The most well-known and most spoken colony of bats in Portugal is the one that lives in the Joanina Library, University of Coimbra, and since the sixteenth century has been in charge of preserving its hundreds of volumes so that they are not devoured by insects known as “bibliophages” .

Each bat that inhabits the valuable Library of Coimbra (Heritage of Humanity), can in just one night get to hunt 500 insects that fly between the copies.

For this reason, those responsible for the library, built under King João V – hence the name of Joanina – ensure that their volumes have been perfectly preserved, despite the numerous cracks and ventilation circuits through which the insects pass.

Joanina Library, University of Coimbra.  EFE / Carlos García

Every night, before the closing of the library, a baroque masterpiece where the specimens of European culture are preserved between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, hundreds of volumes are preserved with leather blankets, so that the copies are not deteriorate with the feces of the bats.

Certainty of the colony’s existence, where two bat species coexist, was recently confirmed by the Portuguese researcher, Jorge Palmeirim, who, despite not seeing the animals, was able to measure the sounds emitted by them when they fly at night.

Especially important is the hunting of the woodworm, whose larva digs sinuous galleries very apparent in the books and can do real damage both in papers and in the leathers of books.

Those known as “moths”, companions of the woodworms, are also hunted for bats, because, instead of making galleries, they end up consuming the sheets of paper, preferably of the old books.

However, the increase in specimens and the passage of time have meant that bats are not enough to protect the books of the Biblioteca Joanina, one of the main tourist attractions in Coimbra.

According to information given by the university to the Efe Agency, a new anoxia chamber of six cubic meters of capacity was recently acquired to handle the bibliographic fund.

The objective of the chamber, which cost about 70 thousand euros for the university, is the disinfection of books, thus avoiding the action of insects.

In the three floors of the Joanina Library, 60,000 volumes of different materials are preserved, all edited until the end of the 18th century, and together with the General Library of the university, 1 million volumes are accounted for.

Joanina Library, University of Coimbra.  EFE / Carlos García

In addition to books, the Joanina Library holds newspapers, magazines, very particular manuscripts and special collections, among the highlights are a remarkable collection of old maps and an extensive and unusual set of musical documents from the 16th and 18th centuries.

In this library, considered one of the most important in the world, there are examples of the most singular, such as the first edition of the “Os Lusíadas”, a Hebrew bible published in the second half of the fifteenth century of which there are only 20 in the whole world.

Also noteworthy is the “Latin Bible of the 48 lines”, so called, since each page has 48 lines.

This bible was printed in the year 1462 by two members of Gutenberg and is considered one of the most beautiful among the first four printed bibles.

The Joanine Library was built on a medieval prison, and later its cells were used as an academic prison for the bad students.

Bats become library “guardians” balancing culture and nature

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