NASBR 2016 Keynote Message from Merlin Tuttle

Merlin’s Keynote Message at the 46th Annual Symposium of the North American Society for Bat Research

By Merlin Tuttle
10/13/16

Merlin provided perspective on bat conservation progress in America over the 46 years since annual meetings of North American bat researchers began  in 1970. At that time most Americans had been led to believe that bats were little more than disease carrying, mostly rabid vermin, and frightened citizens were spending tens of millions of dollars annually hiring pest control companies to poison bats in buildings.

Hundreds of thousands of Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) beginning their evening departure from a city park in Ivory Coast, Africa. Cities often provide the only homes safe from commercial hunters who sell them for people to eat. Despite such large numbers having lived in close assoiation with humans throughout recorded history, they have not caused disease outbreaks. Their remarkable safety record casts grave doubt on recent speculation of their being dangerous carriers of disease. Emergences
Hundreds of thousands of Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) beginning their evening departure from a city park in Ivory Coast, Africa. Cities often provide the only homes safe from commercial hunters who sell these bats for human food. Despite large numbers having been eaten, and having lived in close association with humans throughout recorded history, they have caused no documented disease outbreaks. The remarkable safety record of bats worldwide casts grave doubt on recent speculation of their being dangerous carriers of deadly diseases.

Our early research objectives included studies documenting that scare campaigns by those profiting from human fear were themselves posing the most serious threats to public health. We put fear in perspective, showing that bats, in fact, have one of our planet’s finest records of living safely with people, documented numerous values of bats, gradually overcame historic misperceptions and gained protection for thousands of critical bat roosting habitats. As interest and appreciation of bats increased our group grew from 42 to over 400 participants, and we can now take great pride in many accomplishments.

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Field Guide to Amazonian Bats

The Field Guide to Amazonian Bats by Adria López-Baucells, Ricardo Rocha, Paulo Bobrowiec, Enrico Bernard, Jorge Palmeirim and Christoph Meyer is a giant step forward for the world’s most diverse bat assemblage. As one who has spent years identifying and photographing Amazonian bats, I’m exceedingly well impressed with all aspects of this publication, not just its clear and well-illustrated keys, but also with the quality and completeness of photos and the strong conservation orientation. I’m proud to have contributed in a small way.
-Merlin Tuttle

Please download and enjoy The Field Guide to Amazonian Bats!

Pictured is a spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum), one of the many unique Amazonian bats. This is the largest New World bat, with a wingspan of nearly three feet. It is a carnivore that feeds on a wide variety of small vertebrates, including rats, birds and small oppossums. Mates appear to take turns hunting for food versus baby-sitting. They live in large, hollow trees.

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Merlin’s response to Chicago story about bats and rabies

Merlin’s response to Chicago story about bats and rabies
By Merlin Tuttle
6/16/16
This is an outrageously distorted story, obviously planted by those who profit most from public fear. Rabies transmission from bats to humans is extremely rare (just 1.5 Americans per year) and normally involves a bite that is detected at the time. However some people fail to seek medical advice and post-exposure vaccination, and thus are at risk of contracting rabies. When we put risks in perspective, our own beloved dogs kill approximately 20 times more Americans annually than die of rabies from bats.
                                                                                                                                                                    We’ve learned to live reasonably safely with dogs. It’s even easier to live safely with bats. Just don’t attempt to handle them, and the odds of being harmed by one are exceedingly remote. If indeed one assumes that 8 of 10 Chicago homes harbor bats as claimed, that is proof in itself that bats make safe neighbors. If they are anywhere nearly as dangerous as implied, then rabies should be vastly more common in Chicagoans.

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Merlin’s response to NPR headline on bat rabies

Merlin’s response to NPR headline on bat rabies
By Merlin Tuttle
6/3/2016

Media headlines are often unnecessarily sensational as they compete for readers/viewers. The National Public Radio headline, “Bats in the bedroom can spread rabies without an obvious bite,” is a good example. However, the story itself, as well as its portrayal of a silver-haired bat, were more balanced than most.

Bats can transmit rabies as stated, but not without a bite that is normally painful enough to be recognized at the time. The U.S. Center for Disease Control claims of rabies cases with “no definite bite history” are biased by unreliable reporting methodology. The State of Oregon thoroughly investigated the odds of rabies exposure from bats found in people’s homes relative to needs for vaccination, and their conclusions are enlightening. (more…)

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“Bats and Viruses” Book Review by Merlin Tuttle

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Bats and Viruses, edited by Lin-Fa Wang and Christopher Cowled, provides the first summary of current knowledge on how bats and viruses interact. It is an invaluable resource for all who are concerned about bats, whether from a public health or a conservation perspective. Given the rate of viral discovery it is commendably up-to-date.

 

Viral discoveries, distribution, potential for zoonoses, best practices, research biases and areas in need of further investigation are thoroughly covered.

Bats appear to serve as reservoir hosts for several of the world’s deadliest diseases. However, as noted, transmission to humans or their livestock is rare, and in most cases can be easily avoided. Advice not to eat bushmeat, handle unfamiliar animals, mix unquarantined wildlife in markets or plant fruit trees where flying foxes can be lured into close proximity to livestock is appreciated.

Numerous biases and possible misinterpretations are explained. Viral reservoirs cannot be confirmed based on mere presence of viruses or antibodies, and those found in bat guts or feces may come from insects or other foods. Also arthropods such as mosquitoes can simultaneously infect more than one species with identical zoonotic viruses, giving a false impression of transmission between incidental hosts.

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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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Photographing North America’s Rarest Bat

An endangered Florida bonneted bat, America’s rarest bat, once thought to be extinct.

America’s rarest bat, the endangered Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), was once relatively common. It often lived in tile roofs of Coral Gables and Miami, and its loud, low-frequency echolocation calls made it easy to detect. The species declined sharply in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, and by the late 1970’s extinction was feared. Then in 1978 woodcutters found a male and seven females in a woodpecker cavity. Soon several more were found living in a backyard bat house.

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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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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!

Love,

Alexis

 

 

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