Bat Scan Project

The Bat Scan Project officially got under way in August, 2015 when we hired Teresa Nichta to take charge. Thanks to generous assistance from our Bat Fan members and donors, we’re making excellent progress scanning and archiving the top 30 percent of Merlin Tuttle’s collection of approximately 100,000 35 mm Kodachrome slides of bats.

The first step requires Merlin’s personal review, prioritizing slides to be scanned and updating for species name changes. Since he began his collection the number of recognized species has grown from 850 to over 1,300, creating a major challenge just to ensure correct identifications! As of January 2018, sorting, scanning, and keywording is approximately 75% complete. Completion of the scanning phase is most urgent due to the age of the slides.

So far, we have posted over 2,000 bat photos, including 19 families of bats, 143 genera and 272 species from 32 countries on our website. And these are already available for royalty-free downloads by our members, educators and conservationists worldwide through our Bat Photos gallery. Fifty-three additional species from six more countries are now avaiable, though not yet added to the gallery.

The Merlin Tuttle Bat Photo Collection is irreplaceable. It has served as literally the backbone of scientific, educational and conservation illustration of bats worldwide for nearly 40 years, and has been featured in five National Geographic articles. Nevertheless, film gradually deteriorates, so digital scanning is coming just in time.

Selections of the best newly scanned images are periodically added to our website. Merlin also continues to take thousands of new digital images, with a special focus on documenting bat values in places where conservation is most needed. And Teresa is sharing both scans and new images through social media (InstagramFacebook and Twitter).

We especially thank an anonymous donor, Bettina and Travis Mathis, The Brown Foundation and the Verne and Marion Read family for critical early funding. Donations on behalf of the ongoing project are much needed and deeply appreciated. Our goal is to ensure preservation of Merlin’s priceless legacy for bats, beginning with the Bat Scan Project.

Member Workshops

We hosted our first two member workshops at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve in Panama March 12-27, 2018. Merlin Tuttle and Teresa Nichta partnered with Daniel Hargreaves, from the United Kingdom, his crew of experienced volunteers, Daniel Whitby and Steve and Fiona Parker, also from the U.K., and Melissa Donnelly from Canada.  They provided invaluable leadership in nightly netting, keying and recording that included more than 600 bats of 53 species. Training included bat capture, handling, identification and record keeping by the U.K. crew and bat training, behavior, photography and conservation by Merlin. Thanks to Paula Tuttle and Teresa Nichta, logistics, blog reporting, and photography also went exceptionally well.

Derek Conrad assisting with training a hairy big-eared bat to come on call.

Sixteen participants enthusiastically improved their bat handling, photography, and conservation skills while providing the first major survey of the reserve’s bats and greatly aiding local staff in their knowledge of bats. All participants, and Michael Roy, the reserve founder and director, will receive  Merlin’s photos of the 21 species he photographed, including a diverse array of portraits and behavior. Of course participants also took many more of their own, greatly contributing to their ability to serve as ambassadors for bats. Thanks to the extreme dedication of all concerned, we were able to document the presence of more than half of the species known from the entire country!

We hope to provide these hands-on opportunities annually for our members while while expanding knowledge of bats and their unique conservation requirements at locations of special need worldwide.


Major Bat Book Publication

Our next project involves royalty-free use of more than 300 of Merlin’s bat photos in a new 400-page book to be produced by Quarto Publishing in London. It will be titled, “Bats: An Illustrated Guide to all Species.” It will be printed in multiple languages, in the U.S. by the Smithsonian Institution. It will be affordable by the public, due to MTBC waiver of royalties. As Science Editor, Merlin will have major influence in ensuring an accurate, conservation-relevant presentation.



Ambassadorial Appearances for Bats

Wherever he goes Merlin is a captivating ambassador for bats, normally making a lasting difference in each country visited.  He provides media appearances, public lectures, training sessions and much needed conservation advice in addition to photographs essential to public education.

Chile– 2017 

On November 21, Merlin provided the inaugural address for the joint annual meeting of the Biology and Ecology Societies of Chile.

 BRAZIL– 2017 

Merlin Tuttle speaking to virologists and epidemiologists at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil.

On September 15, Merlin spoke and responded to questions from epidemiologists for two hours at a bats and viruses seminar at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On September 18, he provided the keynote address for a joint, annual meeting of the Brazilian Bat and Mammal Societies in Pirenopolis.

TAIWAN – 2016

elementary school children have routinely passed within two meters of occupied bat houses
Over the past 15 years hundreds of elementary school children have routinely passed within two meters of occupied bat houses without harm. Sick or lost pups are cared for by trained student volunteers.

From June 9 to 25 Merlin and Paula traveled to Taiwan to promote bat conservation. They taught bat photography and conservation techniques while taking 1,836 new photographs of bats, including rare Formosan golden bats (Myotis formosus flavus) rearing young in their foliage roosts,  Lesser Asian yellow bats (Scotophilus kuhlii) rearing young in bat houses and Formosan lesser horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus monoceros) and a newly discovered species of Vesper bat (Kerivoula sp.) capturing one of Taiwan’s most costly crop pests, the Oriental leafworm moth (Spodoptera litura). This is one of the most important agricultural pests of Asia, Austral Asia and the Pacific Islands. Our photos of bats capturing these moths in flight are the first of their kind and should prove especially useful in convincing farmers of the need to conserve bats. Merlin also provided lectures to enthusiastic audiences at Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science and its Endemic Species Research Institute, as well as at the Formosan Golden Bat’s Home (a museum and Cheng Zheng Elementary School dedicated to promoting bat conservation). Finally, we documented that, contary to frequent warnings in the U.S. that bats should never be permitted near school children for fear of disease, in the 10 years since attracting bats to more than 100 bat houses at this school, not one of some 500 children has been harmed despite frequent close encounters with bats.


Merlin and team hiking up Tamana Hill in Trinidad
Hiking up Tamana Hill.

March 16 to April 2 we worked with two volunteer teams organized by Trinibats, an organization devoted to conserving Trinidadian bats. This island hosts one of the world’s most diverse bat faunas, but until recently bats had been neglected in conservation planning, viewed only as vermin. As the teams worked to document important roosts and habitats needing protection, we helped with field training and photographically documented the bats and their values, as well as the team’s activities, donating photos in support of the organization’s conservation efforts. View the photos here!

FLORIDA – 2015

Eumops floridanus, Florida bonneted bat
An endangered Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus).

December 13 to 18, we photographed Florida bonneted bats (Eumops floridanus), North America’s rarest, most endangered bats, so rare they were once thought to be extinct. This is the final U.S. species in Merlin’s North American collection of bat photos for conservation education. We assisted state and federal wildlife officials in documenting the species, as well as their critical research on the bats’ needs. Photos of this beautiful bat and from the trip are available in the photo gallery!


Chaerephon plicatus, Asian wrinkle-lipped bats
Asian wrinkle-lipped bats (Chaerephon plicatus) emerging from Tarum Cave (entrance # 2) in Cambodia.

March 19 to April 8, Merlin and Paula traveled to Cambodia. Merlin presented an exceptionally popular, hour-long plenary speech at the 2015 annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Associates of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), emphasizing the importance of documenting how humans benefit from conserving bats. The meeting was attended by representatives from 22 countries who met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He also co-chaired a bat research symposium and taught a workshop on conservation and management of cave-dwelling bats. Merlin and Paula (assisted by a much valued volunteer, Jeff Acopian) arrived two weeks early for a trip to assess and consult on local conservation priorities and photograph Cambodian bats for the country’s first book on bats. The book is a non-profit work to promote bat conservation. More than 2,100 new bat photos were taken, especially documenting the value of cave protection and artificial roost construction that is a lucrative source of income in several Cambodian communities. The best of these images, combined with approximately 50 of Merlin’s already existing photos of Asian bats known to occur in Cambodia, were donated for use in that country’s conservation efforts. This trip was made possible through generous donations from Daniel and Heidi Hargreaves, Dudley and Mari Houghton and Scott and Hella McVay. View the photos here!


A cave nectar bat (Eonycteris spelaea) pollinating a Petai inflorescence in Thailand
A cave nectar bat (Eonycteris spelaea) pollinating a Petai inflorescence in Thailand. These trees are often used as ornamentals, and its “stink bean” fruits are a popular human food delicacy throughout much of SE Asia. Cave nectar bats traditionally formed large colonies in caves but are in alarming decline in most areas, often over harvested for human consumption or killed during careless limestone extraction.

From Cambodia, Merlin and Paula and Jeff Acopian flew directly to Thailand where they worked April 9 to 28. They discovered the apparent cause of recent decline in the huge free-tailed bat population of Khao Chong Pran Cave. Vegetation had encroached on the cave entrance, restricting flight and causing needless mortality. This was easily remedied by strategic tree trimming. Still in Thailand, they visited two Buddhist temple courtyards where relatively tame, protected Lyle’s flying foxes (Pteropus lyei) could be photographed unusually close up. The resulting cute photos of mothers with their pups will be used in support of efforts to gain protection for the species in Cambodia. The remainder of the Thai trip was spent collaborating with Dr. Sara Bumrungsri and his graduate students in bat biology at the Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, helping develop educational materials to gain protection for rapidly declining bats essential to pollination of lucrative durian crops. Bats were photographed pollinating a variety of important plants, including durian and mangroves. Nearly 3,000 photos were taken, the best of which were donated for conservation use in Thailand and Cambodia. See Merlin’s photos from Thailand here!

BORNEO – 2014

A Hardwicke's woolly bat (Kerivoula hardwickii) approaching a pitcher plant (Nepenthes hemsleyana) in Borneo
A Hardwicke’s woolly bat (Kerivoula hardwickii) approaching a pitcher plant (Nepenthes hemsleyana) in Borneo. This tiny 4-gram bat will enter and roost in the pitcher. The plant has evolved special adaptations to encourage bat use, and in exchange it feeds on nitrogen from the bat’s droppings instead of capturing insects or other animals like most pitcher plant species.

While helping document Caroline and Michael Schoner’s Ph.D. thesis research on woolly bats living in pitcher plants (August 9 to 30) Merlin and Paula took nearly 2,500 photos of this special bat-plant relationship and provided photos for use in professional seminars and public lectures.  These photos subsequently reached millions of people with positive messages through stories on popular internet sites, scientific journals and other publications. Additionally, Merlin provided an hour-long lecture on the importance and conservation needs of bats at the University of Brunei Darussalam for the Brunei Nature Society, the country’s leading conservation group, and donated a collection of 51 photos illustrating bat diversity and values.


Merlin Tuttle, Toni Hubancheva (far left) and Dani Schmieder building a photo set in Bulgaria.
Merlin Tuttle, Toni Hubancheva (far left) and Dani Schmieder building a photo set in Bulgaria.

On June 14, Merlin spoke at the British Counsel Education Center in Sophia.  His talk, The Amazing World of Bats, was covered by varied news media, including more than 10 minutes on national television.  He also appeared in a widely covered press conference, and trained two bat biologist graduate students: Daniela Schmieder and Antoniya Hubancheva. Antoniya received our first student scholarship award, covering special training in Africa. Merlin and Paula and their graduate student assistants also photographed seven genera and 14 species of bats (portraits), including great shots of several species catching prey and roosting. Bulgarian conservationists now have these outstanding images for use in public education. View photos here!


A Common Slit-faced Bat (Nycteris thebaica) eating a green vegetable stink bug (Nezara viridula) in flight in Limpopo Province, South Africa. This insect is one of the most costly pests of macadamia orchards and is heavily fed upon by several species of bats.
A Common Slit-faced Bat (Nycteris thebaica) eating a green vegetable stink bug (Nezara viridula) in flight in Limpopo Province, South Africa. This insect is one of the most costly pests of macadamia orchards and is heavily fed upon by several species of bats.

Merlin and Paula spent March 27 to April 29 assisting with bat conservation efforts in South Africa. Merlin spoke to students and professors at the University of Pretoria and to the public at Ridgeway College in the town of Louis Trichart in Limpopo Province. Most importantly, Merlin was able to donate outstanding new photos of 10 genera and 16 species of South African bats, including action shots of slit-faced bats capturing green stink bugs, the most costly pest of macadamia nut orchards. After Merlin spoke to the South Africa Macadamia Growers Association, they funded two Ph.D. thesis projects, supervised by local bat biologist Dr. Peter Taylor, to study how to attract more bats to orchards. View the photo gallery here!

Merlin speaking to the South African Macadamia Growers Association regarding the value of bats as biological controls for green stink bugs, their most costly pests. Lectures
Merlin speaking to the South African Macadamia Growers Association regarding the value of bats as biological controls for green stink bugs, their most costly pests.

TENNESSEE—2014Merlin speaking to the South African Macadamia Growers Association

On March 21, Merlin provided the keynote address, The Amazing World of Bats, for the All Taxa Biodiversity Index Conference annual meeting, hosted by Discover Life in America in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. On the following evening he was honored by a special award from the Mayor of Knoxville and gave a public lecture on the importance of bats as pollinators.

Book Publication

Merlin’s book, The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals, was released on October 20, 2015, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Amazon featured it on its top-10 book list in non-fiction, and it received uniformly outstanding reviews, including in The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, National Geographic Book Talk and Nature.  Sharing highlights from a lifetime of adventure and discovery, Merlin takes readers to the frontiers of research and discovery, replacing fear of the unknown with a profound appreciation for these long neglected but essential animals. More than 50 media interviews reached tens of millions of people worldwide with his message about bats.