You might be aware that Wes Watson — star illustrator and visual journalist for the Star Tribune of Casper, Wyo. — recently joined the staff of the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.
What you might not know is that his final project for Casper didn’t run until today.
The topic: Bats. A specific type of bat called the Hoary Bat, in fact.
I know, I know. I thought the same thing. But, in fact, the word means having grey or white hair. Seriously. So ahead and get it out of your system before we move on.
Here is the giant graphic Wes created fro today’s feature page. Click for a much larger look.
Wes tells us:
I honestly don’t remember when we got started with bats. I finished the graphic shortly before moving, which was early October, but I drew the main image back in July, I think. I worked on it periodically in August and got some really good advice from Chris Morris during that time.
Here’s a pencil sketch of Wesley’s main image…
Here it is inked…
…and colored — with watercolors — and ready to be placed.
I know at one point I was curious about white-nose syndrome and whether bats in Wyoming were affected … because this is the kind of thing you think about if you read too many National Geographics. But, I’m sure– as it usually happened in Casper — I pitched it to outdoors reporter Christine Peterson by perching over her desk and blurting enthusiastically, “Bats!” as if it’s not just a single word, but a well-formed plan from which she would know exactly what I was thinking.
I’m not sure if that’s how it really happened, but she tracked down something much more interesting.
As it turns out, white-nose syndrome is not a huge concern in Wyoming. That’s something that affects more cave-roosting bats, as opposed to tree bats.
This graphic showing three types of tree bats ran on page two of today’s features section.
What Christine found was that bats are highly susceptible to pressure changes like those produced by wind turbines. So Wyoming is seeing a high number of bat deaths, just as any other place with high concentrations of windmills would be.
The long and short of it is the pressure inside bats is usually the same as the air around them. Wind turbine blades split the air just like an airplane wing does, creating an area of low pressure and high pressure. When bats fly through the vortex of low pressure produced behind a wind turbine, the pressure on the inside of them expands, and the tissue of their lungs bursts. It’s not unlike what happens to deep-sea divers when they ascend from the depths too fast.
Pretty interesting stuff.
This was page one of today’s Star Tribune, featuring the start of Christine’s story.
The lead picture of zoologists capturing bats to study is by Star Tribune staffer Kyle Grantham, who also shot this amazing night shot of the same scientists stringing a net across the Medicine Bow River.
Here are inside pages nine and ten.
Thanks to Star Tribune news editor Jim McBee for sending along those pages.
Average daily circulation for the Star Tribune is 24,791.
A product of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Wes spent four years as a designer for the Daily News of Washington, N.C. before moving to Casper in 2006.
He was the paper’s news editor until he moved into a special projects coordinating position two years ago after recruiting my old pal McBee — also from North Carolina — to take over for him in that position.
During his time out west, Wesley created gigantic graphic on mountain lions…
…so animals are his specialty. I’ll look forward to a big piece in the Virginian-Pilot on mosquitoes.