In quieter Mexico City, rare bats make an appearance

Full Screen
1 / 11

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A Mexican long-tongued bat is held by Mexico's National Autonomous University, UNAM, Ecology Institute Biologist Rodrigo Medellin after it was briefly captured for a study at the university's botanical gardens, amid the new coronavirus pandemic in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Listed as threatened in 1994, the bat normally lives in dry forests and deserts, in a range that extends from the southwestern United States to Central America. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY – At a Mexico City university campus, researchers are stringing mesh nets between trees, hoping to capture evidence that a rare bat has begun visiting its favorite plants in this metropolis of 9 million.

The National Autonomous University’s botanical gardens are filled with flowering morning glory, agave plants and cactuses that provide the bats with food; their long tongues and noses have evolved to drink nectar from the blooms.

The protected Mexican long-tongued bat was first sighted this year in an even more unlikely location: a zoo at the Chapultepec park in the city’s center. Under pandemic rules, the park was closed or placed under strict visitation limits for much of the past year, and that may have encouraged the bats to come and feast.

“It is clear that we have seen that, as human activity declined in the city, wild animals have begun to re-take the city,” said Rodrigo Medellín, a biologist at the university's Ecology Institute. “It is really divine justice that the bats are showing they can coexist with us, if only we give them a chance.”

As people across the globe stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, animals have been venturing into places they aren't usually seen. Coyotes have meandered along downtown Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. A puma roamed the streets of Santiago, Chile. Goats took over a town in Wales. In India, already daring wildlife has become bolder with hungry monkeys entering homes and opening refrigerators to look for food.

In Mexico, bioluminescent plankton appeared at some beaches in the normally bustling resort of Acapulco for the first time in memory, though researchers are not clear about whether a decrease in human activity was responsible. Some think the decline in man-made lighting may have simply made the phenomenon easier to spot.

As night begins to fall in the botanical garden in Mexico City, a shout rang out among the researchers. “We got one!”

With carefully gloved hands, a student began to take the tiny, 4-inch (10-centimeter) animal out of the net. It could fit in the palm of one hand. Medellín was certain as soon as he saw it: It's a long-tongued bat, distinguishable by the elongated tip of its nose.