Last Updated: Feb 27, 2012
Of the approximate 1,100 bat species on Earth, 110 of them are found in Costa Rica. Most of the bats that live here are nocturnal, so they are best viewed at nighttime, when they swoop through the air, hunting for insects or juicy tropical fruit. Many wildlife tours take visitors to bat nests, where the sleeping creatures can be observed in detail. The most common bats in Costa Rica include:
Scientific Name: Desmodus rotundus
Status in the Wild: Common
Habitat: Cloud Forests, Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests, Woodlands
Jamaican Fruit Bat: This fruit bat is native to Central and South America, and loves to dine on guava, papaya and banana. If fruits are hard to find, this species will opt for pollen, nectar and, less commonly, insects. The Jamaican fruit bat, found throughout Costa Rica, is very important for seed distribution.
Vampire Bat: The common vampire bat is the only bat species that will feed on the blood of livestock; other vampire bats typically feed on birds. Because of their prey preferences, the common vampire bat causes up to $100 million in damage each year to domestic farm animals throughout Central and South America. Vampire bats are commonly found in Corcovado National Park, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Monteverde, San Jose and along the Cerro de la Muerte.
Fishing Bulldog Bat: Covered in reddish-brown and orange fur, the bulldog bat’s wingspan can reach an impressive two feet in diameter. True to its name, this bat uses its large, gaff-shaped claws to fish for its dinner. To identify its prey, it skims the water’s surface, detecting ripples or water disturbances. The fishing bulldog bat, or fisherman bat, is found in Santa Rosa National Park and Corcovado National Park.
Honduran White Bat: Though most bat species are brown or black in color, the rare Honduran white bat is, not surprisingly, white. They are a tent-making bat, one of only 15 such bat species in Latin America, and live in colonies of up to twelve individuals. Honduran white bats are found on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, in the humid lowlands of Tortuguero National Park.
All bats are born with forelimbs that develop into wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of flight. Though they may look like flying rodents or birds, bats are neither; instead, they are mammals of the order Chiroptera, classified into two major suborders: megabats and microbats.
Megabats are generally larger than microbats, but there are four major physical characteristics that distinguish between the two suborders. Only microbats use echolocation, or biosonar (except for a very few species). In addition, microbats lack a claw on the second toe of their forelimb, and their ears do not form a closed ring. Finally, megabats do not have any under fur, living either with only guard hairs or no fur at all. Beyond the physical, megabats eat mainly fruit, pollen and nectar, while microbats (such as the famous vampire bat) feast on insects, blood, small mammals and fish.
Though the order is most commonly associated with vampires in pop culture, these small mammals have been important to many cultures over the centuries. In Tonga and West Africa, bats are sacred and considered the physical manifestation of a separate human soul. In some Native American cultures, they were said to be trickster spirits. In many pre-Columbian cultures, including those of Costa Rica, bats were associated with the gods and thus honored through intricate artwork and portraits.
Habitat and Behavior:
Bats can be either solitary or social, sometimes living in caves colonized by over one million individuals. Highly social bats usually participate in the fission-fusion social structure, where large groups break off into small subgroups to perform daily tasks. Individual bats often switch off between subgroups.
Bats are viviparous, which means that their offspring develop inside the mother and are born via live birth. Mother bats typically give birth to one pup per year. After birth, pups are left together in the communal roost while parents go out hunting. Occasionally, a pup grab on to its mother's fur and travel with her.
All bats are born with the ability to fly, but at birth, their wings are too small. Microbats mature between six and eight week old, while megabats must wait until they are four months old. At age two, bats are sexually mature. Bats do not mate for life.