For over 60 years, Dr. Merlin Tuttle has been changing the public's perception of a misunderstood mammal. By dedicating his life to the conservation of bats, Dr. Tuttle has helped ensure that these vital keepers of our ecosystem are thriving. As a bat biologist and photographer, he uses scientific research as well as visual materials to deepen our understanding of these animals. One of his most intriguing series is his set of bat portraits, which reveal the diversity and personality of these mammals.
There are over 1,400 bat species worldwide, making up one-fifth of the world's mammal species. These bats have an important role to play in keeping insect populations under control and in both pollinating and carrying seeds for plants. Yet, many people are fearful of these animals due to common misconceptions. This is where Dr. Tuttle and the work of his foundation, Merlin Tuttle's Bat Conservation, come into play.
“Fear is the biggest risk to bats,” Dr. Tuttle tells My Modern Met. “People won't protect and often kill what they don't understand or fear; one misinformed person can do a lot of damage, and all it takes is one person to kill a million bats in a cave! Educating humans is one of the best ways to help bats.”
Dr. Tuttle's bat portraits are just one way that he helps break down the negative perceptions that many have of bats. By letting their sweet personalities shine through, he helps the public perceive them in a different light.
“My portraits illustrate the bats in their natural state as gentle, inquisitive, and cute and show the range of diversity. People fear what they misunderstand. Bats are most often unseen, so these photos help people understand bats—it's the understanding that dissolves fear and then allows them to get curious.”
The images also show the rich diversity of bat species. Whether they have large ears or a stubby nose, each bat is wholly unique with the features that have developed in synchronicity with their habitat.
But for as much work as Dr. Tuttle has done, unfortunately, bats are still in danger. Many still falsely believe that bats are responsible for carrying infectious diseases but, as Dr. Tuttle shares, they carry no more diseases than other animals. This false myth leads to eradication that can be harmful to the environment.
These programs, coupled with habitat loss and climate change, can have dire consequences. If bats are not around to control pest populations, more pesticides are used on crops; mosquito-borne diseases like the West Nile virus and Malaria can increase as a result.
So the next time you see a bat, you should thank this small mammal. Or, better yet, build a bat house to help give this flying friend a safe haven.