Story by David Thompson
Painting and photos by Michael Furuya
Before the bat investigator points an AnaBatII bat detector at me, I have no idea that my fingertips can produce ultrasonic sound. Now I’m listening to them. The detector screeches and squawks every time I rub the tips together, translating the inaudible high frequencies they make into something I can actually hear. It works the same way with bats, turning their echolocation calls into audible chirps and buzzes—that is, if there are any bats making echolocation calls.
That’s what we’ve come to find out. I’m sitting in a plastic chair in a darkened macadamia nut orchard outside of Hilo with the bat investigator and two research assistants. We’ve got mist nets strung overhead, and we’re all waiting for a Hawaiian hoary bat to come along; we’re hoping to catch it and stick a tiny radio transmitter on its back. The hours pass with the volume on the detector cranked up and all of us listening intently. But aside from the novelty of my fingertips, we don’t hear much of anything and certainly not what we came for: not a single bat chirp or buzz all night. Still … we know they’re out there.