Finding bat roosts in Trinidad

Our digital and social media coordinator, Teresa Nichta, is learning firsthand the challenges of bat photography, whether in the studio or in the wild. This is her experience in her words.

I already knew I would love the rain forest; it was so massive yet I felt right at home.

Documenting where bats live was a major objective of this trip, and that was just what we did!  Of course, I’d seen Merlin’s photos and learned about what we were looking for but seeing bats at home in the forest in person was even more enthralling than I had imagined. Bats are nearly everywhere but they’re seldom seen because they hide so well.

A Common tent-making bat had bitten this palm frond so it hung down to form a "tent."
A Common tent-making bat had bitten this palm frond so it hung down to form a “tent.”
The same tent-making bat close up.
The same tent-making bat close up.

Our first find was a “tent” sheltering a single Common tent-making bat (Uroderma bilobatum). Midribs of a large palm frond had been bitten so they hung down, protecting the bat from rain and predators. 

 

We spotted the cut palm frond from a nearby trail, but when we tried to approach, the bat heard our footsteps and fled while we were still some 30 feet away. Merlin suggested we quietly wait, and sure enough the bat soon returned. We cautiously moved a few steps closer, but he fled again. With each return, we’d move a couple steps closer. Within less than an hour, our bat had actually become so accustomed to us that Merlin and I were photographing it from just a meter away as it calmly groomed, paying no further attention to us.

 

A mother and pup Gervais’s fruit-eating bat (Artibeus cinereus) roosting in a Heliconia leaf “tent.”

The next tent was cut in a different style, down the middle of a large Heliconia leaf. It sheltered a mother Gervais’s fruit-eating bat (Artibeus cinereus) and her nearly grown pup. They were much more tolerant of our presence from the start.

 

 

 

Teresa Nichta video taping Merlin Tuttle photographing Pygmy Round-eared bats.

 

 

 

 

For me, the most amazing roost was found in an arboreal termite nest.  Three Pygmy round-eared bats (Lophostoma brasiliense) were roosting in a perfectly round hole they had cut into the bottom. These nests are nearly rock hard, so it must have taken considerable effort to form such a roost.

 

Merlin had been looking for such a roost for years, but none had been accessible for photos. This one was just perfect… well, almost perfect. Merlin had to perch precariously for nearly an hour on buttressed tree roots to get just the right focus, framing and expressions while hand holding his camera and flash Fortunately these cute little bats were exceptionally calm and reluctant to leave a home they’d worked so hard to create.

A roosting cavity carved into the bottom of a termite nest.
A roosting cavity carved into the bottom of a termite nest.

Even so, bat photography isn’t easy!

Pygmy Round-eared bats peering out from their hollowed out termite nest.
Pygmy Round-eared bats peering out from their hollowed out termite nest.

Nearby, I was surprised to see male Greater sac-winged bats (Saccopteryx bilineata) hovering and singing in front of prospective mates roosting between large tree buttresses. Despite hours of effort, Merlin never did get a good shot of their courtship.

Photo Mar 29, 3 14 15 PM-4-2

We failed to find a photographable colony of disc-winged bats (Thyroptera tricolor). They were present, living in unfurling leaves, using suction cup-like discs on their wrists and ankles to cling to the slick inner surfaces. Unfortunately, I never got to actually see them in a roost, because they always fled when footsteps were heard, and unlike the tent-makers they didn’t quickly return.

Spix's disk-winged bats (Thyroptera tricolor) emerging from their roost in an unfurling Heliconia leaf, photographed years earlier in Panama.
Spix’s disk-winged bats (Thyroptera tricolor) emerging from their roost in an unfurling Heliconia leaf, photographed years earlier in Panama.

 

 

 

Nevertheless, it was incredible to see such a variety of bat homes.

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