Merlin Tuttle -

Merlin Devere Tuttle, (born August 26, 1941) is an American ecologist, conservationist and wildlife photographer who has specialized in bat ecology, behavior and conservation for more than 50 years. He currently serves as Executive Director of the conservation organization, Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation.

Tuttle is best known for his classic research on gray bat population ecology and migration, discovery and research of frog-eating bats, the invention of harp traps for bat research and for founding and leading Bat Conservation International (BCI) for nearly 30 years. He is also recognized for his photography of bats. He retired from BCI in 2009 to work on an article for National Geographic and write a book. But his love of bats and helping people understand them drove him to found another bat conservation organization in 2014 in support of his continuing efforts as an international ambassador for bats, and to better share his unique photos and knowledge.

Early life

Tuttle's interest in bats began when, as a 17-year-old high school student near Knoxville, Tennessee, he discovered that gray bats in a cave near his home were present only in spring and fall, contrary to existing books which reported they lived in a single cave year-round.

Tuttle convinced his mother to take him to the Smithsonian Institution to discuss his observations with bat biologists. The specialists were intrigued and issued him bands through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tuttle was able to band several hundred by October 1960. Two months later, he recaptured several of these banded bats in a cave a more than a hundred miles northeast of Knoxville. He had proven that they not only migrated, but had gone north instead of south in the fall. This would later lead to a Ph.D. thesis on gray bats.

Education and Career

Tuttle entered college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, eventually graduating at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. His college performance, aside from biology courses, was marginal due to preoccupation with his early research projects. His ability to find rare mammals led the American Museum of Natural History in New York to hire him to collect small mammals in southern Mexico during his summer vacation in 1962, and his unprecedented success led them to hire him as the only non-degree holding mammalogist on its six-month Uruguayan Expedition to study and collect small mammals in South America. Following his return to college in 1963, his by-then-established reputation led the Smithsonian Institution to sponsor his field trips to collect rare mammals in the Appalachian Mountains during semester breaks.

In 1964, as a college senior, Tuttle obtained grants, organized and led (accompanied by two biology professors) his university’s first summer field course in tropical ecology (in Peru).

On graduation from Andrews University, Tuttle was hired as Co-Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Venezuelan Mammal Project, where he spent the next two years leading expeditions into the remotest frontiers of Venezuela.

In the fall of 1968, Tuttle entered graduate school at the University of Kansas on probation due to his marginal grades from college. His Masters degree thesis focused on zoogeography of Peruvian bats. He obtained his Ph.D. with honors in 1974. His thesis on population ecology and migration of gray bats is a classic in its field, resulting in 10 scientific publications from a study in which he banded 40,182 gray bats and recaptured more than 20,000 over a multi-state region.

Tuttle’s concern for conservation began as he documented massive, deliberate killing of gray bats due to grossly exaggerated speculation from public health officials warning of rabies risks. Cave owners burned or otherwise killed thousands of gray bats at a time due to such warnings, though there were no records of gray bats transmitting disease to either humans or other animals. By 1969, leading bat experts were predicting the species’ extinction. In 1976 Tuttle successfully proposed the gray bat for federal listing as endangered, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed him to appoint the gray bat endangered species recovery team. The Gray Bat Recovery Plan, published in 1982 was exceptionally pragmatic, and by 2002 dramatic recovery progress had been made. Largely under Tuttle’s leadership, by 2015 a majority of the species’ most important roosting caves had been protected, and there were millions more gray bats than when their extinction had been predicted.

On completion of his Ph.D. degree, Tuttle became Curator of Mammals at the Milwaukee Public Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he was employed as a full-time bat researcher from 1975 to 1986.

In 1978, The National Geographic Society asked Tuttle to write the bat chapter in its book Wild Animals of North America. He took the opportunity to explain that bats are harmless and highly beneficial if simply left alone. However he was horrified to see photos of tormented, snarling bats in the proposed layout. Those were the only kind available at the time.

Tuttle protested and staff photographer Bates Littlehales was assigned to help. He taught Tuttle the rudiments of photography, and Tuttle became the second most used photographer in the book. He quickly recognized the power of great photography, and in defense of his favorite animals became a world-renowned bat photographer.

Tuttle’s bat photos continue to provide a backbone for bat conservation efforts. He has published five articles on bats in National Geographic and his photos have appeared in many publications and exhibits worldwide.

He founded Bat Conservation International in 1982, while still employed at the museum, leading it after-hours at night and on weekends until March 1986, when he resigned his position at the museum and relocated BCI to Austin, Texas.

Austin was chosen because newly created crevices beneath its now famous Congress Avenue Bridge had recently attracted 1.5 million Brazilian free-tailed bats. Public health officials had warned that the bats were dangerous spreaders of rabies. Panicked people were demanding eradication, and Austin had suddenly become the world center for scary news media stories about bats. Tuttle and his fledgling organization soon convinced Austinites that simply left alone, the bats could be highly beneficial. The bridge bats began bringing in an estimated 12 million tourist dollars annually from visitors coming to see spectacular bat emergence. No one has contracted a disease, despite close association with hundreds of thousands of visitors. And Tuttle notes that by consuming some 15 tons of crop and yard pests each summer night, the bats are actually protecting public health by reducing demands for chemical pesticides. Indeed, Austin has become a showcase for demonstrating the value of living harmoniously with bats.

While Tuttle was head of BCI, millions of bats worldwide have been protected, a national park in American Samoa has been established, and hundreds of critical research projects to better understand bat values and needs have been funded, with the aim of improving human appreciation of bats. For the past three decades, Merlin has been at the forefront of important conservation issues facing bats".

Current Work

Tuttle's work continues to focus on helping people understand that bats are highly beneficial and that they make safe neighbors for anyone who simply leaves them alone. His goal is to create a self-sustaining organization, Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, capable of continually sharing his conservation philosophy, extensive library of bat photographs and information far into the future. He currently serves as Executive Director.

Media Appearances

Tuttle has appeared on major U.S. television networks, including in an hour-long Survival Anglia special, The Secret World of Bats, that premiered in prime time on CBS and went on to air nationally in over 100 additional countries. A BBC 30-minute special on Tuttle’s frog-eating bats research, The Bat That Cracked the Frog Code, also aired throughout Europe and the United States. And Tuttle’s life-long conservation achievements were featured in an hour-long special, Merlin Tuttle, Guardian Angel of Bats, produced by Mona Lisa and Mandarava Productions in their Heroes of Nature television series which aired throughout Europe.

In 2015 Tuttle’s work with bats and new book, The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals, was featured in more than 40 media interviews.


Tuttle has authored 51 research publications and numerous popular articles. His America’s Neighborhood Bats book is one of the all-time best sellers of the University of Texas Press, and his new book, The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals, released on October 20, 2015, has received high praise in numerous reviews, including in The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, National Geographic News and Nature. His work has been featured in numerous stories, including in The New Yorker, The Smithsonian, National Geographic, Modern Maturity, People, Reader’s Digest, Stern and Geo, as well as in most of the major metropolitan newspapers of the U.S. including in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post.


Tuttle has been invited to speak in many of the world’s most prestigious lecture halls, including at: Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Cornell Universities; the American Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum, the British Museum, the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Chautauqua Institute, Hong Kong’s Wetlands Park, South Africa’s Durban Natural Science Museum, and Australia’s Taronga Zoo in Sydney. He also provided the hour-long keynote address at the 2010 International Bat Research Conference held in Prague, Czech Republic, and in 2015 presented an hour-long plenary speech at the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Awards and Honors

In 1986, Tuttle’s research accomplishments were recognized through the Gerrit S. Miller, Jr. Award, the highest international honor conferred by colleagues in the field of chiropteran biology.

In 1991, he received The Society for Conservation Biology’s Distinguished Achievement Award, honoring the accomplishments of Bat Conservation International.

In 1997, he received both the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chuck Yeager Award and the Chevron/Times Mirror Magazine’s Conservation Award.

In 1999, he was honored by United for Conservation in Mexico and won the $10,000 grand prize in the country’s first nature photography contest. Tuttle also received the National Wildlife Federation’s prestigious National Conservation Achievement Award for 2001.

In 2002, The U.S. Postal Service featured four of Dr. Tuttle’s photographs in a commemorative stamp series.

In 2003, Tuttle received the Margaret Douglas Medal for notable service to conservation education from The Garden Club of America.

In 2011 the North American Society for Bat Research honored him with a Life Membership.

In 2011-2012 he served as Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Environmental Program “Year of the Bat” campaign.

In 2015 Tuttle received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Andrews University.

Personal life

Tuttle is married to Paula Tuttle, who shares and participates in his commitments on behalf of bat conservation. His stepson, Dallas Miller, is studying to be medical doctor who understands and appreciates bats. All three enjoy similar hobbies in nature photography and catch-and-release fly fishing.

Additional Reading

Tuttle, Merlin. The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures With the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

External links

Tuttle, M.D. 1975. “Population ecology of the gray bat (Myotis grisescens): Factors influencing preflight growth and development.” Occ. Pap. Mus. Nat. Hist., Univ. Kans., 36:1-24.
Tuttle, M.D. 1976. “Population ecology of the gray bat (Myotis grisescens): Factors influencing growth and survival of newly volant young.” Ecology, 57:587-595.
Tuttle, M.D. 1976. “Population ecology of the gray bat (Myotis grisescens): Philopatry, timing and patterns of movement, weight loss during migration, and seasonal adaptive strategies.” Occ. Pap. Mus. Nat. Hist., Univ. Kans., 54:1-38.
Barclay, R.M., Fenton, M.B., Tuttle, M.D. and Ryan, M.J. 1981. “Echolocation calls produced by Trachops cirrhosis (Chiroptera: Phyllostomatidae) while hunting for frogs.” Canad. J. Zool., 59:750-753.
Ryan, M.J., Tuttle, M.D. and Taft, L.K. 1981. “The costs and benefits of frog chorusing behavior.” Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 8:273-278.
Tuttle, M.D. and Ryan, M.J. 1981. “Bat predation and the evolution of frog vocalizations in the Neotropics.” Science, 214(4521):677-678.
Ryan, M.J. and Tuttle, M.D. 1982. “Bat predation and sexual advertisement in a Neotropical anuran.” Amer. Nat., 119:136-139.
Tuttle, M.D., Taft, L.K. and Ryan, M.J. 1982. “Evasive behavior of a frog in response to bat predation.” Anim. Behav., 30:393-397.
Tuttle, M.D. and Ryan, M.J. 1982. “The role of synchronized calling, ambient light, and noise in anti-bat-predator behavior of a tree frog.” Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 11:125-131.
Ryan, M.J., Tuttle, M.D. and Barclay, R.M.R. 1983. “Behavioral response of the frog-eating bat, Trachops cirrhosus to sonic frequencies.” J. Comp. Physiol., 150:413-418.
Ryan, M.J. and Tuttle, M.D. 1983. “The ability of the frog-eating bat to discriminate among novel and potentially poisonous species using acoustic cues.” Anim. Behav., 31:827-833.
Tuttle, M.D., Ryan, M.J. and Belwood, J.J. 1985. “Acoustical resource partitioning by two species of phyllostomatid bats (Trachops cirrhosus) and Tonatia sylvicola).” Anim. Behav., 33:1369-1270.
Ryan, M.J. and Tuttle, M.D. 1987. “The role of prey-generated sounds, vision and echolocation in prey localization by the African bat, Megaderma cor megadermatidae).” J. Comp. Physiol., 161:59-66.
Tuttle, M.D. 1974. “An improved trap for bats.” J. Mamm., 55:474-477.
Locke, R. 2009. A lifetime of bats and science. BATS, 27(2): 2-12.
Bryan, C.D.B. 1987. The National Geographic Society: 100 Years of Adventure and Discovery. H.N. Abrams, Inc.
Allen, W.L. 2001. National Geographic 100 Best Pictures (Collector’s Edition Vol.1). Nat. Geo. Soc. Pub.
2007. “The best wildlife photographers of the world named by DP magazine in the year 2007.”
McGrath, S. and Tuttle, M.D. 2014. Call of the bloom. National Geographic, 225(3): 128-135.
Tuttle, M.D. 2015. The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Tuttle, M.D. 1964. “Additional record of Sorex longirostris in Tennessee.” J. Mamm., 45:146- 147.
Tuttle, M.D. 1964. “Observation of Sorex cinereus.” J. Mamm., 45:148.
Tuttle, M.D. 1964. “Myotis subulatus in Tennessee.” J. Mamm., 4:148-149.
Tuttle, M.D. 1968. “First Tennessee record of Mustela nivalis.” J. Mamm., 49:133.
Handley, Jr., C.O. 1976. Mammals of the Smithsonian Venezuelan Project. Brigham Young Univ. Sci. Bul., Biological Series, 20(5).
Tuttle, M.D. 1970. “Distribution and zoogeography of Peruvian bats with comments on natural history.” Univ. Kans. Sci. Bull., 49: 45-86.
Tuttle, M.D. and Robertson, P.B. 1969. “The gray bat, Myotis grisescens, east of the Appalachians.” J. Mamm., 50:37.
Tuttle, M.D. and Stevenson, D.E. 1977. “An analysis of movement as a mortality factor in the gray bat, based on public recoveries of banded bats.” Amer. Midland Nat., 97:235-240.
Tuttle, M.D. 1978. “Variation in the cave environment and its biological implications.” Pp. 108-121 in Natl. Cave Management Sympos. Proc., 1977 (R. Zuber, J. Chester, S. Gilbert and D. Rhodes, eds.). Adobe Press, Albuquerque, NM.
Tuttle, M.D. 1979. “Status, causes of decline, and management of the endangered gray bat. J. Wildl. Manag., 44:955-960.
Tuttle, M.D. 1982. “Gray Bat.” Pp. 127-128 in Handbook of Census Methods for Terrestrial Vertebrates. (D.E. Davis, ed). CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.
Humphrey, S.R. and Tuttle, M.D. 1978. “Myotis grisescens.” Pp. 1-3, in Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Fla. Aud. Soc. and Def. Envir., 1:1-52.
Stevenson, D.E. and Tuttle, M.D. 1981. “Survivorship in the endangered gray bat (Myotis grisescens).” J. Mamm., 62:244-257.
Fredrickson, L.E., and L. Thomas. 1965. Relationship of fox rabies to caves. Public Health Report, 80: 495-500.
Barbour, R., and W.H. Davis. 1969. BATS OF AMERICA. Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press.
Federal Register. 1976. 41(83—Wednesday, April 28).
Locke, R. 2002. The gray bat’s survival. BATS, 20(2): 4-9.


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Merlin Tuttle -
Merlin Tuttle -
Merlin Tuttle
BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
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