The chiropteran project

In Jules Renard’s natural histories I read that

…there is no corner where a piece of night doesn’t penetrate…shreds come off of it, intertwined at random. This is how bats are born. And to this origin they owe the fact that they cannot withstand the light of day… but, no, they are not bad. They never touch us and “armed” with my cameras I went down to one of their “houses” to photograph them.

Bats are fascinating creatures that fly at dizzying speed in the dark, they are true acrobats in the air, where the aerodynamic shape of their body together with the extraordinary flexibility of their wings allows them to make 180 degree turns, in addition to being able to from executing extremely complex maneuvers, such as turning completely in the air just before landing, only to remain upside down for long hours afterward. No other flying animal is capable of landing like this!

Depending on their size, bats can beat their wings 12 to 18 times per second. Once it has gained speed by flapping its wings, the bat can also continue its flight by gliding.

Another factor that will influence the speed of the flights depending on the bat species, will be determined by the wing shape: animals with long and narrow wings will fly faster than those with shorter and wider wings. Regarding the former, we can say that their flight is fast and prolonged in time, typical of bats that travel long distances in the open sky, at high altitudes above the trees looking for insects, such as the noctules or the tailed bat. About the latter, that is, those bats with short and wide wings, such as horseshoe bats or long-eared bats, usually hunt in forests and among bushes, so they do not travel long distances and their flight is not as fast, but in Instead, its maneuverability to avoid branches and leaves is extremely agile, being able to make very fast turns.

Among the Iberian bats, the cave bat (Minipterus schreibersii) is the one that holds the speed record, with an agile and fast although irregular flight, it can reach 50-55 km/h, being comparable to that of swallows and swifts.

The Chiropteran photographic project in the Valencian Community has been underway for some time with the intention of photographing and classifying these mammals in their natural state and in their various species. As is known, it is a nocturnal mammal closely linked to Valencian culture and the coat of arms of its city, as it is said that a sign of the Reconquest of the city by Jaume I would be the agitated flight of these mammals. In addition, it is an animal linked to literature and cinema, since the Irish novelist Bram Stoker (1847-1912) used it as a symbol of vampirism in the book that bears the well-known title of Dracula (1897), in which the vampire turns into a bat at will when he wants to go unnoticed or simply fly away to another place. From then on, this curious little bat would be associated with fear and terror, being as it is, the only mammal capable of flying and that has adapted to different ecological niches throughout the world.

Not surprisingly, the bat performs extraordinary pest control, as they are huge consumers of insects that avoid the use of pesticides and chemical pesticides that have negative effects on the natural environment.

For many years, I have been able to photograph these mammals that have conquered the air in their natural space. It is not an easy or simple task, since night photography and the cavities that must be penetrated for this photographic design are arduous, expensive, and require a large deployment of technical material, where we have little room for improvisation, that is, everything must be prepared in advance. In nature this requires creating an appropriate scenario, knowing the possible trajectory of the animal and then carrying out multiple tests. Therefore, going into their privacy to photograph them in their habitat is quite a challenge, mainly because they fly at night, they are black, small, you can barely see them, let alone focus on them. They are very fast and change trajectory suddenly and unexpectedly. Most of the time when taking the photo they were no longer there, but the experience of the years refining the technique and the way of approaching the photographic sessions have made the results achieved worthwhile.

The work of awareness and protection of the bat begins at the moment in which this work and the current reality of this small flying mammal are explained and shown to the public.

Let’s not forget that many species of bats spread all over the globe are in a very critical situation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List identifies more than 200 species as endangered, vulnerable, or “near threatened.” The current serious ecological crisis also affects this species, since the indiscriminate felling and burning of forests, together with water pollution and excess pesticides, are greatly reducing the population of these animals.

The fact that it is a tremendously silent and nocturnal animal, together with a mythology associated with horror movies, seems to work against it, since it goes unnoticed or despised. What is intended in this project is to record its current reality and the need to conserve bats in a place like Valencia, where it is a symbolic reference. There is no Valencian who does not recognize it among its cultural heritage. But we do not stop there, because this project is ambitious and wants to be extended to the entire national geography.

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