Forest Speaks

Mammals that fly!

In Panama there are 120 species of bats. In the entire U.S. there are only 44 species. There are roughly 70 different species on Barro Colorado.

Why are there so many species here?

Each plays a different role. Bats in the tropics eat fruit, pollen, nectar, small animals, blood and insects. Temperate bats eat insects only.

Fishing bat. Noctilio leporinus Photo:Merlin Tuttle

Bats that eat nectar carry pollen from one tree to the other. Without bats, various types of trees can't reproduce themselves. One bat feeds on fish!

Bat pollenating a Pseudobombax flower. Photo: Merlin Tuttle

A bat carrying a katydid. Photo: Merlin Tuttle


Among insect eating bats, some catch their prey as it flies through the air. Others catch prey on tree trunks, walls or other stationary objects.

Saccopteryx biliniata Photo: Elisabeth Kalko

This bat sometimes hangs from the screens of the Barro Colorado Visitors Center. It also roosts in trees. Every night when a male leaves his roost, he does a flutter dance and sprays the females with perfume to identify them as his family harem.

Vampire bat Vampyrum Rotundus Photo: Merlin Tuttle

Of the 120 bat species in Panama, only a single species, the vampire bat, can harm humans. It is uncommon in the forest, but more common in cattle ranching areas.