“Excuse me, but I can’t resist asking what you’re doing?” The question came from a curious young woman, wondering why I was six feet off one of the Harmony Hotel’s well-managed footpaths. Not just off the path but squatting low as I peered up at the underside of a drooping palm leaf. When I responded, “Would you like to see?” She was amazed to discover a family of tiny tent-making bats, each with a cute, colorful face with white eye stripes and big eyes. And like most others who questioned me, her response was, “Amazing! Bats! And they’re cute!”
The Harmony Hotel owners and staff have done an outstanding job of preserving and restoring tropical forest vegetation, which serves as an “island” of habitat for wildlife. Despite consisting of just a few acres, largely surrounded by beachfront hotels and the town of Nosara, it attracts an amazing assortment of wildlife–coatis, howler monkeys, margay cats, large iguanas, and a wide variety of birds and bats.
The most numerous mammals are bats, but being active only at night, they are seldom noticed. Two species of small fruit-eating bats take shelter beneath low-growing fan palms that they cleverly cut to form “tents” which conceal them from the dozens of passing humans and other animals, sometimes only a meter or two away. These bats are easily found once one learns to scan certain kinds of large-leaved plants for “tents.”
Listening with a bat detector (a tunable device with a microphone and software combination that enables one to eavesdrop on echolocating bats) it is possible to recognize additional species at night. Because bats can adjust their calls to obtain more useful information under differing conditions some species can be difficult to identify. Nevertheless, it was still easy to tell that at least a dozen insect-eating bat species were feeding along hotel trails or drinking from the swimming pool.
Among the more interesting species heard on my detector were ghost and sac-winged bats. A northern ghost bat (Diclidurus albus) was later found hanging beneath a palm frond in a nearby valley, confirming our bat detector-based suspicions of its presence. Also, sac-winged bats survive human intrusion better than most, likely because they can hide in plain sight through effective use of camouflage. Their dark fur and uneven white lines on their backs make them difficult to see, but we heard their distinctive calls over the hotel swimming pool soon after sunset each night.
More and more guests are learning to enjoy bats, and the hotel will soon erect its first bat houses on poles in the yard. Following my most recent talk there, staff proudly demonstrated a pair of their newly built houses. Hopefully, guests will enjoy seeing more bats and face fewer mosquitos.