Category Archives: Bats

Who Killed Cecil the Lion?

Can we really throw stones at the dentist who killed Cecil, Zimbabwe’s iconic lion? Until the late Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago, lions were the most widespread large land mammals, after humans, ranging from AlaskaLion_waiting_in_Namibia to Peru, and throughout Asia and Africa.* Think about it! Lions roamed where we once lived! So did mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, ten feet tall terror birds, rhinos, bison, hippos, camels, beardogs and glyptodonts, resembling giant armadillos. Where did they all go?

At one time, North America was home to more mega fauna than Africa. What happened to them? Granted, some, like the horse which originated here, migrated across the Bering Straits, and a newly formed isthmus to South America. Ice ages (there were at least five) had an effect. Parasites could easily decimate a whole herd. On school tours at the museum, I ask the children which do you think had the greatest impact? chill, kill, or ill? Invariably, they choose kill. Why? Do they know their own species so well?

Maybe. Remember the stories of 19th century train passengers shooting bison from the windows for sport? Those who couldn’t experience the west lived vicariously through “wild west shows,” like “Buffalo” Bill Cody’s, he who reportedly slaughtered more than 4,000 bison in two years.

We are not the only species that kills for reasons other than food. Cecil’s rival, another adult male, has killed Cecil’s cubs, which will assure less competition for his own progeny, a strategy not unknown among humans. Humans are adaptable. We’re resourceful. That’s why we remain at the top of the food chain. But killing for the thrill of the kill is less than human. The pride probably ate the murdered cubs. Humans are one step above cannibalism, but my friend Kaye would say we carnivores are not.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, lion populations in Africa are in serious decline, mostly from human intervention. Lions have suffered a population reduction of approximately 30% over the past two decades (approximately three lion generations). Whether a species is endangered or not, what does it say about us as a species to have trophies of animal heads on the wall? Think about it! 

*C.R. Dick Harrington, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, vol. 6

Picture credit: Kevin Pluck at Okonjima AfriCat Foundation, Namibia

Bacardi Saving Bats?

I say Bacardi, you say—rum? That would be natural considering the world’s largest privately held family owned company survived the Cuban revolution as bacardi_logo[1]exiles in Miami to become, arguably, the most recognized brand in the world. But did you, when you poured, notice the company icon? A bat! In 1989 Luis “Lubee” F. Bacardi, an heir to the Bacardi Liquor company, founded the international nonprofit Lubee Bat Conservancy, located in north central Florida. The non-profit receives no monies from the company, but continues work through an endowment after Lubee Bacardi’s death, along with  grants and private donations.

The central mission of the Lubee Bat Conservancy is to breed exotic, threatened and endangered fruit and nectar bats, protect threatened habitats, research and educate. The conservancy partners with several departments at UF, a natural, considering the University’s on-campus bat house. Other collaborators include the Santa Fe College Zoo, the CDC, National Institute of Health, the Smithsonian, Institute, American Museum of Natural History, Disney, the US Air Force, and international conservation societies.

Bat Naming Rights for Sale

Why bother with bats? Along with bees and butterflies, the only flying mammal is an important pollinator. More than 145 plant genera depend on bats for pollination and seed dispersal. You can help the conservancy protect, breed, and teach about fruit and nectar bats with a donation of $250 to their outreach program. This will allow you to name one of the ten recently born baby bats after yourself or a loved one! Four more are due to arrive soon, but hurry! With a six month gestation period, bats aren’t born every day!

To arrange a private tour, apply for a research grant, or volunteer at the conservancy, contact director Brian Pope, and watch for the open house, held on Halloween weekend most years.


Bats Use Sonar, but Butterflies?

hawk moth, Pablo PadronButterflies and moths are small, but mighty. They have numerous ways of thwarting predators, namely bats. Only recently have lepidopterists (moth and butterfly scientists) understood the defensive sonar-jamming capabilities of some species. In a recent collaboration by scientists at the University of Florida and Boise State University, lepidopterists scoured jungles from Borneo to the Amazon. They observed and collected hawk moths in thirty-two countries. Echolocation experiments and lab experiments used more than 700 moths, and found that nearly half generated ultrasonic sounds with their genitalia. Tiger moths, however, use tymbals, vibrating membranes located on their thorax to produce the sounds. Similar radar jamming is used in human warfare, allowing pilots to be invisible to the enemy. Further study of moths’ ultrasonic sound production should help improve human use of sonar.

Recently, Akito Kawahara at the University of Florida and Boise State University biologist Jesse Barber released a second study reporting that luna moths have learned to use their tails to confuse the sonar calls of bats. Noticing the large diversity in nocturnal moths, Kawahara studied certain species of moths with long tails. Bringing brown bats and several moth species to the Florida Museum, the team set up high-speed infrared cameras and ultrasonic mikes and found those with tails were more likely to survive a bat attack than those without. Bats appear to target the moth’s long tails instead of the head in 55 percent of all interactions, assuring the moth’s survival.

There is still much to learn about the biodiversity of nocturnal species. Yes, moths attracted to your patio lights, or munching caterpillars in the garden can be a nuisance, but we must not discount the small and mighty moth.

Ref: May 2015 study Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lead author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History; photo credit: Pablo Padron