The Secret Lives of Bats

“The Secret Lives of Bats”

by Fran Withrow


I well remember the first time a bat got into our house in Ginter Park. My small daughter came into the bedroom where I stood with a towel on my wet hair and calmly gave me the news, whereupon I let out a shriek, dropped to the floor, and sent her to inform her father, who was napping in the next room. The bat followed her, so I scrambled up and quickly shut the door on all three of them.


Not my finest moment.


So when I discovered “The Secret Lives of Bats,” I knew it this was a golden opportunity to learn more about these little mammals that periodically appeared in my house.


Author Merlin Tuttle discovered his first cave of gray myotis (gray bats) in 1959 at age 17. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair, and the start of a decades-long quest to educate the world about bats. Bats, it turns out, are intelligent and gentle, yet these misunderstood animals are often persecuted by a bat-fearing public. People are largely unaware of their importance in maintaining the ecosystem (except for their penchant for eating mosquitos).


Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International, has traveled all over the world to study bats, photograph them, and, in the process, reveal their critical role not only in insect control but also pollination and seed dispersal. From the United States to Africa to Australia, he describes his quest to find bats, often risking his own safety as he encounters lions, cobras, poachers, and even moonshiners.  I was fascinated to discover how easy it is to train bats, which Tuttle did repeatedly to obtain stunning photographs for National Geographic (many included in the book).


Tuttle is one dedicated bat lover, and I was spellbound by his dedication. He spent nights shivering in rivers, waiting to gently net bats for photographs or tagging. (They were always carefully released afterward.) He climbed into and out of dark caves with little light so as not to disturb mother bats and their babies. He taught farmers that burning caves full of bats meant they would then need to use more chemicals to control insects. Some cactus flowers can only be pollinated by bats, and Tuttle braved the desert’s extreme heat, taking thousands of photos to get one showing a bat with a pollen covered head.


From flying foxes with a wingspan of five feet to bats so small they weigh as much as a nickel, Tuttle lovingly reveals to us the world of these captivating animals. (A photo of an exquisite painted bat and one of a dwarf epauletted bat had me cooing warmly.)


I was totally engrossed in Tuttle’s exciting adventures, his readable style, and his warm, familiar manner. I finished this book in a couple of days, but kept going back to look at pictures or reread a particularly enthralling bat encounter. This engaging book will give you, as it did me, a new appreciation for those alluring creatures swooping through our sky at dusk.


The Secret Lives of Bats

by Merlin Tuttle


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

256 pages

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North of the James, is an award-winning general interest publication with a regional focus that has been serving the region for over 20 years. North of the James presents business profiles, book and restaurant reviews, a calendar of events, and much more

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