November 2013 Volume 10

Fortis from the Land of Your Breadfruit Ancestors – Bats

Michael O. Walters
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They are coming! They are coming!  I can see them in the distant sky flying towards us (approach photograph).  They look like WW-II fighter planes, but could it be in this the 21st Century?  I can see them better now and I see wings flapping.  Now they now look like birds, very large birds.  As they get closer though, I note a difference (closer photograph).  They look remarkably similar to the icon used by batman (overhead photograph).  Now I know, they are bats; White-naped flying fox (pe’a  funua) to be precise.

It is dusk and these large bats of American Samoa, with up to a three-foot wing span, have just awakened from their day-time slumber, gliding and flapping towards the breadfruits trees for dining. 

I have my camera ready for some shots when I hear Mandy calling from her porch “Mike, some are over here” as she points towards the sky.  I try to photograph these ever moving and elusive creatures as night approaches.  Each bat settles beside a mature breadfruit, hang upside down as bats do, and begins their nightly feast.  Ethan, my bat spotter, with his flashlight ready, whispers; “I think one landed up in that breadfruit tree”.  He shone his light to the spot and says “there he is”. 

With a 300 mm lens on my hand held camera, I pointed towards the spot I thought Ethan was showing me, pressed the shutter and the camera flash illuminated the spot for an instant of time.  Good, now I have a photograph, or so I thought.  In reviewing the photograph, all I could see were breadfruit leaves, breadfruit stems, and the mighty breadfruit itself, but no bat.   Missed, I thought (missed photograph)!  Ethan then said; “not to worry, he is still up there, let’s try again”.  By now it is completely dark and, believe me, trying to photograph something that you cannot see, and using the manual focus on your camera is no easy task. 

Anyway, I tried again, and Ethan and I were elated as we could clearly see a large bat in the review frame of my camera (hanging photograph).  O.K, now that we have “tasted blood” lets, get some more, I thought.  As I reviewed photograph after photograph (just starting photograph), I noted the large bulging eyes (looking back photograph).  Surely these creatures could see, but then as we shone the flashlight on them, and as the powerful flash erased all remnants of the night, the bat we focused on did not flinch. 

Was he as blind as a bat?  “Not so” was what the internet showed me  In fact fruit bats see extremely well, unlike their insect feeding cousins which relay on echolocation to seek out their food.

These fruit bats really do not eat the flesh of breadfruit.  “They tend to consume only the “juice” of fruits and leaves. To do this, a bat will carefully chew on food (usually eating around large seeds), press the pulp against the roof of its mouth with its tongue, squeeze and suck in the juice, then spit out most of the pulp in pellets called ejecta.” (ejecta photograph)

Here in American Samoa, I have heard stories of ghosts (aitu) and many times it seems to be associated with trees and night.  For example, there is a tree at location X, do not walk under that tree because a ghosts lives in there and will harm you.  I wonder, are any of these ghosts in fact the White-naped flying fox bats (pe’a  funua) of American Samoa? 

The picture I am seeing is ejecta falling on some pedestrian, perhaps a little rustling sound of the bats occasionally, and a little poop falling here and there.  In the darkness of the night, and not knowing that bats are quietly feeding above, I think I too would run for it, never walk under that tree again, and in order to protect my family and friends,  I would spread the words that aitu lives in that tree.   Wouldn’t you?

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