You saw a few bats last post. I am quite serious about learning more about bats so I can photograph them. These are fascinating little animals that deserve our attention but are difficult to photograph because they are indeed creatures of the night and we aren't. But what would life be without some challenges! (A crazy challenge, but one I am willing to spend time, even years on.) The bat above is a myotis and its mouth is open because it is echolocating.
There are a lot of misconceptions about bats that result in them being mistreated or at least feared. They are not understood because they don't seem part of most of our lives – they are creatures of the night, they are not colorful, they blend in with their surroundings, they make little noise that we can hear, and they are very small.
Many people think bats get in their hair. Think about it – here's an animal that can detect a small insect in flight, as the bat is flying, too, track it in three dimensions and then catch and eat it, still while flying. How on earth could an animal with those skills get tangled in someone's hair?
Bats are the only mammals that have evolved true flight. There are approximately 1300 species of bats, making them second only to rodents as the group with the most species of mammals. They include nearly a fourth of all mammal species.
Bats are not flying rodents. They are closer to primates (and us!). Bats live a long time, especially for a small animal (many species live 30 years or more), they typically have only one baby at a time (a few have two and only a very few have more – as small flying animals, they cannot "afford" the weight of a lot of babies born live – part of being a mammal).
These are small animals, mostly weighing a fraction of an ounce and a few inches in size. They have a very high metabolism as flying mammals and eat a huge number of insects. Most bats will eat 1/3 to 1/2 their weight in insects each night. Some bats of the tropics feed on flower nectar or fruit and are important pollinators and seed dispensers.
Their echolocation abilities are incredible. They can "see" at night by sending out very loud, high frequency sounds (that we cannot hear) which bounce back to them from their prey and surroundings, acting a bit like a fish finder, but at a level of sophistication that no present fish finder can come close to. Bats can discern things as small as a human hair with their "sonar" plus they can even tell the difference between a branch and an insect with it. This does not mean they cannot see. All bats can see well, and some have excellent night vision. However, since night does not reveal colors well, bats do not have very good color vision.
And they definitely hear well! This large-eared bat is a pallid bat and can even hear its prey, large insects (and other arthropods, including scorpions) walking on the ground. It does not catch its prey in flight, but will pounce on it like an owl pounces on a mouse.
There are some big misconceptions about bats and rabies. Like all mammals, bats get rabies, but very few do. Field research puts the number at about 1%, no different than any other mammal species. But because the disease is scary, the statistics are not always accurate. Public health says as high as 10% – that is a bit crazy since they are only sampling bats people bring to them, so 10% of already probably sick bats having rabies might seem a little low.
I suppose it is a bit like terrorists and Muslim. Very few Muslims are terrorists, just like very few bats have rabies. Rabies always kills bats that have it, and terrorism kills a lot of terrorists, too. The life span of a terrorist is typically short. But though the likelihood of either rabies or a terrorist affecting our lives directly is very, very small, terrorists and rabies are both scary.
As I learn more about bats, I get a lot of ideas about photographing them, but I also learn a lot about how hard this is going to be. Yet photography for me is also about exploring, discovering and learning about the nature all around us, so just starting on my "bat project" has really made me think a bit more about these incredible animals.
Bats, A World of Mystery and Science, by M. Brock Fenton and Nancy B. Simmons. This book has some of the latest information on bats and has many, many wonderful photos.
Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats, by Kim Williams and Rob Mies. An excellent introduction to the bats of North America.
Check out my book and video course combination at www.joyofnatureandphotography.com.