Bats of Nicaragua: Vital to the Ecology

With their babies known as ‘pups’ and groups referred to as a ‘clouds’ or ‘colonies’, bats are possibly the most misunderstood creatures in Nicaragua. Tales of vampire bats, while having some merit, have painted all bats with the same brush, leading to their indiscriminate destruction in some areas of the country. Research suggests that only three out of 1,100 species of bats worldwide are vampires. The fact is that the majority of bats are harmless and have many benefits to communities, the most obvious being the control of insects which would otherwise cause more problems to communities than bats ever could. The average insect eating bat catches up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour. With bat colonies often consisting of hundreds of thousands of bats, their insect controlling abilities are astounding.

Fruit and nectar-eating bats assist in seed dispersal and pollination of plants. Bat activity is crucial to the survival of rain forests as they pollinate night blooming flowers and assist in the reforestation of cleared areas through seed dispersal. It is estimated that up to 95 percent of reforestation is as a result of bats. Bats continue to play a role in medical advancements, with navigational aids for the blind, vaccine production, and a better understanding of low-temperature surgical procedures, being some of the accomplishments linked to the study of these fascinating flying mammals.

Of the 126 species of bats found in Central America, Nicaragua is home to 94, each with their own distinguishing features. Among these are the infamous vampire bats – Common Vampire Bat Desmodus rotundus; White-Winged Vampire Bat (Diaemus youngi); and Hairy-legged Vampire Bat (Diphylla ecuadata). The fact that none of these bats have ‘vampire’ in their scientific names can be confusing, and adding to the confusion is that bats which have no vampire tendencies, have scientific names suggesting that they do – Spectral Bat (Vampyrum spectrum); Striped Yellow-eared Bat (Vampyressa nymphaea); Southern Little Yellow-eared Bat (Vampyressa pusilla); and Great Stripe-faced Bat (Vampyrodes caraccioli). Vampire bats are known to attack livestock, and when livestock is not available, they have been known to bite humans. Attacks are reportedly few and far between, and bats remain a fascinating aspect of touring the caves of Nicaragua.