“Bat Girl” Alexis Hitting It Big for Bats


Alexis Valentine won the 2nd Place award at the 14th Annual Jr. Foresters Science/Research Competition in Moscow, Russia.

We first met Alexis Valentine and her mother Amy, when Merlin spoke at an annual Discover Life in America conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 2014. We’ve kept in touch ever since, encouraging her research and competition in local and regional science fairs. We were thrilled to hear that she had been awarded a full scholarship to represent the U.S. at the 14th Annual Jr. Foresters Science/Research Competition in Moscow, Russia. Forty-five participants from 28 countries and five continents presented projects, September 2-10 and Alexis won second place out of 40 awards. At 15, she was the youngest competitor to win an award, and also was the highest ranking American contestant in the competition’s history.

Ian Agranat, Alexis Valentine and Merlin Tuttle at the Wildlife Acoustics display.

Last week, she did a fine job of presenting her research on the impact of white-nose syndrome on bats in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the annual teacher’s workshop held in conjunction with the NASBR 47th Annual Symposium on Bat Research in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Knowing Alexis had long dreamed of owning her own ultrasonic bat detectors for her research and public presentations, Merlin took the opportunity to introduce her to Ian Agranat, President of Wildlife Acoustics, the worlds’ largest producer of wildlife monitoring devices. Their Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro bat detector is one on Merlin’s favorite tools for introducing the public to bats, and he was delighted when Ian made Alexis’ long-time dream of owning her own equipment come true through his generous gifts which covered all her needs.


Keep it up, BatGirl, we’re proud of you!


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Return of “Batgirl” Alexis

Alexis won 1st place & Grand Champ, the 2017 SASEF Regional Science Fair.

I have a very special treat, especially for those of you who have wondered what our bat prodigy, Alexis Valentine, has been up to lately. We met Alexis following one of Merlin’s lectures in 2014. She had been winning science fair prizes for her work with bats and speaking annually at the local Rotary Club since the third grade. She also had begun her own research on bats in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Read past blog posts, Letters from a Young Scientist 1 – 10) Alexis still keeps in touch, and we are very proud of Batgirl!  She’s still competing and winning in science fairs, speaking at professional bat conferences, conducting continuing bat research in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and enlightening folks about the many benefits of bats to people. I hope you enjoy reading about Alexis’ most recent activities in her own words as much as I do. Please join me in giving her a big “atta(bat)girl”! For young people interested in starting their own early careers in science and conservation, Merlin has just posted a new resource, titled Advice for Young People Interested in Science and Conservation.

“Hello Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle, (more…)

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Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 7

Alexis "Bat Girl" Valentine's Science Fair Project
Alexis “Bat Girl” Valentine’s Science Fair Project March 2015

This is the final blog of a series introducing an inspiring young lady, Alexis Valentine, aka “Bat Girl” through her own words.

Hi Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle,

I hope you guys are doing good. Any exciting bat news?

We finally had our county science fair after lots of reschedules due to snow days. I’m happy to say that I got 1st place in the 6th–8th grade Jr. division in biological science and I got overall grand champion in the 6th–8th grade Jr. division.

I will go on to the regional competition at the end of March.

Thanks for all of your help!

Alexis “Bat-girl”

March 13, 2015

Hi Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle,

I got my comment sheets back from the regional History Fair. I received a rating of Excellent with many Superior markings. I didn’t win as much as I did at the science fair, but history really isn’t my thing but the judges really loved the info 🙂

They loved hearing about bats. One judge said that it was a great topic and that I was very enthusiastic and good at public speaking. They told me they look forward to me competing next year too.

Have fun on your trip and be safe.

Alexis, “Bat-girl”

Alexis getting questioned by the judges
Alexis getting questioned by the judges

April 2, 2015

Hi Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle

How are you guys doing?

I just got back from the regional science fair. I am happy to report that I won 3 awards with a total of $150 in prizes.

2 special awards:

*from the “Association of Women in Science”: $25 prize for outstanding science project by a young female.

*from “TN Association of Science Teachers”: $100 prize for outstanding demonstration in using the scientific method in research

Overall award (6th–8th grade):

*Excellence award & nominee to compete at the Broadcom Masters & a $25 prize

*received top 10% rating of all projects submitted out of 127

Different judges asked me questions for 2 straight hours and I competed against engineering projects and all kinds of other types of science projects.

Great news for the bats! More people now know about WNS.


We hope that her example will inspire additional young people as well as potential mentors. Such dedicated youth are our hope for the future.

Alexis's Acknowledgements
Alexis’s Acknowledgements

All photos were taken by Alexis’s mom and first mentor. Thank you, Amy, for helping to make this blog series possible!

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Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 6


Alexis Valentine trapping bats with a harp trap or the Tuttle trap, invented by Merlin
Alexis Valentine trapping bats with a harp trap or the Tuttle trap, invented by Merlin

January 5, 2015

Hi Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle,

I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year. I have to go back to school tomorrow.

I’ve always thought bats were neat. Each year my school has a science fair. I wanted to try something creative and unique for my project. When I was in 3rd grade I was given the opportunity to go out and see how bats were netted and tagged. Mr. Bill Stiver wildlife biologist at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park here where I live got me in touch with Dr. Joy O’Keefe from the University of Indiana. She had a grant to net bats in the park.

After my first trip I fell in love with bats. For my first three years (3rd–5th grades) studying bats, I went out with Dr. Joy each summer and helped net and tag bats checking for White-nose syndrome. When I was ready to go out the summer of my 6th grade years, I found out that Dr. Joy was not netting near here. That’s when Mr. Stiver introduced me to Riley Bernard, Ph.D. student at the University of TN in Knoxville. My first year out with Riley she let me help her net and tag bats in Knoxville at Ijams Nature Center. I have worked with Riley for the past two summers and she continues to mentor me. Riley has taken me under her “bat wing” and really helped me with everything. I have studied bats for five years now and am currently in 7th grade and can’t wait to learn more.

My Goals:

  • I would like to learn how to get a grant to get my own acoustic bat detectors, Anabat detector, and bat software so that I can conduct my research all year.
  • I would like to invent a serum or spray to kill WNS but not kill the other biotic fungi and elements in the cave.
  • I would like to write my own book on bat conservation based on a kid’s perspective to teach other kids how they can help bats. “Save our Bats–the Adventures of Bat Girl”
  • Continue my Park permit to study more bats in the National Park where I live.
  • Net bats with Dr. Tuttle

My current science fair project:

Project title: “Bat Chat–using echolocation to determine WNS effects”

Now that I’m getting older, Riley let me borrow one of her acoustic Song Meter SM2+ detectors. This is the first year doing my own research and going out by myself. I got my first permit with the Park for the Twin Creeks location. I traveled 16 times to check on my detector (my mom drove me). My project started on July 9, 2014 and ended on October 8th, 2014. Riley used my bat data and inputted into her SonoBat computer software program. The bat chats were analyzed to see what species of bats were visiting my research area. Unfortunately my original hypothesis was correct. There was a huge decline in the cave dwelling bats. I linked this to WNS.

So far I have won 1st place at my school science fair (December 2014). I will compete at the science fair in February and again at the regional science & engineering fair in March. Wish me “bat” luck!

Public Speaking:

Every year since I was in 3rd grade I have given a speech at the local Rotary Club on my bat project. I like speaking about bats and most people know hardly anything about them. In March I will give my 5th speech about bats. This year I volunteered at Boo at the Zoo and helped at the bat tent withRiley. I helped to educate others about the importance of bats and the horrible outcomes of WNS.

I hope to someday get invited to speak as a young scientist at the ATBI yearly science get together or just get invited to put up my board in the hallway for others to look at.

Talk to you soon!





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Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 5

Alexis Valentine has her bat detetor locked in a bear resistant box.
Photo by Ryan Ownby

In my ongoing blog series about Alexis Valentine, 7th grade bat dynamo, I’ve been inserting correspondence between Alexis and Merlin over the past year.

On December 1, 2014, TheScientist online magazine’s cover story, Lurking in the Shadows, did bats a terrible disservice.  Merlin responded and I blogged about it on December 3rd, Unfairly Maligned Bats Need Help. Alexis read the blog and fired back her opinion with the following commentary on TheScientist’s website. Thank you, Bat Girl! Your activism is inspiring!



December 19, 2014

Dear Alexis,

Thanks for your excellent comments published in response to TheScientist article, “Lurking in the Shadows.” If more people would follow your example, they would quit publishing such misleading articles. You did a great job.

Paula and I will be opening a new website soon and would like to feature some of your activities to inspire other young people. There is no rush, but sometime in the next several months we’d like to feature your activities.

The bat on my book cover is a yellow-winged bat (Lavia frons) from Kenya. It does belong to a family of bats, the Megadermatidae, that mostly feed on a combination of small vertebrates and large insects.

Have you considered giving local talks on bats? One is never too young to begin learning to speak. One young man I helped (aged 10-12) began speaking to students at school and became so popular that all the local conservation groups started inviting him. Within his first two years of practice he spoke at a national meeting of several hundred adults and then was featured on the Johnny Carson Show. I suspect you have similar talent, and I’d be happy to allow you to use some of my photos to present PowerPoint programs along with ones you accumulate of your own activities.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and New Year!






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Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 4

2014_alexis school sci fairDecember 16, 2014

“Hi Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle,

I wanted to let you know that I won 1st place at my school science fair today. I will go on to compete at our county level in February and again at the regional level in March.

I hope you have a “Bat-tastic” day!

Bat Girl


December 16, 2014

Hi Alexis,

We’re not surprised. Congratulations! We’re very proud of you. We’ll be working on bat conservation projects in Cambodia and China, beginning in March. Later in the year, Houghton Mifflin will be publishing my new book (see book cover attached). We’ll be thinking of you and looking forward to hearing all about it when you win the state championship!

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and New Year!

Merlin and Paula

December 17, 2014

Wow. That’s so awesome! The bat is cool on the cover, what kind is it? It doesn’t look like it lives around me. It looks like a carnivorous bat (big feet & ears) and it is brightly colored.

I attached some pictures of my project and me during my research. Riley Bernard helped me and let me borrow her bat equipment. She is in Dr. McCracken’s lab at UT.

I can’t wait to see the bat book. You guys be safe on your next trip.

Gatlinburg, TN

Alexis Valentine and her mentor, Riley Bernard, in the field.
Alexis Valentine and her mentor, Riley Bernard, in the field.
Alexis in the field. All photos on this page taken by her mom, Amy Ejma.
Alexis in the field. All photos on this page taken by her mom, Amy Ejma.

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Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 3

Alexis Valentine’s, aka “Bat Girl,” history project on Leadership & Legacy about Dr. Merlin Tuttle. Photo taken by Alexis’ mom Amy


October 20, 2014

Hi Dr. Tuttle,

How are you? Hope you guys are doing good. Say hi to Mrs. Tuttle for me. Below are the questions for my history project on Leadership & Legacy. Thanks for helping me!

Alexis 🙂
“Bat Girl”





1. What event inspired you to want to protect bats?

2. Was it difficult to get BCI started?

3. What is your favorite bat?

4. Can you please give me a quote for my project about bat conservation?

Merlin as a teenager emerging from a tight passage in a Tennessee cave while searching for gray bats.

October 30, 2014

Hi Alexis,

The following are my responses to your questions. Good luck with your project!

1. It wasn’t just one event. It was an accumulation of seeing lots of gray bat colonies being destroyed. I was aware that these bats were harmless and highly beneficial. However public health officials were claiming them to be dangerous carriers of rabies despite the fact that no one had ever gotten rabies from a gray bat, or that getting rabies from any kind of bat was extremely rare. I couldn’t resist explaining this to cave owners, and when they changed from killing to protecting their bats, I was encouraged to do more.

2. Founding Bat Conservation International required hard work. When I founded BCI most people were extremely frightened of bats. Even leading conservation organizations avoided them like the plague, considering them to be too unpopular to be helped. I had to spend huge amounts of time preparing scientific documentation and learning to put claims of disease dangers in perspective. For example, I pointed out that while only two people, on average, die of bat rabies each year in the U.S. 20-30 are killed by dogs. How could we consider bats dangerous and dogs safe, given these facts? In the end the facts about bat values versus risks are so strong that they are easy to defend if we just arm ourselves with the facts. Great success in life can only be achieved by tackling great challenges.

3. I don’t have a favorite bat, though I especially enjoy working with carnivorous species, because they seem to be exceptionally intelligent. But even the tiny woolly bats that I recently worked with in Borneo turned out to be far smarter than I had ever imagined, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. Check out the video of them bumping me in the nose to gain my attention to feed them (see woolly bat blogs on my web site at merlintuttle.com).

4. Bats provide essential ecological services required to keep our planet healthy. We cannot ignore their plight without risking our own future.

Paula says hi.

Very best wishes,

November 4, 2014

Hi Dr. Tuttle,

Thanks so much for answering my bat questions. History fair is in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes. Science fair is coming up too. 🙂

My history project is called “Batman of BCI” and my science fair project is called “Bat Chat–using echolocation to determine WNS effects.”

Talk to you soon. Tell Mrs. Tuttle hi for me. Have fun and be safe on your next bat trip.

Have a “Bat”tastic Day,
“Bat Girl”


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Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 2

“Bat Girl” Alexis Valentine is putting a bat detector in a bear box in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

July 20, 2014

Dear Dr. Tuttle,

How are you? 🙂  I hope your trip went well. I got my first permit so I can go and put up a bat detector in the Park. Riley is helping me. The Park intern built a bear box to put it in so it will be safe. I am looking for any changes in the amounts of cave bat species. I’m looking to see if WNS is affecting the number of cave bats in my area. When summer is over Riley is going to let me come to the UT bat lab and show me how to read the different bat frequencies by using the computer bat software. I’m excited cause I’ve never looked at echolocation patterns before.

Talk to you soon.
I♡ bats.
Alexis “Bat Girl”
Gatlinburg, TN

Alexis Valentine “Bat Girl” with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park intern who built the bear box to protect her bat detector.

The trip Alexis was referring to was to Bulgaria photographing bats catching prey. A month later, we traveled to the country of Brunei on the island of Borneo to photograph bats living in carnivorous pitcher plants. Alexis followed our blogs during our travels and commented with the enthusiasm of a passionate bat researcher!

September 14, 2014

Hi Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle,

Hope your trip is going good.

I love the Woolly bat. He is sooo cool. The theme of our history fair this year is leadership & legacy. I want to do my project on your work and how you started the bat conservation group. Would you be willing to answer a few questions for me about how you got started with bat conservation? It would be like an interview with the real “Bat Man” for my project.

If yes, I can email you my questions.

I’m still working on my bat research in the Great Smoky Mtns. National Park. I’m getting ready to see Riley at Dr. McCrackin’s lab to look at my data from the detector. Hope I get some good results. I’ll send you pictures.

What bat are (you) going to encounter next?

“Bat Girl”

The next blog will include the questions and answers for “Bat Girl’s” interview of  “Batman.”

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Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 1

Merlin and some bat fans who attended his talk. Alexis Valentine, “Bat Girl,” is on Merlin’s left, and her mom, Amy Ejma, is on his right.


Merlin and I met Alexis Valentine, aka “Bat Girl,” last spring in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Her mom, a math and science teacher, brought her to hear Dr. Tuttle’s keynote address at the Discover Life in America‘s annual meeting. We were impressed with the young bat scientist, and we thought you would be too!

Alexis Valentine won 1st place in her division in two categories: Environmental and Life Sciences
Alexis Valentine won 1st place in her division in two categories: Environmental and Life Sciences

Over the past year, Alexis has been keeping us informed via emails of her bat activities, past and present. She became interested in bats while in the third grade. She’s currently in the seventh. Every one of those years, Alexis has given a talk to the Rotary Club about bats, and she’s been entering competitions and winning prizes! Read what she wrote in her own words:


April 6, 2014

Hi Dr. Tuttle!

I wanted to let you know about the regional science fair that I just competed in. I won 1st place in the Environmental science Jr. Division category and 1st place in the Life Science Jr. Division category. I won a nice big plaque with my project name and my name on it and a $75 Visa gift card from the Leidos Corporation and 2 huge science books from Sigma Xi.

My project was “Support Bats & Let Them Flap!” My research was on bats and white-nose syndrome. I just wanted to say thank you for all of the encouragement you gave to me when you were here in TN. I can’t wait for this summer and more bat research.

Have a “Bat-tastic” day!


Alexis Valentine “Bat Girl”

In the next blog Alexis will tell us about the exciting things she did for her summer 2014 bat research.

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