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Nectar Thieves In The Night

The first few times it happened in 2008, it was a mystery. We’d awake to the hummingbird feeder completely drained each morning, nectar splashed against the window.

So we set up our Cudde camera. And what we suspected was true:

MCF bat 2014-2cropped
photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

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MCF bat 2014-1cropped
photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

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MCF bat 2014-3cropped
photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

Yep. Bats (with long tongues that CAN get down into the tiny hummingbird feeder holes). Who knew that nectar-eating bats existed?  Like clockwork they arrive in our yard each year — around late July or early August — before heading to Mexico for the winter.

This is another telltale sign of their arrival:

MCF bat guano
Yes, that’s bat guano, which leaves permanent stains on our light-colored concrete. Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

Meet the backyard bandits, thieves of our hummingbird nectar. They’re the migratory bats of southern Arizona: the Mexican long-tongued and the lesser long-nosed, the latter an endangered critter due to the annihilation of its food source: blooming columnar desert cacti and agave (homes and shopping malls have cropped up in their place).

Migratory bats of southern Arizona: the Mexican long-tongued. photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry
Migratory bats of southern Arizona: the Mexican long-tongued. photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

These bats “are thought to follow the sequential blooming of certain flowers from south to north” as they migrate. But they’ve also adapted; when plant nectar isn’t available, they seek our backyard feeders, traveling sometimes 25 miles one-way.

At the first sign of bats this year, I decided I should coerce hubby into an adventure: under the cover of darkness, we would photograph our visitors. Because there was so much guano, I figured I’d see dozens of them hanging eerily from the rafters.

With flashlights – and scanning for rattlers during our 10:30 p.m. trek – we went to the largest, most poop-infested porch first. And there they were! But only three. And they weren’t hanging upside down. They were “hugging” the rafters. The minute we shined the lights on them, they screeched and dive-bombed away (thank goodness I was wearing hubby’s ball cap. I didn’t want bats accidentally flying into my hair).

Yes, these leptos of ours (or maybe they are long-tongued bats?) are a bit of a nuisance with their droppings, making us wish we had chosen a dark-colored stain for our concrete patios.

But here’s why I’m willing to forgive the guano transgressions: we need these bats. They’re pollinators – and rare (There are only three U.S. species of nectar-foraging bats). The majority of the coutnry’s bats are insect catchers – specifically mosquito-eating machines, some gulping up to 1,000 in an hour. And as I mentioned: leptos are endangered. For obvious reasons, I dare not think what life would be like without our pollinators and insect eaters.

So for now, these leptos and me: we’ll co-exist, and I’ll clean bat poop every year (and consider moving the hummer feeder further away from the house).

MCF bat 2014-4cropped
Check it out — that is actually his tongue down in the feeder!  photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

And I’ll also do something else… I’ll help researchers like biology professor and coordinator of The Bats and Hummingbird Feeders Study, Ted Fleming, better understand them. I’m  going to participate in a hummingbird-feeder monitoring study of the lesser long-nosed bat, aimed at better understanding its feeding and migratory habits. I’m SO excited!

Related article on the web: A Little Halloween Love for Bats via UANEWS


*Original version published at WHAT I SAW. Reposted with permission of the author.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks so much; I never would have thought I’d become a bat lover, but I do find these guys fascinating (and rather cute in their Muppet-ish looks).

    • Linda Anselmi Linda Anselmi 10/31/14

      Hahaha! In the one picture showing their long noses, I immediately thought of “Alf” – alien life form… I wonder if the show creators (in the 80’s?) used one of these for inspiration?

      I’m with Heather, incredible pictures Melissa. Seeing the structure and flexibility of those wings… Amazing creatures!

      • YES! Alf – totally, totally! Their skeletal structure is truly amazing (and I’m always fascinated that their feet are literally on backwards so that they can hang upside down).

  2. Animalcouriers Animalcouriers 10/31/14

    How wonderful that they’ve found something new to fill the gap left by mall and house arrivals. Just adore it when bats whirl around your head at night, eating all those horrid mosquitos. Great photos.

    • Animals are resourceful and resilient, but the rate of development is truly frightening. And yes, thank goodness for bats!

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