Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ghosts are Out and About

No, this bat is not an albino. More like a ... ghost.

Despite its ghostly appearance, this is an insectivorous bat that is rarely seen or photographed. It occurs in Central America and South America and evidently some of the Caribbean islands, such as Trinidad, where it is known as the "Jumby" bat. A jumby is a demon or spirit of Caribbean folklore. Little, if anything, is known of its natural history. It's Diclidurus albus, the Northern Ghost bat.

Bruce has recorded this species many times throughout the country. It is a fast, high flier that evades harp traps and mist nets. Sometimes we've caught a glimpse of it by shining a spotlight overhead while "capturing" its echolocation calls during acoustic recording surveys. Snow white, it definitely stands out in a dark sky, illuminated by spotlight. But we've never captured one.

In fact, the ghost bat is a species that occasioned an expedition to southern Belize undertaken some years ago. Bruce got recordings but no capture ("Chasing the Ghost Bat," Scientific American, June 1999). More than 10 years later, what a surprise to see this photo taken in Peten, Guatemala, about 65 miles from Gallon Jug Estate, as the Ghost bat flies. My thanks to the Wightman family for sharing their photos with us.