Transcript: Vilified Beasts: Reconsidering the Bat | Aug 04, 2020

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses, a black blazer over a pale blue blouse, and a golden pendant necklace.

A caption on screen reads "Vilified beasts: Reconsidering the bat."

Nam says BATS DIDN'T NEED THE RECENT ASSOCIATION WITH THE CORONAVIRUS TO MAKE THEM CREATURES THAT PEOPLE FEAR AND EVEN DESPISE. THEY'VE LONG BEEN VIEWED THAT WAY - BY MYTHOLOGY, BY POPULAR CULTURE, IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD. BUT IS ANY OF THAT JUSTIFIED FOR THIS REMARKABLE MAMMAL? LET'S BYPASS SUPERSTITION AND INSTEAD FIND OUT FROM TWO LEADING EXPERTS ON BATS: IN COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO: NANCY SIMMONS, CURATOR-IN-CHARGE, DEPARTMENT OF MAMMALOGY AT THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY...

Nancy is in her fifties, with short curly brown hair. She's wearing a blue t-shirt.

Nam continues AND HERE IN THE ONTARIO CAPITAL: BURTON LIM, ASSISTANT CURATOR OF MAMMALOGY, DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL HISTORY AT THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM...

Burton is in his forties, clean-shaven, with short white hair. He's wearing glasses and a gray shirt.

Nam continues WELCOME TO YOU BOTH.

Burton says THANK YOU.

Nancy says THANK YOU.

Nam says AS WE SHARED BEFORE STARTING TAPING, I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE THAT IS KIND OF ANTSY ABOUT THAT BUT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO LEARNING MORE ABOUT THEM FROM YOU. I WANTED TO GET AN IDEA OF WHAT DREW YOU TO STUDY BATS. BURTON, I'LL START WITH YOU.

The caption changes to "Burton Lim. Royal Ontario Museum."

Burton says WELL, IT WASN'T UNTIL MY UNDERGRADUATE STUDIES DID HE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, SO I TOOK A COURSE, A MAMMAL COURSE, THAT WAS GIVEN BY THE PROFESSOR, THAT WAS ALSO THE CURATOR AT THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM. SO BASICALLY HIS BEING INTERESTED IN BATS SO I JUST FOLLOWED IN HIS FOOTSTEPS.

Nam says AND NANCY, HOW ABOUT YOU?

The caption changes to "Nancy Simmons. American Museum of Natural History."

Nancy says I STARTED STUDYING BATS JUST BECAUSE I THOUGHT THEY WERE REALLY INTERESTING. MY BACKGROUND WAS ORIGINALLY IN PALEONTOLOGY AND BIOLOGY, AND I WAS LOOKING FOR SOME NEW RESEARCH PROJECTS AFTER I GRADUATED WITH MY PH.D., AND I THOUGHT BATS WERE JUST SO COOL AND SO DIVERSE THAT IT WAS A WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS A LOT OF INTERESTING EVOLUTIONARY QUESTIONS, AND I NEVER EXPECTED TO SPEND THE REST OF MY LIFE STUDYING BATS BUT THAT'S HOW IT'S TURNED OUT.

Nam says THAT'S GREAT. IT'S GREAT TO HAVE A PASSION AND HELP US UNDERSTAND MAYBE WHERE OUR BIASES LIE. WE HAVE SOME FUN FACTS ABOUT THAT.

A slate appears on screen, with the title "Facts about bats."

Nam reads data from the slate and says
THERE ARE 1400 SPECIES OF BAT. ONLY THREE ARE VAMPIRE BATS THAT DRINK BLOOD. BATS ARE THE ONLY MAMMAL CAPABLE OF TRUE FLIGHT. THE WORLD'S SMALLEST BAT IS THE BUMBLE BEE BAT. IT MEASURES UP TO 29 TO 33 MILLIMETRES IN LENGTH AND WEIGHS JUST 2 GRAMS WHEN FULL GROWN. THE GIANT GOLDEN CROWN BAT IS THE LARGEST WITH A WINGSPAN OF UP TO 1.8 METRES. AND THE MEXICAN FREETAIL BAT CAN FLY IN SHORT BURSTS AT UP TO 160 KILOMETRES PER HOUR. BATS ARE AMONG THE SLOWEST REPRODUCING MAMMALS WITH MOST ONLY GIVING BIRTH TO ONE PUP PER YEAR. AND FOR ANY TEQUILA LOVERS OUT THERE, BATS ARE THE PRIMARY POLLINATORS OF THE AGAVE PLANT. BURTON, WHAT IS THE EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY OF BATS IN A NUTSHELL?

The caption changes to "Burton Lim, @burtonlim."

Burton says THE EVOLUTION OF BATS GOES WAY BACK TO 52 MILLION YEARS AGO. THOSE ARE THE OLDEST KNOWN FOSSILS FOUND FROM TWO SITES IN THE U.S. AND GERMANY, BUT THEY ARE RELATED TO A BIGGER GROUP OF MAMMALS THAT EVOLVED ESSENTIALLY IN THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE. SO THEY'RE RELATED TO DIVERSE MAMMALS SUCH AS SHREWS, PENGUINS, AND ANIMALS LIKE HORSES AND COWS.

Nam says IN THE FACT SHEET THAT I HAD, BECAUSE I THINK FOR A LOT OF US WHERE WE GET OUR PERCEPTIONS OF BATS IS FROM POPULAR CULTURE, MOVIES, DRACULA, AND IN THE FACTOIDS I JUST HAD, I MENTIONED THAT THREE BATS ACTUALLY DRINK BLOOD. NANCY, IS IT FAIR TO SAY THAT BATS HAVE BEEN VILIFIED THROUGHOUT HISTORY?

The caption changes to "Nancy Simmons, @Nancy_Bat."

Nancy says WELL, I THINK IT'S TRUE IN SOME PARTS OF THE WORLD AND IN SOME CULTURES THAT BATS HAVE BEEN VILIFIED. BUT IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD, BATS ARE CONSIDERED GOOD LUCK, FOR INSTANCE IN CHINA, YOU'LL FIND TEACUPS AND RICE BOWLS WITH BEAUTIFUL LITTLE BATS AROUND THE EDGES BECAUSE BATS HAVE BEEN THOUGHT TO BE GOOD LUCK. HOWEVER, IN NORTH AMERICA, A LOT OF THE WORLD, WESTERN CULTURE HAVE CONSIDERED BATS TO BE MYSTERIOUS AND SCARY THROUGHOUT HISTORY, AND PARTLY THAT'S BECAUSE I THINK WE DON'T SEE THEM VERY OFTEN. THEY'RE ACTIVE AT NIGHT. BIRDS, WE SEE BIRDS FLYING AROUND DURING THE DAY, AND IF SOMETHING SWOOPS CLOSE TO US, WE THINK IT'S A BIRD AND IT'S NOT SCARY. AT NIGHT IF IT'S A BAT AND YOU FEEL SOMETHING FLYING NEAR YOU, YOU SAY, EW, WHAT'S THAT? IT'S AWFUL AND SCARY. THAT'S A MISPERCEPTION OF THE ANIMAL THAT YOU CAN'T SEE THEM AT NIGHT.

Nam says I THINK THIS IS SUPERFICIAL BUT DO YOU ALSO THINK IT HAS TO DO WITH THE WAY THEY LOOK?

Nancy says I THINK IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY AT MANY PHOTOGRAPHS OF BATS THEY'RE ACTUALLY LOVELY ANIMALS. THEY'RE MAMMALS. LIKE A KITTEN OR A PUPPY, THEY HAVE FUR. THEIR HEARTS BEAT FAST WHEN YOU HOLD THEM LIKE A PUPPY WHEN THEY'RE NERVOUS. THEY'RE GORGEOUS ANIMALS. THE PERCEPTION THAT THEY'RE UGLY I THINK IS VERY MISPLACED.

Nam says WITH THE CORONAVIRUS AND PEOPLE BECOMING MORE FEARFUL OF BATS, BURTON, WHY ARE SO MANY EPIDEMICS AND PANDEMICS, INCLUDING COVID-19, TRACED BACK TO BATS?

Burton says BATS HAVE BEEN IMPLICATED IN BEING RELATED TO THE CURRENT CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, BUT THERE HAVE BEEN STUDIES THAT HAVE SHOWN THAT BATS, YOU KNOW, AREN'T THAT UNUSUAL, SO THEY'RE NO DIFFERENT FROM SAY OTHER ANIMALS OR BIRDS THAT... YOU KNOW, THEY DON'T HAVE MORE VIRUSES THAN OTHERS. THERE ARE A LOT OF SPECIES OF BATS WHICH MEANS THAT THERE'S A GREATER CHANCE THERE MIGHT BE MORE VIRUSES. BUT BASED ON THE FACT THAT BATS ARE THE SECOND MOST SPECIES VARIOUS GROUP OF MAMMALS, THEY DON'T HAVE MORE VIRUSES THAN ANY MAMMALS OR ANIMALS.

Nam says DO THEY HAVE CHARACTERISTICS THAT MAKE THEM GOOD VESSELS FOR CARRYING DISEASES?

Burton says WELL, WHAT'S INTERESTING IS THAT THEY DO HAVE THESE VIRUSES BUT A LOT OF TIMES THEY'RE ASYMPTOMATIC, SO THEY SEEM QUITE HEALTHY. SO THAT'S ONE OF THE QUESTIONS THAT SCIENTISTS ARE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT, YOU KNOW, IS WHY ARE BATS HEALTHY WHEN YOU HAVE ALL THESE VIRUSES. BUT WHEN THEY'RE PASSED TO HUMANS, THEY'RE ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, DEADLY OR FATAL. SO THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE, A LOT OF SCIENTISTS WANT TO FIND OUT IS WHY BATS ARE ASYMPTOMATIC WITH A LOT OF THESE VIRUSES.

Nam says CAN WE HUMANS GET VIRUSES DIRECTLY FROM BATS?

A picture shows a pangolin in the wilderness.

Burton says IN GENERAL, YES. SO VIRUSES CAN PASS FROM BATS TO HUMANS, BUT, YOU KNOW, HUMANS CAN GET VIRUSES FROM A LOT OF OTHER ANIMALS LIKE PIGS OR BIRDS. FOR THE CURRENT COVID-19 PANDEMIC IS THAT THE BATS PROBABLY PASS IT ON TO SOME INTERMEDIATE HOST, SO PEOPLE THINK IT MIGHT BE A PANGOLIN, BUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE BAT CORONAVIRUS AND THE CURRENT COVID-19 VIRUS, THEY'RE ACTUALLY QUITE DIFFERENT. SO THEY PROBABLY EVOLVED ABOUT 60 YEARS AGO. SO THE QUESTION IS, YOU KNOW, WHAT WAS THE HOST BEFORE IT WAS PASSED TO HUMANS FROM BATS TO HUMANS? THERE WAS SOMETHING ELSE BEFORE THAT BECAUSE THEY'RE DIFFERENT ENOUGH THAT THEY EVOLVED 60 YEARS AGO.

Nam says DO YOU THINK THAT THE ONUS IS ON US TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THEM INSTEAD OF MAKING CONCLUSIONS THAT MIGHT BE UNFAIR?

Burton says YEAH, WELL, DEFINITELY. I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE COMING TO CERTAIN CONCLUSIONS BECAUSE THEY WANT TO FIGURE OUT WHAT'S GOING ON. I THINK A LOT OF TIMES THEY DO IT A LITTLE BIT PREMATURELY BEFORE ALL THE EVIDENCE IS IN. SO I THINK THAT THERE STILL NEEDS A LITTLE BIT MORE STUDY AND THERE ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT LABS THAT ARE WORKING ON THE ISSUE RIGHT NOW. SO HOPEFULLY WE'LL HAVE A BETTER IDEA OF WHERE THESE CORONAVIRUSES HAVE COME FROM.

Nam says SOMETHING ELSE THAT'S INTERESTING ABOUT BATS, NANCY, IS THAT THEY HAVE ONE OF THE LOWEST REPRODUCTIVE RATES AMONG MAMMALS, ESPECIALLY FOR SUCH SMALL ANIMALS. WHY IS THAT?

Nancy says WELL, THAT'S JUST ONE OF THE WAYS IN WHICH BATS EVOLVED. BATS ARE INTERESTING BECAUSE WE THINK OF SMALL MAMMALS LIKE RATS AND MICE AND THINGS LIKE THAT. THEY HAVE LITTERS. SO A SINGLE REPRODUCTIVE BOUT THE MOTHER MAY HAVE A DOZEN OFFSPRING AND THIS MAY HAPPEN EVERY FEW MONTHS FOR SOMETHING LIKE SMALL RODENTS. BATS ON THE OTHER HAND GIVE BIRTH USUALLY TO ONLY ONE YOUNG AT A TIME AND THE BABY GROWS TO A VERY LARGE SIZE BEFORE IT'S BORN, UP TO 30 percent OF THE SIZE OF THE BODY WEIGHT OF THE MOTHER WHICH IS LIKE ME GIVING BIRTH TO A 40 OR 50-POUND BABY WHICH IS AN ASTONISHING THING TO THINK ABOUT. ANYWAY, BATS GIVE BIRTH TO A VERY LARGE BABY. BUT THAT BABY THEN HAS TO BE ABLE TO HANG ONTO THE MOTHER OR ONTO THE ROOF TO SURVIVE. SO PART OF THE REASON THAT THEY'RE PROBABLY QUITE LARGE WHEN THEY'RE BORN IS SO THAT THEY CAN SURVIVE EFFECTIVELY.

Nam says I THINK WHEN PEOPLE ARE SCARED, ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW AS WE LIVE THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC, YOU ARE TRYING TO FIND ANSWERS AND IF WE GET THE WRONG INFORMATION, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I'VE HEARD PEOPLE SAY IS WHY DON'T YOU JUST GET RID OF BATS IF THEY DO CARRY DISEASE. AND, BURTON, WHY ARE BATS SO ESSENTIAL TO OUR ECOSYSTEM?

Burton says WELL, THEY DO A LOT OF GOOD THINGS. SO IN CANADA, ALL 18 SPECIES OF BATS ARE INSECT-EATING BATS. SO THEY EAT THINGS... INSECTS THAT MIGHT CAUSE DAMAGE TO AGRICULTURAL CROPS, SO THERE MIGHT BE SOME ECONOMIC BENEFIT ATTACHED TO BATS AND THEIR ECOSYSTEM SERVICES. IN TROPICAL PLACES, BATS ARE VERY GOOD SEED DISPERSERS, SO AGAIN GOOD FOR REFORESTATION. AS YOU MENTIONED, THE AGAVE PLANT, BUT BATS ALSO POLLINATE A LOT OF OTHER FLOWERS. SO BASICALLY THEY HELP THE FOREST NATURALLY REGENERATE, SO THEY DO A LOT OF THESE WHAT WE CALL FREE ECOSYSTEM SERVICES THAT ARE BENEFICIAL FOR PEOPLE.

Nam says NANCY, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR US TO KEEP IN MIND THAT THAT'S NOT A SOLUTION WHEN THESE THINGS DO HAPPEN LIKE WITH THE CORONAVIRUS, AS TO ELIMINATING A SPECIES?

Nancy says WELL, IF WE PUSH SPECIES TO EXTINCTION, THEY'RE GONE FOREVER. AS BURTON POINTED OUT, BATS PLAY CRITICAL ROLES IN ECOSYSTEMS AROUND THE WORLD. THEY PERFORM ALL SORTS OF FUNCTIONS THAT ARE CRITICAL TO PEOPLE: PEST MANAGEMENT FOR AGRICULTURE AND SO ON. THERE ARE MANY THREATS TO BATS THESE DAYS. HABITAT DESTRUCTION IS PROBABLY THE TOP ONE AS WE CONVERT FORESTS AND NATURAL ECOSYSTEMS TO CITIES AND FARMS AND THINGS LIKE THAT. BATS ARE PERSECUTED AND HUNTED IN VARIOUS PLACES AROUND THE WORLD. HUNTING, PEOPLE EAT BATS IN PARTS OF THE WORLD, OF COURSE, BUT IN OTHER PLACES, THEY HUNT BATS BECAUSE THEY'RE AFRAID THAT THEY'RE GOING TO DAMAGE THEIR FRUIT CROPS. BATS ARE AT RISK FROM THEIR OWN DISEASES. THERE'S A CRITICAL PROBLEM WITH A DISEASE CALLED WHITE NOSE SYNDROME IN NORTH AMERICA, WHICH IS A FUNGUS WHICH KILLS BATS WHILE THEY'RE HIBERNATING, AND THIS FUNGUS WAS ACTUALLY BROUGHT TO NORTH AMERICAN BATS BY PEOPLE. SO PEOPLE TRANSPORTED THE FUNGUS FROM EUROPE WHERE THE BATS HAD EVOLVED NATURAL RESISTANCE TO IT, TO NORTH AMERICA WHERE IT'S KILLED MILLIONS OF BATS. WIND FARMS KILL BATS. BATS FOR SOME REASON, WHILE THEY'RE FLYING, MIGRATING, CAN BE ATTRACTED TO TOWERS WHERE THE BIG TURBINES ARE MOVING AND THEY'RE KILLED BY THE TURBINES. AND CLIMATE CHANGE, WHICH IS DEVASTATING ECOSYSTEMS AROUND THE WORLD. SO ALL OF THESE FACTORS PUT BATS SPECIES AT RISK, AND IF WE LOSE THESE SPECIES, THEY'RE GONE FOR GOOD AND THAT CAN HAVE HUGE CASCADING EFFECTS THROUGH ECOSYSTEMS AROUND THE WORLD.

Nam says I THINK WHAT YOU JUST SAID FOR ME... LOTS OF INTERESTING THINGS YOU JUST SAID. SOMETHING THAT STOOD OUT FOR ME IS WHEN WE TALK ABOUT VILIFIED BEASTS, WE THINK THAT THEY'RE HARMING US. BUT WHEN YOU SAID THAT PEOPLE CAN ACTUALLY TRANSFER VIRUSES TO BATS, I DON'T KNOW... I'VE NEVER HEARD OF THAT.

Nancy says SO THERE ARE MANY WILDLIFE DISEASES THAT HAVE BEEN... THAT HUMANS HAVE PLAYED A ROLE IN. SOMETIMES THIS IS BECAUSE WE BRING DOMESTIC ANIMALS INTO CONTACT WITH WILDLIFE AND SO WE TRANSFER A DISEASE FROM CATTLE, SAY, TO WILD DEER AND THINGS LIKE THAT. IN THIS CASE, IT'S A FUNGUS THAT WAS BROUGHT INTO CAVES PROBABLY BY SOME SORT OF CAVING ACTIVITY, AND WAS THEN TRANSFERRED TO THE BATS AND ARE KILLING MILLIONS OF BATS. THESE ARE BATS WHICH IN NORTH AMERICA PROVIDE A LOT OF SERVICES FOR INSECT PEST CONTROL. SO THEY'RE THE ONES THAT ARE EATING IN THE MOSQUITOES IN THE NIGHT SKY. BUT THEY'RE ALSO THE ONES EATING CROP PESTS. SO IF THESE BATS GO EXTINCT, IT MEANS THAT FARMERS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO PAY MORE MONEY FOR MORE CHEMICAL ALTERNATIVES TO CONTROL THEIR INSECT PESTS. SO BATS DO A LOT OF GOOD FOR US AND MANY PEOPLE SEEM TO OVERLOOK THAT OR THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND IT.

Nam says WHEN WE TALK ABOUT CONSERVATION, DO YOU THINK ENOUGH IS BEING DONE TO PROTECT THEM?

Nancy says NO. IF WE LOOK AT THE NUMBER OF SPECIES OF BATS IN THE WORLD, THERE'S OVER 1400 OF THEM, AND OVER 200 OF THOSE SPECIES ARE CONSIDERED VULNERABLE OR ENDANGERED. AND OVER 20 OF THEM ARE CRITICALLY ENDANGERED, WHICH MEANS THEY MIGHT GO EXTINCT THIS YEAR OR NEXT YEAR. EIGHT SPECIES OF BATS HAVE GONE EXTINCT IN MY LIFETIME. WE NEED TO SPEND MORE TIME PROTECTING BATS AND PROTECTING THE ECOSYSTEMS IN WHICH THEY LIVE. THIS ALSO HAS BIG IMPLICATIONS FOR US AS PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS HUMAN ACTIVITIES THAT BROUGHT COVID-19 TO US, WHICH IS MOST LIKELY PUTTING PEOPLE IN CONTACT WITH WILDLIFE IN WAYS THAT THEY WEREN'T BEFORE, AND SO CONSERVATION EFFORTS WHICH HELP KEEP PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE SEPARATE, INCLUDING KEEPING PEOPLE AND BATS SEPARATE, WILL POTENTIALLY BE CRITICAL TO PREVENTING MORE SPILLOVER OF DISEASE FROM BATS AND FROM OTHER WILDLIFE INTO HUMANS AS TIME PASSES.

Nam says BURTON, WHERE ARE BATS MOST NUMEROUS AND DIVERSE?

Burton says WELL, MOST OF THE 1400 SPECIES OF BATS ARE USUALLY FOUND IN TROPICAL AREAS. SO IN CANADA, THERE'S ONLY 18 SPECIES, BUT I'VE DONE FIELDWORK IN GUYANA, NORTHERN SOUTH AMERICA. THAT COUNTRY HAS BEEN FIT INTO SOUTHWESTERN ONTARIO BUT IT HAS 125 SPECIES OF BATS. SO BATS ARE SIMILAR TO OTHER ORGANISMS. SO MOST ANIMALS, A LOT OF PLANTS, AS YOU GET CLOSER TO THE EQUATOR, THE SPECIES DIVERSITY EXPLODES, BUT AS YOU GO FURTHER AWAY FROM THE EQUATOR TOWARDS THE POLES, THEN THE SPECIES DIVERSITY DROPS OFF. SO BASICALLY WHEREVER YOU FIND TREES IN NORTHERN CANADA, YOU'LL FIND BATS. SO WHEN YOU GET INTO LIKE THE ARCTIC, THE TUNDRA, YOU WON'T FIND BATS.

Nam says MAYBE BATS WILL MOVE. NO, I'M KIDDING.
[LAUGHTER]
WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE DIVERSITY OF BATS, WHAT AREAS HAVE THE MOST SPECIES OF BATS, BURTON?

Burton says WELL, AGAIN, THE TROPICAL AREAS. SO BATS, THEY CAN STAY ACTIVELY AROUND. SO IN CANADA IN THE WINTERTIME, THE BATS EITHER HIBERNATE OR MIGRATE FURTHER SOUTH. SO THEY CAN'T ALWAYS KEEP ACTIVE IN SORT OF THE NORTHERN OR THE SOUTHERN EXTREMES OF THE WORLD. SO THE TROPICAL AREAS, IT ALLOWS THE BATS TO BE ACTIVE, SO THERE'S FOOD AVAILABLE YEAR AROUND, WHETHER IT'S FRUIT OR POLLEN OR INSECT OR NECTAR, SO IN THE TROPICAL AREAS IS WHERE YOU FIND THE MOST SPECIES OF BATS.

Nam says NANCY, FOR PEOPLE WATCHING, THEIR EARS PROBABLY PERKED UP WHEN I SAID THERE ARE BATS THAT DRINK BLOOD. WHAT EXACTLY ARE VAMPIRE BATS?

A picture shows a vampire bat. It has pointy ears, black eyes and a flat snout.

Nancy says WELL, THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF VAMPIRE BATS. NONE OF THEM ARE LARGE. SO THEY ARE, YOU KNOW, PERHAPS 10 MILLIMETRES IN LENGTH AND THEY HAVE A WINGSPAN OF 10 CENTIMETRES, A WINGSPAN OF ABOUT 20 CENTIMETRES. THEY LIVE IN THE TROPICAL PORTIONS OF AMERICA, SO FROM NORTHERN MEXICO DOWN TO ARGENTINA. THEY EVOLVED TO DRINK MAMMAL AND BIRD BLOOD. WHAT THEY DO IS THEY FLY AROUND LOOKING FOR A SLEEPING MAMMAL OR SLEEPING BIRD AND CREEP UP ON IT. THEY HAVE VERY SHARP BLADE-LIKE TYPE TEETH AND THEY'LL MAKE A LITTLE CUT THAT'S SORT OF LIKE A PAPER CUT, VERY, VERY SMALL AND PRECISE, AND THEN THEY'LL LAP UP THE BLOOD. SO THESE THREE SPECIES OF BATS, THEY FEED EXCLUSIVELY ON BLOOD. SO THIS IS TRUE. BUT THEY'RE NOT LARGE. THEY DON'T COME SWOOPING IN OUT OF THE NIGHT AND CARRY YOU AWAY OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.

Nam laughs, then says I MEAN, WE LAUGH, BUT I THINK THAT'S THE IMAGE WE'VE BEEN GIVEN ABOUT BATS, AND WHEN WE SPEAK ABOUT THE, I GUESS, WE'RE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT BRANDS OF DIFFERENT THINGS. DO YOU THINK THAT MAYBE SCIENTISTS NEED TO REBRAND THE IMAGE OF A BAT TO HELP CONSERVATION MORE SUSTAINABLE, NANCY?

Nancy says OH, WE'VE DEFINITELY BEEN TRYING TO DO THAT FOR A LONG TIME. SO THERE ARE CHILDREN'S BOOKS STILL LUNA ABOUT BEAUTIFUL FRUIT BATS THAT HAVE BIG EYES AND ARE LOVELY ANIMALS. THERE ARE MANY VERY ATTRACTIVE BATS AND THERE ARE BATS THAT FEED EXCLUSIVELY ON FRUIT, THERE ARE BATS THAT FEED EXCLUSIVELY FROM FLOWERS THAT HAVE A LONG NOSE AND LONG TONGUE THAT THEY CAN DIP INTO THE FLOWER TO DRINK THE NECTAR. WE NEED TO EDUCATE PEOPLE MORE ABOUT THE DIVERSITY OF BATS. INSTEAD OF DWELLING ON THE THINGS THAT SOUND SCARY AND AWFUL, THAT THEY THINK ABOUT WHAT'S REALLY OUT THERE, WHICH IS THIS MARVELLOUS BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY IN THIS VERY ATTRACTIVE ANIMAL.

Nam says ANOTHER GREAT BAT IS THE HOARY BAT. BURTON, CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?

A picture shows a human hand holding a tiny hoary bat.

Burton says IT IS FOUND IN CANADA AND THE U.S. ACTUALLY IT'S FOUND IN THE AMERICAS, BOTH NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA, BUT IT'S ONE OF THE MIGRATORY SPECIES. SO IT SPENDS THE SUMMER IN CANADA AND THEN THEY'LL FLY SOUTH INTO THE U.S. AND SOMETIMES ACTUALLY TO MEXICO. SO THEY ACTUALLY TRAVEL LONG DISTANCES EVERY YEAR. SO MAYBE NOT THE EXTREMES THAT YOU WOULD SEE WITH BIRDS FROM THE ARCTIC DOWN TO THE SOUTHERN TIP OF NORTH AMERICA. BUT THE HOARY BAT HAS MADE ITS WAY TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS OFF THE COAST OF ECUADOR, BUT HOARY BATS HAVE ALSO FLOWN TO HAWAII, SO THERE ARE FOSSIL RAPTORS OF THE HOARY BAT IN HAWAII BEFORE HUMANS GOT THERE. SO THE BAT HAD TO HAVE FLOWN THERE. THAT'S JUST AN EXAMPLE OF HOW GREAT FLYERS THESE BATS ARE.

Nam says AND THAT'S THE THING THAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL TOO, THAT THEY CAN FLY, RIGHT?

Burton says YEAH. SO BATS ARE THE ONLY MAMMALS THAT FLY, SO THAT'S ONE OF THE UNIQUE THINGS THAT HAS MADE THEM ADAPT, YOU KNOW. BASICALLY THEY'RE THE NIGHTTIME EQUIVALENT OF WHAT BIRDS DO IN THE DAYTIME.

Nam says LET'S TALK ABOUT MIT. I DON'T KNOW IF YOU CAUGHT IT BUT I SAID ANOTHER FASCINATING BAT IS HOARY. SO I'M ON YOUR SIDE ABOUT BATS. I THINK THEY'RE VERY INTERESTING. WHAT ARE MYTHS WE NEED TO BUST TO UNDERSTAND THE DIVERSITY OF BATS. NANCY, I'LL START WITH YOU. WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME OF THE MYTHS WE NEED TO BUST ABOUT BATS MOVING FORWARD?

Nancy says WELL, I THINK ONE OF THE CLASSICS IS THAT BATS WANT TO FLY INTO YOUR HAIR. BATS DO NOT WANT TO FLY INTO YOUR HAIR. BUT IF A BAT FLIES NEAR YOU IN THE EVENING, IT HAS AN EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY TO SENSE WHERE IT IS, USING ECHO LOCATION, PRODUCING SOUNDS IN THE THROAT OUT THROUGH THE MOUTH, SO IT CAN TELL EXACTLY WHERE IT IS WITH RESPECT TO YOU AND YOUR HAIR. AND MAYBE INVESTIGATING INSECTS FLYING OVER YOUR HEAD. IT MAY BE EATING THAT MOSQUITO THAT WAS COMING TO GET YOU BUT IT'S NOT TRYING TO GET INTO YOUR HAIR.

Nam says I DON'T KNOW IF YOU'VE NOTICED MY HAIR. I'M JUST TRYING TO THINK...

A picture shows a flying fox bat hanging from a lush tree in daytime. It has a reddish mane.

Nancy says I WAS GOING TO SAY THAT. I WAS LOOKING AT YOUR HAIR... YEAH, YEAH. THAT'S ONE OF THE MYTHS YOU ALWAYS HERE IS BATS WANT TO FLY INTO YOUR HAIR, AND IT'S JUST NOT TRUE. THE OTHER IS BATS ARE BLIND. BATS ARE NOT BLIND. THEY HAVE VERY GOOD VISION. IT'S JUST VISION ADAPTED FOR LOW-LIGHT SITUATIONS. SOME BATS, WHICH ARE THE FLYING FOXES, ARE FRUIT EATING BATS. THEY DON'T USE ECHO LOCATION. THEY HAVE QUITE LARGE EYES AND VERY GOOD COLOUR VISION, JUST LIKE PRIMATES DO, IN FACT.

Nam says BURTON, WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT ARE SOME MYTHS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO BUST ABOUT BATS?

Burton says WE SORT OF DISCUSSED THIS ALREADY. A LOT OF PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, THINK BATS ARE BAD OR THEY'RE VAMPIRE BATS. AS NANCY MENTIONED, THEY'RE ONLY FOUND IN SORT OF THE TROPICAL PLACES OF CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA. SO IN CANADA, WE DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT VAMPIRE BATS, YOU KNOW, COMING AFTER OUR BLOOD OR ANYTHING. AGAIN, THEY'RE ALL JUST INSECT-FEEDING BATS. SO, YEAH, JUST SORT OF THE BAD, YOU KNOW, SORT OF MYTHS OR FOLKLORE THAT GO ALONG WITH BATS. AGAIN, THEY'RE BENEFICIAL. THEY PROVIDE A LOT OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES. SO THEY ACTUALLY DO GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.

Nam says I KNOW I'M GOING TO KILL THIS WORD, SO YOU CAN CORRECT ME. BUT WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB AS CHIROPTERLOGISTS. LET ME TRY AGAIN.

Burton says BAT RESEARCHER.

Nam says WHY DON'T YOU SAY THE WORD? WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE JOB YOU DO AND WHAT IT'S CALLED?

Nancy says I DON'T CONSIDER MYSELF A CHIROPTEROLOGIST. I CAN'T SAY IT EITHER. I CONSIDER MYSELF A MUSEUM CURATOR. I DO BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH. I'M AN EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST. I'M INTERESTED IN THE EVOLUTION OF DIVERSITY AND DIVERSITY OF BATS. AND I GUESS WHAT I LOVE MOST ABOUT MY JOB IS I GET TO ASK INTERESTING BIOLOGICAL QUESTIONS AND THEN GO OUT THERE AND ANSWER THEM AND I LOVE DOING FIELDWORK AND THAT'S REALLY THE FAVOURITE PART OF MY JOB IS BEING IN THE FIELD.

Nam says AND YOU'VE NEVER BEEN AFRAID OF A BAT IN THE FIELD?

Nancy says OH, NO. I'M MUCH MORE AFRAID OF PEOPLE IN THE FIELD! YOU'RE OUT IN THE FOREST AT NIGHT CATCHING BATS, THE LAST THING YOU WANT TO HAVE IS PEOPLE YOU DON'T KNOW APPROACHING THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF THE NIGHT. THAT'S MUCH SCARIER THAN A BAT BY FAR FOR ME.

Nam says BURTON, WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

Burton says LIKE NANCY, I LOVE THE FIELDWORK THAT I DO. I THINK I'VE BEEN TO OVER 30 COUNTRIES AND COUNTING DOING WORK ON BATS AND MAMMALS IN GENERAL. IT'S ALSO SORT OF DISCOVERING SOMETHING NEW, YOU KNOW, WHETHER IT'S A NEW SPECIES OR GOING TO A PLACE THAT HAS NEVER BEEN EXPLORED. SO THAT'S ONE OF THE ASPECTS I LOVE IS SORT OF THE RESEARCH AND THE FIELDWORK AND TRAVELLING.

Nam says ONE THING I THINK AS WE GET OLDER, WE ARE EXPOSED TO SO MANY THINGS, BUT MY CHILDREN LOVE BATS. THEY LOVE ALL TYPES OF ANIMALS AND CREATURES, AND I'VE BEEN TRYING TO BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT NOT GETTING, LIKE, SCARED IF I SEE SOMETHING. DO YOU THINK THAT US GROWN-UPS SHOULD REDISCOVER THE CURIOSITY THAT WE HAD AS CHILDREN, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO THE SPECIES OF BATS? NANCY?

Nancy says OH, ABSOLUTELY. I THINK THE MORE THAT YOU LEARN, THE MORE INTRIGUED YOU'LL BECOME. THERE ARE SO MANY INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT BATS THAT PEOPLE JUST DON'T KNOW AND I THINK THAT IF PEOPLE KNEW MORE ABOUT THEM, THEY WOULD BE MUCH MORE OPEN TO THE SORTS OF EFFORTS WE'RE MAKING FOR BAT CONSERVATION WORLD WIDE AND I THINK ALSO THEY WOULD JUST ENJOY IT BECAUSE BATS ARE FASCINATING ANIMALS. THERE'S SO MANY WONDERFUL NEAT THINGS THAT THEY DO, AND LEARNING ABOUT THEM IS JUST EXCITING.

Nam says BURTON, I'LL LET YOU HAVE THE LAST WORD.

Burton says OKAY, THANK YOU. YEAH, WELL, I THINK PART OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT PEOPLE JUST DON'T SEE BATS SO THEY DON'T KNOW ABOUT SOMETHING AND THEN THEY START MAKING THINGS UP. SO I THINK ONE THING IS TO TRY TO GET TO KNOW THE WILDLIFE. YOU KNOW, FOR BATS, ONE THING THAT'S SORT OF BECOMING FAIRLY POPULAR IS YOU CAN BUY LITERALLY A MICROPHONE YOU CAN PLUG IN YOUR SMARTPHONE AND YOU CAN HEAR THE ULTRASONIC SOUNDS WE CAN'T NORMALLY HEAR WITHOUT A DEVICE. SO PEOPLE CAN ACTUALLY MONITOR AND HEAR BATS FLYING AROUND AT NIGHT EVEN THOUGH THEY MAY NOT BE ABLE TO SEE THEM. I THINK THAT'S ONE WAY TO SORT OF DISCOVER AND LEARN ABOUT WILDLIFE THAT YOU DON'T KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT.

The caption changes to "Producer: Preeti Bhuyan, @PreetiBhuyan."

Nam says BURTON AND NANCY, THANK YOU SO MUCH. IT'S BEEN SUCH A FUN HALF-HOUR CHATTING TO YOU ABOUT BATS. MY MIND HAS BEEN COMPLETELY CHANGED. I APOLOGIZE FOR ALL OF MY PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS ABOUT BATS. THANK YOU SO MUCH. WE APPRECIATE YOUR INSIGHT.

Burton says YOU'RE WELCOME.

Nancy says THANK YOU.

Watch: Vilified Beasts: Reconsidering the Bat