An interview with Stuart Perlmeter who has worked with bats for nearly 30 years. During that time, Stuart has also run successful field biology programs for students from the Springfield School District in bat and watershed science research, as well as founding The WELL Project (Water and Energy Learning Lab), a science program that supports hands-on science instruction in the areas of water and energy science.
How did you get interested, then passionate, about bats?
I got interested in bats after reading Richard Dawkins book “The Blind Watchmaker.” In this book, one of his chapters focused on the evolution of bats. I was fascinated, got hooked and started reading every bat book I could get my hands on. Then took a two-week field workshop with Brock Fenton on bats and eventually did my Master’s under his supervision.
What is your background? Was it a straight path to bats or a winding one?
Not a straight-line path at all. Worked for 4 years after high school then when I was ready attended the University of Maryland, then transferred to the University of Oregon. I finished with an undergraduate Physical Anthology degree with a focus on Primates. Then I worked for National Geographic on the mountain gorilla project with Dian Fossey after which I received a special education and a biology teaching certificates. Then bats caught my interest and I developed a program in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service to have high school students collect data on bats all summer. Between 1992-1993 I moved my family to Toronto, Canada and completed my master’s in Behavioral Ecology at York University under supervision of Brock Fenton. Finally, I returned to Oregon and continued teaching Biology.
Tell us more about the high school student program you led.
Once returning to Oregon after my Master’s, I continued the program of recruiting high school students to continue my bat research. Jessica McDonald (Greenbelt Land Trust’s Associate Director) joined the program. The goal of the program was to get high school students interested in doing field research. Between 8-10 students were involved in the program each summer and the program was supported by a cost-shared agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. The members of the high school crew worked during summer months capturing, tagging and collecting data, not only for my Master’s thesis but the data they collected was useful on bat populations throughout the state. The type of data collected on bats was based on the needs of the U.S. Forest Service-species, roosting data, etc. The crew lived in the woods for much of the three months and returned only to shower, shop for food, and try to get some regular sleep. It was an amazing opportunity offered to high school students and, for the most part, they loved doing the work and spending time as a tight-knit group that had bats in common.
Tell us all about bats! What do they eat?
Some eat fruit, insects, pollen, nectar, other bats, birds, small mammals, fish, and frogs.
How do they hunt?
Microbats hunt using echolocation, while megabats use sight and smell
What are baby bats called?
Baby bats or pups.
Where do bats go during the winter and during the day?
In the tropics, they stay put year-round and just change diet depending on what available. Bats in cooler temperature zones of the world either migrate to warmer locations with food or go into hibernation for the winter. During the daytime bats either roost in the open in trees or in dark roost sites during the daytime. Roosts can include buildings, snags, caves, mine shafts, etc.
How many species of bats are in the U.S.?
About 50 species.
Are bats solitary creatures?
Some species are solitary but many species form large colonies sometimes exceeding 20 million.
Are bats blind?
No bats are not blind, microbats have small eyes as their primary sense is echolocation, but megabats have well-developed eyes.
How old do bats live, on average?
Some small microbats have been known to live for over 20 years.
What animals are predators of the bat?
Other bats, owls and cats.
Given the state of the climate, are bats doing ok?
Like all other animals, they are impacted by climate change as their habitats change and the availability of food changes. They are equally affected by habitat destruction and the use of pesticides.
Thank you, Stuart! We look forward to the next bat night at Bald Hill Farm!