A Bat and a Bat Fly Seen in Kenya - Observation of the Week, 3/2/2021

Our Observation of the Week is this Bent-winged Bat (Miniopterus sp.) and its Nycteribiid Bat Fly (Family Nycteribiidae) parasite, seen in Kenya by @macykrishnamoorthy!

Macy Krishnamoorthy originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but after studying lowland gorillas at the Buffalo Zoo with Dr. Sue Margulis’s team, she realized research was her true interest. She took Dr. Margulis’s “Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in South Africa” course at Canisius College and 

We followed troops of monkeys through the mountains, tried eating mopane worms (which are really caterpillars), and tried mist-netting for bats....and caught nothing! The next year, when I returned as the TA for the course, we caught a singular Myotis welwitschii (Welwitch's bat).  But that's all it took and I was hooked. I wanted to do fieldwork and I wanted to do it with bats. 

Currently a PhD candidate at Texas Tech University, Macy’s research has focused on baobab trees, which are pollinated by fruit bats over much of their range. “My work,” she says, 

has focused on the landscape and individual tree characteristics (e.g., height and girth of the tree) that influence the number of fruit produced and identifying differences between hawkmoth and fruit bat pollinators that might change the number of fruit a baobab produces.

At the core of it, I am really interested in the fields of ecology, mammalogy, and natural history with emphasis on ecosystem services. How can research in these fields influence our perceptions of animals (such as bats!) and provide information for conservation decisions and wildlife management?

Originally returning to southern Africa to start her work, she and her colleagues used citizen science to determine that baobabs in that region are more likely to be pollinated by hawkmoths. So, they picked up and moved to Kenya, where she encountered the bent-winged bat and its fly parasite.

My first few nights, we mist-netted for bats at the water sites. This was extremely different from my experiences netting in the United States so far, the diversity and sheer number of bats was overwhelming. On a good night netting in Texas and New Mexico (depending on where you set up), we would catch maybe 20 bats a night on a good night and all from two families of bats.  In Nuu, Kenya on two nights combined (and we shut the nets earlier than typical), we caught 90 individual bats from seven families. Thanks to Paul Webala for helping to ID/assist with the research! One of these bats was the pictured Miniopterus species and its bat fly.  It's probably the largest bat fly I have ever seen on a bat.  As someone who's interested in the bats, I've done very little with their parasites, but know that the parasites are relatively understudied groups.

Don’t all bat wings bend? What makes the wings of Miniopterus so special that they’re called “bent-winged” bats? These tiny (about 10 cm in length) insectivores have relatively large wings (wingspan = 30-35 cm) and the third finger of each wing is particularly long. “In flight,” says Darren Naish, “this particularly long finger gives these bats extremely long, narrow wings. They're fast (though not particularly manoeuvrable) fliers in open spaces, and are also good long-distance colonisers: some species are long-distance seasonal migrants.”

This bat’s parasite may not look like a fly (note the lack of wings), but Nycteribiids are definitely in the order Diptera, and specialize in parasitizing bats. Adapted to living in caves along with their hosts, many lack eyes or only have rudimentary ones, and they are quite host specific. Both sexes feed on blood, but females will leave their host every so often to attach one fully grown larva to the cave wall. The larva has developed inside of her, going through multiple instars, and soon pupates after being deposited on the wall. After several weeks it will emerge and search for a host.

“I use iNaturalist because I really love the idea that anyone can be a scientist” says Macy (above). “I think the platform encourages people to pay attention to the natural world around them and engage in cataloguing what they see.” She first used iNat years ago out of curiosity, but tells me 

Now, I think there is value in everyone whether citizen scientist to someone actually working with the taxa to upload their sightings. When I was netting bats in Kenya, it wasn't the main focus of my research (I was curious if there were fruit bat species there that could pollinate baobabs) and hadn't collected enough data to publish from. But it was still useful data, so one night, hunting through old photos, I began uploading them. From the ecologist/mammalogist side, I'm very interested in finding ways to use the data collated here.

Side note from Macy:

I could also go into the numerous reasons that bats are cool! Firstly, they are the only mammals to fly. They're the second most diverse mammalian order, after rodents. They're a small animal and though small animals tend to have a short lifespan, bats defy the rules and (longest living wild bat is reportedly at 41 years). Bats are slow reproducers, having only one or two (depending on species) pups per year. Their ability to live with a variety of diseases without becoming sick is also an exceptional feat, physiologically speaking.

- Take a look at several past observations of the week about bats!

- Calvin’s report about bats is woefully fact-free. 

Posted by tiwane tiwane, March 03, 2021 05:02



@jakob You may find this interesting

Posted by zarek 4 months ago (Flag)

That's a very interesting observation @macykrishnamoorthy! I didn't previously know that bat flies existed, and I'm still kinda surprised that this is a sufficiently stable ecological niche for two whole families to evolve similar adaptations to lose their wings and eyes.

Posted by rupertclayton 4 months ago (Flag)

Super interesting! Thanks so much Macy for the pics and all the great info!

Posted by susanhewitt 4 months ago (Flag)

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by feistyone 4 months ago (Flag)

Bat flies are the closest thing to facehuggers I think we have in the natural world

Posted by nickcarlson 4 months ago (Flag)

Wow, thats really informative, I had never heard of bat flies before. Thank you! I am also curious to learn more about your work with the Baobab trees.


Posted by cesarcastillo 3 months ago (Flag)

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