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A Bat Man in the Tropics

A Bat Man in the Tropics: Chasing El Duende

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 333
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  • Book Info
    A Bat Man in the Tropics
    Book Description:

    The euphoria of discovery is the only motivation many scientists need for studying nature and its secrets. Yet euphoria is rarely expressed in scientific publications. This book, a personal account of more than thirty years of fieldwork by one of the world’s leading bat biologists, wonderfully conveys the thrill of scientific discovery. Theodore Fleming’s work to document the lives and ecological importance of plant-visiting bats has taken him to the tropical forests of Panama, Costa Rica, and Australia, and to the lush Sonoran Desert of northwest Mexico and Arizona. This book tells the story of his fascinating career and recounts his many adventures in the field. Fleming weaves autobiographical reflections together with information on the natural history and ecology of bats and describes many other animals and plants he has encountered. His book details the stresses and rewards of life in scientific field camps, gives portraits of prominent biologists such as Dan Janzen and Peter Raven, and traces the development of modern tropical biology. A witness to the destruction and development of many of the forests he has visited throughout his career, Fleming makes a passionate plea for the conservation of these wild places.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92948-7
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Harry W. Greene

    A Bat Man in the Tropics: Chasing El Duendeis the seventh volume in the University of California Press’s series on organisms and environments. Our main themes are the diversity of plants and animals, the ways in which they interact with one another and with their surroundings, and the broader implications of those relationships for science and society. We seek books that promote unusual, even unexpected, connections among seemingly disparate topics; we want to encourage writing that is special by virtue of the unique perspectives and talents of the author.

    There are more than nine hundred species of bats, formally known to...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Maps
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  8. 1 Up a Quebrada without a Paddle
    (pp. 1-24)

    On a beautifully clear morning in late January 1966 I found myself seated behind the pilot in a small twin-engine plane that had just taken off from a small airfield outside Panama City, Panama. In the plane with me was Frank Greenwell, who worked for the Smithsonian Institution’s Division of Mammals, and eight hundred pounds of field gear and a mountain of food. Our flight would take us an hour south along Panama’s Pacific coast to the village of Jaqué, where we planned to hire Choco Indians to transport us in a boat up the Río Jaqué (see map 1). Once...

  9. 2 Year of the Marmosa
    (pp. 25-51)

    In his first letter to me, Charles Handley had indicated that little was known about “seasonal variation in the biology of [neo]tropical mammals.” In a way, this was paradoxical. Here was the richest mammal fauna in the world containing a myriad of different lifestyles, but it had barely been studied by ecologists and natural historians. Whereas the natural history and rudiments of the population ecology of many species of temperate small mammals, including a number of bats, were quite well-known by the mid-1960s, little was known about the lives of their tropical counterparts.

    The main reason for this, of course, is...

  10. 3 Along the Río Corobici
    (pp. 52-80)

    I’m sure that my wife Marcia’s women friends consider her to be a saint. Who else but a saint would put up with a field biologist who annually disappears for months at a time and who from time to time asks his entire family to pull up stakes and move to a new location for a year? To be fair, Marcia didn’t necessarily know that this was going to be our lifestyle when we were married in the summer of 1965. But she received a strong preview of our coming life when I flew off to Panama without her four...

  11. 4 El Duende
    (pp. 81-100)

    I was recently flipping through the pages of a new general ecology textbook when a familiar picture caught my eye. In the section on animal foraging behavior was a photo of a short-tailed fruit bat, wings held aloft and a corncob-shapedPiperfruit in its mouth. The text accompanying the picture indicated that this bat is an optimal forager; that is, it maximizes its net rate of energy gain while searching for its favorite food. I had to smile at seeing some of the results of our long-term research on this bat in a textbook. Of all the examples of...

  12. 5 Three Hundred Nights of Solitude
    (pp. 101-132)

    Insectivory has always been the most common feeding mode in bats. Fully sixteen of the eighteen families and about three-quarters of all species of bats have evolved a diverse array of foraging styles for exploiting nocturnal insects. Among the insect eaters that occur in a tropical forest, such as Santa Rosa, are species that pursue insects far above the forest canopy (freetailed bats), species that pursue insects in forest clearings and along streambeds (sac-winged bats and some vesper bats), species that hunt for their prey in cluttered vegetation (mustached, funnel-eared, and some vesper bats), and species that pluck insects off...

  13. 6 Anastasio’s Last Stand
    (pp. 133-147)

    My office walls in the Cox Science Building at the University of Miami are decorated with a gorgeous redmolafrom Panama and a variety of framed photographs and colorful posters, mostly depicting bats and habitats where I have worked. In the midst of these is a rather small piece of scuffed leather, nicely matted and set in a dark wooden frame. This piece of leather is all that remains of a briefcase that I purchased in Costa Rica in 1971. Burnished into its tan leather is a dark cattle brand—a vespertilionid bat with rounded ears and broad tail...

  14. 7 Vampyrum
    (pp. 148-159)

    When he’s photographing bats, Merlin Tuttle leaves nothing to chance. Everything about his photographic setup—camera, lenses, flashes, infrared beams, and background material—must be in perfect working order and perfectly placed before he makes his first exposure. His excruciating attention to detail certainly pays off. The portraits and action shots of bats that he has been taking since the late 1970s make Merlin the premier photographer of bats in the world. And his artistry with these normally shy and elusive subjects has been the key to the success of Bat Conservation International, the organization he founded in 1982. Merlin’s...

  15. 8 Fooling Around with Flying Foxes
    (pp. 160-184)

    For my forty-sixth birthday, Marcia gave me a didgeridoo (“sound stick”), a musical instrument made by north Australian Aborigines from a tree branch that has been hollowed out by termites. One to two meters in length, this instrument is played much like a large brass instrument. By blowing air into one opening while vibrating their lips, musicians produce a lowpitched, droning sound. Using “circular breathing,” a technique also employed by brass and woodwind players, didgeridoo players can produce a continuous sound for over ten minutes. In addition to droning sounds, skilled players can imitate all kinds of animal sounds—bird...

  16. 9 Tracy’s Hypothesis
    (pp. 185-216)

    In August 1988, shortly after we returned from Australia, Merlin Tuttle called to welcome me back to the States. After a few minutes of news and gossip, Merlin got to the real purpose of his call. He asked, “How would you like to take a break from your tropical studies and work with me on the lesser long-nosed bat,Leptonycteris curasoae,as it pollinates flowers of columnar cacti in the Sonoran Desert?” He had spent some time in May photographing this bat visiting cactus flowers at a place called Bahía Kino in Sonora, Mexico (see map 4). “It’s an absolutely...

  17. 10 Along the Nectar Trail
    (pp. 217-253)

    Marcia came to visit me in the middle of our first field season at Kino Bay. Like me, she had never been to the Sonoran Desert before and wanted to see the new plants and bats I was studying. She froze with me in the desert at night while we slept between rounds of nectar sucking. One sunny morning we climbed past the Sierra Kino cave to the top of this 450-meter-tall basaltic massif. From its top, swaying in a stiff wind, we could see nearly forever—to the sparkling blue waters of the Gulf of California to the south,...

  18. 11 In the Blink of an Eye
    (pp. 254-269)

    Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time staring at the phosphorescent green screen of night vision scopes, waiting to see bats interact with plants. These devices, originally called snooper scopes when they were first used in the Vietnam War, amplify ambient light thousands of times to form a bright image under low-light conditions. With a little supplementary light—for example, from infrared light, which is invisible to mammals—the viewing scene at night can be as bright as day. I first used a night vision scope to watch bats harvest fruit from plants in the mid-1970s at...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 270-280)

    Late January 1996 marked the thirtieth anniversary of my work with tropical bats. I celebrated this milestone in a cattle pasture near the village of Montepío, located about two hundred kilometers southeast of Veracruz, on Mexico’s Gulf coast. Receiving nearly six meters of rain a year, Montepío lies in a region of hills, valleys, ancient volcanoes, and crater lakes, a region that, until recently, was covered with the neotropic’s northernmost extension of lowland rain forest. Not as rich in species as lowland rain forests in Costa Rica and Panama, this forest contains (or at least did before deforestation) about 150...

  20. APPENDIX 1. A Brief Overview of Bat Diversity
    (pp. 281-284)
  21. APPENDIX 2. Some Common and Scientific Names Used in the Text
    (pp. 285-290)
  22. References
    (pp. 291-300)
  23. Subject Index
    (pp. 301-308)
  24. Name Index
    (pp. 309-311)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-312)