The thousands of caves in the Yucatan peninsula are home to bats, animals that are very important to ecosystems, however, they have been negatively stigmatized. According to biologist Roberto Rojo, director of the Sayab Planetarium, they are efficient pollinators: “What bees do during the day they do at night.”
“The general idea about them is not good, but we do not know their function, they are the only mammals capable of flying autonomously, their fingers have evolved evolutionarily and between them, there is a membrane. Just as we can move our fingers of the hand, they also do it when flying, so they have even greater control of flight than some birds ”, he explains.
In the world, there are 1,411 species of bats, of which 55 are in Campeche, 40 in Yucatán, and 54 in Quintana Roo, where they represent 54 percent of all non-aquatic mammals.
Most feed out of insects, so “if we are afraid of dengue, Zika or Chikungunya, a very wise decision is to preserve the bats, which control these animals.”
The biologist adds that a single colony can have one million individuals and most of the colonies in the peninsula exceed one million; They can eat up to 10 tons of mosquito-sized insects in a single night, making them a great bug controller.
An important part of their diet are the fruits and they are dispersers of the seeds of the trees. While the average bird disperses 1.2 seeds per square meter, bats disperse five seeds in the same space.
“They are much more efficient, to the extent that many plants open their flowers at night to receive bats and moths. They put their face in the flower, which in the background has a prize, the nectar, which has sugar and gives them energy for their flight, and so they go from flower to flower, doing the work of bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, but on the night shift ”, highlights Roberto Rojo.
Without bats, we would not have tequila or mezcal, since they pollinate agaves, promoting the genetic interbreeding of plants, generating more resistant populations. If the plants are more diverse, when a disease arrives it kills some, but others survive.
To a lesser extent, there are carnivorous bats; They eat mice, birds, frogs, other bats, and fish. But latter they serve as food for owls, hawks, snakes, and opossums.
Only three of the 1,411 species in the world feed on blood. Of these three, in Quintana Roo there are two, and only one lives exclusively on blood, which takes vertebrates (cows or deer) by biting their legs.
Their saliva has anticoagulant elements so that the droplets are easily dispersed in their mouth. A blood-sucking bat can feed on one tablespoon of blood a day.
According to biologist Roberto Rojo, they are very sociable animals. If they do not take blood in one night, they can die because their metabolism is very fast, so when they arrive at their cave and detect that someone did not take blood, another bat gives it a bit of mouth to mouth, so that their partner does not die of starvation: ” They are complex behaviors, even altruistic, that are not seen in other species ”, he points out.
The caves are their natural refuges, some live in tree trunks, abandoned buildings, or archaeological sites; there are even some whites ones that live under banana leaves
“They give a benefit to the caves: with their excrement and their corpses, they feed the ecosystems of the caves, keeping them very healthy, they bring life to them, they are like emissaries from the outside to the inside. Many endemic species live on the fruits that they drop into the cave, all thanks to the contribution of bats to underground life ”, says the director of the planetarium.
Until now there is no estimate of how many specimens exist in Quintana Roo, but it is estimated that it is a significant number. Only in Playa del Carmen, there are 250 caves where they can inhabit; In the peninsula, the place with the more bats is the cave of the volcano of the bats, in Calakmul, Campeche, a relevant place at the national level. There are 4.5 to 6 million bats of eight different species.
Demystifying the bat
“We have to demystify them, they are not dangerous, nature is not bad or good, nature is nature, the more we talk about them we will realize the importance of these animals”, reiterates the biologist Roberto Rojo.
He mentions that there are two large groups of bats: Megachiroptera, which inhabit Africa, Asia, and Oceania; they are diurnal; they are 1.60 meters long and weigh more than a kilo; and microschiroptera, the ones in this area of the Caribbean.
The most common species in the Yucatan peninsula is Artibeus intermedius and the most common in Quintana Roo is a frugivore (it feeds on fruits) called Artibeus jamaicensis or zapotero bat, because it eats sapotes. This one measures 20 centimeters from head to toe and 35 centimeters from wing to wing, while the smallest of the species is known as a bumblebee bat, it weighs 2.6 grams and has three centimeters in body. They can live up to 30 years.
A bat has only one baby a year and takes good care of it, it flies with them, its nipples are under the arm, at the level of the armpit, so it can feed it during the flight. It protects its young until it reaches a good size.
“The mothers go out to look for food at night and leave all the babies sheltered in the cave, the females that did not procreate stay to take care of them, the mothers can fly up to 100 kilometers in one night in search of food and when they return to in the cave they contact their baby because of the sound it makes ”, says the interviewee.
Bats are not blind either, as many think: “Evolutionarily they go at night because there was less competition and predators, so they became mainly nocturnal.”
Following the recent hurricanes through Quintana Roo, people began reporting bat sightings on the day; This, Roberto Rojo points out, is because they go out in search of food and because the trees from which they ate fruits fell. “It is dangerous for them because they are exposed to predators and many dangers, but it shows that they are capable of flying during the day.”
Regarding the version that COVID-19 started because someone ate bat soup, he points out that “today there is no investigation that links bats with COVID-19, and even if that was the case, we would be responsible for entering their ecosystem, trap them, mistreat them and sale them ”.