Sunday, March 30, 2008

Miniopterus brouvaughndrii

English Site > Germany > Wildlife Europe


3/27/2008 03:30 PM


Choosy Berlin Bats Pilfer Mustard, no Relish

By Parker Wildring in Berlin, Germany

As spring approaches, Berlin’s open-air food vendors can expect to repeat an ordeal from last year’s warmer months: the return (from hibernation) of the bat known as the Senffledermaus, or, in English, Brouvaughndre's lesser bent-winged mustard gleaner (Miniopterus brouvaughndrii).

Though recently its numbers in the city have seen a mysterious increase, the species remains protected by a UNEP (UN Environment Programme) conservation agreement. Sellers of wurst and other snacks must therefore resort to non-lethal measures when safeguarding a certain condiment—the only substance that these stealthy, swooping bandits ever care to filch.

The core diet of a Brouvaughndre's gleaner is primarily moths and houseflies, but some evolutionary quirk drives its craving for the added piquancy of human-prepared mustard. What actual nutrition this provides is unclear. Using its flat, spade-shaped tongue, the gleaner skims a teaspoon-sized blob from an available source, then stores it in a sublingual cavity until the meal is caught. The source in question is often not an open container, but a large plastic bottle with a pump nozzle: no obstacle for these plucky creatures, who have learned to pounce on the spout with just enough impact to extract a jet of tangy taste into their strategically positioned maws, then shoot back out of harm’s reach. This wingflap-quick process usually transpires as efficiently as if the bottle were a feeder designed for the bat. “When people see this, they like to watch it and take photos, but at the same time are discouraged from buying my sausages,” complains Helmut Fürnst, who vends from his stall on Schönhauser Allee. “This is very upsetting, especially because I also have mustard packets on hand and keep all of my equipment scrupulously clean.”

Plans are underway to curtail chiropteran mustard parasitism this summer. Trade groups have mentioned protective netting and specialists have been rigging custom-made dispensers high up in selected trees. “They must be placed in spots that are substantially easier to access than the food stands,” says Rudolf Spotzner, an expert on bats at a local arm of UNEP. “Otherwise [the bats] won’t understand where they should go to for their seasoning.”