Formosan golden bats of Taiwan

Mr. Chang and mascot of the Formosan Golden Bat's Home

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 Bats’ 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…)

Read More

Finding bat roosts in Trinidad

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…)

Read More

Action Shots from Trinidad

TR_4_DSC01764During 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…)

Read More

Amazing woolly bats revisited

Cover ScreenshotA year ago Merlin and I had the wonderful privilege of joining Caroline and Michael Schöner to 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.

Bat researchers, Michael and Caroline Schoner, wading through a Borneo peat swamp, searching for bats roosting in pitcher plants.
Bat researchers, Michael and Caroline Schoner, wading through a Borneo peat swamp, searching for bats roosting in pitcher plants.

 

 

 

Read More

Loss of Nectar Bats Threatens Durian Farmers

 

A Cave Nectar Bat pollinating durian flowers
A Cave Nectar Bat pollinating durian flowers

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.

 

(more…)

Read More

Documenting Billion-Dollar Bats

Cave Nectar Bat pollinates durian.
Cave Nectar Bat pollinates durian.

 

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.

(more…)

Read More

Khao Chong Pran’s Bat Economics

Poachers were killing huge numbers of Khao Chong Phran’s bats and selling them to restaurants until guards were hired to protect the bats. In Thailand bats were killed for the restaurant trade before a law made it illegal.

The Buddhist temple at Khao Chong Phran 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 $135,000 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.

 

(more…)

Read More

Thailand Bat Cave Revisited

Merlin meeting with the head monk at Wat Khao Chong Pran who was happy to see him again.
Merlin meeting with the head monk at Wat Khao Chong Phran who was happy to see him return.

We arrived at Wat Khao Chong Phran unannounced and surprisingly the head monk agreed to see us immediately on the same porch where we met him with Daniel Hargreaves in 2012 (See Sept. 20 blog Guano happens). Merlin even wore the same shirt, his favorite field shirt! Pongsanant, our BatThai guide and interpreter then and now, told us the monk was quite happy to see us again. We had a short visit and were granted permission to go up to the cave entrance to photograph the emergence. We made an appointment to see him the following morning to discuss our findings.

MDT_TH4_C3_5203
Merlin at the cave entrance with our guide Pongsanant interpreting, while he explains to the head guard and a monk which trees and vines need trimming for the safety of the bats as they emerge each night.

The wrinkle-lipped bat (Chaerephon plicatus) colony had been slowly declining in recent years, despite protection, so Merlin was concerned to discover why. After climbing to the cave we noticed that trees and vines had gradually grown up around the entrance, disrupting the bats’ emergence, as thousands collided with obstacles. We saw clear problems that in other free-tailed bat caves have caused abandonment and reported this the next morning. Merlin was happy to provide an on-site explanation and delighted when the tree trimming was promptly ordered. The cave managers are now aware that this should be repeated every couple of years in the future as a routine part of protection.

Given Merlin’s involvement in gaining the first protection for these bats 34 years ago, he’s especially interested in ensuring their continued safety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More

Angkor Wat and Bats

Angkor WatLiterally thousands of temple ruins are near Siem Reap to explore, and at least three days is recommended to see most of them. In one day we visited ten, and were pleased to find bats in most of them.

The complex of temples known as Angkor was built from the 9th to 13th century by successive Khmer rulers, and the mother of them all is the Angkor Wat Temple, the largest (first Hindu, later Buddhist) temple in the world. Between the 12th and 13th century, when London had a mere population of about 50,000, it is estimated that Angkor had 1,000,000, making it the largest city in the world at the time.  They were the people, under successive Khmer kings, who built these massive construction projects on the scale of the Egyptian Pharaohs’ pyramids.

If you’ve ever seen the Angelina Jolie movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, many of the scenes were filmed at Angkor. I join the chorus and recommend you see Angkor Wat before you die!

At nearby Phnom Kulen National Park, we set up a four-panel bat trap over a small stream in the forest for about an hour, and caught five species of bats. (more…)

Read More

Bat caves of Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang Bat Cave
Wrinkle-lipped bat emergence at one of the caves (Tarum) in Battambang, Cambodia

We spent two nights at the Battambang Bat Caves in Cambodia to photograph the incredible emergences of the Asian wrinkle-lipped bats (Chaerephon plicatus). With help from Thona, our colleague and interpreter, Merlin interviewed the owner of the guano harvesting permit for one of the caves (he called it Tarum). He advised the man to never again use pesticides inside the cave (apparently to kill insects that bothered the guano collectors) and recommended removal of a large dead tree in the emerging bats’ flight path. The tree was causing a traffic jam of bats that greatly increased injuries and predation. This was done immediately. (See the remaining stump, lower left of photo).

Merlin interviewed the guano miner of the Tarum bat cave, Battambang, Cambodia
Merlin spoke to the owner of the guano harvesting permit for the cave he called “Tarum” in Battambang, Cambodia

 

Jeff Acopian videotaped the bat-watching tourists. Just before the emergence, I perched myself on the small hill under the entrance to photograph the bats. An incredible thunderstorm came through, turning my umbrella inside out. Once it passed, the bats finally emerged. At this same time, Merlin took shelter from the rain beneath a ledge in the cave entrance where he had just seen an approximately seven-foot unidentified snake enter a hole about a meter away. He could only hope the snake wasn’t poisonous.

 

 

Read More