As MTBC’s Photo Collection Administrator, much of my responsibility lies behind a computer screen. I’d seen thousands (about 120,000 if we’re being real) of photographs from Merlin’s most-active field work days, preparing me for what to expect as much as photographs can. I’d seen mist nets, harp traps, banded bats, guano piles, and evidence of the bats’ incredible diversity.
Though fortunate to see Austin’s bats in a variety of ways, I’d never worked with bats first-hand. On this trip, I was most excited to step away from the desk and learn how bats are studied in the field, especially surrounded by knowledgeable and talented peers.
As with MTBC’s past adventures, our trip was a hands-on working trip with invaluable time and expertise contributed by leading colleagues from varied specialties. We were in the company of expert bat researchers, photographers, videographers, rehabilitators, consultants and passionate citizen scientists as we searched for some of the least known bats in the U.S.
In early August, we accepted a partnership invitation to develop a series of bat conservation and management training videos. Though growing numbers of biologists are studying bats, few have the breadth of experience essential to meet their widely varying conservation needs. Each species has unique requirements. In order to better share my nearly 60 years of personal experience, John Chenger founder of Bat Conservation and Management, and Janet Tyburec founder of Bat Survey Solutions, invited me to collaborate. They are providing video shooting and editing, featuring my narration and illustrations.
Four programs are now being edited. The first, tentatively titled “Win Friends, not Battles,” explains key approaches that have most effectively won long-term cooperation. The second features the worldwide importance of bats. The third addresses greatly exaggerated disease claims, and the fourth deals with assessing cave suitability for bats and special long-term management needs.
Under John’s guidance, we began field shooting on August 15, greatly aided by Teresa Nichta and John’s associate, Julie Zeyzus. For the next 10 days there was little time for sleep or even eating. On my birthday, we spent seven hours filming underground, a great antidote for thinking of getting old!
Illustrating the need for such education, one of the caves we visited in a protected nature reserve, had lost its entire colony of tens of thousands of cave myotis when fire protection permitted entrance blockage by vegetation. Another cave, also well protected by its owner, had overgrowth of an invasive, introduced plant that could have prevented restoration of a formerly large colony. It only took minutes to eliminate the threat.
At Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation we’re overjoyed to finally launch our membership campaign. Members at the Leadership level or above were given priority invitations to view the famous Congress Avenue Bridge bat emergence with Merlin aboard a chartered Capital Cruises boat. We all gathered at the Hyatt Hotel’s lounge for drinks (and queso) and to meet and get acquainted. The first member to sign up for the cruise was Janell Cannon, the author of the classic children’s book Stellaluna. Janell graciously signed copies of her book, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary!
Mr. Chang and mascot of the Formosan Golden Bats’ Home
Following 30 hours of travel, we spent our first day recuperating in Taipei, got up early the next morning for a 2.5-hour drive to the Formosan Golden Bat’s Home on the campus of the Sheng-Zheng Elementary School, where we met our host, 43-year-old Heng-Chia Chang. As a teacher, he had noticed beautiful little golden bats (Myotis formosus flavus) roosting in school yard tree foliage. (more…)
Our digital and social media coordinator, Teresa Nichta, is learning firsthand the challenges of bat photography, whether in the studio or in the wild. This is her experience in her words.
I already knew I would love the rain forest; it was so massive yet I felt right at home.
Documenting where bats live was a major objective of this trip, and that was just what we did! Of course, I’d seen Merlin’s photos and learned about what we were looking for but seeing bats at home in the forest in person was even more enthralling than I had imagined. Bats are nearly everywhere but they’re seldom seen because they hide so well.(more…)
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. (more…)
A year ago Merlin and I had the wonderful privilege of joining Caroline and Michael Schönerto photographically document their research discoveries of tiny woolly bats living in pitcher plants. To read about our work with the Schöners in Brunei, see our September 2014 blogs Woolly bat personalities and Fanged pitcher plants and other shelters.
As they are finally nearing completion of their PhD theses of these bats, their discoveries are finally getting the attention they deserve. One of the things we weren’t able to mention earlier was their discovery that the pitcher plant (Nepenthes hemsleyana) has, like the flowers we documented with Ralph Simon, developed special echo-reflectors to help guide approaching bats. Not surprisingly Ralph ended up joining them in this new discovery.
This has been one of Merlin’s favorite stories. He especially enjoyed working with these tiny bats that attempted to train him to feed them in response to their getting in his face, as you can see in the video posted in the September 2014 Woolly bat personalities blog.
The Schöners’ latest research paper is now published in the July 20, 2015 issue of Current Biology. One of Merlin’s photos is on the cover, and Ralph Simon is a co-author.
The story of Cave Nectar Bats’ contributions and requirements is complex and only beginning to be fully understood. These bats traditionally formed huge colonies in caves, 100,000 individuals in a single cave. However colonies are extremely vulnerable, and few large colonies remain. People commonly set nets over cave entrances, capturing large numbers to be eaten as a delicacy. Also, limestone quarries pose constant threats of permanent destruction of essential caves, and durian growers themselves sometimes kill large numbers.
Dr. Sara Bumrungsri, a leading bat ecologist, invited us to help document the essential roles of Cave Nectar Bats (Eonycteris spelaea) in pollinating some of SE Asia’s most ecologically and economically valuable plants near Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkhla Province. We set up our bat photo studio in Sara’s lab at the Prince of Songkhla University, caught two cave nectar bats in mist nets set beneath durian flowers in an orchard, tamed them so they would go about their normal activities in Merlin’s enclosure, then brought them fresh flowers so he could photographically document their importance as pollinators.
The Buddhist temple at Khao Chong Pran is said to have been built largely from guano fertilizer sales. When Merlin first visited the site in 1981, monks were alarmed by a precipitous drop in guano production and asked his advice on the problem. He discovered that poachers were killing large numbers of bats by setting nets over the cave entrance late at night when the monks weren’t looking. The bats were sold to restaurants as a food delicacy. After Merlin convinced the monks to hire a guard in 1981, bat guano sales increased from $12,500 U.S. annually to $89,000 within 10 years, and by 2002, annual sales had reached $132,000 U.S. Recently, the guano producing bats had been in gradual decline despite 24-hour protection by a team of four guards, so Merlin was quite pleased to discover several evenings ago that the most likely cause of renewed decline was simple to remedy–remove gradually encroaching vegetation.
Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation is the most recent contribution by Merlin Tuttle to the world of bats. With over 50 years of in-depth knowledge and experience Merlin Tuttle, renowned bat expert, educator and wildlife photographer founded MTBC with one true goal in mind; teaching the world to understand and appreciate the vital contributions bats make to human beings and the world we live in.