Media & Education
News Room

Volume 34, Issue 4, Fall 2015

Bats Through History

By Micaela Jemison

Rare book collection
BCI Communication Manager,Micaela Jemison, with
Darwin's "The Zoology of the H.M.S. Beagle"

Our ever-changing knowledge of bats can be traced through historical records in scientific texts, many of which reside in the Smithsonian’s rare book collection.

BCI staff and our board of directors recently had the honor of touring the Smithsonian Libraries and seeing many of these invaluable original books, some of which date as far back as the 15th century. Highlights included reading the first mention of the word “Chiroptera” in Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s manual of natural history, Hanbuch der Naturgeschiche, published in 1779, and absorbing Darwin’s descriptions and sketches of bat species in The Zoology of the H.M.S. Beagle, a record of his travels to parts of southern South America, Tahiti and Australia on the 1831–1836 voyage.



The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is an open access digital library for biodiversity literature. Headquartered at the Smithsonian Libraries in Washington, D.C., BHL has partner institutions all over the world that are each working to digitize the natural history literature in their library collections and make it freely available at

BHL collections contain over 46 million pages from over 160,000 volumes of biodiversity literature from the 15th-21st centuries. Nearly 100,000 natural history illustrations from BHL, like Haeckel's breathtaking bat illustration, are also made freely available in Flickr: Explore for free today!

Rare book collection
Handbuch der Naturgeschichte (Handbook of Natural History), by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, 1779, at Smithsonian Libraries’ rare books collections. Credit: Micaela Jemison

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