Bat Mormopterus minutus . An endemic bat from Cuba that has established an interesting dependence on a species of palm also endemic to the Cuban archipelago.
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- 1 The jata of the bats
- 2 Origin and behavior of this bat.
- 3 Economic and health importance
- 4 Conservation
- 5 Source
The jata of the bats
The endemic bat species of Cuba scientifically named Mormopterus minutus , co-evolved over millions of years of existence in the Cuban archipelago, in close association with a species also endemic to palm: Copernicia vespertilionum . This palm is commonly known as “bat jata” because its foliage constitutes the natural refuge of the referred species of bat.
The distribution of the jata palm covers a few restricted areas of savannas from Villa Clara to Holguín. The total absence of this palm (and, therefore, of the species of bat) in the west of the country is striking.
Generally, the jata of bats reaches a height of 10 to 12 meters in adulthood, with a trunk between 30 and 40 centimeters in diameter. The foliage is globose and compact; Its upper half is formed by hundreds of erect green petioles, while its lower half – where bats settle – is a mass of dry and rigid petioles, highly compacted and oriented downwards.
The palms occupied by bats are easily identified by the accumulation of guano around the base of the trunk, although farmers sometimes collect it to use it as fertilizer.
Mormopterus minutus is a highly gregarious species; its colony in a jata palm usually gathers between 2,000 and 8,000 bats. The occupation of these palms by bats is necessarily transitory because the urine and excrement of these mammals end up rotting the dry petioles in which they shelter, thus, the animals are forced to abandon the palm, to occupy another available one. That is why it is common to see flat palms with evident signs of previous occupation.
Origin and behavior of this bat.
The Mormopterus genus has its center of origin and evolution in Africa, with numerous species on that continent. In the New World it has only two species in Peru, Mexico, and Cuba, so its presence in America constitutes a zoogeographic enigma. The most plausible hypothesis of this geographical distribution is that the American ancestor of the genus was isolated in South America when it separated from Africa 100 million years ago; it subsequently passed to Mexico and thence to Cuba after our archipelago began to form 30 million years ago.
This makes Mormopterus minutus one of the oldest species of Cuban bat fauna. It is also the smallest species in the Family Molossidae (only 6 grams of average weight).
On the other hand, it is the only bat that “plays dead” when it is caught. Clamped in a person’s hand, he suddenly freezes — his face hidden between his forearms, and his legs and tail tucked against his chest — forming a ball so real it can be rolled onto a flat surface. But at the slightest carelessness of the person, he suddenly flies off. There is no known other species of bat on the planet that manifests such behavior.
Economic and health importance
Mormopterus minutus feeds exclusively on insects that it hunts on the fly. Each of these bats consumes an amount of insects equivalent to 40% of their body weight. Consequently, an average colony of this species in a jata palm (4,000 bats) consumes 9.6 kilograms of insects every night; that is, 3.5 tons a year. Taking into account (1) that there are several plants occupied by bats in a palm grove of the jata, and (2) that in the stomach contents of these bats, remains of numerous species of insect pests from agriculture appear, as well as , mosquitoes and midges are understood that Mormopterus minutus contributes significantly to our personal and environmental health.
During the 20th century, with the progressive anthropogenic destruction of Copernicia vespertilionum , some palm groves of this jata disappeared or drastically reduced their area, and Mormopterus minutus began to occupy architectural structures in neighboring cities. It is easy to think that such a rapid adaptation of this bat to coexistence with human beings could guarantee its survival. But it happens that entire colonies of this and other species of insectivorous bats are taking refuge in buildings for human use.
A Cuban national campaign is currently underway for the harmless eradication of bats in buildings for human use, with the dual purpose of preventing the health risks to which the users of such properties are exposed, and getting the bats to return to the natural shelters they occupied. previously.
Consequently, what is involved in the case of Mormopterus minutus is to protect the remaining palm groves of Copernicia vespertilionum , for which it is necessary to identify and eliminate the factors that threaten the sustainable development of these plants, so that Mormopterus minutus and its palm continue to exist.