Imagine being a wildlife photographer. Outside in the beauty of nature, watching stunning creatures in their natural habitat, learning while you work... Sounds great.
Well, bat biologist and nature photographer Nickolay Hristov says it's not necessarily all it's cracked up to be: "you feel the wind of these thousands of wings in your hair ... if you stand up, they will hit you. It smells. You get peed on."
Hristov uses lots of different techniques to find out how bats behave in nature: extreme slow-motion video, thermal imaging of caves, and of course, walking advanced laser scanners into the caves over "a 10-metre carpet of bat poop."
But despite all the high-tech equipment, Hristov calls himself "the naturalist of the 21st century." He sees himself and his work as part of the tradition that began with Darwin and other naturalists in the 1800s.
Now if you're thinking, who cares about bats - consider this. There are nearly 1,000 species of bats in the world, many of which are becoming endangered or seeing their numbers decline because humans are destroying their natural habitats.
Not only that, but bats are incredibly important to the environment and the economy. For one, they kill insects - a lot of them. A single Brown Bat - one of the most common in North America - can capture 600 mosquitoes in an hour and nearly 3,000 insects in one night. That saves all of us a lot of itchy bites and calamine lotion (if you're old school).
Bats also pollinate more than 130 types of plants, including valuable fruits, nuts and spices (plantain, bananas mangos, guavas, avocados, almonds, cashews, cloves, vanillin, carob and figs). That's not just important for the eco-system, it's important for the global economy.
In fact, Science Magazine put together an article about the economic importance of bats. The article suggests that the "loss of bats in North America could lead to agricultural losses estimated at more than $3.7 billion a year." Other estimates have put it as high as $23 billion, even as high as $53 billion.
Plus, bats eat millions of bugs and pests that could ruin a farmer's harvest. Researchers say a colony of 100 brown bats can eat more than a million mosquitoes and other small insects a year.
As the report put it, "bats are among the most overlooked, yet economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, and their conservation is important for the integrity of ecosystems and in the best interest of both national and international economies".