A rare Florida bat that has inspired moonlit hunts in Coral Gables, a Facebook page and an endorsement from Bacardi rum and that has landed in the middle of a battle to build a Walmart in its endangered habitat is finally getting its close-up.
And just in time for Halloween: They are creepy cute.
U.S. wildlife managers announced Wednesday that they have made what they believe is the first video of the elusive Florida bonneted bat in a wild roost in Central Florida.
In the 81-second video shot at the Avon Park Air Force Range, five of the fuzzy, trumpet-eared bats can be seen squeezed into the crevice of a pine tree, turning their heads, scratching and even yawning. A biology intern made the video by attaching a camera to a pole and aiming it at the roost, discovered last year during the base’s annual count of red-cockaded woodpeckers.
“This is a remarkable and significant find,” Larry Williams, chief of ecological services in Florida for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. “It’s the first active natural roost that we’ve confirmed.”
As of three weeks ago, the bats were still inhabiting the roost, officials said.
Bonneted bats once nested and foraged in pine rocklands that covered much of Miami’s spiny ridge between Florida City and the Miami River as well as forests on the west coast. Large and less agile than smaller bats, the bonneted bats need wide open spaces to hunt. But as the forests disappeared, so did the bats.
When U.S. wildlife managers added the bats to the endangered species list last November, their numbers had dropped to less than a thousand. Biologists are now trying to determine how the few remaining bats live so they can better protect their habitat.
Last month, a volunteer working with a Florida International University bat biologist discovered the first documented roost on the east coast, tucked between barrel tiles on a roof at a vacant house near the Coral Gables Granada Golf Course.
Area biologists and bat watchers have long known the bats foraged on the golf course, but never located an elusive roost, hard to find because the bats live in small numbers of four to eight and fly high, making them hard to detect.
When bat biologist Kirston Bohn moved to the neighborhood, she mounted an all-out search to track down a roost, training volunteers who loaded software into their smartphones and iPads to detect the bats’ high-pitched song. Nurse Ingrid Navas finally made the big find while out for an early morning walk with her three dogs in September.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Ken Warren said Wednesday that the agency is still trying to make arrangements to study the roost.
Homeowner Frederic Hassid, a one-time South Beach club owner who founded the ’90s hotspot Amnesia, said he has contacted federal wildlife officials and plans on working with them as he remodels the house. He’s intrigued by his new tenants, but said so far they’ve stayed out of sight.
“I don’t know where they are,” he said Wednesday. “I think they’re hiding from me.”