Going Batty

Panama has bats and some of them . . . the fruit bats . . . are driving me batty!

In the midst of the Panama Canal on the edge of Gatun Lake is a 3,800 acre island that was once a mountain top before the Canal was flooded and Gatun Lake was created. The island, Barro Colorado, since the 1920’s has been severely protected and is home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute [STRI]. It used to be possible for a limited number of people to take a boat out and tour the island, led by a naturalist. Now that has been discontinued, but it is still the place where scientists go from around the world to study this pristine environment that has been untoched for almost 90 years. One might thing that the animals who were there when the lake was flooded were “stuck”, but not so. Even the jaguars swim from island to island and back and forth to the mainland. The plus is that because water is so critical to the Canal’s operation, and the rain forest is critical to having an abundant supply of rain and water, that most of the area along the Canal Zone has been and continues to be protected.

Scientists have studied bat populations on Barro Colorado and have identified 74 species of bats just on Barro Colorado! The entire United States has only 47 species of bats, and Amazonia, the highest bat diversity on earth, has 160 species.

So we have lots of bats and all are very different. The tropical forest actually depends on bats because bats spread seeds (oh, do they spread seeds!) and pollen, and keep away pests, plus they become dinner for lots of other creatures in the forest.

And yes, we have lots of cattle in Chiriqui and we do have vampire bats. Bats tend to like uninhabited or newly constructed buildings. When we our Gnobe Indian workers first moved into the little casita we built for them, in the middle of the night the baby was bitten by vampires. [Kid has grown up to be quite normal though!] Some raid and bug coils and mostly just habitation by people drove the vampires away. When we first moved into our new house we were awakened in the middle of the night by what sounded like screaming in our bedroom. Our Dalmatian, Spot, had been bitten by a vampire and Spot, being faster than the bat, had grabbed it and was holding the bat in her mouth shaking it to death. I threw the bat out into the rain, but the next morning Spot was outside and had grabbed the dead bat and was still shaking it: one pissed off Dalmatian!

Our worst problem is with fruit bats. Because we have tons of tropical fruits we are a bat magnet. And bats are good since a lot of them eat lots of pesky insects. But the fruit bats eat so much fruit . . . and you know what happens . . . so we get messy bat poop where we don’t want it, on our patio. And it drives me bats! I’ve tried leaving the lights on, moth balls, and more . . . but generally when we have lots of activity, and the dogs are running around barking, the bats move to a quieter place.

Our night blooming cactus and succulents and citrus trees and a few fragrant parasite plants on trees all produce perfume-like aromas that are designed to attract the bats and aid in pollination.

Garden shops in the states actually sell bat houses. The idea is to put these houses on a high tree . . . away from the patio! . . . and invite the bats to move in and start eating pesky insects.

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