A Bat Man in the Tropics
Chasing El Duende
Publication Year: 2003
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.
Published by: University of California Press
Series: Organisms and Environments
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
A Bat Man in the Tropics: Chasing El Duende is 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 ...
My Spanish-English dictionary defines the word duende as “hobgoblin” or “ghost.” Duende can also be defined as “will o’ the wisp”—anything that deludes or misleads by luring on. In this book, I use the word duende in both senses. The first sense (hobgoblin or ghost) is meant to refer to bats, the principal subject of this book.To most people, bats are mysterious, ghost-like ...
I owe a large debt of gratitude to many people who directly or indirectly helped me write this book. They include my mentors Clara Dixon, Emmett Hooper, and Charles Handley; my collaborators Don Wilson, Ray Heithaus, Don Thomas, Frank Bonaccorso, Merlin Tuttle, Hugh Spencer, Leo Sternberg, Jim Hamrick, John Nason, Sandrine Maurice, and Jerry Wilkinson;my ...
1. Up a Quebrada without a Paddle
On a beautifully clear morning in late January 1966 I found myself seatedbehind the pilot in a small twin-engine plane that had just taken off froma small airfield outside Panama City, Panama. In the plane with me was FrankGreenwell, who worked for the Smithsonian Institution’s Division of Mam-mals, and eight hundred pounds of field gear and a mountain of food. Our...
2. Year of the Marmosa
In his first letter to me, Charles Handley had indicated that little was knownabout “seasonal variation in the biology of [neo]tropical mammals.” In away, this was paradoxical. Here was the richest mammal fauna in the worldcontaining a myriad of different lifestyles, but it had barely been studied byecologists and natural historians.Whereas the natural history and rudiments...
3. Along the Río Corobici
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 ...
4. El Duende
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- shaped Piper fruit in its mouth. The text accompanying the picture indicated that this bat is an optimal forager; that is, it maximizes its net rate ...
5. Three Hundred Nights of Solitude
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 ...
6. Anastasio’s Last Stand
My office walls in the Cox Science Building at the University of Miami are decorated with a gorgeous red mola from 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 ...
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 ...
8. Fooling Around with Flying Foxes
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 ...
9. Tracy’s Hypothesis
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 ...
10. Along the Nectar Trail
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 ...
11. In the Blink of an Eye
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 ...
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 ...
Appendix 1. A Brief Overview of Bat Diversity
Appendix 2. Some Common and Scientific Names Used in the Text