Fruity Bats of Lavasa

Why don’t bats live alone?
They prefer to hang out with their friends!

A bat that was clinging to space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank during the countdown to launch the STS-119 mission remained with the spacecraft as it cleared the tower, analysts at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center concluded.Based on images and video, a wildlife expert who provides support to the center said the small creature was a free tail bat that likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist. The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit. Because the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge coexists inside Kennedy Space Center, the launch pads have a number of measures available, including warning sirens, to deter birds and other creatures from getting too close. The launch team also uses radar to watch for birds before a shuttle liftoff.Nevertheless, the bat stayed in place and it was seen changing positions from time to time. Launch controllers spotted the bat after it had clawed onto the foam of the external tank as Discovery stood at Launch Pad 39A. The temperature never dropped below 60 degrees at that part of the tank, and infrared cameras showed that the bat was 70 degrees through launch.The final inspection team that surveys the outside of the shuttle and tank for signs of ice buildup observed the small bat, hoping it would wake up and fly away before the shuttle engines ignited. It was not the first bat to land on a shuttle during a countdown. Previously, one of the winged creatures landed on the tank during the countdown to launch shuttle Columbia on its STS-90 mission in 1998.Bats sure are intriguing creatures.

There has never been a TV series where the animal hero was a bat. Why not? Because people generally hate bats.For many Westerners, bats conjure up eerie visions of vampires and witches. The Chinese see these flying rodents as symbols of good luck. Fortunately, there are people working on behalf of bats – people who study bats; who respect bats; who love bats; who have, on occasion, TASTED bats.No, seriously, although bats look like evil creepy demonettes from hell that want to swoop down and bite us and give us rabies, the truth is that they are generally harmless flying mammals just like us who form colonies, care for their young, go to the mall, etc. Statistically, the average bat is far less likely to be rabid than Abu Azmi. Besides catching insects, bats play a critical role in pollinating certain plants, such as the agave, without which there would be NO TEQUILA.Even vampire bats have their human side. Researcher Ted Fleming told me that sometimes a female vampire bat will return from a successful bloodsucking trip and share her good fortune by “regurgitating to her roost mates.”

Many bat species are endangered because of humans, some of whom view bats as actual food. A researcher once told me that in parts of Southeast Asia, bat soup and fried bat are considered tasty treats. In Guam, people have eaten pretty much all the bats. There’s a bat shortage! You could become a bat rancher and get rich! Although you would need skilled bat wranglers. He also told me that the Gubu people of Papua, New Guinea (I am not making the Gubu people up), have a big feast wherein they boil up a mess of bats, cook them over coals and then eat them whole, after which they pick little bat teeth out of their mouths. He said that, as a researcher, he actually took a tiny bite of this dish.Incredibly, he did not say that it tasted like chicken!

So we see that bats have really received a “raw deal” from us humans. I think that from now on, we should all remember that bats are our friends, and we should make every effort to be nice to them while remaining at a safe distance! Also, if we go to a restaurant in Southeast Asia, we should make darned sure we know what we are ordering.

The Bats we see around Lavasa are the Megabats.They are also referred to as fruit bats, old world fruit bats, or flying foxes. The megabat, contrary to its name, is not always large: the smallest species is 6 centimeters (2.4 inches) long and thus smaller than some microbats. The largest reach 40 cm (16 inches) in length and attain a wingspan of 150 cm (5 feet), weighing in at nearly 1 kg (2.2 pounds). Most fruit bats have large eyes, allowing them to orient visually in the twilight of dusk and inside caves and forests.Fruit bats are frugivorous or nectarivorous, i.e., they eat fruits or lick nectar from flowers. Often the fruits are crushed and only the juices consumed. The teeth are adapted to bite through hard fruit skins. Large fruit bats must land in order to eat fruit, while the smaller species are able to hover with flapping wings in front of a flower or fruit.Frugivorous bats aid the distribution of plants (and therefore, forests) by carrying the fruits with them and spitting the seeds or eliminating them elsewhere. Nectarivores actually pollinate visited plants. They bear long tongues that are inserted deep into the flower; pollen thereby passed to the bat is then transported to the next blossom visited, pollinating it.Because of their large size and somewhat “spectral” appearance, fruit bats are sometimes used in horror movies to represent vampires or to otherwise lend an aura of spookiness. In reality, as noted above, the bats of this group are purely herbivorous. Some works of fiction are more in line with this fact, portraying fruit bats as sympathetic or even featuring them as characters. For example, in the book series Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel, a fruit bat named Java is one of the main characters in the final book of the series. In Stellaluna, a popular children’s book by Janell Cannon, the story revolves around the plight of a young fruit bat who is separated from her mother. In The Winjin Pom, a 1991 puppetry-based tv-series by Richard Carpenter and Steve Bendelack, Frazer is an anthropomorphic fruit bat with a laid-back attitude and a taste for fresh fruits.

Coming back to Lake Dasve, you see a lot of fruit-bats suspended from the trees at the Western end of the lake (see photos!). The best sightings of these fruitbats are towards sunset when they are in their element. They are handsome creatures with a very stylish flight path. If you take the Pontoon boat ride at closing time (5pm), you can have a personalized sighting of our very own Lavasa Fruity Bats! I have spent hours on hours photographing these fascinating mammals. In fact, legend has it that they have a photographic memory! A Weizmann Institute researcher from Israel however, is using bats to help reveal the secrets of human memory.

The Rehovot institute’s Interface magazine wrote recently about bat researcher Dr. Nachum Ulanovsky, a neurobiologist who studies the most common Israeli bat species – the fruit bat. He says they are an excellent animal model for human memory not only because of their impressive spatial memory but also due to their highly developed senses and unique behaviors. Bats are being outfitted with sophisticated telemetry equipment transmitting data about the activity of single neurons or networks. These are used as the bats crawl or fly around in Ulanovsky’s lab. A US company working with the Rehovot researcher developed the world’s first global positioning and telemetry system that weighs only nine grams; as the average fruit bat can carry nine grams of equipment and still fly with ease, it is the perfect bat species for his experiments. To avoid disrupting the bats’ natural behavior, Ulanovsky has arranged for the building of a large cave-like room with rough-hewn rocks in the ceiling. His work, which is partially conducted in collaboration with the Hebrew University, promises to reveal new information not only on human memory but also on hippocampal diseases such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

We are opening an outlet at New Years which will serve only desserts – and guess what it is christened –

!

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