The Bats of Miag-ao
Miag-ao, like all of Panay, has its own sets of mystical stories and folklore unique to the town. Bats play a role in such folklores and we do have our own new arrivals on the scene.
Bats are generally scary looking, fox like, vampire of the Hollywood version. They smell. They are ugly and mysterious because of their nocturnal habits. Panay Island, because of massive deforestation starting during the galleon trade between Mexico and Philippines, hunting (for food and sport) and conversion of forest lands to agriculture, had decimated bat populations. The most notable of the great bats is a species called Giant Golden Crowned Fruit Bat. With wing span close to 6 feet and solitary habits, this species became extinct very fast in Panay. It can be found in rare places in Negros and few other islands, and fast disappearing. Given their nocturnal habits and large size, one can always presume that the folklore of the ‘aswang’ could easily have come from night encounters with this bat. In reality, the Giant Golden Crowned Fruit Bat is harmless, feeding on figs and other fruits that grow along the river banks.
One of the most unusual new arrivals in Miag-ao is the fruit bat, Pteropus hypomelanus, also commonly known as the common island flying fox. They are the more gregarious types, normally congregating in trees with populations ranging from a few hundred to a few thousands. The Miag-ao fruit bats appeared on the scene in 2003 (some say as early as 2001) roosting in a giant hundred + year old bubog tree (called skunk tree) 300 meters from the beach and in the midst of heavily populated area of town. Where they came from is unknown, why they stayed or chosen Miag-ao is even more a mystery. But, the population increased in numbers and became the new residents.
The municipality has protected these bats and the people living near them or even under the giant bubog trees managed to co-exist with the flying foxes. Having bats as neighbors, considering the smell and the scary looks, can make any one upset, the Miag-aowanons have found them a natural part of the landscape.
Our interest in the flying foxes started from our daily view of the bats flying out of the tree precisely at sunset. One can set the time clock on when they fly at dusk. The massive flight takes about 30 minutes and can be such an amazing sight as they flew over Sulu Garden. This daily event started a deeper curiosity and led us to take a closer look at the fruit bats in their natural habitat—the bubog tree surrounded by an entire ring of houses, just behind the municipal building. We then confirmed the species, thanks with the help from Philippine Bat Champions https://www.facebook.com/PhilippineBatChampions
The Value of Flying Foxes
Flying foxes share a common ancestry with humans, evolving from the same primitive primates millions of years ago. The insect eating and nectar feeders evolved from a distinct evolutionary line. So when you look at our Miag-ao bats, it is closer to us as you might otherwise think, although they do look hideous up close. Remember that bats are the only group of mammals capable of active flight.
Flying-foxes play an important role in our environment by dispersing seeds and pollinating flowering plants. Because they can cover vast distances in a single night, as far as 40 km from their roost, the seeds that attach to their fur can be dispersed over great distances. This ensures higher survival of the plants to grow to maturity. This wider dispersion helps expand our remaining forests and reduce the deforestation in the higher, more inaccessible localities.
So, just be nice to bats; they do have a value besides being the source of myths and fear.
Here is a quick video of the Miag-ao island foxes emerging from their roosting tree. With thousands of bats (estimated in the range of 5,000), the emergence time for the entire colony to fly out in sequence is about 25 minutes starting every night.. Shown here is emergence from the roosting tree as viewed from the evening skies above Sulu Garden. Music is the theme from Star Trek II (Wrath of Khan, Battle in Mutara Nebula).
The clips shows only part of the organized sequence of immature and mature bats flying out of their roost that lasts quite a long time. It is enthralling to see for the first time in real time. Come and see for yourself at Sulu Garden during sunset. See you there!
Sulu Garden, in collaboration with Poseidon Sciences, has been undertaking detailed observations on the behavior of fruit bats in Miag-ao. Flight times at sunset and time to return back to the roosting trees are being recorded via cameras pointed at the bubog trees. The effect of bats on their human neighbors and how human activities may affect bat populations are also being studied as part of a long term conservation effort and towards development of a sustainable tourist attraction for the town.
Related articles and videos about bats.
1.Bats without sonar shed light on evolution of echolocation. Please click here to read the article.
2. The golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus) is a fruit-eating megabat found only in the Philippines. It is one of the planet’s largest bat species, with a wingspan up to 5 feet 6 inches long and a weight of up to 2.6 pounds. Please read more here.
5. Researchers from Bristol University measured biosonar bat calls to calculate what members of group perceived as they foraged for food.
6. March 11, 2015. The popular scientific wisdom about bat aerodynamics is that they are the only flying animals with prominent external ears (pinnae), and it has been widely understood that bat faces, including the pinnae and noseleaves, impede powerful aerodynamics. Please click here.
7. March 3, 2015. Bats have long been one of the animal kingdom’s most feared and misunderstood creatures. Most pop culture associations with them are related to a creepy vampire man seducing women to suck their blood or a witch putting a hex on an undeserving individual. Please click to here continue reading.
8. February 13, 2015. Researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev set out to learn more about the bats’ physiology. Along the way, they also found out the bats had a fondness not only for beetles and moths but also scorpions.Please click here.
9. Bats are important in the ecological balance of our environment, but here is something you need to know, please click here and watch the video.
10. February 17, 2014. Bats Are The Most Fascinating, Bizarre, Generous, Sexy Beasts. For more info, please click here.
11. December 04, 2013. A study by Prof. Wang Linfa and his team from DUKE-NUS Graduate Medical School found that bats are original carriers of SARS virus. Find out more here.
12. October 29, 2013. Know why bats and whales behave in similar ways. Please click here to read.
13. August 11, 2012. Here is a fun animated video of bats teaching us about climate change. A must see for young and old alike. Enjoy. Please click here.
14. August 10, 2012. For the latest on why bats are so important to protect, read the 2012 article from Time Magazine Science writer, Ben Cosgrove.
Why Bats Are So Misunderstood
Bees are all getting the attention, but bats are equally deserving of our sympathy. Read more here.
15. June 21, 2012. Read about the experiences of Rodrigo Medellin on bat conservation work in Mexico.
Bats are Pollinators, Too!
Some insights may also apply for our conservation efforts in Miag-ao. Please click here to read.
16. June 6, 2012. Bat with supertongue seen for first time in Nat Geo series.
The elusive tube-lipped nectar bat shows off its tongue. Please click here to watch the video.
17. May 3, 2012. A blog article about The Palawan Tau’t Bato of Singnapan Valley. Shown here is the Tau’t Bato with native bat catching tools. An interesting story about natives of Palawan. Please click here to read more.
18. September 2, 2011. Flying foxes of Boracay Island dwindling from 15,000 to 2,000.Please click here to read the article.
19. July 29, 2011. Scientists have found that a rainforest vine has evolved dish-shaped leaves to attract bats. Please see article from BBC Nature Science Reporter Victoria Gill.
Plant evolved a bat beckoning beacon.
The study is the first to find a plant with “specialised acoustic features” to help bat pollinators find them using sound.
20. June 21, 2011. Microscopic hairs on bat wings are crucial for flight control.
The bat is the only mammal truly capable of flight, with wings as flexible membranes spread between its arms and hands. Published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr Susanne Sterbing-D’Angelo, of the Institute for Systems Research at the University of Maryland in the USA, report that the tiny hairs spread across the a bat wing’s dorsal and ventral surfaces, act like the Pilot tubes on aircraft wings to help gauge speed and control flight. Read more here.