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The unsung heroes of Monteverde

Bats have always played an important role in the ecosystem of Monteverde, Costa Rica, but they remain misunderstood and feared.

In Monteverde and all around the world, bats act as pollinators and seed dispersers, regenerating forests and keeping several species of flowers and other plants alive.

Residents of Monteverde used to kill the bats thinking they were all vampires, not realizing that only three species of the 109 that inhabit Costa Rica are blood drinkers. The other 106 species feed on fruit, insects, nectar, frogs or fish.

A little more than half of the different species of bats in Costa Rica live in the Monteverde area. They work to keep the insect population down, as well as act as the sole pollinator for several types of plants and trees.

Dr. Richard LaVal has been studying bats for more than 40 years, published over 100 papers and has attended conferences all over the world. He opened The Bat Jungle in Monteverde in 2007 where he gives tours hoping to shed light on the often-misunderstood bat. Click here to learn more about The Bat Jungle or to schedule a tour.

¨The bats here are very important to the surrounding ecosystem,¨ said LaVal. ¨There are some plants here that depend solely on bats for pollination.¨ Plants like bromeliads and trailing vines of the cobea genus in Monteverde.

But all around the world are plants like the agave in Mexico or the saguaro cactus in Arizona that depend on bats for pollination and seed dispersal.

“The original banana plant was only bat pollinated. Organic bananas are still dependent on bats. There´s a tree of life, the Baobab tree in Africa, that is bat pollinated,” said Vino De Backer, a Belgian biologist and tour guide at the Bat Jungle. De Backer started learning about bats and their role in the environment after meeting LaVal.

Bats also play a large role in regenerating the forest.

¨When part of the forest has been either cut down or destroyed by some natural occurrence, bats are the ones that regenerate the area,¨ LaVal said. ¨Bats will fly over open areas, where most birds won’t. So it´s the bats who fly over these areas and drop seeds in their feces that are responsible for the regeneration of a destroyed area of forest.¨

LaVal hopes that by giving people the opportunity to see the bats in person and learn about their behavior, people will understand how important bats are to the Monteverde cloud forest.

“Bats are so much more than what people see in movies and on TV,” he said. “And hopefully this place allows people the opportunity to come and learn about them.”

If you are interested in learning more about the conservation of bats visit http://www.batcon.org/ or http://www.batconservation.org/drupal/

And take a short bat quiz to find out what you know.


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