AlthoughÂ we know from fossil evidence that the bat has existed for about 50 millionÂ years, there is a charming Ojibwe legend about how the bat came to be.
Early oneÂ morning, as Sun was awakening to rise in the sky, he fell into a forest of veryÂ tall trees. After searching in vain across the forest floor, the animals gaveÂ up looking for him, resigned to live forever in darkness. Just then a brave,Â small, brown squirrel volunteered to climb into the forest canopy to search forÂ Sun and there squirrel found him, tangled in branches and dimming withÂ exhaustion from his fight to free himself.
SunÂ pleaded with squirrel to help him. Squirrel began chewing through the branches,Â becoming hotter and hotter as his fur and tail burned away while SunâsÂ light became stronger as each capturing branch fell away. Squirrel wasÂ determined and continued to chew, finally freeing Sun at great cost to himself, for squirrel had lost his sight, his tail, and hisÂ lovely brown fur in Sunâs fiery heat.
But Sun,Â being so very grateful, bestowed upon squirrel the ability to fly like theÂ birds, see better than the other animals in theÂ forest, and have fur so soft that it was beyond description. Sun turnedÂ squirrel into a bat; a flying mammal.
Of theÂ 900 plus species of bats in the world, the CaribbeanÂ holds a very interesting species of bat, the Bull Dog bat also known as theÂ Fishing Bat. Belonging to the order Chiroptera orÂ âhand wingâ, bats have the same number of bones in their hand-likeÂ wings as does the human hand. The âthumbâ in all bats is a smallÂ hook used for hanging from branches or clinging toÂ rock walls.
The BullÂ Dog bat is unique in that the ends of the wing bones have evolved into extendedÂ talon-like claws, similar to those of eagles, which the bat uses to snatch fishÂ as it flies over the waterâs surface. Contrary to the OjibweÂ legend and much centuries old disinformation, bats are not blind; however,Â their powers of echolocation guide them more so than their sight.
The BullÂ Dog bat, earning that name by reminding early scientists of their canine bullÂ dogs at home, has an exceptionally sophisticated echolocation ability oftenÂ compared to that of dolphins. Coming out of their roosts as the sun sets, BullÂ Dog bats have shown that they can echolocate a fish fin that breaks the surfaceÂ no more than 1/16th of an inch.
The batsÂ then swoop in to gaff fish up to 4-5â in length and as they fly away theyÂ move the fish into their mouths with hand-like wings. They also demonstrate anÂ ability to ârememberâ a particularly fertile fishing ground where,Â instead of echolocating, they simply skim the surfaceÂ as they probe the water with their claws and impale their prey.
WhileÂ most bats cannot take off from a flat surface, having to climb into a hangingÂ position to launch themselves, the Bull Dog bats can land on water and swimÂ across the surface using their wings as paddles. Fishermen throughout theÂ Caribbean islands have reported seeing Bull Dog batsÂ floating amongst flocks of pelicans in the evening, waiting for schools of baitÂ fish and minnows to move toward the surface from the depths. The people on theÂ islands of Antigua andÂ Barbuda honored their population of Bull DogÂ fishing bats with a postage stamp.
AdultÂ Bull Dog bats have bodies approximately 5 inches in length with wingspans of 20Â inches. Their faces are furless with a pointed muzzle, hair lipped mouths, andÂ tube-like noses that extend slightly beyond the mouth. Upon catching a fish,Â they chew it with teeth powerful enough to crush bone and then store theÂ masticated fish in elastic cheek pouches, continuing to fish until dawn whenÂ they return to their roosts.
TheyÂ roost in caves, rocky crevices, and hollow trees near sea shores, rivers, andÂ lakes but rarely amongst human habitats unlike other bat species. BachelorÂ males roost separately from females who remain with their same femaleÂ companions for years. Although there is some variation depending on theÂ availability of food and weather, Bull Dog bats generally mate in the Fall, delivering one pup per year after a two monthÂ gestation. The pup is cared for by both parents until it reaches adulthood andÂ can fly at the age of about one month.
WhileÂ there are no solid statistics on Bull Dog bat populations, what we do know isÂ that all bats, and particularly the Bull Dog bats, are under great pressureÂ from human encroachment. As more and more people move to our shores, the BullÂ Dog batsâ habitat is being destroyed. Caves are sealed over or are
disturbed by human intrusion. Crevices are filled in to create buildable lots for homes and resorts. Trees are cut down asÂ land is cleared. Water is polluted and reefs are destroyed causing fish to dieÂ or move elsewhere and the bats are disappearing for lack of habitable territoryÂ and food. And, although it was once common to see the fishing bats, it has nowÂ become a rare and extraordinary sight.