Endangered Bats Find Haven at a Florida Golf Course

ESA002-00163

This is a cheery bit of news about the status of the Florida bonneted bat, the Eumops floridanus. The bats, which have the smallest range of any bat species in the western hemisphere, are one of the New World’s most vulnerable and are found mostly around South Florida. In November, U.S. wildlife managers added them to the endangered species list, citing both habitat loss and annual mosquito-spraying as critical threats. Here are excerpts about the discovery of a large group of them living on the grounds of a golf course in Coral Gables:

Giselle Hosein peers into the dark sky above a manicured fairway on the Coral Gables Granada Golf Course, trying hard to see what she can so far only hear: an elusive Florida bonneted bat, among the rarest in the world.

bohn-bat-photo[. . .] The bats, which number fewer than a thousand, have found an unlikely foraging ground at the nine-hole course. By day, the former orchard draws mostly duffers and retirees, or joggers cruising the perimeter past ritzy villas and condos — lawyer Roy Black and wife Lea, of Real Housewives fame, live in one walled compound. Former Gov. Jeb Bush once occupied a condo. But at night, the bats come out to play, feasting on insects to a steady rhythm of trills and tweets. “When it gets dark, you hear them right next to you, but you can’t see them,” said Hosein, a research assistant to a Florida International University biologist and bat expert. “It’s like your mind is playing tricks on you.”

[. . .] The government and biologists are now trying to determine where the bats live and whether their habitat can be protected. But the bats aren’t cooperating. “We literally know nothing about them. We know they have a low reproduction rate, but we don’t know how fast … or what they’re eating, so we don’t know what to protect,” said Dr. Frank Ridgley, head of conservation and research at Zoo Miami. “Until we answer those questions, it’s hard to get a recovery plan.”

Despite years of study, finding natural roosts has been difficult, making it hard for scientists to scrutinize how they live. Until last year, no roosts had been found since the 1970s. The single roost — discovered by a biologist looking for woodpeckers in tree holes at the Avon Park Air Force Base in Central Florida — contained a single bat.

[. . .] The bats — officially Eumops floridanus or Eumops for short — show up most frequently at the golf course and sometimes near Zoo Miami. Biologists think the fuzzy bats, with ears so round they form a brim-like bonnet, historically roosted in pine rocklands and wetlands that development shrunk over the years. A colony also roosts in several man-made bat houses in Punta Gorda and Fort Myers. [. . .]

Eumops also tend to be sneaky. While other bats form massive colonies, leaving roosts in noisy, thundering herds, the hamster-sized Eumops may live in small, restless harems that attach to a single male and frequently change roosts. [. . .] Eumops are one of the few bats that can be heard, said Kirsten “Kisi” Bohn, the FIU biologist whose work on bat songs is featured in the current Science magazine. But it depends on your ears. Women tend to hear higher frequencies than men — an evolutionary quirk that makes women more attuned to a baby’s cries, she said. [. . .] As luck would have it, Bohn, the FIU biologist, had moved to a house three blocks from the Granada Golf Course in December 2012. The second night, as she sat in her backyard drinking a glass of wine, she heard a familiar sound.

Bohn, who was drawn to bats because she was interested in studying communication in mammals, is now trying to coordinate additional research on the golf course bats. FIU provided some start-up funds, allowing her to buy three additional song meters at $3,000 each. She and Hosein, who expects to graduate this summer, have so far put up two in trees on the course. And she’s working with a London biologist doing DNA analysis on what the bats eat, which will help determine their habitat. But she needs help. [. . .]

For full article and video, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/06/27/4205816/endangered-bats-find-haven-at.html

Also see http://sish.fiu.edu/news/2013/florida-bonneted-bat-listed-as-endangered-by-usfws/ and http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2012/10/03/floridas-largest-rarest-bat-proposed-for-endangered-species-act-protection/

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