I recently completed this commissioned painting of Kenyan fruit-eating bats flying at night. They are circling a bunch of figs which is painted in the shape of Africa from the Gall-Peters map. As you might guess, I didn’t have sketches of bats to rely on for my painting, so I asked permission to use photos from Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation then donated 20% of the purchase price to MTBC. The painting was gradually built up with layers of fluid acrylic, and right at the end I added detail to the bats and figs. I wanted to let the moonlight shine through the bats’ wings, so I let the underlying washes show through in the areas closest to the light.
Epomophorus. Kenyan fruit-eating bats, fluid acrylic on canvas, 16×16″.
During my research for the painting I learned a great deal more about bats and thought I’d share a few points, particularly in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and how bats have been linked to the virus. We have a complicated relationship with bats, having feared and reviled them for years, associated them with horror films and Halloween. However, they are incredibly valuable, particularly for agriculture across the world, both for pollination of crops and for their ability to control insect populations (reducing crop loss & crop disease and the need for pesticide applications). In Texas alone, bats are estimated to save agriculture over a billion dollars annually!
Check out this short video, from MTBC – Bat Fears in Perspective.
Bat colonies can be huge, so for scientists it’s relatively easy to sample massive numbers of bats for diseases. As a result, we know far more about bats and viruses, than we do about viruses and any other creature. When Covid-19 emerged, a link to bats was highlighted and instead of starting a conversation about the dangers of the illegal wildlife trade, it had the unintended consequence of compounding people’s fears of bats as dirty, dangerous and disease-ridden. In some countries entire colonies of these invaluable species’ have been exterminated to ‘prevent’ disease.
The problem, of course, is not bats, or any other species. The real problem is our invasion of every corner of the planet, our relentless exploitation of wild animals, and the confinement of wild (and domesticated) animals in cruel and unsanitary conditions. If we continue on this path we will inevitably face more zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted to humans from animals) and possible pandemics.
The way to prevent this is not the eradication of bats or any other species, it is a long overdue acknowledgement that wild places and the species which inhabit them are essential for the health of the planet. So make a point of telling your friends, family or neighbors that many bat species are endangered, their presence is a good sign of a healthy environment, and they consume billions & billions of mosquitoes!