During the first night of mist netting, our team captured a Little big-eared bat (Micronycteris megalotis). She turned out to be very cooperative, eagerly eating mealworms from Merlin’s hand before “smiling” for her portrait immediately after capture. Merlin then took her to his small training tent where we are staying at the Hacienda Jacana. Within an hour she could be approached easily, handed mealworms and petted, so was moved to Merlin’s larger photo studio. The next evening he began clucking to her as he approached. Soon all he had to do was hold out a mealworm and cluck, and she would fly across the studio to get her reward from Merlin’s hand.
She quickly learned that if he called her to his hand at a specific location in a natural looking set, then called again without extending his hand, she should search for her reward near where his hand had last been seen.
Merlin was already aware of the wide variety of prey these little 6-gram ( 0.21 oz) bats are able to glean directly from foliage. Unlike many bats that exclusively locate flying prey by echolocation or by hearing their wingbeats, footsteps or mating calls, these bats rely on large ears and special echolocation to scan plants for sleeping insects.
The goal was to photograph her gleaning insects, including caterpillars, directly from plants. Merlin’s greatest challenge was just finding enough insects for her to catch. Due to drought conditions very few were active.
Nevertheless, Merlin was very lucky. On the night of her main performance, we managed to catch just one large forest cockroach, a green stinkbug and two katydids, but got outstanding action shots of her catching all four, a rate of success that, in Merlin’s experience is virtually unheard of.
The resulting photos will be donated for use in Trinibats’ educational programs and should prove invaluable in convincing Trinidadians of the value of protecting bats. Most have no idea of the importance of bats in keeping insect pests in check. These new photos will also soon be shared for broader use on our MTBC website.
Our next goal is to provide winsome portraits of a wide variety of Trinidad’s diverse bat fauna. Merlin has a checklist of a dozen species he hopes to document in portraits for the first time. Given the hundreds of species he has already covered, finding new ones can be challenging. He’s especially hoping to find the seldom seen Trinidadian whiskered bat (Choeroniscus minor), a tiny nectar-eating species. He’ll be setting up his system of studio-like lighting in the forest near where bats are being captured in mist nets.
To get just the right “smiles” he’ll be equipped with a good supply of mealworms and sugar water which often work well as bribes, not to mention ensuring that the bats still have plenty of energy when released. He cautions that bats are difficult, even for experts, to keep in captivity more than a few nights and warns that no one lacking special training in bat work should attempt to handle them.