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Published: October 19, 2012

Fieldwork on "The Bats of Kenya"

Bruce Patterson, MacArthur Curator of Mammals, Integrative Research Center

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MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology-Mammals) just returned from a three-week trip to Kenya's South Coast.  Three counties--Kwale, Mombasa, and Kilifi, lying between Malindi and the Tanzanian border--harbor Kenya's richest bat faunas.  Many congregate in the coral caves which line the coastal plain.  Some of these colonies contain more than 100,000 individual bats and virtually all contain multiple bat species.  The caves are used by both fruit bats and insectivorous bats, and it does not take long to appreciate that each bat species uses particular roosting sites within the caves.  Some are restricted to well-lit, well ventilated parts of caves, while other only inhabit caves that offer dark, secluded, and poorly ventilated pockets.

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology-Mammals) just returned from a three-week trip to Kenya's South Coast.  Three counties--Kwale, Mombasa, and Kilifi, lying between Malindi and the Tanzanian border--harbor Kenya's richest bat faunas.  Many congregate in the coral caves which line the coastal plain.  Some of these colonies contain more than 100,000 individual bats and virtually all contain multiple bat species.  The caves are used by both fruit bats and insectivorous bats, and it does not take long to appreciate that each bat species uses particular roosting sites within the caves.  Some are restricted to well-lit, well ventilated parts of caves, while other only inhabit caves that offer dark, secluded, and poorly ventilated pockets.

Together with colleagues from Karatina University (Paul Webala), National Museums of Kenya (Ruth Makena), Chepkoilel University (David Wechuli), and Kenya Wildlife Services (Sintoiya Taiti), I sampled more than a dozen caves, a national park, a national reserve, and several forests.  A focal part of our work was to record the echolocation calls of the insectivorous bat species in a portable flight chamber.  Released into this chamber, a bat seeking an exit emits ultrasonic signals which are recorded by Webala's Anabat insturment.  Once Webala assembles a library of balls, he will be able to identify the bats flying overhead remotely--using the recorder--without the need to net or trap them.

These links lead to photo albums: Caves and Forests and Kenyan Bats

This one opens a one-minute clip of some of our field activities: YouTube clip

The Bats of Kenya project is a three year collaboration that also involves Carl W. Dick (Western Kentucky University) and Dave Waldien (Bat Conservation International).  Look for our upcoming publication, scheduled to appear in November 2012:

Patterson, B.D., & P.W. Webala.  2012.  Keys to the bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) of East Africa. Fieldiana: Life and Earth Sciences, 6: 1-63.

And check back for updates concerning the next expedition, scheduled to take place in December 2012 and January 2013.


Bruce Patterson
MacArthur Curator of Mammals, Integrative Research Center

I study several topics in evolutionary biology, focusing on the diversification, distribution and conservation of mammals. The breadth of my research is testimony to the facts that no interesting biological questions are ever fully answered and progress towards answering them invariably opens up a variety of others.  Curiosity, opportunity, and a bit of wanderlust have diversified my program and caused it to span two continents.