Of Bats and Myths (and sloppy interpreters)

Yuma Myotis Bat (Myotis yumanensis)
Yuma Myotis. Photo: J. N. Stuart, Creative Commons License

Myth Making

From time to time in my career, I have seen interpretive myths that seem to propagate from interpreter to intepreter. I have seen some doozies over the years. Some day, ask me to tell you about the lobsters running each fall up the Miramichi River.

Here’s one circulating at the moment: “We need to conserve bats in Canada because they are important pollinators!” Um, no.

There is not a single pollinating bat in Canada. In the southern U.S. yes. The tropics, yes. Not here; not in the northern US.

Here’s how I think this myth evolved:

  1. Bats are ecologically important; they are significant insectivores
  2. Bats in tropical areas are significant pollinators
  3. Sloppy interpretive messages: “Bats are important insect eaters! Also, bats elsewhere are important pollinators!” (…says every interpreter everywere.)
  4. Recently, this has gotten conflated, sloppily, to
    1. “Save bats! They’re important pollinators!” spoken while standing in front of a bat habitat in Canda, which finally has become
    2. “Bats in Canada are significant pollinators!” (Yes I saw it today.)

Why is this important, other than it peeves me as a naturalist?

First: interpreters need to check their data. We can’t afford to get sloppy; we already have credibility issues with some of our colleagues.

Secondly: why are you standing in a northern bat habitat talking about tropical bats? Because you want to tell visitors everything you know about bats? No. Stop it. Talk about YOUR bats, in your site. These bats HERE. Tell stories about how they live; how you have experience them; how people in your area are studying them.

Connect people to place. Tell local stories about local wildlife and local people. It isn’t rocket science.

And understand that if you’re standing in front of a local bat habitat, pointing out local bats flying from a a local bat roost, and you suddenly feel compelled to slip in information about tropical bats (because it’s a REALLY COOL FACT and your interpretive ego demands that everyone know it), many of your visitors will confuse the two when they walk away. Trust me on this; I have seen the summative evaluations.

Always make sure your verbal interpretation is completely in harmony with your visual interpretation.

If you talk about one thing while they’re looking at another thing, you wil mess up your learning outcomes. It’s bad interpretation. If you don’t believe me, run some post-program evaluations.

And have a local call to action. Insect populations are in terrible shape by many reports. Talk about that. Or, talk about white-nosed disease if there’s a risk of it spreading to your community. Or just encourage people to spend time watching bats outdoors, without fear.

Thanks for listening.

Your peevish naturalist

Please share with your network. Thanks!
Posted in Personal Programming, Visitor Experience.

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