For years, I have had an admiration for bats — especially fruit bats. They always have fascinated me. They are not birds, but they fly. They are quite mysterious and are used in fiction to create suspense and uneasiness. So, when naturalist (and old friend) Mike Callahan announced he was leading a nature and birding trip to Tobago, this girl was on board.
This trip was quite a few years back before Tobago built an airport to handle jet planes. The trip was on a propeller plane from Puerto Rico. It was a very long flight and there was no food. I kept telling myself it would be worth it when we got there.
We arrived in Tobago late. The airport was closed and our transportation forgot about us, and still there was no food. After a long wait, Mike got us a ride out to the very rustic and primitive place we were staying. It was an hour drive to our lodging over a rather bumpy road.
As we exited the vehicle, I spotted my first Tobagonian animal — a fruit bat. It flew right over us. I was ecstatic.
Fruit bats, also called flying foxes, are quite recognizable as they are a fawn or light brownish gray color, and larger than insect-eating bats. I knew it was a fruit bat from the color and the size. However, identifying the exact species was beyond any knowledge I had.
What did I know? I knew that fruit bats are attracted to ripe fruits. Their teeth are sharp to be able to pierce the skin of tough wild fruits and squeeze out the nectar. They also have a very long tongue which they roll out when eating. They usually come out after dusk and disappear right before dawn. They are also migratory, since they have to travel to find food. They feel safe in huge numbers, and often travel in massive flocks.
Many people are unaware that bats are mammals. Females generally have just one baby, which is carried in her body for about six months. The little one can’t fly for at least six weeks and will cling to the mother even when she is searching for food. The bats roost up in the tops of trees where it is dark and they hope no predator (snakes or owls or hawks) will find them.
As I stated previously, our little group arrived at our destination tired, grungy and hungry. After some snacks at our very primitive lodging, it was time for sleep. All windows were open with no screens, so I lathered myself with two kinds of insect repellent before crawling into bed. Then I noticed a very cute little black bat sleeping in the corner of the ceiling. Ahhh — it’s always good to have a protector while you’re sleeping.
The next morning I was awakened by the wild calls of the chachalaca rather than my usual alarm clock. I jumped in the shower and I felt like I was not alone. I suddenly realized I had a huge lizard traveling along the top of the tile and enjoying the nice warm water with me. I decided it was time to get out of the shower.
As I got out and grabbed for a towel, a frog flew out of the toilet and decided that my abdomen was a good place to rest. They heard my scream to the next town. I am sorry, I have no photos as I was in a hurry to hopefully get breakfast and prepare for the day’s fun adventures.
I really loved Tobago. It is a beautiful island and I have been there twice. But my first encounter with that fruit bat will always be a high point in my memories.
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.