Capturing of the rare Yanbaru whiskered bat

April 30, 2018, Kyoto University
A successfully captured Yanbaru Whiskered Bat. The bats were tracked using VHF transmitters. Credit: Kyoto University / Jason Preble

The critically endangered Yanbaru whiskered bat Myotis yanbarensis, discovered 22 years ago, has been caught for the first time on Okinawa Island. Kyoto University doctoral student Jason Preble succeeded in the capture on the night of 20 February during a survey in the Yanbaru Forest in the north of Okinawa's main island.

The rare bat species was first discovered in the subtropical Yanbaru Forest in 1996, when two specimens were collected. It was later observed on a few occasions on the Tokunoshima and Amami-Oshima, but no sightings were reported again on Okinawa Island.

This small, tree-dwelling bat, endemic to these islands, became a serious conservation concern, and was declared critically endangered, the highest risk level, by both the Japanese Ministry of Environment and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

On 20 February 2018 at 20:05, Preble captured one male Myotis yanbarensis weighing 4.9 g in apparently good health. Three nights later, he caught a second male bat weighing 5.2 g. Upon release, he tracked these individuals using VHF transmitters. A third male was also caught four days later. The captures took place in the former United States military Northern Training Area, facilitated by a high-tech acoustic lure that broadcasts synthesized bat calls.

Moreover, Preble was able to record the bat's echolocation call, vital data that was previously unreported.

This large area of forest was returned to Japan in December 2016, and Kyoto University's Island Bat Research Group, led by Christian Vincenot, was among the first teams to be granted access by the Ministry of Environment, Okinawa Forestry Office, and Aha Dam authority.

The presence of the Yanbaru whiskered bat indicates that this zone, which was off-limits for over a half-century, may have served as an unintended wildlife sanctuary. This discovery revives hope for conservation of this rare species, while also suggesting that Myotis yanbarensis may be range-restricted to a small part of the Yanbaru Forest and therefore may continue to be at risk of local extinction.

Extreme caution is therefore advised in the management of this area, which is currently a candidate for UNESCO Natural Heritage status. Bats are often highly sensitive to infrastructure development, as seen in the steep decline in endangered populations following the construction in 2013 of a new airport runway over bat caves on Ishigaki island, also in the Okinawan archipelago.

Explore further: Mistaken identity of East Asian vine species resolved after 100 years

Related Stories

Two new species of orchids discovered in Okinawa

April 10, 2017

Two new species of parasitic plants have been discovered on the main island of Okinawa, Japan. The discovery was made by Project Associate Professor SUETSUGU Kenji (Kobe University Graduate School of Science), who named them ...

Sea lion colony confirmed, but work still needed

April 11, 2018

While celebrating the Department of Conservation's announcement of a New Zealand sea lion (rāpoka) breeding colony on Stewart Island, a Massey University marine mammal specialist is calling further action to protect the ...

Acoustic monitoring provides holistic picture of biodiversity

November 6, 2017

Ecologists are using a network of "outdoor recording studios" to better monitor the subtropical Japanese island of Okinawa. Now a pilot study, in which more than 1,100 hours of birdsong were analyzed, is available in the ...

Recommended for you

Working lands play a key role in protecting biodiversity

October 18, 2018

With a body the size of a fist and wings that span more than a foot, the big brown bat must gorge on 6,000 to 8,000 bugs a night to maintain its stature. This mighty appetite can be a boon to farmers battling crop-eating ...

Study links genes to social behaviors, including autism

October 18, 2018

Those pesky bees that come buzzing around on a muggy summer day are helping researchers reveal the genes responsible for social behaviors. A new study published this week found that the social lives of sweat bees—named ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.