I previously introduced you to the most vocal wildlife species on Isla Palenque via my monkey-spotting slideshow featuring the island’s native howlers. Without an ounce of effort, guests of The Resort at Isla Palenque will see and hear the monkeys throughout their stay, thanks to structures that successfully avoid infringement on the surrounding jungle.
For a glimpse of their softer-spoken but equally endearing mammalian cousins, hike to the bat cave tucked away on one of the two islets off of Isla Palenque’s Northeast Coast.
Here, a multitude of tiny bats fill a shallow cave with the sounds of their chirps and squeaks. Small bodies of stormy gray velvet flutter softly around the ceiling; initially agitated by my presence, they quickly calm down enough for me to take some photos.
Insect-eating bats typically appear as the ugly stepsister to fruit-eating species, who look like little flying foxes. But for an insectivorous species, the bats on Isla Palenque are uncommonly adorable, in spite (or because) of their smushed little faces. It’s an incarnation of “cute” made famous by pugs, and the tropical version on display in Isla Palenque’s bat cave is delightful.
When you discover that these bats are the champions of pest control, you’ll surely love them even more. According to biologists at Panama’s Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, bats consume roughly twice as many plant-eating insects as do birds. The healthy bat population on Isla Palenque is one of several natural factors working in favor of the resort’s organic farm.
The value of bats was not lost on pre-Columbian societies in Panama. These night hunters assumed mythical proportion in Panamanian folklore, signifying darkness and the unknown, connection to the supernatural world, and great power borne upon tiny wings.
Choosing to revere rather than fear, the early people of Panama incorporated bat symbolism into their jewelry designs; decking out their leaders and warriors in gleaming gold pendants and collars as emblems of their superiority. Many of these have been recovered in Coclé Province, including one splendid necklace dated between 800-1500 B.C.E.
Unfortunately, Hollywood misrepresentations and the vampire craze of recent years cause many people to associate bats with evil. Misconceptions abound. Some folks assume all bats are bloodsuckers. Even some Panamanian farmers will exterminate any bat they come across because they can’t distinguish a fruit- or insect-eater from a blood-eating species. A shame, since Panama is home to many fascinating (and harmless) bats, including two species of incredibly rare white bats.
Samuel Valdes and Briant Dominici, a pair of native Panamanian biologists whom I had the pleasure of meeting during my time in Panama, are working to share their knowledge of Panama wildlife in an effort to counteract the ill-effects of ignorance. You can meet the biologists in my “Lessons of the Jungle” video for a closer look at Isla Palenque’s flora and fauna, casting aside misconceptions and discovering new reasons to appreciate the island’s biodiverse ecosystems.
For what it’s worth, I think the little bats on Isla Palenque do a pretty good job of dispelling misconceptions all by themselves. I’m confident any Isla Palenque explorer who visits the bat cave tucked away on Isleta Amelia will come away with a deep appreciation for these useful, adorable creatures.