Merlin Tuttle Wants To Change Your 'Unwarranted Fear' Of Bats
Search Google for bats and headlines from around the country include: “Man Touched Bats Because They Were Kind of Cute. His Death Is a Warning, Family Says,” “Video Shows Bat With Rabies, Like The One That Killed a Utah Man” and “People Are Decorating For Halloween With Dead Bats. The CDC Says That’s a Bad Idea.”
These headlines indicate that the public still does not have a very good perception of bats, but Merlin Tuttle has been working for more than a half-century to change that. From 1975 to 1986, he worked at the Milwaukee Public Museum as curator of mammals. More recently Tuttle is the founder and executive director of the Austin-based organization, Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation.
"We just naturally fear most what we understand least. Every one of us is more frightened of getting on an airplane than driving to the airport. But we’re at far greater risk driving to the airport. It’s the same thing with bats — we don’t know much about them, so we fear them," says Tuttle.
Bats first caught Tuttle's interest when he was in high school. Living close to a bat cave, he noticed migration patterns — he's been studying them ever since.
Bats are important not just for the ecosystems they live in, but for humans too, according to Tuttle. It's estimated that insect-eating bats in America are worth $23 billion a summer in crop protection and just one small bat can eat 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in just an hour, he says.
During his career, Tuttle has seen people's fear of bats escalate, especially during the '70s and early '80s when rabid bats were a major concern. He recalls that millions of dollars were spent annually on killing bats in America, and Tuttle led the efforts to outlaw widespread methyl bromide pest control in Wisconsin — a practice that was harmful to both humans and bats.
Tuttle notes that if people simply took a few moments to learn about these creatures they would understand how important it is to make the world a more bat-friendly place. He says you can start by installing a bat house in your backyard and advocating for the better use of wind turbines to reduce bat mortality.
"The bottom line is the unwarranted fear of bats. People don't want to help what they fear, and they end up killing their fear," says Tuttle. "[Bats are] incredible animals. They're brilliantly intelligent, they have social systems very similar to those of higher primates, they have very long memories ... really some of the most sophisticated incredible animals on the planet."