Unbelievable Photos Reveal The Work Of A Real Batman

Merlin D. Tuttle has been researching and photographing bats for the past 20 years.

(Courtesy of Merlin D. Tuttle)

Tuttle has developed a system for taking well-lit, up-close bat photography.

(Courtesy of Merlin D. Tuttle)

He catches the bats in a safe trap, then moves them to an indoor set he fills with lights, plants and even animals from the bats' natural habitat. The bats are never kept long and are always returned safely to their natural habitat.

Often, the photo shoots overlap with research projects on the bats.

(Courtesy of Merlin D. Tuttle)

For example, this photo was taken during a study of the relationships between bats and pitcher plants. This Hardwicke's woolly bat isn't just hanging around this Nepenthes hemsleyana pitcher plant for fun - these two species actually depend on each other. The bat gets a cozy place to roost inside the pitcher, while the plant uses the bat's droppings as fertilizer. There is evidence these species actually coevolved together. Since bats use echolocation, this particular species of pitcher plant evolved a shape that works as a reflector of sound, guiding bats in "like lights on an airport runway," explains Tuttle.

A lot of the relationships Tuttle documents are pretty mind-blowing.

(Courtesy of Merlin D. Tuttle)

This toad might be looking awfully cavalier about the approach of the frog-eating bat, but that might be because he knows he's safe. According to Tuttle, the bat realized at the last moment that this toad was poisonous and stopped short and flew away, leaving the toad unharmed. Tuttle captured this image while conducting research on these bats' ability to identify potential prey. He demonstrated that frog-eating bats identify frogs by their unique calls. These bats quickly learn new calls and can remember them for years.

This pallid bat is sipping nectar from a cardon cactus in Baja, Mexico.

(Courtesy of Merlin D. Tuttle)

The cardon are the largest and most ecologically important cacti of North America, and they rely heavily on bats for pollination and seed dispersal.

This endangered Marianas flying fox is enjoying a meal of pollen from a vine in Guam, pollinating the plant in the process. Yum!

(Courtesy of Merlin D. Tuttle)

On the issue of bat conservation, Tuttle makes a surprising point: It's not the rare, endangered bats like this one that we should be most concerned with protecting, but common bats. These large populations of bats serve such a critical role as pollinators, seed dispersers and insect control, that the health of our environment depends on keeping their populations healthy.

Even common bats face their share of problems. "Bats are in trouble, for sure. They're losing habitat due to human expansion and pollution, and are unfairly persecuted. Bats are killed on sight because people are mistakenly fearful of them," Tuttle tells us. To help out in the bat conservation effort, help spread the word that when simply left alone, bats make safe and valuable neighbors, and should never be killed. Or, go one step further and put up a bat house.

For more information about bats and their conservation needs, check out batcon.org and merlintuttle.com.