A woman in Costa Rica has spent the last ten years of her life surrounded by bats. Her name is Ana Iris Cruz, but her neighbors call her Batgirl. She lives in a farm in Cedral, in the Monte de Oros canton, province of Puntarenas, and her chiropteran friends hang from the rafters of a small produce storage shed in her house.

Image La Teja
Image: La Teja

According to tabloid newspaper La Teja, Mrs. Cruz has a nearly symbiotic relationship with more than a hundred bats. Ten years ago, she noticed that a few bats enjoyed spending their days in her storeroom. Rather than setting traps or shooing away her new guests, Mrs. Cruz learned more about these flying mammals and contacted scientists at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).

Mrs. Cruz found out that her home and the environs had optimal conditions for bats to enjoy, and that their arrival presented a chance to improve her quality of life. She is an organic farmer in an area that mostly cultivates oranges, lemons and coffee as cash crops and plenty of other fruits, herbs and vegetable for subsistence. Once she learned about the important role of bats in her ecosystem, she made the proper adjustments.

It just so happens that Mrs. Cruz’ storeroom has the right temperature, darkness and height that bats enjoy. She secured the doors and windows of her shed so that the wind would not force them open. She is also mindful of her neighbors’ curiosity; to this end, she set up a special window for viewing.

As an organic farmer, Mrs. Cruz does not use chemical substances to fertilize her crops or to control pests. Bats take care of these two aspects of farming: They have a voracious appetite for insects, and their excrement is one of the best fertilizers. To this end, Mrs. Cruz planted fruit trees around her property to make it easier for the bats to feed.

Bats are nocturnal animals; when they go out at night they feed on fruit and insects, and they also contribute to pollination. When they return to their home in Mrs. Cruz’ property, they excrete the seeds of the fruits they consume. Mrs. Cruz sets up soil under the bats to make her fertilizer mix.

Bernal Rodriguez, a UCR biologist expert on the order Chiroptera, has stated that Mrs. Cruz’ actions are precisely the goals of bioliteracy. Popular culture has spread many misconceptions about bats, and thus they set up traps or shoo them away when they should be welcoming them. Professor Rodriguez is happy to see bioliteracy turn into harmony with nature.

The Growth of Bioliteracy in Costa Rica

Scientific tourism in Costa Rica is paying off in many ways. We recently hosted the 16th North American Symposium on Bat Research (NASBR). In early September, a Herpetological Symposium and Field Exploration will take place in Sarapiquí, providing those dedicated to the study and conservation of reptilian and amphibian species an excellent opportunity to see Costa Rica’s rich diversity of these species.

In addition to enjoying revenue from scientific tourism, people in Costa Rica are becoming more bioliterate. Teachers in Costa Rica find that students perk up when previously unknown facts about their country pop up. For example, a topic to introduce a lesson might be: “Did you know that bats are the most diverse and interesting mammals on Earth? We have so many bats in Costa Rica that scientists from around the world meet here to study them. Bats are important to the agricultural cycle…” and so on.

A 2002 article in BATS magazine, the journal of Bat Conservation International, described a scene at the La Tirimbilina Biological Reserve in La Virgen de Sarapiqui, in the Heredia canton:

“The tropical forest rang with the laughter of delighted youngsters. Four schoolchildren, their faces scrunched in concentration, maneuvered gingerly across the clearing, each with a marble riding precariously in a spoon held by clenched teeth. They were the bats and the marbles were pollen. When they reached the baskets masquerading as flowers, they dumped the marbles, “pollinated” the plants, and kept the forest healthy and growing. Then another crew of “bats” took off, amid the cheers of classmates. And, at least for these kids, Costa Rica’s bats were starting to become familiar friends.”

Nature conservation efforts and scientific research in Costa Rica are increasing bioliteracy among Ticos. Many high school students can refer to species by their scientific name, and enrollment in ecological and bio-scientific careers in Costa Rica’s universities is on the rise. The benefits of bioliteracy are perfectly illustrated by the work of Mrs. Cruz, the Batgirl of Cedral.

Aricle by Costa Rica Star