Miraculous glow of Bolivian bats

Written by Staff Writer

Bolivia’s Kuelap region is a temperate rainforest and home to many species of bats, including bats that give off a powerful pulsing light.

At the heart of this breathtaking, cloud-shrouded highland plateau, however, is a voracious host of hungry predators: the enormous curlew.

An amazing flight of around 5,000 feet is common in the seasons for the wriggling bathers.

But the long journeys can take a toll on the bats, according to researchers led by chemist Sonia Haro at the National Institute of Aquatic Resources (INRA) in Cochabamba.

Passionately protective of its habitat, the species is also slow to react to change, meaning the little bathers may suffer its wrath as they plunge deep into the rainforest.

Haro tested the capacity of the bats and their prey to get out of peril when emitting tiny amounts of intense ultraviolet rays.

The volatile molecules she observed are all the same, essentially in their millions.

But with vast quantities of light and little time to adjust, those milliseconds count in the struggle between predator and prey.

Even when bat rays only emit high energy emission for a few seconds, these light sources are enough to stun the birds and marine life- eaters they try to swoop on.

The Curlew crab in its natural environment. Credit: Robin Smith/King & Woodhead

The light produced by the rays also appears damaging to the bats’ eyesight as it causes them to momentarily lose sight of the predators they are trying to defend.

“We have seen all types of predators using intense light, such as crabs in the sea, high-energy plants and animals like frogs,” said Haro.

“If we look at more general examples, heavy stressors (such as light pressure, solar radiation) can kill bees, fish, ants and many plants.”

Much of Latin America experiences the concentrated sun at this time of year.

A major forest fire takes place across the vast forests in Kuelap (a name taken from the Chachapoyas Plateau, which means “really big fire”) every few years, just as the mammals are most at risk of facing extinction.

“We think that this thermal lightning hits [local] hot springs and causes big, dense, hot clouds,” Haro said.

A major forest fire that had killed up to 6,000 animals at its peak over the course of 2012 happened in these very same areas.

Groundhogs, meerkats and sloths are just some of the animals threatened by this high-energy wave of light that first appears in the forest.

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