Note- this is a monthly feature where I talk about a groovy- and biologically threatened- creature or place that I plan to feature on some of my pottery. I do this for two reasons...

1) I could ramble on forever about the incredible tapestry of life on this planet
2) I need an ongoing incentive to put in time on my sketch-board.

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Bats are a ramified, wildly diverse clade of wild creatures. There are bats with sucker feet, bats with career specializations in frog-stalking, bats that drink blood. Among mammals, bats are second only to rodents in terms of species count.

One of the coolest bats on the face of the planet is undoubtedly Vampyrum spectrum, the spectral bat.

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Picture your archetypal horror movie bat. Undoubtedly, you’d draw in some out-sized fangs, goblin ears… perhaps a simian or canine-looking muzzle. This specimen from the classic vampire film ‘Fright Night’ is a good example.

Bats are a ramified, wildly diverse clade of wild creatures. There are bats with sucker feet, bats with career specializations in frog-stalking, bats that drink blood. Among mammals, bats are second only to rodents in terms of species count.

One of the coolest bats on the face of the planet is undoubtedly Vampyrum spectrum, the spectral bat.

Picture your archetypal horror movie bat. Undoubtedly, you’d draw in some out-sized fangs, goblin ears… perhaps a simian or canine-looking muzzle. This specimen from the classic vampire film ‘Fright Night’ is a good example.

Now, look at this snapshot of ‘Los Maniferos de Ecuador’- a guide to all things hairy from one of my favorite countries. Of the bats on this two-page spread, which strikes you as the most ‘monstrous’?

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For most of us, I expect that it wouldn’t be this guy. Blunt little snout, positively puppyish. In point of fact, this is a nectivorous bat (Anoura geoffroyi)- a bat that flits, hummingbird-esque , from flower to flower.

In point of fact, most bats are winsome, gentle creatures, especially in light of the fear that they engender.


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This chap on the other hand, looks like he’s about to rip the wind-pipe out of a vestal virgin in ancient Greece.

V. spectrum is the largest purely carnivorous bat in the world with a wing-span approaching three feet. They have 'terrible mandibles of bone crushing death (thank you Hobbes).

They also have the bizarre, leaf-shaped nose appendage shared by all Phyllostomidae (the clade that V. spectrum belongs to). It's hard to look completely vicious when you sport a honker like a proboscis monkey... but no-one's perfect.

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I’m supervising a group of student researchers in Ecuador this summer- I just got back from a month in the south of the country. Mikki Brinkemeyer, one of the students, is doing some pilot genetic work on V. spectrum (basically- trying to determine whether we can extract DNA from bat poop).

Here’s a Ceiba tree at a site called Arenillas near the Peruvian border. The key thing to note here is the massive rat tail hanging out of the hollow. That was probably an 8-inch, 12 ounce rat (conservative estimate)… and it was nabbed on the wing and born (undoubtedly squealing it’s head off) to this tree.


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V. Spectrum also chase down other bats, amphibians, birds, 12-inch praying mantis and walking sticks, and Chihuahuas. A V. spectrum scat looks like an owl pellet, but with larger bones.

(On your left- a big pile of bat poo in the tree at Arenillas).


Having played up the gargoyle aspects of this species, I should emphasize that I find them ecologically fascinating, important, and (my personal bias) rather cute. Most pictures show spectral bats with a wide maw and an outraged expression… but this may be an artifact of the ‘Prometheus on a rock’ pose that bats are forced to assume when caught by researchers. See this photo of Carisa Stansbury (with a  V. spectrum in Costa Rica).

You'd look irate too if someone held you spread-eagle'd like that.

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In contrast, look at this group shot from inside the tree at Arenillas. (Thanks to Carlos Narváez Romero for the photo).

Who wouldn’t want to nestle up in a wing-membrane hammock and dream the night away with this gang?

Mind you… starting at dusk, this particular group will aggressively dive-bomb researchers. Carlos and his team had to run for cover shortly after this photo was taken.


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Spectral bats span a geographic range from Brazil to the south of Mexico. We know that they like hollow trees. Otherwise, they’re a complete cypher from a scientific standpoint.  The IUCN red list flags them as ‘near threatened’… but this is effectively for three reasons. 1) They like big trees, 2) they have a patchy distribution, and 3) we don’t know much of anything about them.


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Other than rampant deforestation, a serious potential threat to the species lies with its classic Bram Stoker good looks. Every time there’s a rabies outbreak- in Ecuador or elsewhere- you see a general pogrom against all bats (even though the vampire bat- Desmodus rotundus- is usually the culprit).

The image to the left is from an article about an Ecuadorian rabies outbreak in 2011. 11 people died in Amazonia. The culprits were almost certainly infected D. rotundus. The image, however, appears to be an old world flying fox (gentle, fruit-eating bats).


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D. rotundus doesn’t really look like V. spectrum… but if you’re a farmer with a V. spectrum tree on your property, I doubt that you’re going to consult a field guide after exposure to the 2011 rabies article.

(Note- I’m certainly not suggesting that people should get out the pitchforks for D. rotundus either).


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Anyhow, Mikki and her Ecuadorian colleagues will be mist-netting V. spectrum at the end of this month. I wish her luck, and I’m envious as all get-out that the timing didn’t work for me.

In the meantime, I’ve always got my pots. In terms of inscribing bats on ceramic art… I forsee an interesting pitfall. There’s a ton of ‘head-shop’ style art out there related to bats… goths and bongs and Meat Loaf and all that good stuff. Not exactly the niche I’m trying to occupy.

Still- a man can’t live in fear!


 


Comments

05/27/2014 13:05

Great drawing of a bat.

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08/14/2014 23:06

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Oh it's very dangerous bird to see.we can see this in the movie.before seeing this i did't know what type of bird it is..thanks for giving the some idea on it..

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