Aug 24
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Endangered Species of the Week: Mauritian flying fox

Photo of Mauritian flying fox in flight

Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger)

Species: Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Mauritian flying fox is named for its fox-like face, but is in fact a large species of fruit bat.

More information:

The only fruit bat to occur on the island of Mauritius, the Mauritian flying fox is a large bat with golden-brown fur. This species has a wingspan of about 80 centimetres, and the long, narrow shape of its wings allows it to travel long distances as it seeks out food in the forest canopy. The Mauritian flying fox feeds mainly on fruit, which it squeezes in its mouth to obtain the juices before spitting out the seeds and pulp. This species roosts in trees, where it gathers in large groups known as ‘camps’. Like other flying foxes, the Mauritian flying fox gives birth to a single young each year. Although this species is found almost entirely on Mauritius, a few individuals have also been reported from nearby Réunion in recent years.

The main threat to the Mauritian flying fox is deforestation. Only around five percent of the original vegetation on Mauritius now remains, and over half the plants the Mauritian flying fox feeds on are introduced species. Despite legal protection, this large bat is hunted for food and sport, and in 2006 the Mauritian government endorsed a culling programme as a result of alleged damage to fruit crops. The Mauritian flying fox occurs in a number of protected areas and is listed on Appendix II of CITES, but illegal hunting is still reported to occur. Recommended conservation measures include research into this bat’s populations, together with habitat restoration, education campaigns and captive breeding. The effects of culling also need to be assessed, as does the effectiveness of netting fruit trees to protect crops. The Mauritian flying fox plays a vital role in pollination and seed dispersal, so conserving this species will also help maintain the health of the island’s remaining forests.

 

Find out more about bat conservation at:

You can also find out more about Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands on our Indian Ocean islands page and at the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

See more images of the Mauritian flying fox on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Aug 30
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ARKive’s Top Ten Smallest Species

Have you ever wondered what the smallest creatures roaming our planet are? Let’s meet some very cute, extrordinary miniature creatures with ARKive’s favourite smallest species.

What is this on my finger? 

Photo of minute leaf chameleon

This charming minute leaf chameleon is one of the smallest reptiles in the world. As expected for its tiny size, it consumes minute prey, including small fruit flies, white flies and springtails. If threatened by a predator, this clever little creature will drop to the ground like a piece of dead wood and feign death until the danger has passed. How does a predator even spot such a tiny thing!

This is the perfect little hideout for me!

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

Awww now this one is a real cutie! Described as a new species in 2000, the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is believed to be the world’s smallest living primate! This nocturnal forager has extremely large, forward-facing eyes dramatically improving its night-vision. Weirdly, during the dry winter months, it undergoes a daily period of torpor, lowering its metabolic rate for a few hours. This causes its body temperature to drop, thereby conserving water and energy. Not just a pretty face that mouse lemur!

Where are you little mites, I’m coming to get you…!

Edmond’s ground beetle photo

Edmond’s ground beetle is just 2mm in length – can you imagine? I challenge anyone to find this beetle, which lives within wet moss on the edge of bogs! It is one of the smallest ground beetles in the UK and believe it or not, it is actually a predator, feeding on mites and springtails. You certainly won’t feel the need to run away from this mini-beast.

I’m not sure if this whole hiding thing is working out for me.

 Denise’s pygmy seahorse photo

This delicate little critter known as Denise’s pygmy seahorse is one of the smallest of all seahorse species, typically measuring less than 2cm in height! It is a master of camouflage, with its yellow colouration exactly matching the stems of its gorgonian sea fan ‘home’. What a dinky sea creature!

Oh no, I’m too high up…my legs are starting to feel like jelly.

Savi’s pygmy shrew photo

The adorable Savi’s pygmy shrew is the smallest land mammal in the world, growing to a maximum size of just 8cm! It has an exceptional metabolism, with a heartbeat of over a thousand beats per minute which means it cannot survive for more than a few hours without food. To satisfy its high energy requirements, this velvety, miniature shrew can consume as much as 1.3 times its body weight in a single day. If only we could eat that much and stay that small!

Put me down…

Hooked thread snake photo

One of the smallest snakes in the world, the hooked thread snake is rarely seen due to the fact that it lives underground and grows to a maximum of 24cm. Owing to its miniature size, extremely slender body, and pink skin; it is often mistaken for an earthworm. I’d rather come across this tiny snake than a king cobra, that’s for sure!

Up a bit, down a bit, left a bit….

Bee humingbird photo

The diminutive bee hummingbird has the incredible accolade of being the smallest living bird in the world, measuring just 6cm in height. Despite its tiny size, it is capable of beating its wings around 80 times a second in a figure-of-eight pattern, giving it the ability to hover and move with amazing agility. Even more astonishingly, the female lays a clutch of 2 tiny eggs, no bigger than 6mm in length. It’s a miracle they don’t get squished beneath her!

Ok this wing stretch exercise is really starting to ache now…

Kitti's hog-nosed bat photo

Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is not only the smallest bat in the world, but also the smallest mammal in existence! Its extinction would not only be the loss of an incredibly unique species, but an entire branch of the evolutionary tree would vanish from our planet. The body of this miniscule bat reaches just 33mm in length. How this researcher managed to catch this little thing is a mystery!

I’m definitely worth more than a pound, even if it doesn’t look like it!

Partula faba photo

This little critter is joint smallest of our top ten smallest species with Edmond’s ground beetle! The 2mm long Partula faba is one of the most endangered of all the tree snails and is currently on the edge of survival. It is Extinct in the Wild due to the introduction of invasive snails in the French Polynesian islands in the 1970s. The last remaining population of these snails can only be found at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Let’s hope they manage to reintroduce these adorable tiny snails into the wild!

Any minute now, I am going to jump right outta here!

Gardiner's tree frog photo

Check out this tiny frog, it’s smaller than a fingernail! The Gardiner’s tree frog is one of the smallest frogs in the world, growing to only 11mm in length! Unlike most frogs, the young do not hatch as tadpoles, but as fully formed small adult frogs. So the babies are even smaller versions of this little guy – how is that even possible?

Can you find any other tiny species on ARKive? Let us know.

Rebecca Sennett, ARKive Researcher

Aug 23
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Go batty for bats on International Bat Night

International Bat Night is happening this weekend, an event that hopes to inspire people across Europe to understand more about how bats live and why they are so important to conserve. A series of presentations, exhibitions and bat walks are happening in more than 30 countries, including the UK – check out the bat walk at Harcourt Arboretum in Oxford this Thursday.

To join in the celebrations, we have delved into the ARKive collection to come up with some truly batty facts to get you in the mood for International Bat Night and to hopefully inspire you to take part in an event near you!

Batty Fact No. 1

Vampire bats use infrared sensors to detect veins on their warm-blooded prey.

Common vampire bat photo

Common vampire bat

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers found that vampire bats have evolved specialised heat-sensitive nerve channels around the nose, allowing the bats to home in on “hot spots” on their prey, where the veins run close to the skin’s surface. In other animals, including humans, these nerve channels are used to detect heat that would be damaging to the body at temperatures above 43ºC. However, in the vampire bat the channels in the nose have evolved to activate at a much cooler 30ºC, allowing the bat to detect the body heat of its prey. Clever stuff!

Batty Fact No. 2

The ‘smallest bat in the world’ prize goes to Kitti’s hog-nosed bat!

Photo of Kitti's hog-nosed bat being held by researcher

Kitti's hog-nosed bat being held by researcher

Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is not only the smallest bat in the world, but also the smallest mammal in existence, weighing a maximum of just 2 grams! It is also the sole living species of the family Craseonycteridae, meaning that its extinction would not only be the loss of an incredibly unique species, but an entire branch of the evolutionary tree would vanish from our planet.

Batty Fact No. 3

Brazilian free-tailed bats form the largest warm-blooded colonies in the world.

Brazilian free-tailed bats emerging at sunset

Brazilian free-tailed bats emerging at sunset

The Brazilian free-tailed bat exhibits some spectacular behaviour, emerging to feed at dusk in huge columns of several million individuals. Their flapping wings create a sound equivalent to a white-water river and their numbers are great enough to be detected by airport and weather radars. Feeding for longer each night than any other bat species, it travels as far as 31 miles from roosts to feeding grounds. The Brazilian free-tailed bats of Texas are estimated to consume from 6,000 to 18,000 metric tons of insects each year, many of which are agricultural pests – so in actual fact, they are doing us a favour!

Batty Fact No.  4

Bat guano is used as a fertiliser!

Brazilian free-tailed bat photo

Despite its name, the largest and most well-known populations of the Brazilian free-tailed bat are found in Mexico and Texas, USA.

When large numbers of bats live together in single caves, such as the Brazilian free-tailed bat, there is a huge build up of guano or bat droppings. This nutrient-rich mixture was once commercially extracted from caves on a large scale, to be sold as fertiliser. In the early 1900s it was the largest mineral export from Texas after oil, and it continues to be sold commercially although to a lesser degree.

Batty Fact No. 5

There are probably more bat species than you think…

Hoary bat

The hoary bat is one of the most wide-ranging bat species in the Americas

Over 1,100 bat species are known in the world which is about one fifth of all mammal species. Bats are widely distributed across the globe, with only the Arctic, Antarctic and some Oceanic islands being without them! The biggest diversity of species is found in the tropics, with about a third of the world’s bat species inhabiting Central and South America.

Batty Fact No. 6

All British bats use ‘echolocation’ to find their prey!

Greater horseshoe bat hunting a moth

Greater horseshoe bat hunting a moth

The greater horseshoe bat is the larger of the two horseshoe bats found in Britain and can live for up to 30 years! They are so-named from the horseshoe shaped nose ‘leaf’, used as part of the bat’s echolocation system. Bats are not blind as was once popularly thought – they have good eyesight but rely on echolocation to navigate and to detect their insect prey. Echolocation allows bats to orient themselves at night; they emit bursts of sound that are of such high frequencies they are beyond the human range of hearing and are called ‘ultrasound’. They then listen to and interpret the echoes bounced back from objects, including prey, around them, allowing them to build up a ‘sound-picture’ of their surroundings.

Batty Fact No. 7

Female bats can recognise the individual call of their pup

Bicoloured leaf-nosed bat

Bicoloured leaf-nosed bat

The bicoloured leaf-nosed bat gives birth to one pup each year, which it must locate in the crowded roost after foraging trips. The mother does this by calling to her pup and listening for its reply. Once nearby, she uses pheromones to identify it. She will suckle it for some weeks before it learns to fly and forage alone.

Batty Fact No. 8

What is a megabat?

Lyle's flying fox with wings outstretched

Lyle's flying fox with wings outstretched

Megabats are in the family Pteropodidae and are often referred to as fruit bats. They have large eyes and often a long muzzle resembling a dog or fox. Unlike British bats, they do not use echolocation to find food, but rely on their vision and sense of smell to find fruits and flowers to feed on. An example of a megabat is Lyle’s flying fox which feeds mainly on ripe fruit and occasionally nectar, pollen and blossom. Its primary sense when foraging is vision and it has well developed teeth which are used to chew fruit while spitting out most of the seeds and pulp. Unlike other bat families, fruit bats do not hibernate. Instead, Lyle’s flying fox produces heat by shivering, which keeps its body temperature between 33 and 37 ºC.

Batty Fact No. 9

Bats have evolved to live in toxic caves!

Schreiber's long-fingered bat colony roosting

Schreiber's long-fingered bat colony roosting

Bat caves are widely known to contain noxious gases, but this is actually a result of carpet beetles (Dermestidae) that feed on bat guano and fallen bats. These beetles multiply so rapidly as a result of such a constant food supply that the whole floor of a cave may be ‘carpeted’ with them. They produce waste that combines with water vapour to make ammonium hydroxide which is poisonous to most animals. However, bats have adapted to this potent atmosphere by lowering their metabolic rate, which causes the level of carbon dioxide dissolved in their blood to rise, thus neutralising the ammonia.

Batty Fact No. 10

A deadly fungus is threatening bats in North America

Indiana bat

The Indiana bat is found in the Midwest and eastern United States

North America’s bats are dying in record numbers from white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungus which is spreading across the United States and into Canada. First identified in 2006, white-nose syndrome is a fatal disease which infects the skin of hibernating bats, turning their snout frosty white. It is unclear exactly how the disease kills the bats, but it is thought to affect their ability to hibernate, causing infected bats to use up their fat reserves. The disease has already killed over a million bats of at least six different species, including the Indiana bat, little brown myotis, gray myotis and the cave bat. Unfortunately scientists still know very little about this worrying disease, so we can only hope they start to find the answers soon!

Hopefully this blog has made you go batty about bats, so if you want to learn more and find out about bat events in the UK, take a look at the Bat Conservation Trust.  And if it’s a rainy day and you are feeling creative, have a go at making ARKive’s very own vampire bat mask!

Rebecca Sennett,  ARKive Media Researcher

Dec 17
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ARKive Celebrates Flight

December 17th is the official anniversary of the first human flight in a powered, heavier-than-air plane, so to mark this historic event we have taken a look at how flight has been mastered by both animals and humans.

The Wright Flight

Little did the Wright Brothers know that when they boarded their muslin-covered, wooden plane on that December morning that they would be paving the way for aviation as we now know it. It is astounding to think how far air travel has come in the last 108 years. We now have planes that can carry over 500 passengers to the other side of the world, in extraordinary comfort in less than 24 hours, the prospect of which back in 1903 would have sounded like something fresh from the pages of a science-fiction novel!

Photo of the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers.

First successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers.

 

Animal Inspiration?

Animals conquered flight long before 1903, admittedly in a slightly different fashion. It has proved such a successful strategy that it has evolved independently four times in birds, bats, insects (and pterosaurs), and each of the extant groups is still going strong.

Photo of a Mauritian flying fox in flight

Bats are the only group of mammals to have evolved the ability to fly.

Bats are the second most diverse group of mammals and the only mammal to have developed true powered flight. Birds have the most species of any class of terrestrial vertebrates, and there are more species of insect than all other animals added together, so they must be doing something right!

Photo of a Harlequin ladybird in flight

Insects are the only class of invertebrate that can fly.

 

Glorious Gliders

The Wright Brothers started out building gliders before honing their designs and moving onto powered flight. Gliding is also a popular strategy in the natural world and can be seen in mammals including the northern flying squirrel. This nocturnal mammal glides between trees using a fold of skin that stretches between its wrists and ankles. This parachute effect allows it to travel up to 45 metres in a single glide, using its tail as a rudder.

Photos of the northern flying squirrel

The northern flying squirrel can glide as far as 45 metres.

 

Recipe For Success

So why was it that the Wright Brothers succeeded when so many others had tried and failed? The answer is quite simple; they had achieved both power and control, using a specially designed lightweight engine and controls that allowed the pilot to steer effectively. One of the best examples of powerful, controlled flight in birds has to be the kestrel. Kestrels hunt by sight and are able to hover perfectly still in mid air, even in heavy winds. Once they have locked their sights onto their prey they are able to dive to capture it with incredible accuracy.

Photo of a kestrel in flight

Kestrels exhibit both power and control in flight.

 

Did you know?

  • The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird, measured at over 3.5 metres, and spends the majority of its life in flight.
  • The bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and has the smallest wingspan of any bird. It is capable of beating its tiny wings up to 80 times a second.
  • One of the heaviest flying birds is the kori bustard which can weigh as much as 20 kilograms.
  • The longest invertebrate annual migration is carried out by the monarch butterfly across North America.
  • The longest bird migration is undertaken by the Arctic tern which traverses the globe on its annual pole to pole journey, meaning it sees more sunlight each year than any other animal.

 

Photo of an Arctic tern adult feeding young

Arctic terns undertake the longest bird migration

Photo of a wandering albatross in flight against stormy sky with pair displaying in backgroud

The wandering albratross has a huge wingspan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brilliant Biomimicry

The natural world has long been used as inspiration for technological advances, particularly with when it comes to flight. Leonardo da Vinci was a keen observer of the anatomy and flight of birds and even the Wright Brothers were thought to have studied pigeon flight. As our understanding of biomechanics and animal movement advances it will be exciting to see what’s next for biologically inspired engineering – here’s to seeing what the next 108 years bring!

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Education Officer

Aug 4
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In the News: Vampire bats use infrared sensors to detect veins

Vampire bats use infrared sensors to detect veins on their warm-blooded prey, according to new research.

Photo of common vampire bat's open mouth, showing teeth

Common vampire bat showing teeth.

In a study published in the journal Nature, the researchers found that vampire bats have evolved specialised heat-sensitive nerve channels around the nose. These allow the bats to home in on “hot spots” on their prey, where veins run close to the surface of the skin.

In other animals, including humans, these nerve channels are used to detect heat that would be damaging to the body, triggering a painful, burning sensation at temperatures above 43ºC. However, in the vampire bat the channels around the nose have evolved to activate at a much cooler 30ºC, allowing the bat to detect the body heat of its prey.

Blood-sucking bats

Found in Central and South America, the vampire bat is a widely feared species that has been commonly misportrayed as a creepy, blood-sucking killer. However, this small mammal rarely kills its prey and displays many fascinating adaptations to its lifestyle.

Photo of common vampire bat on ground

Common vampire bat on ground.

Its teeth are razor sharp, meaning its victim rarely notices being bitten, and it releases chemicals into the wound which keep the blood flowing, allowing the bat to lap it up with the help of grooves on its tongue.

The vampire bat also has strong limbs and an elongated thumb to help it climb around on its prey and take off after feeding. It rarely bites humans, usually preferring to feed on the blood of birds and other mammals, particularly livestock. Vampire bats also show a rare form of ‘reciprocal altruism’, in which well-fed individuals regurgitate food to hungry companions, even if they are not related.

Photo of common vampire bat feeding on cow

Common vampire bat feeding on cow.

Rare heat-sensing ability

Only three other vertebrate groups are known to have a heat-detecting ‘sixth sense’ – the distantly related pitvipers, pythons and boas. These three snake lineages use specialised structures on the face, known as ‘pit organs’, to detect warm-blooded prey. However, they use a different mechanism to the vampire bat.

Photo of yellow-blotched palm-pitviper, head detail

Yellow-blotched palm-pitviper. Three groups of snakes, including pitvipers, detect heat using specialised ‘pit organs’ on the snout.

The ability to find its next meal is especially important to the vampire bat as it must have a blood meal at least once every few days to survive.

In addition to revealing more about the bat’s intriguing adaptations, the researchers hope that this study will help shed more light on how heat sensors work in humans. It may even help scientists to design drugs to suppress the activity of related nerve channels, such as those involved in inflammatory pain.

Read more about the study at Nature News – Vampire bats turn down the heat sensors to hunt.

View photos and videos of bats on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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