May 15, 2018
- as seen by -Sarah H. Olson
I’m simply awestruck by hammer-headed fruit bats (Hypsignathus monstrosus). Close-up any given feature, eye, fur, nose, ear, wing, or foot, is extraordinary. In hand, whiskers appear in patterns seemingly unique to each individual, and the nasal and lip folds of the adult males, like the one shown, provide a sculptural finish to the overall moose-head look. As we handle them to collect samples, they show distinct behaviors ranging from docile to teeth masher, hence the thick leather gloves. Functionally, as the largest fruit bats in Africa (males weigh in around one pound), they are flying seed dispersal machines, critical to equatorial forest health. In fact, this last mission we captured one, fig-in-mouth-in-flight.
The GPS trackers we deployed, and seen on this bat, will help us understand the ecology and behavior of hammer-headed bats. The Wildlife Conservation Society is partnering with the U.S. National Institutes of Health because these same bats are suspected to be asymptomatic reservoirs for Ebola virus. Aside from threats to human health, this deadly virus is linked to massive declines in populations of western lowland gorillas in Congo and Gabon. Our job as scientists is to find a way to prevent Ebola outbreaks and help conserve these bats for future generations, one bat at time.