The Bay Islands Offer Flora and Fauna Research Opportunities

Bats and iguanas and bugs! Oh my!  Most people associate the Bay Islands of Honduras with ocean life.  And for a good reason! The marine world draws people from all over the world to snorkel, dive, and enjoy the Caribbean Sea.  There is, however, much more to see on land, and one grass roots organization is promoting the flora and fauna of the Bay Islands.

Bat cave in Utila!

Bat cave in Utila!

Kanahau was founded by Andrea Martinez and Steve Clayson.  Andrea is a Biologist from the capital city Tegucigalpa and Steve is an expat from the UK and current “bushman”.  Both have worked on the island of Utila for over 10 years with various organizations and independent researchers. Together they conceptualized and created Kanahau as a unique organization to both educate visitors and the general public and support scientists researching the reptiles, mammals, insects, and plants of the Bay Islands.

Curious about their research I decided to take “The Bat Cave Tour” with Pumpkin Hill Steve (as he is locally known). As I peered in the bat cave next to the research center I hesitated.  But with Steve leading the way I followed him into the darkness.  It is a reflex to cover your head as they bats veer past.  But soon I relaxed, giving in and trusting they they too, do not want a collision.  Contrary to popular belief, bats can see. However, at night they also use echolocation to sense where they are by emitting high pitched squeaks and their large ears to “hear” where they are.

Kanahau biologist Andrea Martinez with her equipment.

Kanahau biologist Andrea Martinez with her bat sonar equipment.

Andrea and Steve are currently studying the population of bat species in the Bay Islands.  Over the past 5 years they have created a catalogue of the bats and continue to discover new and interesting facts.  This entails setting out nets at night to capture and identify the bats and determine their diversity.  Surprisingly the Bay Islands are home to the largest bat species in Central America with a wingspan over 1 foot wide.  Some, like myself, might wonder why bats are important?  For one they keep insects down.  And in the middle of the stagnant bush this is important!  They are also pollinators and help plants and trees survive in this small tropical environment.

As Steve and I wandered into what seemed like the depths of the island, he pointed out crickets, bugs, and moss all surviving and thriving in the dark cave system.  As we exited into the bright light we were met by a small swarm of mosquitoes-save the bats!  Thankfully I had worn dirty clothes as when you hang with the bats you do tend to get covered in guano.  I was invited to stay and help set nets and catch and count the bats with students.  It was surreal to see the bats fly into the nets and watch as Steve and Andrea carefully picked them out and identified them, checking their wings, teeth, eyes and ears carefully.  Overall a unique experience in the Bay Islands!

Scientists jump for joy over new discovery.

Scientists jump for joy over new discovery.

Ongoing projects Kanahau supports include tagging and monitoring the endemic Swamper Iguana, insect diversification studies, fungi id, and mammals of the islands.  Andrea and Steve welcome new research projects and part of their mission is to assist independent researchers, graduate students, and other interested parties, form and carry out their projects.  From getting here, to staying in their newly completed lodge, to permits and necessary equipment they will take care of what can be daunting logistics of working in a developing country.

If you are a student or researcher with a project and want to pursue the Bay Islands or simply interested in the natural environment, contact Andrea or Steve at or find them on Facebook.

Kan is the Mayan word for jaguar and Ahau refers to the Honduran bird similar to a peacock.

See more about Utila

See more about the Bay Islands

See more about Honduras




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