Aimed at wildlife enthusiasts and those interested in conservation, “A Field Guide to the Bats of Sri Lanka” is the 13th segment of the Dilmah Conservation’s Field Guides Series. The culmination of three decades of research and study by Prof. Wipula Bandara Yapa, this field guide delivers an all-encompassing view of the 30 species of bats known to inhabit Sri Lanka. Coupled with vibrant photographs and precise illustrations that enable the easy distinction between the species, this guide is comprehensible and invites the reader to sample its pages.

title: A Field Guide to the Bats of Sri Lanka
authour: Prof. Wipula Bandara Yapa

Identified as pests that terrorize gardens and fields, bats are not the most favoured mammals in Sri Lanka. They are the second largest mammalian order in number of species and exceed other groups in overall abundance, as presented in the field guide. Through the publication of this book, Dilmah Conservation hopes cultivate an interest in the flying foxes among the youth of Sri Lanka and inspire them towards the conservation of these airborne mammals.

Authored by the Prof. Wipula Bandara Yapa, a leading chiropterologistwho heads the Zoology Department at the University of Colombo, this field guide is systematically divided into four descriptive sections titled Introduction and Evolution, Diversity Habits and Habitats, Conservation and Importance of Bats and Bats of Sri Lanka.

Introduction and Evolution

This section first gives a brief introduction to Bats, describing two of their specialized features that set them apart from other mammalian species and birds – echolocation and their capability of sustained flight. It then moves on to give a concise analysis into their evolution which began about 50 million years ago. Delving into the historical evolution of the species, the use of complex terms requires some sort of familiarity with scientific terminology for complete understanding. While useful for those who wish to truly understand the evolution of bats over the years, it is likely to be skimmed over by those not well versed in science, osteology and palaeontology.

This section also functions as a guide to the classification of the diverse species of bats and focuses more on the identification of bats based on familial interconnections and molecular phylogeny. This section again is for the more intense enthusiasts who are accustomed to scientific diction.

Diversity, Habits and Habitats

This section of the guide comments on the morphological diversity of the species discussing body size, wing span and colour and even presents illustrations through which to identify different tail, nose and ear structures.

It then describes the reproduction and social lives of the species drawing attention to the general gregarious nature of bats. Not unlike humans, they too exist in congregations – some of which exceed several millions of individuals as presented in the field guide with the mother and her pup as the basic social unit. This part of the guide is informative, providing details into the social organization and reproductive specializations. The pictorial representations of the mother carrying its young and the nursery colony are quite effective. The roosting habits and habitats of bats too are represented in this section showcasing the adaptability of bats to roost in diverse locations from tunnels to trees to houses. The use of graphs to explain the adaptation to fluctuations in humidity and temperature are presented clearly and show how different species are able to coexist. The activity patterns of bats are represented via graphs highlighting their movements at sunrise and sunset showing that while most bats are nocturnal, few species are diurnal. The echolocation systems of orientation used by bats is explained in great detail and is likely to engross the readers and the use of diagrams to depict the sound pressure levels exhibited by certain animals or objects. The use of such diagrams, graphs or pictures is always useful to attract and sustain the interest of the reader throughout the book.

The diet of bats is of great use to any reader. Especially those who wish to identify the species that haunt their gardens and wreak havoc on their fruit trees. It depicts the ways that bats obtain nutrients and proteins through the accidental feeding on insects and the deliberate chewing of leaves.

Conservation and Importance of Bats

The third main section of the guide is dedicated to breaking down the various human perspectives of bats in Asian and European arenas. Dismissing the false concept that bats feed on human blood it straightens out the categorization of vampire bats as creatures to be feared and despised.

Emphasizing the economic importance of bats to agriculture via essential eco-services such as pollination with over 450 economically significant species of plants relying on bats for pollination, the guide also considers the negative impact of bats as they consume huge quantities of fruits and spread rabies. The guide provides measures to undertake when handling bats and steps to follow in the event of being bitten by a bat while assuring that the odds of dying as a result of a bat borne disease are unlikely.

The guide stresses the importance of actively participating in the protection of these creatures keeping in mind the slow population recovery rate of bats owing to the fact that a female only gives birth to a single infant or twins per year. It presents the ways the reader can help contribute to the conservation of bats and raising public awareness on the need for conservation.

Bats of Sri Lanka

The rest of the book is dedicated to the identification and classification of bats in Sri Lanka. Easy to reference and extremely detailed it provides information on the national conservation status, physical structures, colour, distribution, geographical locations, breeding, roosting and dietary habits of bats. They are distinctively sorted into fruit bats, horseshoe bats, leaf-nosed bats, false vampire bats, evening bats, sheath tailed bats and free tailed bats.

This section is followed by a key and glossary to facilitate the complete understanding and ease of reference to the reader.

Overall Review

The book is extremely comprehensive and easy to use. With an abundance of photographs and illustrations it is designed to capture and sustain the attention of the reader. It caters to the intense and not so intense enthusiasts and acts as a suitable guide for tourists interested in the distribution of bats and the local perspectives on bats in Sri Lanka.

The section on the importance of conservation and the ways in which to facilitate the protection of bat species is most useful especially to its target audience as the guide aims at kindling a sense of responsibility and interest amongst the younger generations.

Although it is slightly overwhelming with scientific terminology in some sections, overall it succeeds in captivating the readers and would definitely be a useful reference to those interested in bats and their conservation.

Reviewed by Acushla Wijesinha


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