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Darkness makes the light stronger..


Manzanillo National Park, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

This weekend I have been exploring Manzanillo National Park with my good friend George Madani, who arrived on Friday. This is as about as far south in Costa Rica as you can go before you’re at the Panamanian border. The National Park includes some gorgeous beaches and one of the finest reefs in Costa Rica for snorkelling. Along the stunning shoreline we found a mother and baby sloth sunbathing in a tree, literally right on the beach, where they were both clearly enjoying making the most of the cooling sea breeze.  Sloths are are just amazing creatures and it was so good to watch them both laying on their backs on the branch that acted like a hammock as they soaked up the sun – it seems a good dose of UV exposure is good for all of us!

…Unless you’re a nocturnal bat that is! IMG_4677

I’ve seen a fair share of bats on this trip, but this weekend I wanted to see if we could find an old shoreline cave I found many years ago when I very first visited Costa Rica. I remember it being particularly good for bats, but wondered if it would still be the same after all these years?

This was no stinky bat cave, where you’re up to knees in guano and insects, but the Hilton of bat caves, where the tide of the blue caribbean sea washes it out on a daily basis and where the hole in the ceiling allows the bats uninterrupted access to the plentiful insects and fruits of the rainforest above.  We waited for a pause in the breakers that crashed against the rocks at the entrance, that would surely crash us along with them if we didn’t get our timing right, – and with a quick dash we were in.


Chihuahua Bat, Peropteryx macrotis, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

I needn’t have worried – for it was still very  much a 5* bat roost! We found 3 different species within a minute of entering – the smallest species being only approximately 6cms, which was the Lesser Dog-like Bat, Peropteryx macrotis (don’t you just love common names!). I have to say that these little bats do actually look a little like a Chihuahua, with their long ears and funny little faces! Maybe these were the ‘handbag bats’ of this bat Hilton 🙂

Anyway, it was very cool to see them and we managed to take some really close up pictures of them without them seeming at all bothered –  some where so chilled that they hung from one leg right in front of the lens. In close up you could see just how really incredible these little creatures were.

Greater Spear-nosed Bat, Phyllostomus hastatus, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

Greater Spear-nosed Bat, Phyllostomus hastatus, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray


We scanned the cave for more bats, and by a narrow ledge that had sea water frothing below there appeared to be some loud squeaking noises coming from above. Risking the fall I balanced on the ledge, and peered up into the opening of a hole in the rock which was directly over my head.


Flashlight in hand, I raised it to see a large dark brown bat looking straight down at me. This was larger than a vampire bat, and certainly more formidable looking than any Chihuahua bat. I took my photo (above), then let it be.

Emerging from the darkness of the cool humid cave back into such strong tropical sunlight was like waking from a dream – and it brought it home to me just how far apart some groups of neotropical mammals have truly evolved. Whether a sloth in the sun or a bat in the blackness, every single creature I come across just strengthens my wonderment in nature.  – Except maybe for the mozzies!

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