The tiny flying mammal of the Galapagos Islands that has scientists on their heads
October 16, 2020 18:59
Photograph provided by the Galapagos National Park that shows a bat specimen, in the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador). Photo: EFE
Two species of tiny bats bring up a team of international scientists, who have finally found an effective mechanism to catch them for research purposes and try to reveal what until now is a great unknown of their life in the Galapagos Islands: almost everything .
It was 2014 when the project on the two mammal species Aeorestes villosissimus (South American ash) and Lasiurus blossevillii (southern red) began, but the experts ran into a big problem: how to catch them.
In 2017, after 21 days of working with nets 20 meters above the ground (to surprise them in flight), they only managed to capture three, so the lack of specimens and an expert on these animals forced the study to be paralyzed, he told EFE the director of the Galapagos National Park, Danny Rueda.
It was the incorporation in 2019 of an expert from the University of Idaho (USA) that allowed the resumption of the project, and with the arrival this year of a doctoral student and the support of the Ecuadorian biologist Rodrigo Cisneros, the capture began. of bats with a slight but decisive change in the height of the net.
They lowered the fine wire mesh to about ten meters, baited, and captured more than 60 bats in 39 days, leaving behind attempts to raise the nets attached to helium balloons or to use ultraviolet light to attract insects to tempt the birds. bats
In Galapagos there are two species of bats: Aeorestes villosissimus (South American ash) and Lasiurus blossevillii (southern red). Photo: EFE
Once captured, they now study the morphometric measurements of the species: the size of each part of its body, the fur for heavy metals, wing tissues and feces for later use in DNA and health analysis.
They fly again in twenty minutes and six of them have been fitted with a small antenna, which works for three days, to probe their movements, behavior and living conditions.
Small mammals, big unknowns
Asked by Efe about what exactly is known about the species, Rueda responds with a resounding “Nothing!”, And emphasizes that the bats of the Galapagos are “a great little unknown.”
However, he is glad that “finally” they have a method to capture and study them, investigate their population size, know their details, their role in the ecosystem and be able to apply measures to take care of the population status of the native bat of the so-called “islands. delighted. “
IMG 3 A group of scientists investigates the species of Galapagos bats, which is little known. Photo: EFE
For now, it is known that they are “very small and almost all hair”; that the reds can measure up to 13 centimeters and weigh between 7 and 10 grams, while the grays can reach up to 15 centimeters and weigh up to 16 grams.
“It is a species that plays an engineering role in the Galapagos ecosystem”, that is, fundamental for the ecological system to survive and have good health, he explained.
But it is still necessary to know what that role is: “Is it a pollinator of the emblematic species of flora of Galapagos? Does it help to control invasive species?”
Unknowns that scientists are trying to unravel now with a project whose research phase will last three years with stages that include capture, method, morphology, health and DNA analysis.
So far, the studies have been carried out on the Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal islands, they will advance this month to Floreana and in November to Isabela, to go in 2021 to uninhabited islands where they will require another method of capture because, there, there is no light artificial.
Research professor at the Private Technical University of Loja (UTPL), Cisneros explained to Efe that they seek to know the migratory behavior of bats because, for example, “it is not the same that there is a constant flow of genes within the islands, as each island has its population isolated and completely closed. “
Myths and legends
Although there are those who associate the bat with vampires, experts emphasize that this responds to myths and legends, since “these bats (those from Galapagos) are one hundred percent insectivores, but they could also be fruit-eaters, they could be pollinating. blood in any way, “Rueda said.
“Feeding on blood is a quality of many organisms and within bats there are also specific species, very specific, that feed on the blood” of cattle, but none are in the Galapagos, said Cisneros.
This expert considered it “unfair” to attribute this feeding role of blood to all bat species, and asked to differentiate the different roles of these flying mammals, such as pollination.
For this reason, the research project also contemplates the socialization of information with the community, to demystify beliefs, and show some ecosystem services that they provide, such as keeping insect populations low, preventing them from becoming pests.
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