By Paula Tuttle
While leading news media, from The Wall Street Journal to Time magazine, were maligning bats with an unprecedented flood of scary stories threatening terrible disease pandemics, Merlin was busy setting the record straight.
Back in 1964 Merlin graduated from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology.
During its 2015 summer commencement ceremonies on August 2, Andrews University will recognize Merlin’s special achievements with an Honorary Doctor of Science degree. That evening at 7 pm EST Merlin will provide a live-streamed lecture, Discovering Bats, an introduction to the world of bats with highlights from his experiences in conserving such traditionally unpopular animals.
Merlin obtained his PhD with Honors at the University of Kansas in 1974 and is deeply appreciative of this further recognition from his alma mater.
Approximately 250 members, representing 22 nations of the ATBC met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for their 2015 annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Chapter, March 31 to April 3, and Merlin provided a 45-minute plenary lecture titled “The Amazing World of Bats and a Novel View of Conservation.”
Following his talk Merlin co-chaired a parallel symposium with Neil Furey, Understanding and Conserving the Diversity and Ecology of South East Asian Bats. He also served as a judge for student papers and was exceptionally impressed with their well prepared quality.
Finally, due to special interest, Merlin was allotted a room and projector that evening where he answered questions for nearly three more hours. As the word got out regarding how interesting the discussion was, more and more people showed up, and topics ranged widely.
This video is excerpted from Merlin’s closing remarks in the evening Question and Answer Session at the ATBC Annual Meeting in Cambodia.
Our captive Hardwicke’s woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii) preferred pitchers of bat-adapted Nepenthes hemsleyana plants (see previous blogs), and all woolly bats radio-tracked by Michael and Caroline Schöner in their primary study area consistently returned to the preferred N. hemsleyana pitchers. However the Schöners also found woolly bats in other kinds of plants. Even in their study area they occasionally found an apparently desperate bat roosting in fanged pitcher plants (Nepenthes bicalcarata). This amazing plant relies on a pair of sharp, fang-like, nectar-producing structures above its entrance to facilitate capture of ants that climb down to reach nectar. Approaching ants lose their footing near the tips of the narrowing “fangs,” falling into the water-filled pitchers. Bats can use these pitchers only if they are first drained. This requires a drain hole near the base. No one yet knows whether these holes are made by inventive woolly bats short on alternative shelter or by birds or other animals, perhaps seeking a meal of captured insects.
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.
Merlin’s talks in Tennessee last weekend went really well. He received a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience at the All Taxa Biodiversity Index (ATBI) Conference organized by the nonprofit Discover Life in America. As a special treat, a group of schoolchildren and their parents and teachers came to the talk in Gatlinburg.
The following evening he gave a talk in beautiful Downtown Knoxville, where the mayor, Madeline Rogero, presented Merlin with a Proclamation recognizing his contributions. He signed copies of his latest National Geographic Article Call of the Bloom for lecture attendees.
We met many fine folks doing wonderful work to preserve the amazing biodiversity of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, America’s most visited national park.
In a few hours we’re going to South Africa for more bat photography and conservation, and we’d love to take you along, so please subscribe to our blog!
DISCOVER LIFE IN AMERICA PRESENTS:
BAT CONSERVATION SPECIALIST MERLIN TUTTLE
Friday March 21, 2014 – Merlin Tuttle Keynote Address
Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg 6-9 p.m.
The Amazing World of Bats
Bats comprise nearly a quarter of all mammals. They come in an amazing variety, as cute as any panda or as strange as any dinosaur, from tiny bamboo bats that live in beetle holes to giant flying foxes with six-foot wingspans. They’re found nearly everywhere, are primary seed dispersers in both deserts and rain forests, pollinate some of the world’s most valuable crops and save American farmers billions of dollars annually in avoided pesticide use. They maintain long-term social relationships similar to those of humans, elephants and dolphins, share information and even adopt orphans.
If you’d like to learn more about these fascinating creatures, you won’t want to miss Dr. Merlin Tuttle’s talk, “The Amazing World of Bats.” His stunning photographs show bats courting mates, rearing young, emerging from beetle holes, pollinating crops and flowers, fishing, catching insects and much more.
Introduced to the study of bats in Knoxville while a student at the University of Tennessee, Tuttle has now traveled the world for more than 50 years studying and photographing hundreds of species of bats, from bizarre to beautiful. His extraordinary photographs have been published and exhibited worldwide, including in five National Geographic articles. His latest is scheduled to appear in the March 2014 issue. He founded Bat Conservation International and has been an invited speaker at America’s most prestigious institutions, from Harvard and Princeton Universities to the National Geographic Society and Smithsonian.
Keynote address includes reception, silent auction with food and drink.
For those not attending the conference there is a $10 fee.
Saturday March 22, 2014 – Merlin Tuttle Knoxville Reception at the East TN History Center – 5-7 p.m.
A National Geographic Preview—Flowers that guide bat echolocation, the story behind the story
Dr. Merlin Tuttle has lectured at most of America’s premier institutions and his fifth National Geographic article is scheduled to appear in the March 2014 issue. The article features recent discoveries of highly sophisticated floral adaptations that acoustically guide echolocating bats to specific sites in flowers, ensuring exclusive bat pollination. Tuttle worked in Costa Rica, Cuba and Ecuador, taking more than 20,000 images for this story. He will share his spectacular, high-speed action photos as well as highlights of the challenges and techniques involved in getting these images.
Reception includes food, drinks and a signed copy of National Geographic (the first 100 paying attendees). Cost $25.
DLIA’s All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) Conference highlights the amazing biodiversity research happening in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For more information call 865-430-4757 or visit our web site at Discover Life in America www.dlia.org.
DLIA’s mission is to discover and understand America’s species through science and education for conservation. DLIA’s flagship project, the ATBI, is a joint effort with the National Park System to identify and record every single species within the park. To date DLIA has assisted in adding 7,636 new species to the park’s records and 926 new to science.
To download the announcement, click here MerlinTuttleprogramsinformation