At first we tamed bats only so we could get them to behave normally during experiments. Then our knowledge that frog-eating bats could be trained and even called to our hands was put to an entirely new use. I wanted to photograph many of the fascinating things I had observed, but it seemed impossible that I could anticipate exactly where the next frog would be caught or from which direction a bat would come.
After many nights I finally succeeded in training a bat to catch frogs left sitting on a rock on a table. I rigged a small infrared beam just over a frog’s head, turned out the lights, and waited. Anything that would break the infrared beam would trigger a picture. Moments later there was a blinding flash of light, and I had a picture of an escaping frog! Then, to my dismay, the bat beat me to the frog and ate it before I could retrieve it. Now the bat wasn’t even hungry.
Undaunted, I waited till the bat again showed signs of hunger and placed a new frog on the rock. This time I was delighted to get a picture of the bat catching a frog, even if it did show only the bat’s backside.
Eventually I would take nearly 50 pictures in an hour, in bright light, using highly trained bats that would not come till called, and that would then come exactly where I wanted them. I could place a frog almost anywhere, point to it once, and expect that my trained bat would come and catch it immediately when I signaled.
One bat in particular became my star performer. He would step onto my hand anytime, would fly to my hand whenever I called, and seemed to know when to expect a reward for a good performance. Without his consistent cooperation, many of the pictures on these pages would not have been possible. Having enjoyed such a privileged relationship, I find it hard not to be sentimental about these remarkable creatures.
Simply because bats are nocturnal and timid, most people misunderstand, fear, and persecute them. Many species face possible extinction unless these misguided attitudes are reversed.
Over the years I have gained numerous new insights into the lives and behavior of bats. They are highly respected and very much liked by those of us who know them. Despite myths to the contrary, they are not blind, they carefully groom themselves, they rarely transmit diseases or parasites to man, and they do not become entangled in people’s hair. They are rarely rabid, and even then are seldom aggressive. When people are bitten, it is usually because they have picked up a sick individual that bites in self-defense. Bats found where they can be picked up should be assumed to be sick and left alone.
Most bats are highly beneficial. Tropical bats probably were the original pollinators or seed dispersers for a wide variety of economically important fruits and spices such as bananas, avocados, mangoes, guavas, breadfruit, pepper, and cloves. Bats also consume countless millions of insects nightly, including such pests as mosquitoes.
As our studies of interactions between bats and frogs illustrate, there is a great deal more to be learned about these sophisticated creatures and how they interact in the world around us. Certainly such exciting animals deserve much more respect and consideration.