Cuban Greater Funnel-Eared Bat
(Natalus primus)
This species is the largest Caribbean representative of a small, ancient family of cave-dwelling bats that evolved in the West Indies. Originally described from fossils that have been discovered across mainland Cuba and the neighbouring Isle of Pines, a living population of the species was only discovered in 1992 in a single “hot cave”, the remote Cueva La Barca, located on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula at the western tip of Cuba within one of the largest remaining tracts of Cuban lowland forest. Because natalid bats congregate in large, conspicuous colonies, this is likely to be the sole locality for living Natalus on the entire island of Cuba. Although the species remains relatively abundant in its only known cave roost, it has a high extinction potential due to its probable limited capacity for dispersal.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Protect the only known cave locality where this species occurs.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Chiroptera
Family: Natalidae
The Natalidae is a small, ancient New World family of cave-dwelling bats that diverged from other bats during the early Tertiary. The natalids have been endemic to the West Indies probably since the beginning of their evolutionary history, which may explain some of their ecological characteristics (e.g. cave roosting). Two independent lineages of natalids have successfully colonized the mainland Americas from the West Indies. The genus Natalus is represented in the Greater Antilles today by three distinct species, each endemic to a single island (Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica), which were formerly thought to be conspecific before detailed morphometric and genetic analyses were carried out.
Forearm length: 46.1–51.2 mm
Species of Natalus are characterized by funnel-like ears and a tail about equal in length to the head and body. N. primus is the largest of the Greater Antillean Natalus species. In particular, the ears of N. primus are very large relative to those of other species (20.2–21.2 mm length). Males of N. primus are slightly larger than females in body weight. There are two colour morphs, one bright yellowish and another greyish, with some individuals showing intermediate coloration. N. primus is also distinguishable by its moustache-like facial hair tufts.
This species occurs in a ‘’hot cave”: a cave with poor ventilation and nearly constant high temperatures (26-40°C) and humidity (>90%), which typically contain large bat communities. However, N. primus is rarely found in the hottest parts of Cueva La Barca, preferring better-ventilated corridors and chambers that adjoin the areas of maximum temperature. These bats roost in groups scattered on the lower parts of the cave walls at about 1 m above the ground and occasionally on the low roofs of wall ledges, hanging from one or both feet and keeping a distance between individuals greater than the width of one or two bats. Copulation in N. primus has been observed to take place in April, and pregnant females of this species have been captured in May. The species feeds mostly on moths, crickets, and beetles.
N. primus is a cave-roosting bat known from a single “hot cave” location.
Known in the recent fossil record from 14 sites distributed across mainland Cuba and the neighbouring Isle of Pines. Extinct Natalus populations known from the recent fossil record of the Bahamas and Grand Cayman may also represent this species. Today the species is known from a single “hot cave”, the remote Cueva La Barca, located near the western tip of Cuba within one of the largest remaining tracts of lowland forest on the island.
Population Estimate
In July 1993, visual estimates indicated that a few thousand Cuban Greater Funnel-Eared Bats inhabited Cueva La Barca, and observations made in August 2001 suggest that the species was still abundant in this cave almost a decade later.
Population Trend
Although the population in Cueva La Barca has apparently been relatively stable for the past couple of decades in this single cave, the species has disappeared from the rest of its former wide geographical range over the Cuban archipelago and possibly also from the Bahamas and Grand Cayman.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CE B1ab(iii,v)c(iv)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Habitat loss through erosion is a major concern, with the ongoing collapse of the cave roof at Cueva La Barca likely to upset the thermal balance in this hot cave and result in extinction of the only known population of Natalus primus in this cave. Future climatic changes could also affect the thermal cave balance. Human intrusion into the cave may also become a more significant threat if the remote region of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula becomes more accessible to tourism in the future.
Conservation Underway
Conservation Proposed
The protection of Cueva La Barca and its surrounding environment is an urgent conservation priority. Cueva La Barca is located within one of the largest remaining tracts of lowland deciduous forest on Cuba, and contains the island’s most diverse cave ecosystem, emphasizing the importance of developing conservation measures for the region.
Dávalos, L. 2005. Molecular phylogeny of funnel-eared bats (Chiroptera: Natalidae), with notes on biogeography and conservation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37: 91-103.

Dávalos, L. & Mancina, C. 2008. Natalus primus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 15 November 2010.

Tejedor, A., Silva-Taboada, G. and Rodríguez-Hernández, D. 2004. Discovery of extant Natalus major (Chiroptera: Natalidae) in Cuba. Mammalian Biology 69: 153-162.

Tejedor, A., Tavares, V. C. and Silva-Taboada, G. 2005. A revision of extant Greater Antillean bats of the genus Natalus. American Museum Novitates 3493: 1-22.

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