Creature Feature: Tent-making bats

Tent-making Bats (Uroderma bilobatum)

Bats (Chiroptera) are the second most diverse order of mammals, after rodents. You can travel nearly anywhere in the world and find several species of bats that are uniquely adapted to that area. If you find yourself in Central America, you may be fortunate enough to encounter a palm tree with severely drooping leaves, housing one or more of these cute fellows! Tent-making bats (Uroderma bilobatum) have the remarkable ability to construct shelters from large leaves, nibbling at the leaf supports until the outer leaf collapses and forms a ‘tent’ – hence their name!

A group of Tent-making bats roosting in their tent. Note the bent leaf ribs that create the tent structure.

Usually tents are made out of single, large leaves, however some groups of bats in Barro Colorado, Panama, have been observed using multiple leaves to construct more elaborate tents. These bats typically roost together in groups of 2 to 15, mainly to keep warm. Unlike other species, however, these bats aren’t picky about who they snuggle with, since they all get to stay nice and warm together!

These bats are in the family Phyllostomidae, the leaf-nosed bats. While many bats use echolocation, leaf-nosed bats are unique in that they echolocate through their nostrils rather than their mouths. While U. bilobatum is not the only species of tent-making bat (several other species exist that make different shaped tents out of different leaves), U. bilobatum has been seen to use tents made by other bats when they are available!

There may be an element of sexual selection in tent-making, where males make tents for females to judge and select among. This is somewhat controversial, however, as females have also been observed making tents. Hopefully future studies will shed more light on the crafty nature of this fascinating creature of the night!

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