Animal Profile: The Seba Bat
by Claire Bullaro
This animal profile appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of ZooNews.

In the newly renovated lower floor of the Kinsman Children’s Zoo is a nocturnal exhibit with a group of bats, Carollia perspicillata, or Seba’s Short-tailed Bat. These fascinating creatures are a species found from Southern Mexico down into central South America. They can be found in moist evergreen or deciduous forests generally from elevations below 1,000 meters but occasionally up to 1,500 meters. They are fruit eaters and prefer the fruits of plants in the Piperaceae family from which we get white and black peppercorns among other things. They will also feed on the fruits of more than 38 other plant species and will also dine on pollen, nectar, and insects when ripe fruit is in short supply. They have an excellent sense of smell as might be expected for animals that need to find ripe fruit. Their most active flying time is just after sunset.

A bat which eats up to 35 fruits of a Piper plant each night will then disperse from 350 to 2,500 seeds per night making them a significant factor in plant dispersal. They are also important in pollination of some plant species.

These bats are found in small groups of up to 100 and prefer to roost in caves, hollow trees, and even road tunnels. They roost together in groups of bachelors (adult male with subadult males) or one male with many females. Weighing only an average of 15 grams they do not take up a lot of space. Our colony of all males numbers approximately 80. Breeding season is dependent on fruit or flower supply and a single baby weighing 5 grams is born after a 95-day gestation. The average life span in captivity is 12 years. In the wild snakes, raptors and nocturnal tree-climbing mammals may prey on them.

Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly. Their scientific classification is in the order Chiroptera, which means hand-wing. Similar to the birds, their wings are made from their arms and fingers that are elongated and webbed with skin. Also, like birds, they have to be light in weight but with strong muscles for flight. For a long time it was speculated that bats hung upside-down to facilitate quick flight; they could just drop down immediately into flight. However, some research has shown that their leg bones are elongated and quite thin to keep their weight down and if they landed on them there was danger of fractures. So hanging from their feet keeps the weight off the leg bones and also allows a quick get away when they take off in flight.

Seba’s Short-tailed Bats are quite abundant in the wild and since they have a large range and are very adaptable with regard to food sources they are not in any danger. They do not seem to be afflicted with the white-nose plague that is killing off as many as 90% of some species of Eastern and Southern North American bats.