Seasonality of Date Palm Sap Feeding Behavior by Bats in Bangladesh

Islam A, McKee C, Ghosh PK, Abedin J, Epstein JH, Daszak P, Luby SP, Khan SU, Gurley ES

Pteropus bats are the natural reservoir for Nipah virus, and in Bangladesh, it is transmitted to people through consumption of raw or fermented date palm sap. Our objective was to understand seasonal patterns of bat feeding on date palm sap at a location where sap is collected year-round. Seven nights each month over three years, we mounted infrared cameras in four trees to observe bats' feeding behavior at date palm trees harvested for fermented sap production. We described the frequency of bat visits, duration of bat visits, and duration of bat-sap contact by month and by year. We captured 42,873 bat visits during 256 camera-nights of observation, of which 3% were Pteropus and 94% were non-Pteropus bats. Though the frequency of Pteropus bat visits to each tree/night was much lower than non-Pteropus bat visits, Pteropus bats stayed in contact with sap longer than non-Pteropus bats. Frequency of bat visits was higher during winter compared to other seasons, which may arise as a consequence of limited availability of food sources during this period or may be related to seasonal characteristics of the sap. Seasonal alignment of sap consumption by humans and bats may have consequences for viral spillover into humans.