Bats: An illustrated guide to all species
Flying almost blindly but unerringly through the night in their three-dimensional maze of sound, bats appear to be supernatural creatures to us. Stepping into their world means entering darkness—by night into the air, and by day into the earth itself, the deep and foreboding caves where they sleep away the daylight hours. Bats have long featured as sinister figures and icons of horror in folklore, literature, and cinema, and there is no denying that they are, to most of us, deeply mysterious. Yet above all, they are deeply misunderstood. This book seeks to illuminate the dark world of bats, and reveal their true nature as exceptionally diverse, fascinating, intelligent, and endlessly enchanting animals.
A summer evening, warm and balmy. The sky is shading from turquoise to indigo, and nocturnal insects are out—from moths, buzzing like bees as they speed past your face, to clouds of mosquitoes, discouraging you from lingering too long in one spot. Against the darkening sky, a black shape flickers. Not a bird: you can make out the smooth convexities between the fingertips of its wings, plus it twists and turns in a crazy path across the sky, in movements more extreme than even the most agile bird could manage. The bat dips across the silhouette of a tree and you lose it in the darkness.
Encounters with bats in the wild are often over almost as soon as they have begun. The moment is magical, but frustrating, leaving you longing to know more. Bats are difficult for the amateur to study. Even just working out which species you are looking at can be impossible, when all you have to go on is a fast-moving silhouette, its calls beyond the register
of what your ears can detect. However, modern technology is becoming ever more helpful here. You can use an electronic bat detector, which not only hears the calls, but plays them back at a slower speed so that you can hear them too. It can also produce a visual representation of the calls, and even tell you which species is making them.
Those seriously involved in bat research have a fast-growing range of tools at their disposal. Infrared-sensing night vision goggles help in observing bat behavior, while examination of feces, assisted by genetic barcoding, can identify the insects that they have consumed. Bats can be captured in mist nets, spun from ultra-fine thread, and have tiny radio transmitters attached, which will track them to their roosts. Another technique, satellite tagging, helps researchers to follow bats’ foraging forays or migratory journeys. Motion sensors can trigger video cameras, capturing footage of bats pollinating flowers. Slow-motion video cameras record their flight maneuvers in frame-by-frame detail, allowing every move to be analyzed. This technology has been used in southeast Asia to prove that Pteropus hypomelanus does not damage durian flowers, as was formerly believed. All around the world, researchers are studying bat biology and behavior in ever more imaginative and sophisticated ways, some of which are discussed here. Their insights are helping to fill in the gaps in our knowledge—a task both fascinating and urgent, given the threats faced by many bat populations today. Armed with that knowledge, every bat moment you experience will be that little bit richer.
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|November 10, 2021|
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