Media & Education
BATS Magazine

Volume 38, Issue 2, 2019

Florida Bonneted Bat

Protecting endangered bats in urban cohabitation


Eumops pup
A researcher holds a Florida bonneted bat pup.

With the continental United States’ only subtropical zone, Florida’s natural charms are legion: exotic birds, coral reefs, lush evergreen vegetation. This same balmy climate also makes the state a paradise for bats, including one found only in 10 counties in the Sunshine State’s southern reaches: the Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus).

Named for the way its ears form a fetching cowl over its inquisitive, long-snouted face, the Florida bonneted bat is Florida’s largest—but also its rarest bat. Listed as federally endangered in 2013 and with just a handful of known natural roosts, this species is sprinkled across a thin fingernail of land that swoops south from Cape Coral on the Gulf Coast, then east across the Everglades into Miami.

The region now occupied by the city of Miami once comprised a mixture of only-in-Florida ecosystems: swampy wetlands, hardwood hammocks and pine rockland forests. Here, with their long, narrow wings, the swift and agile bonneted bat chased moths, beetles and true bugs high above towering evergreens, and low across wide open marshes.

But extensive urbanization has drastically transformed those landscapes into a glass-towered metropolis, fringed by a suburban sprawl halted only by the Everglades. BCI’s Melquisedec Gamba-Rios and Zoo Miami’s Frank Ridgley are on the forefront of the search for a better understanding of how this urbanization factors into the future of the bonneted bat, as the bats seem to readily take up residence in a human-built world.

“Somehow, we’re lucky enough that this bat has adapted to a city that went from a vast pine forest into a huge metropolis within a person’s lifetime,” Ridgley said. “But many of the roosts we know of are in the middle of Miami. There are probably more in people’s homes. That immediately puts them in conflict.”

Gamba-Rios is in the beginning stages of a multi-year project to better understand exactly how bonneted bats are using urban features, and what can be done to give them places to live that keep both people and bats happy. Something as simple as a roof repair—a certainty in hurricane territory—can result in death or injury to a group of bats roosting there. With such a small population size and range, any loss is significant.

In addition to developing extensive outreach aimed at construction, roofing and pest control companies, Gamba-Rios will be working with Ridgley to study the effects of light and noise pollution, as well as the differences in how bats use habitat across an urban-suburban-rural gradient.

One early project has shown promise: With support from BCI, Florida Power & Light, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and other partners, Ridgley and Gamba-Rios set up 16 roost boxes around Miami last September. Perched atop 35-foot utility poles anchored in 8 feet of bedrock, the boxes weren’t trivial to install—but providing sturdy locations the bats could rely on to be there after a hurricane was an important factor.

Within weeks, five were occupied—four at Zoo Miami and one off-site.

“It’s unheard of,” Ridgley said. “Some people put up bat boxes and wait years for bats to find them, let alone to build one for a very rare species and then have it occupied immediately.”

The bottom line, Gamba-Rios said, is that Miami is a template for the future of the bonneted bat’s limited remaining natural habitat. At 21.3 million residents today, Florida’s human population is expected to grow to over 36 million by 2060. One-third of the state’s remaining land area, or roughly 11,000 square miles, is projected to be developed.

“This kind of habitat is the reality for the state, and that’s not going to change,” Gamba-Rios said. “This bat lives nowhere else in the world, and Floridians can call it their own.”

 

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