Volume 39
Issue 2

Former BCI Board Chair Dr. Cullen Geiselman shares the importance of educating people about bats

by Kristen Pope

Dr. Cullen Geiselman is former chair of BCI’s Board of Directors and served on the board from 2011–2020. She worked as a BCI staff member from 1998–2002 before earning a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Columbia University, where she studied nectar-feeding bats and their diets, and coauthored a book entitled Seed Dispersal by Bats in the Neotropics. Now, she runs the online Bat Eco-Interactions Database (batbase.org), which catalogs interactions between bats and other animals, in addition to her work as acting director and chair of the Board of Trustees for the Cullen Trust for Health Care.

Why are you so fascinated by bats?

Bats are really incredible beings. They live on every continent except Antarctica, and they have so many different feeding strategies. I’m in a constant state of awe when learning and listening to other researchers. Bats are so diverse and have so many interesting adaptations for surviving in the world. It’s exhilarating to share information about them and open up people’s minds to these fascinating creatures.

What was your most meaningful experience with a bat?

When I was doing my dissertation work in French Guiana, I would catch nectar-feeding bats at dawn by setting nets on trails, hoping bats would be flying by right before it got light. During the maternity seasons, mothers would fly with their babies, and every once in a while, a mom would be captured and free herself from the net, accidentally leaving her baby behind.

I would keep the baby all day, feed it, and then go back to the site right at dusk. When it was getting dark, I would hang the baby out on a branch close to where it had been, and the mom would return 12 hours later and get her baby. It was such a powerful story. I don’t want to anthropomorphize them, but it’s relatable to people—the first thing the mom does when it’s safe to leave the cave is come look for her baby.

Do you have a favorite bat?

I always start BCI board meetings—especially if there are new people in the room—by everyone going around and sharing their favorite bat. My favorite bats are the nectar-feeding ones I studied for my dissertation work: Anoura geoffroyi (Geoffroy’s tailless bat) and Lionycteris spurrelli (Chestnut long-tongued bat). I feel a sense of loyalty to them, but I really find all bats pretty fascinating.

What can people do to help with bat conservation?

Learn about bats. Be the person who can speak truth about bats during this pandemic. Support local efforts to monitor bats, build bat houses, provide habitat for bats, plant native species in your garden. Not using pesticides is a great way to keep bats in your own neighborhood. Get facts; dispel some myths. Anyone can do it, and it can be really helpful in this time.