By Briana Magistro
SC Staff Writer
Imagine things that go “bump” in the night. Do bats come to mind? If so, are they big and black with long fangs? Not all bats have those same physical features. The Honduran White Bat looks and lives much differently than typical horror film bats.
The Honduran White Bat, or White Tent Bat, is one of the New World leaf-nosed bats. This family resides throughout Central and South America, and includes the Vampire Bat.
This family gets its name from the unique leaf-like structure around their nostrils. Despite their characteristic noses, though, this family is quite diverse.
If you invite the leaf-nosed bats to dinner, you’d better have a lot of options! Members of this family may be insectivores or frugivores, or some may even dine on small vertebrates!
Many features set the White Tent Bat apart from other members of the leaf-nosed family. Dr. Howard “Sandy” Whidden, a professor who specializes in mammalogy at ESU, has encountered these bats many times while on trips to Costa Rica.
He said, “They are pretty distinctive. They are one of the smallest Central American bats.”
They basically look like cotton balls with feet, ears, and eyes.
Their color is one of their most distinctive features. “They are the smallest white bat,” Dr. Whidden said. There are several other species of white bats, but the Honduran White Bat is the only leaf-nosed white bat.
White is an odd color for any animal species, but some mammalogists believe that light reflecting off of their white fur makes them appear green in the leaves, camouflaging them during the day.
These bats use long leaves from tropical plants to make their homes. Heliconia, a large tropical plant, is a common home for the Honduran White Bat.
“You’re most likely to see them in their tents. They make tents by chewing along the stalks of large tropical leaves, which causes the leaves to droop, forming a protected tent for them,” said Dr. Whidden.
The White Tent Bat is a frugivore, meaning it eats mostly small fruits. Fruit is easily found in their humid homes, like the rainforests of Costa Rica.
“We go down with the class, Tropical Ecosystems, every spring, and we see them regularly… They are a treat to see,” said Dr. Whidden.
White Tent Bats live in groups, and females will give birth to one pup in the springtime. The groups contain both males and females, and members do not have to be from the same family.
“We see six or eight in a cluster. The tents are made by both the males and females in the group,” Dr. Whidden commented.
In addition to being a cozy home, the tents offer protection. There are many natural predators on the hunt for these tiny bats. Owls and other large birds, as well as reptiles, will feed on the White Tent Bat.
According to Dr. Whidden, “If a predator were to come by, it would shake the leaves and give the bats a little notice.”
The Honduran White Bat is considered near threatened, but will most likely receive protection in the future.
“Human encroachment and cutting of forests are the primary causes of habitat loss,” said Dr. Whidden.
Bats, like many other mammals, are known carriers of rabies. Always be careful when handling wild animals, even if they are as tiny as the White Tent Bat. If a wild animal ever bites you, seek medical care immediately to receive proper medication for rabies.
Not many zoos exhibit the White Tent Bat.
“It’s hard to display them so that people can see them,” explained Dr. Whidden.
That goes for most bats, although the Bronx Zoo and the Philadelphia Zoo do carry a few species.
If you’re interested in seeing the Honduran White Bat in person, consider taking the Tropical Ecosystems class, and talk to Dr. Whidden of the Biology Department!
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