Latest News
Protecting the Cave of Love.

General News

Protecting the Cave of Love.

Published on February 2, 2016

Mexican long-nosed bat
The Mexican long-nosed bat is an important pollinator.
Credit: Rodrigo Medellin

The quest to save an endangered key pollinator: The Mexican long-nosed bat

In a cave in Central Mexico, love blossoms for a very special bat - the Mexican long-nosed bat, Leptonycteris nivalis.

The nectar-feeding bat is native to Mexico and the United States, where it is considered threatened and endangered respectively due to declines from habitat and roost disturbance. The Mexican long-nosed bat spends the winter in Central Mexico, where in a single cave males and females gather to mate.

“Over the past last four years we have monitored Cueva del Diablo, the only known mating roost of the Mexican long-nosed bat, to assess the population size. Currently we have estimated between 2,500 and 3,000 bats” said Dr. Rodrigo Medellin and Dr. Ana Ibarra, of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the Program for the Conservation of the Bats of Mexico (PCMM)

Medellin and Ibarra, with the support of Bat Conservational International (BCI) and others, are attempting to further the conservation of the species by understanding its mating system and migratory habits. The Mexican long-nosed bat is one of the few Neotropical bat species that performs long distance migration. At the beginning of spring, the bats embark on a journey from their winter roosts in Central Mexico to the upper parts of northern Mexico and southwestern United States (Texas and New Mexico) where the young are born. All along this lengthy journey, they feed on nectar and pollen, working as key pollinators of columnar cacti and agave.

Pit tage scanning
A researcher scanning for a PIT tag Credit: Rodrigo

“We are using several different approaches to monitor this species, from standard monitoring of the cave colony using infrared videos, to using tracking devices such as PIT tags (Passive Integrated Transponders) to trace their migratory movements,” explains Medellin and Ibarra.

PIT tags are similar to the tiny microchips used for cats and dogs to identify owners for lost pets. Carefully inserted under the skin on the back of a bat, the PIT tags remain with the animal throughout its life, allowing researchers to identify individuals when they are recaptured at differing locations.

This method is now gathering even more of this important data with the use of new antennae arrays allowing researchers to detect and scan individual bats without the need for capturing them.

“The addition of PIT tags to the initiative brings an exciting new dimension to the work and ultimately, will help reveal critical insights into how long this amazing bat lives. For the first time we can document movements of individual bats across its migratory pathway, information essential to designing and implementing sustainable conservation across the species range,” said Dave Waldien, Senior Director for Global Programs at BCI.

By combining the migratory data from the PIT tags with population genetics studies, the researchers aim to determine gene flow of the species and population connectivity along their migratory route.

Cueva del Diablo
The gathering of male and female Mexican long-nosed bats at Cueva
del Diablo Credit: Rodrigo Medellin

“Our goal is to integrate our research and monitoring activities, with a strong educational and awareness program, to better manage Cueva del Diablo and its surroundings in order to protect the bats and their main mating roost,” said Medellin and Ibarra.
“All this has been possible thanks to the collaboration among different countries, institutions, researchers and a diverse set of donors. Help us protect Mexican long-nosed bats; they deserve a chance!”

A note from BCI: Bat Conservation International is privileged to be working with Dr. Medellin and Dr. Ibarra, along with many others, for the conservation of the Mexican long-nosed bat. BCI’s support for this priority conservation initiative comes from the Disney Conservation Fund, Maltz Family Foundation, the Woodtiger Fund, and the generosity of BCI members.

If you would like to help support our work for the Mexican long-nosed bat, please donate!


Stay up to date with BCI

Sign up and receive timely bat updates

BCI relies on the support of our amazing members around the world.

Our mission is to conserve the world’s bats and their ecosystems to ensure a healthy planet.

Please join us or donate so our work can continue.