Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the December 6, 2009 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Walking to Pisté for my weekly supply of oranges and bananas I came upon a furry, brown, crumpled heap at the pavement's edge. It didn't move when I nudged it so I flipped it over. It was a dead, good-sized bat. I like bats a lot and was real sorry to see this. I picked him up and took the picture (turned on its side to fit the computer screen, so "up" is at the left) above.

He was a lot larger than most species I run into, but the most unusual feature about him was the appendage arising from the tip of his snout. A close-up is below:

Jamaican Fruit Bat, ARTIBEUS JAMAICENSIS, head

I'm calling this the Jamaican Fruit Bat, ARTIBEUS JAMAICENSIS, distributed from central Mexico to Bolivia and central Brazil, plus the Greater and Lesser Antilles. He's one of the leafnosed group of bats, a fairly common species with lots known about him, such as the fact that his short and very soft, velvety coat exudes a pleasant odor similar to that of perfumed soap.

The perfumy odor may arise from the vast amounts of soft, ripe, juicy fruit he eats. His "gut throughput time," or the time it takes food to pass through his body, is only 15 to 20 minutes, with no microbial fermentation in the stomach speeding things up. One report explains this super-fast gut action by saying that the species actually doesn't eat fruit but rather strains out the juice and drinks it, while spitting out the pulp and seeds.

Jamaican Fruit Bats feed alone and are known to carry food to temporary feeding sites as well as back to their roosts, especially towards morning. The ground beneath their roosts is often littered with fruit pulp pellets and seeds.

One consequence of the bat going through so much fruit is that the species is extremely important to the pollination and dispersal of tropical fruit-bearing plant species.

Artibeus jamaicensis creates roosting sites for itself by biting through leaf midribs of aroids and palms (members of the families Araceae and Palmae) in such a way that the leaves collapse to form a semi-enclosed "tent." You can bet that now I'm examening every aroid and palm for drooping leaves with bitten-through midribs!

Jamaican Fruit Bats live in a wide variety of habitats, from rain and deciduous forest to scrub forest, plus they inhabit caves and dark, abandoned buildings. This flexibility enables the species to pollinate and disperse seeds for many more kinds of plant than is typical. Ecologically, then, this is a profoundly important species for the ecosystems they inhabit.

When I tossed the dead bat into the weeds, I stood a moment and conjured in my mind the image of a healthy bat busy with important chores, flying deeply into the night, into a vast and embracing fragrance of sweet, juicy fruit. If it turns out that there are souls and heavens, then maybe my visualization somehow helped the little being on the journey he's taking now.