Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend Wonders: Greater Bulldog Bat (Noctilio leporinus)

From HuffPost Green

Since today is Bat Appreciation Day, I decided to do a post on another favorite unusual mammal, the greater bulldog bat (Noctilio leporinus), also known as the fisherman or fishing bat.  These bats are native to Latin America and most of the Caribbean islands.  Because they prey upon fish their range is restricted primarily to tropical lowland habitats.  They are large, with a wingspan of one meter (about three feet), and these bats can even swim, using their wings as oars in the water.  Their hind legs and feet are particularly large and are used to capture their prey.  Males have a bright orange back while females are a dull grey, but both sexes have a white dorsal stripe.  Like most bats, they are nocturnal.

Obviously the common name "greater bulldog bat" comes from the large size and rather unusual visage of this creature -- truly a face that only a mother could love!

From Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals

However, I prefer the name "fishing bat", because it is this behavior that makes this bat truly unique.  The greater bulldog bat is one of the few bat species that has adapted to hunting and eating fish, although insects and other arthropods are also consumed.  As with most bats, echolocation is used to detect prey, but this species can use it to detect water ripples made by fish.  The bats then fly low over the water and drag their sharply clawed feet over the surface where fish are detected.  They use the pouch between their legs to scoop up the fish and their claws to cling to their prey.  The fish can then be transferred to special cheek pouches in the mouth and carried long distances if not consumed immediately.

From National Geographic
From National Geographic
From National Geographic

When I lived in the Virgin Islands, I was privileged to see one of these bats in action, and I will never forget that once in a lifetime experience!  I even (sadly) found a dead specimen on the beach, and got a close look at the unique adaptations of this fascinating mammal.  Fortunately this species is not considered threatened or endangered.  For some reason the greater bulldog bat made the list of "Top Ten Scariest Animals and Plants", but to me this little animal is not scary at all and is definitely one of the most interesting!

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