Animals have developed the power of flight several times. The insects were the first to take to the skies, and they became the most diverse group of animals in the world. Feathered dinosaurs grew wings and became birds, surviving when the rest died out. A third group used flight to colonize St. Martin while their fellow mammals could not.
Bats are St. Martin’s only native mammals. At least, they are the only ones alive today. Two prehistoric rodents lived on St. Martin, but they were long gone by the time recorded history began here. All other mammals on the island were brought by humans. This includes the wild ones—rat, mongoose, mongoose, raccoon, monkey—as well as our pets and farm animals.
Bats have used the power of flight to diversify, adopt many different lifestyles, and travel. There are over 1,000 species of bats in the world, and eight are found on St. Martin. Our bats pursue a variety of foods and make their homes in a variety of places.
The Velvety Free-tailed Bat eats insects and often lives beneath corrugated zinc roof sheets. It is a small bat, often seen in neighborhoods. It comes out around dusk to catch flying insects. To our benefit, mosquitos are often part of its dinner.
The Jamaican Fruit Bat and Antillean Cave Bat are larger, and they eat fruit. They are often seen around fruit trees at night, including almond, mango and palm trees. These bats nest in large groups in caves, especially the Grotte du Puits in the lowlands. The floor of the cave is covered in fruit pits brought back to the cave by the bats.
One of our most remarkable bats is the Fisherman Bat. This species uses echolocation to sense ripples made by fish on the surface of the water. Then it swoops down and grabs the fish with its large feet. Of course, all of this is done in complete darkness!
Bats have adapted to Caribbean islands, becoming new species along the way. The Antillean Cave Bat is found only in the Caribbean. The Lesser Antillean Tree Bat and Lesser Antillean Funnel-eared Bat are found only in the Lesser Antilles. The only mammals to fly, and our only native mammals, they have truly made the Caribbean their home.
You can learn more about St. Martin’s bats at Amuseum Naturalis, located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case. The museum is free and open 4-8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Get more info at http://amuseumnaturalis.com.