Little fruit Bats, The hollowed out log!

2nd November 2017

Written By Jaime Thomas, Intern with Untamed Photography


While out in the forest working on our mirror project, Mark and I came across several very large fallen trees off the side of the trail. They looked as though they had been cut down some time ago and just left to lie there. Upon closer inspection, we found they had hollowed out by termites. The first tree was lying flat on the ground – bending down to look inside we found it was like looking into a dark cave. It was hollow all the way through to the other side, the tree being approximately 35 meters long and 75cm wide. What might be hiding in there? Mark crawled in partway to perform a quick inspection and discovered roughly 50 bats hanging from the top of the inside of the tree. At the second tree we had to climb up onto some branches and enter the opening in the tree from the top of the fallen trunk. Again it was hollow and filled with bats, though not as many were seen as in the first tree. It’s not every day that you find a huge, hollowed out tree filled with bats so now begins an adventurous photo shoot…..



Today we went back to the first tree and took turns crawling inside to try to get photos and video of the bats. We used our headlamps to illuminate the way and provide lighting for the photos. It was very dark and humid inside and one had to watch out for insects and snakes. The hollow inside was being eaten by termites, which secrete saliva and it hardens on the wood, creating sharp edges. Cockroaches crawled across the bottom, which was covered with wood chips, bat feces, and the remains of dead insects scattered around. Mark spotted a scorpion and there were crickets, katydids and whipscorpions crawling around in there as well. The wings of the bats made this curious drumming sound as they flew back and forth to their perches at the top of the inside of the tree. We moved slowly and quietly forward, crawling on our bellies deeper inside the tree. Once we were close enough to the bats, roughly halfway through, we kept the light from our headlamp turned towards them. We set up the flash unit to face the bats and took photos and video as they hung there. Some would fly close to our faces or over our heads before turning around and flying further to the back of the tree. It was very difficult to see and focus inside the darkness of the tree but we managed to obtain some decent photos of them hanging from the top and video of them flying inside the tree. Mark then crawled in one last time and the batteries for his lamp died, he had to crawl out backwards in the dark, which was just a little creepy! We believe the species to be a type of Little Fruit Bat. There are three species in the genus Rhinophylla; most likely this is Fischer’s Little Fruit Bat (Rhinophylla fischerae), due to the face and overall size of approximately 43-68 mm. From the outside it was just a large fallen tree on the rainforest floor but inside was a whole other world…..



Mark and I visited the first tree again for another photo shoot. Mark crawled in first and got some photos and video of himself crawling through the tree. He found it was easier to lie on his back looking up while the bats flew overhead. He found he was able to turn around while further inside the tree and he crawled out that way. Then I decided to give it a go. I was slightly nervous, it felt odd crawling inside there and you didn’t know what you were going to see or how the bats would react the closer you got to them. I put my jacket on, pulled the hood over my head, attached the head lamp, and grabbed the camera with the flash unit attached. I crawled in on my hands and knees, trying to hold everything while moving slowly and quietly as not to scare the bats. I crawled in on my stomach but I had a difficult time getting enough light and focusing on them, they also had moved further back in the tree. It was so humid and stuffy in there that I finally slowly backed out of the tree to get some air and re-arrange my gear. We discussed finding a way to get the bats to move closer. Mark decided to walk to the other end and thump on the side of the tree. From the entrance I could hear the drumming sound as they moved closer to my end.

We gave them a little bit of time before I decided to give it a go again. This time they were only about three meters back from the entrance! I crouched down by the entrance and several flew toward my face so I lowered my head and paused a moment. When I looked up they were still perched a few meters from the entrance so I carefully crawled partially in and just knelt there to photograph them. Two of them stayed close and the one in particular was sort of stretching his wings and yawning. I focused on that one, setting my headlamp down so that the light just hit the bat. I took number of photos, my favorite was the bat baring its teeth! Their faces are so cute but when their teeth are bared they look rather vicious! The humidity and stuffiness from the inside of the tree was intense even near the entrance and after a while the bats started to move back again. Several times I turned off my light and lowered my head, giving the bats a break from the light they were trying to avoid. Some would move a bit closer and then I would turn the light on again. Finally I backed out of the cave after managing to get a number of successful photos with the bats closest to where I sat. Mark entered the tree once more and retreated after a while with some good shots and awesome video of the bats moving about deep inside the tree! We stopped as the sun started to set, as the bats would leave once darkness fell. Overall we considered it a very successful and interesting photography shoot!



Again Mark and I traveled to the first tree, this time focusing on recording some audio and video for the documentary. It was a very sunny and humid day, which made crawling into the tree even more uncomfortable! Mark crawled in first and was in there for a while, when he re-emerged he said he had gone all the way to the other end of the log. He managed to get some decent shots of multiple bats. I went in next and there were two bats hanging in front of all of the rest, close enough that I decided to focus on getting some good shots of them. This time I was using my 400mm lens, unlike last time when I had the 70-300mm lens. It was then I discovered I was now too close to the bats with this lens so I had to back up a few feet before I could focus on them. Several from further back in the log flew right up to my head so I ducked until they flew past. I got some good shots of the two close to me, one started stretching and had its tongue out which made a comical image! Mark set up the camera trap at the entrance to the tree, then walked down to the other end of it and thumped on the outside; the bats flew up closer to the entrance and we were able to get footage of them flying inside the tree! It was getting late so we started cleaning up our gear. A swarm of bees had moved in where we set our gear and were starting to act very aggressive. We grabbed our things and hurried back to the trail. We will leave the bats alone for a while as we don’t want to keep disturbing them and cause them to leave permanently. We’re happy with the images and footage we’ve captured, of all places in a hollow tree lying deep in the forest…..

Story written by Mark Fernley