November 2, 2015

Merlin Tuttle and The Secret Lives of Bats

  Breathtaking. "Bright colors of painted bats blend well with dead leaves where they roost. Vespertilionidae, S and SE Asia." All photos by Merlin Tuttle.

¡Feliz Día de los Fieles Difuntos! Rather than whine about last week's Santa Anas (worst ever, say people who grew up here in the foothills) or the ongoing clean-up (Sisyphean) or express endless and well-deserved appreciation to the local cactus club members who rehomed some of my plants on Sunday afternoon (room for more opuntias and agaves, yay!), I want to talk for a minute about bats, and about Merlin Tuttle.

Dr. Tuttle is the founder and president emeritus of Bat Conservation International. Because of his work on behalf of bat conservation around the world, bats (and plants, and humans) live much, much better lives. That mosquito carrying the dose of West Nile Virus that had your name on it? A bat ate her. (Bats eat thousand of metric tons of insects in the US each year.) Those avocados (cashews, coconuts, bananas, etc.) you can't imagine living without? Bats pollinate them. Saguaros, glories of the wild and of many gardens, wouldn't exist without bats. The saguaro opens its flowers at night for them:

"A lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) pollinating saguaro cactus in Mexico." 

And bats also pollinate agaves. Raise a glass of your favorite reposado to the bat!

"Lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuene) pollinating agave (source of tequila) in Arizona." 

And raise another glass to Merlin Tuttle. "Mr. Tuttle is fueled by a ferocious curiosity fed by a stiff dose of crazy," writes Julie Zickefoose in the Wall Street Journal review of his latest book. It's the best kind of crazy: he's determined to learn more, discover more, protect more, educate more, and his adventures along the way make Indiana Jones look like Barney Fife. Saving bats, it seems to me, is a way of saving the world, and I'm so happy that The Secret Lives of Bats is getting lots of attention. Check out the New Yorker review, and the Mother Jones review, then run to Amazon and get a copy.


(There's an old documentary floating around called The Secret World of Bats that features Merlin Tuttle and his work for Bat Conservation International. I've shown it to students every October for over twenty years. I realized with kind of a pang that last week's showing will probably be the final one. Not that I'd forego retirement just to keep playing this ancient video for people, but still. Bats are awesome, and Merlin Tuttle is awesome. I can't wait to read his new book.)

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