Predators of herbivorous insects play important roles in tropical ecosystems as herbivory may affect structure and diversity of plant populations. Although insectivorous bats are particularly abundant and diverse in the tropics, their impact on herbivorous insects is little understood. To assess prey consumption, we observed the gleaning bat Micronycteris microtis (Phyllostomidae) continuously for 3 mo including 16 full nights at a nightly feeding roost on Barro Colorado Island in Panama using infrared videotaping combined with collection of prey remains. Individual bats consumed about 61–84% of their body mass in arthropods per night. Diet analysis revealed a high percentage of herbivorous insects, constituting more than half (51%) of all prey and over 70% of prey biomass. Dominant prey were caterpillars (33% of prey biomass), and other herbivores including crickets, katydids, scarab beetles and phasmids. Furthermore, a novel feeding behaviour was observed as M. microtis selectively discarded parts of intestines of phytophagous insects before consumption, probably to avoid intake of plant material either for ballast reduction and/or for protection from secondary plant compounds. Combined with estimated feeding rates of insects in sympatric bat species, our data suggest that gleaning bats are important predators of herbivorous insects and might be under-estimated reducers of herbivory in the tropics.
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