Bats are one of the most misunderstood species due to their nocturnal nature, and are marred with myths. The moment one sees a bat flying around, one exclaims Yikes! Ouch! Aaah! However, the truth is that bats play a vital role in our ecosystem as seed dispersers and pest-controllers. Of the 400+ mammal species found in India, 120 of them are bats, which even most wildlife enthusiasts might not be aware of. Of these 120 species found across India, there are almost 20+ species found in and around Bengaluru. Some of the bat species are well adapted to urban environments and can be seen around our neighbourhoods almost every day. This gives us an interesting opportunity to observe them without having to travel to a protected area.
One of the comic strips published by Bat Conservation India Trust, to dispel myths about bats.
The Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus giganteus) is probably one of the most commonly known species of bats we all associate with, as they roost openly and are seen in broad daylight. Namma Bengaluru hosts many of their roosting spots and one can observe them at Bugle Rock, Sankey Tank, IISc Campus, GKVK Campus, etc. These bats can be seen flying in the sky during dusk, as they leave their roosts in search of food. These large bats travel long distances in search of fruiting trees and are known to cover hundreds of kilo-meters in a single night.
Indian Flying Foxes flying near their roost site during dusk, minutes before they leave for far-flung areas to forage.
The Indian Flying Fox is one of the largest fruit bats in the world, with a wing span up to 5 feet. Their average life span is about 20 years. This is a male.
Apart from the Indian Flying Fox, there is another bat which is also seen by many of us in an urban environment. These bats are seen flying and hovering around trees like Singapore Cherry (Muntingia calabura), Jamun (Syzygium cumini), Banana Plantain (Musa paradisiaca), and Cluster Fig (Ficus racemosa linn). This is none other than the Short-nosed Fruit Bat (Cynopterus sphinx). These bats don’t roost in open spaces like the Indian Flying Fox, as they need some cover for protection from predators like crows, hawks, owls, etc., but can be seen roosting under window shades, the underside of plaintain leaves or palm trees, or inside the thick canopy of Mast Tree or False Ashoka (Polyalthia longifolia) trees.
Short-nosed Fruit bat picking a fig from the Cluster Fig tree. Bats are very choosy and pick a fruit which is ripe and according to their taste. Raw and over-ripe fruits are usually left out.
These bats do not eat the fruit on the spot, but carry the fruit to their night roosts and feed at these temporary roosts. One can notice such night roosts by looking at seed droppings on the floor. These bats also defecate while in flight and one can observe spit-like markings on walls primarily adjacent to a Singapore Cherry (Muntingia calabura) tree.
A mother and sub-adult Short-nosed Fruit Bat roosting in tent-like structures made under the dry leaves of a palm tree. Hence, it is important to not remove dry leaves from palm trees, as they might destroy safe roosting places for these bats.
Insectivorous bats like the Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Black-bearded Tomb Bat (Taphozous melanopogon), Lesser False Vampire Bat (Megaderma spasma), Lesser Mouse-tailed Bat (Rhinopoma hardwickei), Lesser Asiatic Yellow Bat (Scotophilus kuhlii) etc, are also adaptable to man-made structures and are found to occupy old temple buildings, ruins, attics, and the undersides of culverts, bridges and tiled roofs. Unfortunately, due to an increase in renovations of old structures and preference for modern architecture, these bats are losing some of their roosting places. These insect bats are small in size unlike fruit bats, so they are not easily visible due to their size and quick flight.
A group of Lesser False Vampire Bats roosting under the roof of an old and abandoned temple, inside the sanctum sanctorum.
A male Lesser Mouse-tailed Bat fans its wings to attract a female roosting below it.
The Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) is one of first bat species to emerge out of its roost and can be seen flying around the evening sky catching insects like mosquitoes, flies, moths, crickets, or cockroaches. These bats can also be seen catching insects which get attracted to the light from light-poles in the city. The insectivorous bats can consume nearly 6000-8000 mosquitoes in a night or nearly 1000-1200 mosquitoes in an hour. The amount of insects consumed by an adult and nursing mother in a night is equivalent to their own body weight.
While some adaptable species of bats occupy man-made structures, the natural roost sites for majority of the species happen to be caves, rock crevices and tree holes. Therefore, it’s critical to protect these natural habitats of bats.
A group of Naked-rumped Tomb Bats (Taphozous nudiventris kachhensis) roosting inside a Peepal tree hole.
Tree roost of fruit bats
Bats are very interesting species to study, due to their unique anatomy and behaviour. They are the only mammalian species with an ability to fly. The only difference between bats and birds is that bats do not generate enough thrust to have a lift off from ground; hence, they need an elevated post to catapult / jump from before take-off. They also have a special valve in their heart that prevents the blood from rushing into their brain.
More efforts are required to study and document these interesting mammals. Most wildlife photographers, researchers and conservationists tend to give prominence to just a handful of large mammals, while neglecting smaller species which also pay a crucial role in the ecosystem. Studying and photographing bats in their natural environment is quite challenging due to their habitats (dark environments). It’s time we gave enough importance to all species alike, and worked towards a balanced conservation effort.