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Field Notes
Christian Ziegler
Photograph by Christian Ziegler
Christian Ziegler

What was your best experience during this assignment?

It's amazing to watch greater bulldog bats—also called fishing bats—feed. They're big orange bats, and they use their sonar to locate fish that swim so close to the water's surface that their bodies form little bumps on the water. Then they scoop the fish up with their long claws. Watching a group of five or six come in close was like witnessing a ballet at twilight, particularly when you can see them from a boat or a pier with birds, frogs, and cicadas calling in the background.

What was your worst experience during this assignment?

Bats have a bad reputation. That's true in Panama, and it's true in the United States. It was kind of sad to talk to people who lump all bats in with vampire bats, saying they're evil and give you rabies. People just kill them when they find them in their houses. Sure, when forests are logged and cattle are brought in to graze, vampire bats may feed on them. But many other bat species are very important as pollinators, pest controllers, and dispersers of tree fruit seeds. They're beautiful, sweet little guys. I'd really like to see a change in people's perceptions of them.

What was the strangest experience during this assignment?

A lot of bats roost in the trunks of trees—some in big groups—and it doesn't smell so nice in there. They often hang in bundles to keep each other warm. I found a very big hollow tree with a not-so-big entrance hole, just enough so that I could squeeze my shoulders through. I got in there with my lights, but it wasn't very comfortable. When the bats got excited and woke up, they started peeing. I got peed on! A lot. On top of that, a very big cockroach lives in these trees. The walls were covered with them. I was in there only half an hour, and I had a cloth over my mouth and nose, but it wasn't too great.