When most people think about Kenyan wildlife, their thoughts turn to wildebeest, zebras, lions, and warthogs, basically the cast of critters that appeared in the Lion King. African yellow house bats are one of the many mammals who didn’t appear in the Disney movie. It really isn’t surprising that the bats didn’t appear in the movie, they’re frequently forgotten. Wikipedia didn’t even bother to include them on their Wildlife of Kenya page even though the country is home to approximately 110 different bat species (they also missed out on several bird, reptile, and rodents that are also native to the country.)
While the scriptwriters and Wikipedia writers might not consider the colorful yellow-bellied house bats important, scientists do. The oft overlooked microbats are currently enjoying their chance to be in the limelight.
What are African Yellow-Bellied House Bats
African yellow-bellied house bats (Scotophilus dinganii) are microbats that are part of the Scotophilus family. While they can eat a wide assortment of insects, they have the strong jaws and sharp teeth that are ideal for crunching through the hard shell of winged beetles. Most find them to be a very attractive bat, despite the fact that their faces are somewhat dog-like. They’re named for the soft, lemon yellow fur that grows on the belly of both male and female adults. The fur on the back is dark brown and their wings range from olive color to a dark muddy read. The bats do an excellent job grooming their long, soft fur which is one of the reasons they look like cuddly flying fuzzballs.
The two most common yellow house bats are the lesser yellow house bat and the giant yellow house bat.
One of the things that makes yellow-bellied bats unusual is that they usually give birth to twins, rather than a single pup. Born in November and December, the pups mature quickly and are hunting on their own just a few weeks after their born.
Where African Yellow-Bellied House Bats are Found
You don’t necessarily have to go to Kenya to spot African yellow-bellied house bats. They have a wide range that includes Senegal, West Africa, large portions of Central Africa, Gambia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Swaziland, Eritrea, and Lesotho.
Considering their name, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that African yellow house bats love co-habitating with humans. They frequently roost in dark corners and nooks. Few people realize they’re sharing their quarters with this species, which has a reputation for being very quiet, both while roosting and while leaving the roost. The species prefers to stay tucked in their roosts until it’s completely dark outside, at which point they usually feed for two hours straight.
In addition to roosting in houses, African yellow-bellied house bats also roost in hollowed out trees, They prefer to roost in groups of about 12 bats, but colonies of 20-30 bats have been found. There have also been cases of a female roosting by herself.
Like the big brown bat in North America, the sheer size of the range means that over time, the species has evolved into different sub-species.
Not one, but Two New Species of Yellow Bats Discovered!
Data about African yellow-bellied house bats dates back more than 200 years. During that time, scientists came to learn that there are 21 different sub-species of yellow-bellied bats, at least that’s what they thought until recently, when two brand new sub-species were discovered.
Why has it taken more than 200 years to discover the new sub-species of yellow-bellied bats? It’s not that they haven’t been around. They have, but until now, researchers assumed they were part of one of the other sub-species. The only reason they’re now being recognized as completely different sub-species is due to scientific/technological advances.
Scientists based in Kenya used mist nets to capture several yellow-bellied house bats. They gently took skin samples from each of the bats. Using improved technology they collected DNA sequences which were used to create an elaborate family tree that showed all the different yellow-bellied bat species. While the researchers had high hopes that the information they collected would lead to improved ways yellow-bellied house bats could be used to improve agricultural conditions and diminish the spread of disease, no one expected it to result in the discover of new sub-species. Researchers are very excited to learn how the new discovery will lead to a better understanding of how animals evolve to meet the needs of their feeding area.
Status of the African Yellow-Bellied House Bats
At the moment, the IUCN Red List considers the African Yellow House Bats to be a species of least concern. The explanation for this classification include:
- The magnitude of the species range
- The current estimated population
- The lack of major threats to the species
- The belief that many colonies reside in protected areas
The assessment was made in 2017.