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Our Endangered Neighbor: Florida Bonneted Bat

DISCOVERING OUR ENDANGERED NEIGHBOR

with Frank Ridgley DVM, Zoo/Wildlife Veterinarian for Zoo Miami's Conservation & Research Department

Photo credit: Dustin Smith

Have you got bats in your home in South Florida?  Check out our information sheet to help you know what to do: (English version) (Spanish version)

Little is known about our largest and most endangered bat in Florida, the Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus).  Its total population is believed to only be in the hundreds.  It gained federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in late 2013 and is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.  Its range is very limited to the southern tip of Florida and mostly concentrated on the coastal ridges.

There are still many basic questions about the Florida bonneted bat that need further research to answer.  Florida bonneted bats have long narrow wings designed for very fast flight but not adapted for tight turning.  A comparison would be that all other native bats tend to be acrobatic in flight like moths while Florida bonneted bats could be compared to jet airplanes flying fast at high altitude in a straight line.  This also means they tend to fly higher than other native bats and tend not to forage in areas where there are tight flyways or abundant obstacles.  It is estimated that they could fly dozens of miles every night to forage.  These characteristics make studying these species challenging for researchers since they tend to travel above traditional mist netting set ups they use to capture bats.  In Miami-Dade County, Florida bonneted bats then must forage for food every night in a very limited number of open spaces that remain in the urban landscape.  Areas in the Miami-Dade County that they have been shown to utilize are golf courses, very large unlit parking lots, open fields in parks, airports, and large freshwater lakes.

These are two large chamber bat houses occupied by Florida bonneted bats in a preserve near Punta Gorda.

Florida bonneted bats tend to form small colonies with numbers ranging from just a few individuals to dozens.  They appear to prefer to roost in cavities, whether natural or artificial.  As of early 2016, there are a very few known roosts for the species.  Known roosts are in specially made bat boxes in Ft. Myers and near the Punta Gorda area, natural roosts in tree cavities at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, and the Avon Park Air Force Range, and in roof-lines of homes in Coral Gables and Kendall.

 

Florida bonneted bat roost under Spanish tile in Coral Gables

 

In Miami-Dade County, frequent hurricanes and habitat loss has eliminated most natural roost options of a large cavity in a dead tree.  Therefore, it is likely that most of these highly endangered bats are residing in artificial structures like multistory buildings with gaps in wooden roofing or openings in Spanish tile roofs.

 

This is footage of a colony of Florida bonneted bats in a natural nest cavity at the Avon Park Air Force Range.

 

Zoo Miami’s Conservation and Research Department assists wildlife agencies in furthering the scientific knowledge of this special species.  Staff conducted a year long acoustic study of the Zoo, Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park, and Martinez Pineland to determine if the Florida bonneted bat was present and possibly learn more about their use of these mixed use properties.  The results from the study showed that it is utilizing large open spaces on these county owned properties to forage for prey at night.

Did you know that Florida bonneted bat's vocalizations fall within the human hearing range unlike most of our other native bats that are ultrasonic?  If you are female, and the younger you are, the greater the chance you can hear their calls at night flying overhead.  Click below to hear a recording of them and see if you are lucky enough to be able to hear them.

 

Zoo Miami staff has also helped in the medical treatment, rehabilitation and release of many Florida bonneted bats accross their range.

This is a radiograph of an injured Florida bonneted bat that had a fractured repaired by Zoo Miami veterinary staff and was successfully released back to the wild.

 

This is a radiograph of an injured Florida bonneted bat that pregnant and was successfully treated by Zoo Miami staff and released back to the wild.

 

“Bruce” the Florida bonneted bat pup that was hand raised by Zoo Miami staff and released back to the wild. Photo by Dustin Smith

 

Did you know that all bats are protected under wildlife laws?  If you discover bats in your home, it is illegal to kill them.  You can hire a pest control company to humanely exclude them from your home.  They will put specially designed devices on the roost location entrance which will allow them to leave but not get back inside.  Most colony bats in this area have multiple roost sites that they will switch between.  That way they can safely leave your home and go to one of their other sites. In Florida, exclusion cannot be done between April 16th and August 14th because this is the maternity season for most native species and laws protect young from being separated from their mothers and dying of starvation.  Unfortunately, these laws do not fully protect the Florida bonneted bat since they are believed to be able to give birth at any time during the year like is common with more tropical species.  So, if you discover bats in your home, make sure that someone correctly identifies the species present to prevent Florida bonneted bat pups from being harmed.

Did you know Zoo Miami has over 30 bat houses on its grounds?  They provide homes to hundreds of Brazilian free-tail and evening bats.  One house has the potential to hold up to 800 bats.   That single group could eat up to 21 lbs of insects in a single night!

If you live in the greater Miami area where this endangered species has lost most of its natural habitat and roosts and want to help, consider putting up a specially designed bat house in a protected area for the Florida bonneted bat. These houses need to likely be placed >15ft high, with no obstructions nearby, facing north or south with sun exposure, and no access for predators.  We recommend the use of a pivot pole support to enable easier installation and allow for maintenance, if needed.  The area needs to be protected from potential disturbance and vandalism but might provide a refuge outside of homes where they could unknowingly be harmed from remodeling/construction and termite tenting.  Plans for the house can be downloaded at the following link: Florida Bonneted Bat House Plans

 

To hear a talk given to the Audubon Everglades chapter by Dr. Frank Ridgley on the bats of South Florida, click the videos below.

 

 

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