We have been in the Levubu Valley outside the town of Louis Trichardt for the past two days, staying with Merlin’s bat research colleague, Peter Taylor, his wife Frances and children, Ben and Robyn, who all have been enthusiastically helping with the bat photography. Our goal here is to photograph bats catching green stink bugs. Stink bugs are the most costly pests of macadamia orchards and also a favorite on local bat menus. Dr. Taylor has documented that at least five out of six bat species examined feed substantially on these pests, and macadamia growers are quite interested in attracting more orchards.
Yesterday, about 60 local growers got together at a macadamia processing facility to hear Merlin speak on bats and the possibility of attracting them to artificial roosts. Several, especially Koois Steyn, are enthusiastically helping Merlin obtain bats and stink bugs to be photographed in his portable studio. Koois brought us several common slit-faced bats and our first dozen stink bugs yesterday morning. The bats were very cooperative, immediately taking mealworms from Merlin’s hand, but after releasing them into the studio, they were extremely difficult to recapture. They are incredibly agile flyers!
Unfortunately, the weather has continued to be mostly cold and rainy, and under these conditions bats require even more food than usual, severely stressing our limited mealworm supply. Just three bats ate nearly 100 mealworms last night! We hope to begin photographing the bats catching stink bugs by tomorrow evening, but much depends on our ability to obtain an express delivery of mealworms later today.
In the meantime we have taken portraits of two additional bat species. Peter and his son Ben caught several Midas free-tailed bats (Mops midas) in their attic, and Koois brought us a pipistrelle trapped in his macadamia orchard which Peter has tentatively identified as a Zulu pipistrelle (Pipistrellus zuluensis). Getting the shots of slit-faced bats capturing stink bugs remains a major challenge. Stay tuned for further updates.