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…)

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My First Field Trip with Merlin

Have you ever squeezed into a hollow tree in the rain forest? Me neither. But MTBC’s digital/social media coordinator, Teresa Nichta, followed Merlin into just such a tree during our recent field work in Trinidad searching for… hey, let’s hear the story from Teresa and make sure you watch the video at the end!

“Great, you’re finally here! Come on, we’re going hunting for katydids,” Merlin says. It’s nearly 11pm and I drop my bags, strap on my headlight and spray bug repellent on the brand new boots I’d been wearing since I boarded the plane in Texas for Trinidad.

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Ebola: Bats Prematurely Blamed

Ebola: Bats Prematurely Blamed
By Merlin Tuttle
1/14/16

If public health concerns were based on actual threats to human mortality, diseases speculated to be spread by bats would take a distant back seat. Even our beloved dogs are many times more dangerous than bats (1). Real killers, like consumption of over processed and contaminated foods dwarf any risks associated with animals (2).

Yet we squander millions of scarce public health dollars on witch hunts for rare diseases in bats, when those funds could save far more human lives if spent on reducing already proven killers such as obesity and environmental toxicants linked to escalating rates of cancer, heart disease, dementia and diabetes.

An adult male straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum), the species most often blamed for Ebola.

In recent years speculation linking scary diseases to bats has gained unprecedented media headlines and grants.

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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.

 

 

 

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Association for Tropical Biology Conference, Asia-Pacific Chapter Meeting 2015

Merlin Tuttle's ATBC plenary lecture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Merlin Tuttle’s 2015 ATBC plenary lecture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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.

 

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Fanged pitcher plants and other shelters

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Woolly bat inspects fanged pitcher plant for roosting suitability.

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.

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Woolly bat personalities

Caroline Schoner protecting Merlin's camera from rain, while photographing pitcher plants Photo taken by Michael Schoner
Caroline Schoner protecting Merlin’s camera from rain.
Photo by Michael Schoner

Heavy and unpredictable rains made field photography in Brunei difficult. It was a great relief when we were finally able to obtain mealworms so we could keep tiny woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii) in our studio. Weighing less than a US nickel, they had been considered too small to be kept in captivity longer than overnight. But under Merlin’s watchful eye, we were able to tame and keep a cast of four. In fact, they turned out to be some of the most fun bats we’ve worked with.  By the second night they had learned to come to our hands for mealworms without our even trying to teach them, and soon learned to get Merlin’s attention when hungry by literally getting in his face.

Hardwicke's woolly bat
Hardwicke’s woolly bat
Woolly bat emerging from a Nepenthes hemsleyana pitcher
Woolly bat emerging from an N. hemsleyana pitcher

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Lost luggage and dead mealworms

Merlin and I arrived in the capital city of Brunei, Bandar seri Begawan, on August 10th with only four of our five checked bags of 350 pounds of gear and equipment. Caroline and Michael Schöner, our hosts, met us at the airport to take us to the house they had been renting on the Labi Forest Road, a two-hour drive from the capital on the coast to the interior of Brunei. They had additional bad news. The local pet store was out of  mealworms needed to feed the bats we intended to photograph in our sudio, and it would be five days till more arrived. That was also how long it took for our missing luggage containing essential tripods and flash  stands to materialize. Finally, even when everything did arrive, the electricity failed, preventing us from using fans for cooling. Our small, tin-roofed cottage got so hot that we barely survived, though all of our newly purchased mealworms, kept in the same room with us, died. Another long drive to the capitol was required to purchase more, further delaying us from keeping bats in our studio.

Michael and Caroline Schöner wading through a peat swamp, searching for bats roosting in pitcher plants
Michael and Caroline Schöner wading through a peat swamp, searching for bats roosting in pitcher plants
Hardwicke's Woolly Bat roosting in a pitcher plant
Hardwicke’s Woolly Bat (Kerivoula hardwickii) roosting in a pitcher plant (Nepenthes hemsleyana).

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Appreciation barbecue at the field station

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Every field season, it’s a tradition for the field station to hold a barbecue and invite friends and local bat researchers like Teodora Ivanova (holding her baby) who, together with Bjorn Siemers from Germany, started the Tabachka Bat Research Center. Seated two seats back from Teo is one of Bulgaria’s very first bat researchers, Eberhart Undzhyan. Hristiyana “Chris” Stomoayalova (front right) is the landlady for the station, who promptly responded to our calls when the refrigerator and the washing machine broke down. Thanks to all of the friends of the Siemers Bat Research Center for keeping Bjorn’s dream alive!

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