films or cartoons based on animals relied on ecological relations, we would have more interesting, and enriching stories,which would definitely be closer to reality!

On the island of Hispaniola, we have 18 species of bats distributed into 6 families. All these species generate “fear” by the false belief of that they are “heamatophagous”, that they feed themselves with blood, when in reality the majority of them feed off fruits and insects. Only a few of these species feed exclusively off the blood of birds.

Where Can You Find Each of these Species in the Dominican Republic?

In Sierra de Bahoruco, you will encounter the Chilonatalus Micropus and Lasiurus Minor; in Nagua, you will find Phyllops Falcatus; in Pedernales, the Tadarida SP., and in Samaná a species of the genus called the Natalus. This is just to mention the most common ones.

The bats occupy niches in all habitats, from humid forests to xerophytic vegetation.

Something very particular about chiropters – as they are also referred to – is the echolocation, or sonar, capabilities they have: this is their capacity to emit sounds that produce echoes which are interpreted by the nervous system as information serving to capture their prey (insects, fish, etc.), orient themselves, detect obstacles and communicate with other species.

On the Hispaniola Island, bats are the least studied faunal group so it is imperative to foster their research, as this would help to understand their beneficial contributions to the ecosystem and to dismantle the myths and superstitions about these species.

Among the other reasons highlighting the importance of this group of animals is the value of their excrement as a fertilizer, given its high content of nitrogen and phosphate. Bat guano is used on crops and vegetables, since it has little odor and helps drainage.

No doubt bats are a group of species that demand the attention of all of us. For this reason we need to support people such as my colleague Miguel Santiago, known affectionately as Jarol, a young researcher who is passionate about these animals.