Bat Week Special Zoo-notable- The Secret Lives of Bats

It’s Bat Week, a perfect time to celebrate our winged friends in the night sky. Last year I read The Secret Lives of Bats by Merlin Tuttle for my Halloween Zoo-notable, and it did not disappoint.

Bats are absolutely fascinating to me. I won’t bore you with ALL the facts I have learned about bats, but they are the most numerous group of mammals in the world, with over 1300 species found everywhere except Antarctica. They are also essential to our livelihood, providing pest control or pollination to plants that depend on them for reproduction.

But there are so many misconceptions surrounding bats, so I’m grateful that these animals have an amazing hero in the form of Merlin Tuttle, who works diligently and tirelessly to protect and conserve all of them.

The Real Batman– or Bat Wizard

Merlin is a wonder himself. He has loved bats since he was a small child, and studied bats all through high school and college. Merlin is also a photographer, and is one of the only people to capture in photographs bats catching their prey and pollinating flowers. His mission is to save bats by winning friends, not battles.

I encourage you to check-out his website, Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation, but I warn you, you might spend hours in deep fascination of these winged creatures of the night. For now, let’s dive into Merlin’s incredible book, the Secret Lives of Bats.

Big Idea #1- Unsung Heroes—Life Would Be Scarier Without Bats

Throughout my career I’ve been surprised at the frequency with which bat contributions to nature and human economies have gone unrecognized…

Merlin Tuttle- The Secret Lives of Bats
Photo Credit: James Waincoat (Unsplash)

Without bats, we wouldn’t have many of the foods that several nations rely on for sustenance and income. Bats provide pest control for crops that can be devastated by swarms of crop-destroying insects. They are primary pollinators many farmers and scientists used to think were pollinated by birds or other mammals.

Bats also save farmers thousands of dollars on pesticide by consuming egg-laying moths whose caterpillar offspring can decimate an entire crop . People used to believe bush babies, a small primate, was the main pollinator of baobab trees in Kenya, only to discover that honor actually goes to bats. Bush babies weren’t actually brushing up against the flower to get pollen on their fur, and they didn’t travel from tree to tree like bats do.

What bats do for communities is astounding! Merlin shares:

Subsequent research at Khao Chong Pran Cave would document very conservatively that each million wrinkle-lipped bats consume nearly 6 tons of insects nightly, a large proportion of which are white-backed planthoppers, the dominant pest of local rice crops. Additionally, the cave’s nectar-eating bats are the primary pollinators of durian, Thailand’s most sought-after fruit.

But bats do more than just pollinate and consume pests in Thailand. There’s a huge economy for bat guano as fertilizer, which is a huge revenue source for villagers

First the bats provide an income with their guano, they promote stronger yields of crops by pollination, and they protect crops with automatic pest control.

So, next time you have a shot of tequila, or eat rice or a delicious piece of fruit, or enjoy an evening without being devoured by mosquitos, stop and thank our bats. They have gone far too long without the well-deserved praise they need. If we are to protect these vulnerable species, we have to appreciate them and recognize how much we need them in our day-to-day lives.

Big Idea #2- Immediate Gratification Over Long-term Benefits

We interviewed miners and guano vendors as well as quarry workers, documenting the average incomes and # of people supported. The case for saving the cave was strong. The quarry limestone mining provided only small temporary low-income employment at the cost of destroying a more lucrative long-term financial investment for a whole village by protecting bats and their caves.

Merlin Tuttle- The Secret Lives of Bats
Photo Credit: Georgy Trofimov (Unsplash)

This is a challenge that Merlin faces REPEATEDLY in his stories. It reminds me of the concept of Immediate Gratification. So often we crave the comfort, and the high rewards in the here and now…IMMEDIATELY. But that is often not what we actually need. What we REALLY need is delayed gratification, waiting just a little bit longer and finding the true jackpot after a long-term investment.

Immediate gratification can cloud our judgement and foresight for future delayed gratification. Sometimes it’s not even DELAYED, it’s just not as apparent as what’s right in front of us. But when we slow down, and make sure our decision is truly the best choice for all parties involved, we have the best impact on our lives and even the best impact on the planet.

What kind of payoff are we talking about? Well, Merlin helped the people of Thailand find a way to protect their local bats, and for villagers to provide for their families without poaching. With his help and guidance, bat-watching became a huge tourism draw to the area, making the idea of protecting bats not just beneficial, but profitable.

Just as this book was going to press a team of American and Thai scientists published their findings conservatively estimating that Khao Chong Pran bats are now saving rice farmers more than $300,000 US annually in avoided crop damage from white-backed planthoppers. Clearly, bat conservation is paying big dividends.

Big Idea #3: Show The World Your Best

The expression on Mr. Bius’ face was easy to read. “Them bats eat potato bugs? How many do they eat?”
I answered “Your colony may eat up to a hundred pounds of insects in a single night, including these potato beetles. His response, “That’s a lot of bugs!”
Nothing more needed to be said to turn his attitude around 180 degrees. A year later when I returned, Mr. Bius had become an ardent bat protector.

Merlin Tuttle- The Secret Lives of Bats
Photo Credit: Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation

The story Merlin shares in The Secret Lives of Bats is one I am familiar with for other species. Merlin has made it his mission to teach about the true benefits of bats. How they don’t attack us, how they benefit our lives, and how much the world NEEDS bats. He constantly finds ways to educate about the wonders and positive attributes to having bats in our community, wherever in the world he may be.

Merlin is able to do this with his masterful technique of winning friends rather than pitching and “winning” battles. But he admits how he has to constantly fight against these stereotypes and misconceptions about bats.

He tells a story of farmers who blame bats for eating their crop when it turned out to be rosellas. These farmers often “forgave” the true culprits on the account of their appearance and reputation. “Aren’t they pretty?” exclaimed an Australian farmer who complained bats were wiping him out while rosellas were consuming twice as much as the pollinating beneficiaries.

As Merlin explains: People simply don’t tolerate animals believed to be dangerous, regardless of the benefits the animals may provide. We need ways to educate people without making them feel bad, by showing how advantageous it is to protect bats.

I discovered one of the best ways to promote conservation for many species is to show people what THEY get out of environmental actions. With ZooFit, for example, I teach others how to be successful with their fitness and wellness goals, and all their endeavors…by taking actions to protect endangered species, and preserve the natural environment. People want to care, but unless they have some personal investment, it’s hard. Showing people how they can improve their lives by protecting bats is key to saving these vulnerable species.

Big Idea #4- Let Your Voice be Heard

Despite the confusion caused by thousands of simultaneously calling bats, and the close crowding, I often saw evidence that mothers and pups do recognize each other. As a flying mother approaches, a single pup, the only one she will accept, rears up and vocalizes in response to its mother’s voice.

Merlin Tuttle- The Secret Lives of Bats
Photo Credit: Sylvie Charron (Unsplash)

Okay, I just want to let this WOW factor sink in. A bat colony can have literally a million or more bats. Among those millions are hundreds of thousands of babies. Not long ago, scientists were convinced that bats had to be communal caregivers, meaning a mother bat took care of whomever she approached first, because there was just “no way” that a single bat could find their offspring in a sea of a million individuals.

But that’s not the case. Merlin shows us that bats indeed recognize each other and will call out to each other with unique vocalizations just between pup and mom.

That’s POWERFUL. And it inspires me to speak up a little more. There may be millions of others out there, all vying for everyone’s attention. How can I attract those who need me? What makes me special to you, my followers? How can I make my voice heard, among the millions, and connect with my people in a positive way?

Looking at this idea from a self-improvement standpoint, this idea can provide another lesson combined with the previous big idea. This is sometimes a hard lesson, but one that will benefit all of us. Most of the world focuses on the negative. They LOOK for a reason to tell us no. And we don’t have a Merlin Tuttle to travel all over the world for us to share how truly great we are. We have to be our own Merlin Tuttle. We have prove just how great we are. And we do have to take it one step further, and actually BE that which we are promoting ourselves. We have to speak louder than the millions of naysayers and let our voice be heard.

Merlin has one more remarkable lesson to show us how to be heard a little better. He has a remarkable way of letting his voice be heard, which is our final Big Idea.

 #5:  Winning Friends, not Battles

It’s amazing how much can be accomplished when we convert potential enemies into allies.

Merlin Tuttle- The Secret Lives of Bats
Photo Credit: Nils Boullard (Unsplash)

I couldn’t help but think of Brené Brown’s thoughts when reading about Merlin and his quest to save bats. Brené tells us “People are difficult to hate close up, so MOVE IN” Merlin embodies this idea to protect bats. His main tactic, are you ready for this? BEFRIENDING the people who KILL bats!

There is a story of Merlin befriending a bat poacher. Merlin learned the man was just doing what he could to support his wife and 11 children, whom Merlin met and claimed they were “irresistibly friendly and considerate”. Because he shared his knowledge and approached the hunter as a friend rather than an enemy, he was able to turn some of the hunters into allies. He takes the time to LEARN about others, rather than judge them harshly and hold them away. One restaurant owner who used to serve bats found it to be more profitable to protect bats and sell bat paraphernalia to tourists. Talk about a turn around.

Merlin accomplishes this admirable challenge by learning more about what issues people face. Often it’s just a misunderstanding, and once people learn how valuable bats really are, they change their tune. Others need extra incentive. Merlin helped establish a national park for bats in American Samoa, and he actually got flying fox hunters to get on board, by allowing them to have a voice, and even allow legal hunting of his beloved bats.

As he explained: Although I sympathized with conservationists concerns, I also am not opposed to hunting. In fact, in a modern world, game animals often receive the best protection, thanks to the concerns of responsible hunters. I don’t like to see flying foxes shot, but I also don’t like thinking of them going extinct.

Merlin recognizes that we must take care of the people so they will take care of the animals. It’s his philosophy of Winning Friends Not Battles.

Spread the Word

Photo Credit: Zdenek Machacek (Unsplash)

Thanks for joining me for Bat Week. Again, check out Merlin Tuttle’s website (and this fun video by True Facts on Merlin Tuttle).

Take care, continue living green and watch your dreams and life take flight!

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