About this episode:
Part Indiana Jones, part David Attenborough – and a real live descendant of Charles “Origin of the Species” Darwin – Professor Kate Jones is a professor of ecology and biodiversity at UCL. A previous recipient of the Leverhulme award, she spends a LOT of time researching the relationships between animals and humans, in particular keeping an eye on mammals and the infectious diseases they may happen to pass onto us (think SARS, think Ebola, oh, and think COVID-19.) On top of that, she is one of the world’s experts on Chiroptera, aka BATS, and has led massive bat monitoring studies with citizen scientists all over the world with the Bat Conservation Trust. This is a two-part interview, but even by the end of part one, you’ll agree that perhaps the most infectious thing about bats is how simply incredible they are. For instance: without bats there would be no tequila, and while some bats drink blood, others catch fish from the surface of the water, or pluck songbirds from the air, mid-flight, at night! And, did you know, that 1 in 5 mammal species on this planet is, you’ve guessed it, a bat!
In part two, we discuss how the US army attempted to militarise bats, how bats are helping to save humans billions of pounds, how to make your garden more bat friendly, and we dig deep into sonic war that has been taking place for millions of years, pitting bat-kind against their age-old nemeses, the moths!
I love bats. I have loved them since I was a child, long before podcasts and indeed the internet were things. Subsequently, I’ve been waiting to talk to Kate since I first began Trees a Crowd. Little could I have imagined at the time, that Bats would become unfortunately topical.
The anthropomorphism of animals is a dangerous thing. But I/we do it daily: “my dog is in such a grump today”, “look, my guinea pig is laughing!”, “that Elephant just completed his UCAS form.” I challenge even the most ardent and strict of Evolutionary Scientists to not have overlaid human qualities upon a number of their specimens. Normally it is quite a positive thing; we imbue positive human characteristics upon animals to help us empathise with their predicaments. But it can take a turn for the worse. In the current climate, even the peace-loving Pangolin (unless, of course, you’re a termite or ant) has been portrayed as a disease spreading pest. And so too, taking a tune from it’s Draculaian songbook, has the Bat.
Bats are currently prominent in people’s minds for their role in the transmission of a virus that has brought the world to a standstill. Covid-19 is tragically continuing to kill humans daily. But, as people vilify these wingéd wonders, we tend to ignore the human responsibility for the spread of COVID-19. It is humans who are travelling the planet, tearing down rainforests and trafficking wild animals as produce; it is humans that are placing ourselves in harm’s way by exposing our species to dangerous viruses. If we are to blame the bat, it is like blaming the face for getting in the way of a clenched fist. Similarly so, this was not a surprise epidemic. Humankind has faced threats such as this before – SARS and MURS were both zoonotic diseases in origin. Why was our species not better prepared? But, what perhaps saddens me the most, is how COVID-19 is affecting indiginous peoples who live a life away from the foolhardiness of a global marketplace.
With this in mind, however much I wanted to grill Kate about zoonotic diseases and all the hows and whys of Bats and corona viruses, I felt it far more important to discuss everything that is fascinating, incredible, unique and awe-inspiring about our planet’s most prevalent mammal, and indeed the woman who has devoted her life to them.
There’s so much to unpack from these two episode with Kate: Kate’s career before bats, Kate’s work on bats, the evolution of all creatures on the planet, zoonotic diseases, the fact that all mammals were originally nocturnal (still cannot get over that fact), it’s kind of overwhelming as I sit here trying to note this episode. But it’s perhaps more powerful to simply list our 8 favourite (out of the ~1500) bats:
Bat expert Kate’s 4 favourite bats:
- Honduran white bat (Ectophylla alba)
- Fisherman bat (Noctilio leporinus)
- Wrinkle-faced bat (Centurio senex)
- Bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai)
Bat enthusiast David’s 4 favourite bats:
- Greater Noctule Bat (Nyctalus lasiopterus)
- Ussuri tube-nosed bat (Murina ussuriensis)
- Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)
- Hardwicke’s woolly bat (Kerivoula hardwickii)
Prof. Kate Jones (Twitter): https://twitter.com/ProfKateJones
Prof. Kate Jones (www): https://www.ucl.ac.uk/biosciences/people/prof-kate-jones
Prof. Kate Jones (Google Scholar): https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=Vd9jVC0AAAAJ&sortby=pubdate
Bat Conservation Trust: https://www.bats.org.uk/
New Thylacine Footage – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RPap1BWYns
Cover photo c/o HitchHike
(RIVAL!) PODCASTS WITH KATE: