TNB Night Owl – Toilet Bats

Bat in flight, USDA photo by the Forest Service

While surfing Twitter today, I happened upon a story so heinous, disgusting, and terrifying that it is perfect for an October night. Whether it should have been an official TNB Night Owl PSA to save the innocent, I will leave up to your personal sensibilities.

A New York Times article entitled “When You Go to the Loo, a Bat Might Go Boo” was the launching point for tonight’s fright fest. A fright fest that will give you nightmares. Or maybe it’s just me.

In certain parts of Africa, Tanzania to be precise, apparently research camps are equipped with a thing called a “pit toilet”. Over an eight-foot pit is a concrete slab with a small hole. When nature calls, a researcher will do their business over this portal, by squatting over it. Suddenly “you realize you are not alone. Maybe it is a slight gust of air or something even more corporeal.” It just might be a toilet bat. You heard that right. A toilet bat.

Seems like, and the researchers have researched this and published their findings in the September edition of the African Journal of Ecology, these particular kinds of latrines are a place where some types of roosting bats make a happy home. The dung heap in the pit generates heat and the small hole in the concrete slab is too small for most predators to enter. That’s all well and good, but they are startled by falling feces and tend to fly around.

For example, Dr. Leejiah Dorwood, a researcher from Wales, says, “I’ve had the soft, leathery caress of a bat’s wing against my buttocks while have a poo.”

Director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project in Tanzania and senior research fellow at Oxford University, Dr. Amy Dickman, told the Times, “Suddenly you would feel one charge upwards and launch itself between your legs.” She continued, “Then you have this furry mammal just flying into your behind.”

A bat ecologist named Sospeter Kibiwot encountered his first toilet bat as a child and the experience inspired him to learn more about bats. [Cue the Batman jokes.]

In addition to Tanzania, bats have been found roosting in drop toilets in Madagascar and Zambia and found in sewers in Mauritius, according to Angelica Menchaca, general director of Global South Bats. Dr. Dorward felt these bats were not recognized in the scientific literature, so he set out to survey the occupants of drop toilets around research camps. Six of the seven latrines housed bats, with the oldest toilet harboring nine to thirteen bats.

Not just any bat can take up residency in a pit toilet. Nycteris, or slit-faced bats, have the right wing shape that allows them fly in and out of the hole in the slab and maneuver in the small space below. Dr. Bruce Patterson, mammal curator of at the Chicago Field Museum says, “There are lots of bats that would love to roost there but are incapable of doing it because of their flight mechanics.”

The moral of this story is clearly do not travel anywhere around the equator (or anywhere at all, just to be on the safe side) that would require you to use a pit latrine lest you become well acquainted with a slit-face bat or nine or thirteen.

Question of the Night: Are you a yea or a nay on bats?

I’m going on record as a heartfelt:

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