A baby bonneted bat.

If you’d like to help preserve a southwest Florida flying mammal that is known for devouring mosquitoes, now is the time to voice your opinion.

The Florida bonneted bat is currently under the Endangered Species Act. They are very popular in Charlotte County, specifically, near the Babcock area.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to designate the bat’s home in Charlotte and Collier counties as critical habitat.

The organization announced a proposal recently to designate critical habitat land for the Florida bonneted bat under the Endangered Species Act.

Approximately 1,478,333 acres in portions of 10 Florida counties fall within the boundaries of the proposed critical habitat designation. If the rule is finalized, it would extend the Act’s protections to this species’ critical habitat.

FWC is seeking comments from residents about the proposal. Comments may be submitted electronically or by mail.

According to FWC, the species has been dwindling over the past several years. In 2018, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit with two other agencies for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to better protect the endangered species, once believed to be extinct.

Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the organization originally filed a suit in 2012. At that time, FWC was considering listing the species as endangered because all the science proved it was threatened.

“Under this act, the agency is supposed to concurrently designate the species as critical habitat, but they did not,” Lopez said.

David Outerbridge, with the UF/IFAS Extension in Lee County, said the bats are endemic, meaning they are unique to South Florida and have adapted to this environment specifically and serve a role in the ecosystem.

“The bonneted bat only exists in South Florida, nowhere else in the world,” Outerbridge said. “They are special because of their uniqueness and because they serve a role in the ecosystem that impacts the ecosystem if they do not exist. In other words, if they do not exist, the ecosystem could be adversely impacted.”

The bats roost underneath pine bark, in royal palm heads, tree cavities, caves and cypress forests and feed on flying insects.

“Very little is known about them and they have very slow recovery due to having few offspring,” Outerbridge said. “It is a very rare occurrence that we get a ‘second chance’ to protect a species.”

The FWC proposal to define critical habitat for this species will improve awareness and help protect the bats on multiple levels, Outerbridge added.

“Bat houses, public awareness campaigns, management of invasive species and funding for research are also key factors to preserving this species,” he said.

The Florida bonneted bat (also known as the Florida mastiff bat) is the largest species of bat in Florida. The state’s largest bat can reach a length of 6.5 inches with a wingspan of 20 inches. The hair color varies from black to brown to grayish or cinnamon brown. The bat has a very restricted range and their habitat works well in South Florida.

“Some species become very dependent on certain ecosystems,” Lopez said. “The open areas with tall trees in Charlotte County is the perfect environment. The loss of habitat due to construction is the major problem. The solution is to preserve the habitat so the species have a chance to survive.”

FWC will accept comments on the proposed rule or draft economic analysis that are received or postmarked on or before Aug. 10, 2020.

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