Bats: An Illustrated Guide to All Species
I’ve been passionate about bats ever since discovering thousands of Gray Myotis in a cave near my Tennessee home in 1959. Almost nothing was yet known about them. However, stained cave ceilings, guano deposits, and stories told by old-timers confirmed they had once been among the most abundant mammals of eastern North America. Health officials were erroneously blaming them for a rabies outbreak in foxes, and cave owners were pouring kerosene into roosts and incinerating thousands of bats at a time. They were in such precipitous decline that leading experts were predicting extinction. Beginning as a high school student, I went on to band more than 40,000 of them, trace their migratory movements, and document their value and urgent need for protection as a part of my eventual doctoral thesis. As I explained the value and needs of bats, fear began to be replaced with understanding and appreciation. Cave owners and explorers began to protect key roosting caves. Today, as a direct result, there are millions more Gray Myotis than when their extinction was predicted. For many other species, we are dangerously late in protecting them. Worldwide, countless bat species remain in alarming decline, victims of needless fear, persecution, and neglect. In recent decades we have finally begun to document their essential roles in maintaining
the health of whole ecosystems, keeping insect populations in check, dispersing seeds, and pollinating flowers. Our real fears should be about losing them. Yet, far too often, sensational headlines warn of potential disease pandemics instead. Bats will leave us alone if we leave them alone, but toxic pesticides won’t.
Most of the world’s bats have barely been studied beyond having been described as species. When it comes to amazing research discoveries, they are a long-neglected goldmine. However, it is incumbent upon us scientists to go beyond exploitation for knowledge alone. Bats urgently need help, and we who study them bear responsibility for their survival. We must strive to leave more than we find.
Some bats have gone extinct, unnoticed until years later. As an ecologist, I am most concerned about the decline of species that traditionally have formed large aggregations, especially those with narrow cave requirements. These are vulnerable to so-called “Passenger Pigeon effects.” For example, when numbers fall below critical thresholds, they may be unable to heat roosts sufficiently to rear young. As you will learn in this book, their loss can threaten the health of whole ecosystems and economies.
Too often, we focus mostly on saving the rarest species, often ones whose distribution is limited to a single small area. Though we may love and want to save all bats, such species have the least impact in ensuring the long-term health of our planet. Conservation status listings can be dangerously misleading. As traditionally and here applied, they often refer only to a species’ perceived risk of extinction. However, long before extinction, a species can be reduced to biological irrelevance. Keeping traditionally common species sufficiently abundant to maintain ecosystem health should be a top priority. It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and never has this been truer than in the case of bats. Hopefully, the pages that follow will help more people to recognize bats as the intelligent, curious, comical, even essential animals I have personally known for the past sixty years.
Merlin D. Tuttle
Flying almost blindly but unerringly through the night in their threedimensional 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
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