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A Christmas Miracle

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A Christmas Miracle

Published on December 31, 2015

Bellingen Flyout
Deborah Jansen peeping into the roost cavity at the Big
Cypress National Preserve Credit: Ralph Arwood

With less than 1000 Florida bonneted bats dotting the Sunshine State’s night skies these days, conventional wisdom might suggest that these bats are on the fast track to extinction. Very little is known about this cryptic species. Their habitat needs, their roosting site necessities…they’re all very obscure.

Obscure, yes. But not out of sight.

In late December of 2015, acoustic monitors detected two Florida bonneted bat roosting sites previously unknown to bat ecologists. The first was found tucked away in the rooflines of a four-story condominium in Miami. The second was found 30 feet above ground, in the cavity of an old woodpecker tree inside the Big Cypress National Preserve. The rare findings are nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Photographer and researcher Ralph Arwood has been on the hunt for the rare Florida bonneted bat since 2012. With the help of his team, Arwood was able to pinpoint the latter Florida bonneted bat roosting site among the lush greenery of the Big Cypress Natural Preserve. Acoustic monitors had led his team to the old woodpecker tree at Raccoon Point twice before, but nothing was ever uncovered.

That all changed, however, in the days leading up to Christmas morning. To the bewilderment of Arwood and his colleagues, his acoustic equipment kept drawing his team back to the same snag. As Arwood’s team began combing the preserve’s floor looking for more clues, bat guano was eventually spotted at the tree’s base. In a grand leap of faith, Arwood and his research team decided to stake it out during emergence time in hopes of making a groundbreaking for bats, and win for bat conservation.

It took only 27 minutes after sunset for the first Florida bonneted bat to emerge. Over the next hour, 11 bats total had emerged from the 30-foot cavity. Their size and recorded calls confirmed that they were exactly what Arwood and his team were looking for: the rare Florida Bonneted bat, in all its grace and glory.

The Florida bonneted bat was formally listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in October of 2013. Previously known as Wagner’s mastiff bat, this rare species has been sighted in only seven Florida counties. Second to none, this bat is the largest in the state, with a wingspan measuring up to 18¾ inches.

Bellingen Flyout
Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus) Credit:

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida bonneted bats face the risk of extinction due to destruction of habitat. With such a small population size and restricted geographic range, the Florida bonneted bat is vulnerable to a litany of threats: disease, predation, human disturbance, the list goes on and on. A lack of funding for this species also poses a threat to its diminishing population—without updated information on the species’ biological needs, bat ecologists do not know how best to serve these endangered creatures. Until the data gaps are filled, Florida bonneted bats will continue to suffer from the imminent threat of extinction.

And as great as Christmas miracles come, they never last for long. That’s why the real Christmas miracles…need to be us.

Not just in December, but year-round.



**Click to watch a video of the bats flying out from their roost in Big Cypress National Preserve and see more photos!

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