Get up close with bats
Published: October 25, 2010
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October’s Do One Thing for Wildlife campaign is putting the spotlight on those furry winged creatures that inspire fear in so many people — bats.
V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources wildlife biologist Renata Platenberg said despite modern-day images of bats as evil, many early cultures revered bats as important spiritual symbols, believing that bats were somehow connected to the afterlife or are the spirits of the departed.
The Tainos, the indigenous people who lived across the Antilles when Columbus arrived, had a very strong spiritual connection with bats, as indicated by their pottery and numerous rock carvings depicting bat faces. The petroglyphs along the Reef Bay Trail on St. John include some of the bat carvings.
Bats are an important part of the modern V.I. environment. Three of the species found in the Virgin Islands are fruit-eaters, which means they help pollinate fruit trees and disperse fruit tree seeds through their guano, or droppings.
Insect-eating bats are important for pest control. A single bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-size insects a night.
Five species of bat live in the territory year-round. A sixth species, the Mexican free-tailed bat, sometimes is spotted in the Virgin Islands, as well.
The most common bat found in the territory is the Jamaican fruit-eating bat. Other bats living in the Virgin Islands are the Antillean fruit-eating bat, the red fig-eating bat, the greater bulldog bat and the Pallas’ Mastiff bat.
The locally endangered red fig-eating bat is the territory's rarest bat. Platenberg said not much is known about the species, but it is endemic to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and it seems to prefer forested areas with low-density development.
The greater bulldog bat is the largest bat found in the V.I. — with a wing-span up to two feet — and it eats fish it grabs right out of the water with its feet.
The only mosquito-eating bat in the territory is the Pallas' Mastiff bat, also known as the mosquito bat or roof bat. It is the smallest bat, at about 2Â inches long and with a wingspan under 12 inches. It lives in the roofs of houses and will inhabit specially made bat houses.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife is conducting a study on the use of bat houses in the territory by the insect eating Pallas' Mastiff bat. Platenberg said anyone who wants to participate by hanging a bat house on their property can call her at 775-6727.
Two events are scheduled this week to help educate the public about bats and put many of the myths to rest. Platenberg said the free events are open to all ages. She recommends coming prepared for mosquitoes and bringing a flashlight.
• Meet the Bats — Thursday, 5:30 to 8 p.m., Shed 4 at Magens Bay, St. Thomas.
• Bat Watch — Friday, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Brugal Rum Factory, St. Croix. Contact the St. Croix Environmental Association to register at 773-1989.
For more information or to receive the monthly “Do One Thing for Wildlife” newsletter, which includes information on each month’s plant or animal and a list of simple things that Virgin Islanders can do to help, contact Platenberg at 775-6762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.