Bernardo Villa Ramirez:  1911-2006


Reprinted from Bat Research News, Vol. 48: No. 1 (Spring 2007) with permission of the publisher, Dr. Margaret A. Griffiths. All rights reserved.


Photograph courtesy of Rodrigo A. Medellin

by
Rodrigo A. Medellin

Bernardo Villa Ramirez (known to many as Bernardo, Doc Villa, el Doctor Villa, or Batman) was born in the mountains of the state of Guerrero, in southern Mexico, on 11 May 1911. Guerrero was one of the poorest states in Mexico, and its people were mostly Native Americans of Aztec descent. Bernardo grew up in the midst of a Native American family and did not begin learning Spanish until age 12.

He eventually left his home town of Teloloapan for Mexico City in an ambitious, restless pursuit of academic improvement. He first studied to become a rural elementary school teacher, and because he always was committed to serving his community, he went back to Teloloapan to teach in the tiny school that can still be seen there. in the 1930s, nature's magnet attracted Bernardo to become a biologist, one of the first trained biologists of Mexico. After obtaining a master's degree from his beloved UNAM, the National University of Mexico, his determination pushed him to take his three children and wife to the University of Kansas, where he enrolled in a master's program under the direction of the legendary E. Raymond Hall. During this period, he successfully faced yet another challenge: learning english, his third language after his native Nahuatl and Spanish.

By 1947, Bernardo, with his master's degree, had become a faculty member in the instituto de Biologia of UNAM, his home institution for many decades. in the same year he initiated the collection of mammals at the instituto, and today, that collection is the largest in Mexico and considered the official national collection of mammals by the federal government. Bernardo ultimately pursued a doctoral degree at UNAM, which he received in 1966 after completing his dissertation The Bats of Mexico. His dissertation was later published as a book that became the standard reference for bats in Mexico and greatly stimulated the study of these flying mammals by natives of Mexico and international researchers. Bernardo Villa directed over 40 theses and dissertations and taught scores of courses at UNAM and other institutions. His academic children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are today in key positions in academic institutions across Mexico and in other countries. He published over 100 papers and established collaborations with dozens of researchers from many countries. The National System of Researchers made him an emeritus researcher over 10 years ago. He was a member of the American Society of Mammalogists for five decades, and that society awarded him an honorary membership in 1999. He became an emeritus professor at UNAM, and even as he aged into his 90s, he continued to go to his beloved instituto once or twice a week to advise students and discuss projects. He strongly supported the idea of a few young students, back in the early 1980s, to form the Mexican Society of Mammalogists, for which he served as external advisor and honorary president. Today the Mexican Society of Mammalogists and the North American Symposium on Bat Research have their respective Bernardo Villa Awards, appropriately given to the brightest student in each society. His influential work truly shaped today's mammalogy in Mexico, and most, if not all, people studying bats in Mexico can trace their origin to Bernardo.

His joviality and astonishing memory are the material of legends. He was always ready to discuss questions about mammals, which invariably evoked stories from his youth. On one occasion, he was working in a cave in his native state of Guerrero when his then young children, only 8- and 10-years old, started calling to their dad, who was deep in the dusty cave catching bats. When Bernardo surfaced, he was met by a shotgun pointed at him and others that were aimed at his children. Bernardo's face was covered by a handkerchief and a headlamp, and the faces of the bandidos also were covered by handkerchiefs and sombreros. Bernardo, in his usual affable way and with the cold blood that was brought up under any life-threatening circumstance, started removing his equipment. When his face was visible, the chief of the bandidos said: "Maestro Villa! What were you doing in that hole? Why didn't you tell us that you were around here?" It turned out that the chief of the bandidos had been one of Bernardo's elementary school students in Teloloapan, and after that encounter, the bandido became one of Bernardo's major guides during visits to his native Guerrero. Stories like this are plentiful whenever you mention the name Bernardo Villa.

Bernardo's legacy was not limited to academia. He took a decisive step when, in the 1960s, he joined the federal government as head of the Wildlife Department; he maintained that position for several years and continued advising the government for the rest of his life. He touched thousands of young biologists through his cordial, welcoming personality and his exceptionally enthusiastic and open style. My own destiny was sealed when Dr. Villa, in one of the abundant examples of his generosity, called my home after I had appeared on television as a 12-year-old mammal enthusiast and invited me to join him and his team in the field. Bernardo counted many friends in dozens of countries, and he left a heritage that spans decades, thousands of people, and millions of square kilometers. His footprints were so positive and constructive that he was appreciated and welcomed by everyone---farmers, Indians, scholars, Mexicans, and citizens of other countries. His life was a true example of what can be achieved through determination, energy, and intelligence, coupled with warmth, hospitality, and friendship.

In the Field with Bernardo Villa-R.

G. Roy Horst

Those of us fortunate enough to have known Bernardo Villa are acutely aware that there was far more to him than Rodrigo Medellin's account reveals to us. What was Bernardo---that fellow at the other end of a bat net or just ahead of you in a dark and muddy cave---really like to work with? He was a genuine delight, invariably in a jovial and pleasant mood, intensely interested in what was going on, and always interested in those around him. He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved a good joke, even though sometimes much was lost in translation. He was a kind and enthusiastic coworker and always a welcome companion.

Bernardo especially enjoyed being in the field, which often meant being in a cave, an old building, or the jungle. Fieldwork to him was always an adventure. All of his friends and associates especially remember the pleasant companion he was on those long drives to some distant site. it was on such trips and under often strange or unusual circumstances that one really came to know him. His role on many field trips and excursions was invariably to serve as leader, as translator in the sometimes delicate discussions with local authorities, and as the ultimate expert at identifying every bat we ever caught. He also served as a guide to remote places, but surprisingly he was often as lost as his visiting traveling companions. The following are just a few of my recol-lections about interesting events that occurred when Bernardo and the late Bill Wimsatt traveled throughout Mexico in search of various species of bats. In these adventures I was fortunate to be a fellow traveler, even if at first only a mere graduate assistant.

Especially amusing was my first experience with Bernardo and Bill, which happened during my first field trip ever into tropical bat country. Bernardo had long been interested in a small colony of Balantiopteryx io near Orizaba. On several previous occasions, he had attempted to capture a few specimens, without success. He described the site to Bill and me and we decided that we would make an attempt to obtain a few specimens for their collections. This colony roosted just inside the opening in the anterior part of a small amphitheater-like cave, which was at the base of a vertical cliff and opened onto a pasture. Any attempt to approach the entrance of the cave was almost immediately followed by the bats flying out and escaping--hence Bernardo's previous lack of success. This problem of approach became the object of some serious planning by my two great leaders while I observed with silent admiration, ignorant neophyte that I was. The plan was that we would take a ten-meter bat net and attach it to two very fancy, custom-made telescoping aluminum poles, which Bill had commissioned to be made at considerable expense. The plan was that Bill would take one end and Bernardo would take the trailing end of the outstretched net, with me standing by. We would charge along, hugging the side of the cliff, and move quickly across the cave entrance, blocking it with the outstretched net. Once the net was in place, I would quickly duck inside and capture as many bats as possible as they became ensnared in the net that would be securely blocking the entrance to the cave.

We assembled the apparatus off to one side of the cave so as not to alert the bats, and to make certain of success we viewed the cave entrance and its surrounding terrain from a point far back from the opening. We could not actually see into the cave, but rather could only glimpse its opening from a side angle. Bernardo went over the plan again and we were ready to execute a great coup on the Balantiopteryx.

The signal was given and we charged---Bill, as always, in the lead, Bernardo following, me standing by. Almost in the same instant, Bill suddenly developed an astounded look on his face, the likes of which I had not seen before (nor since), and Bernardo looked like he desperately wanted to be somewhere else. it happened that a Brahma bull had been resting in the entrance of the cave. At our sudden appearance, he immediately charged out--roaring--and fled downhill away from the scene. And what a scene it was---an angry bellowing bull with a bat net draped across his horns. Wimsatt's fancy poles were bouncing on the ground, rebounding to strike the bull over and over until the bull disappeared into a woods a few hundred meters away. There was little doubt in our minds that the bull was awaiting his chance to turn on his tormentors as they came to rescue their net and poles. A short (very short) discussion ensued as to which one of us would go down into that woods and retrieve our equipment. There were no volunteers; in such cases graduate students were invariably expected to volunteer. I pathetically men-tioned something about my wife and baby boy back at home and Bill commented on how much those fancy poles had cost him. Bernardo settled the issue by offering to pay Bill whatever sum new poles would cost. Any thoughts of recovery were ended then and there as by now we could hear the bull returning and we quickly fled the scene. Bernardo never did get those Balantiopteryx, and we wondered ever after what the farmer thought when he recovered his netted bull.

In 1970 on the occasion of the First North American Symposium on Bat Research in Tucson, Bernardo and Mrs. Villa decided to accept our invitation and spend a few extra days as our houseguests. They expressed a desire to visit the ancient historic indian Mission of San Xavier del Baq just south of Tucson, so we arranged an afternoon's visit to this beautiful old mission. One of the delightful customs of the indian women in the congregation is that each Christmas they create lovely native costumes to clothe the statues of the various saints that decorate the chapel of the mission. One of the mission priests served as our guide to the history and services of the mission, much to the delight of all of us and especially to Bernardo and Clemencia, who were devout Catholics.

At this time Mrs. Villa was not enjoying the best of health and as we finished our tour, the Villas asked the priest if he would offer a prayer on her behalf, which he graciously did. As they knelt in front of the statue of The Virgin Mary (the statue stood on a pedestal that is just at eye level when one is kneeling), Bernardo noticed some bat droppings scat-tered at the feet of the statue. After the prayer was completed, Bernardo very politely and discreetly called the priest's attention to the droppings and mentioned that there must be bats hiding in the robes of the statue, expressing concern that they would soil the beautiful clothes so lovingly crafted by the ladies of the congregation. He informed the priest that he was a bat biologist and offered to remove them. The priest expressed embarrassment that a man might presume to reach under the skirts of so sacred a statue but allowed that Clemencia might wish to do it, and she did, retrieving two Myotis thysanodes.

We took the bats back to our home and Bernardo prepared museum specimens of them. The label Bernardo prepared read very straightforwardly: "Taken from under the skirts of the statue of the Holy Mother in the Chapel of San Xavier del Baq, 14 km south of Tucson, Arizona." He commented that this might be one of the more unique museum labels for any bat ever, but on second thought feared it might seem a bit irreverent and produced a more conventional tag for those specimens. if only he had only left the original!

Bernardo was always a resourceful field worker and was especially adept at taking advantage of any opportunity or methodology to collect specimens of interest. On one of our field trips to the area south of Vera Cruz near Tlacotalpan, Bernardo kept suggesting that in addition to collecting Molossus ater and Desmodus rotundus, we should also try to capture a few Noctilio leporinus, common in that area. Both Bill and I were intrigued by the idea so the hunt was on.

The terrain in that area was very flat and swampy and nearly every road was bounded on both sides by small canals usually less than three or four meters wide and rarely more than one-half meter deep. These canals were teeming with aquatic life including many small fish. Bernardo assured us that these were favorite hunting grounds for Noctilio. He felt that surely we should be able to catch a few and suggested how we could go about this endeavor. One method that Bernardo described, but admitted he had never tried, was to fasten a very thin wire or monofilament line across the canal just a few millimeters beneath the water's surface. The idea was that the bats would be trolling along the surface, catch the invisible wire with those huge forward-facing feet, and their normal gaffing reflex would then dump them unexpectedly into the water. in their suddenly confused state we should be able to catch them by quickly wading in after them. Bill was skeptical (after all he hadn't thought of it himself) and said rather loftily that rather than make a fool of himself wading or falling into a drainage ditch, he would go downstream a few hundred meters, set up a conventional net, and show us how it should be done.

Bernardo and I carefully arranged our wire, sat behind a thick clump of bushes on the bank, and tossed small pieces of twigs into the water just ahead of the wire to simulate fish splashing and feeding on the surface (i thought of that part). How could we fail? Presently we heard the smooth swishing sound of a trolling Noctilio and after a series of misses one finally hit our wire. Just as Bernardo had predicted, the bat ended up in the water. Bernardo immediately jumped into the canal and waded after the swimming bat. But just as he reached to catch it, there was a splash and the bat was gone---caught in the jaws of a caiman about a meter in length. Bernardo immediately erupted from the water and walked on its surface the two or three meters to the bank. He used a few choice words in Spanish, which I thought best not to remember. Bill came along a few minutes later to see "what we had caught with all that splashing around." After he had a good laugh at our expense, he handed us two Noctilio that he had caught in his net. He never let us forget that incident! it made for many a good laugh later and Bernardo loved telling about it---except the caiman became larger with time!

There were many other equally fascinating events and adventures while in the field with this great mentor and companion. Fortunately at the time I was keeping a simple journal of my field trips and managed to scribble done a few lines on some of those occasions. I regret that I did not have a camera to record at least some of those events. I also regret that none of us will ever have such wonderful experiences with him again. The next time you meet some of your colleagues whom you suspect may have traveled or worked with Dr. Villa, please ask them about their experiences with him; they will enjoy telling you of their memories, and Bernardo's legacy will be preserved.

 

Selected Publications by Bernardo Villa-R.

Margaret A. Griffiths

The following bibliography of publications by Bernardo Villa-R. was compiled from a variety of sources because a complete list was unavailable. Omissions, incomplete citations, and misspellings, especially of Spanish words, in the following list are inadvertent. To ensure that the bibliograghy is readable on many different browsers, accent and diacritical marks were removed when preparing the html version for posting on the BRN Web site.

Martinez, L., and B. Villa-R. 1938. Contribuciones al conocimiento de los murcielagos de Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 9: 339-360.

Martinez, L., and B. Villa-R. 1940. Segunda contribucion al conocimiento de los murcielagos mexicanos. ii. estado de Guerrero. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 11: 291-361.

Villa R., B. 1948. Mamiferos del Soconusco, Chiapas. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 19: 485-528.

Hall, E. R., and B. Villa R. 1949. An annotated check list of the mammals of Michoacan, Mexico. University of Kansas Publications, Museum of Natural History, 1: 431-472.

Hatt, R. T., and B. Villa-R. 1950. Observaciones sobre algunos mamiferos de Yucatan y Quintana Roo. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 21: 215-240.

Villa R., B. 1953. Distribucion en Mexico de los murcielagos vampiros, familia Desmodontidae. Memoria del Congreso Cientifico Mexicano, pp. 316-322.

Villa R., B. 1953. Mamiferos Silvestres del Valle de Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 23: 269-492.

Villa R., B. 1955. El murcielago colorado de Seminola (Lasiurus borealis seminolus Rhoads) en Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 26: 237-238.

Villa R., B. 1956. Una extrana mortandad de murcielagos Mormoops megalophylla en el norte de Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 26: 547-552.

Villa R., B. 1956. Otros murcielagos nuevos para la fauna de Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 26: 543-545.

Villa R., B. 1956. Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana (Saussure), el murcielago guanero es una subespecie migratoria. Acta Zoologica Mexicana, 1: 1-11.

Malaga Alba, A. and B. Villa-R. 1957. Algunas notas acerca de la distribucion de los murcielagos de America del Norte, relacionados con el problema de la rabia. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 27: 529-568.

Villa R., B. 1958. El acto de tomar la sangre en los murcielagos hematofagos. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 28: 339-343.

Villa R., B. 1958. Pteronotus davyi fulvus. el murcielago de espaldas desnudas en el norte de Sonora, Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 29: 375-378.

Villa R., B. 1959. Control of vampire bats. Pp. 161-163, in Proceedings of Conference on Research in Bat Rabies. Department of Health, education and Welfare, Public Health Service, National institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

Villa-R., B. 1960. Tadarida yucatanica in Tamaulipas. Journal of Mammalogy, 41: 314-319.

Villa R., B. 1961. The Mexican blood drinkers. Vampire bats display special adaptation. Natural History Magazine, 70: 62-63.

Villa R., B., and A. Jimenez G. 1961. Acerca de la posicion taxonomica de Mormoops megalophylla senicula Rehn, y la presencia de virus rabico en estos murcielagos insectivoros. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 31: 501-509.

Constantine, D. G., and B. Villa-R. 1962. Metodos de lucha contra los vampiros transmisores de la rabia. Boletin de la Oficina Sanitaria Panamericana, 53: 7-12.

Villa R., B. 1962. Tres casos mas de rabia en los murcielagos de Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 32: 391-395.

Villa R., B. 1962. Vampire saugen Menschenblut. Die blutsaugenden Fledermause Mexikos ubertrogen die Tollwut, Das Tier. lnternationale Tierillustrierte Nr. 7, Juli 1.

Villa R., B., and E. L. Cockrum. 1962. Migration in the guano bat Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana (Saussure). Journal of Mammalogy, 43: 43-64.

Villa R., B. 1962. Nota acerca de la distribucion de los murcielagos Euderma maculatum (J. A. Allen) y Chiroderma isthmicum Miller en Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 33: 379-384.

Villa R., B. 1963. Thyroptera tricolor albiventer (Tomes) el murcielago discoforo de la familia Thyropteridae, nueva para Mexico, en el sur del estado de Veracruz. Rev. Soc. Mex. Hist. Nat., 24: 45-48.

Villa R., B., et al. 1963. Rabies virus in the kidney and other tissues of vampire bats in Western Mexico. Zoonosis Research, 2: 77-82.

Villa R., B. 1964. Reflexiones acerca de la posicion taxonomica de los murcielagos siricoteros de Mexico, Genero Glossophaga. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 34: 381-391.

Alvarez Lomeli, B., B. Villa R., and W. A. Wimsatt. 1964. Contribucion al conocimiento de la epidemiologia de la rabia en algunos murcielagos de la Republica Mexicana. Boletin del instituto de estudios Medicos y Biologicos, 22: 387-392.

Dickermann, R. W., and B. Villa-R. 1964. Dry ice: a "new" field technique. Journal of Mammalogy, 45: 141-142.

Villa R., B. 1965. Diaemus youngi (Jentink). El vampiro overo, en el sur de Tamaulipas, Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 35: 127-128.

Villa-R., B. 1966. Los murcielagos de Mexico. Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico.

Villa R., B., G. Meza Ruiz, B. Ortiz Bonilla, and B. Villa Cornejo. 1967. Rabia en dos especies de murcielagos insectivoros genero Pteronotus, en condiciones naturales, colectados en Jalisco, Mexico. Anales del instituto Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 38: 9-16.

Villa R., B., and J. Ramirez Pulido. 1968. Diclidurus virgo Thomas, el murcielago blanco, en la costa de Nayarit, Mexico. Anales del instituto de Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Serie Zoologia, 39: 155-158.

Villa R., B., and M. Villa-Cornejo. 1969. Algunos murcielagos del norte de Argentina. Pp. 407-428, in Contributions in mammalogy (J. K. J. Jones, ed.). Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.

Villa R., B. 1969. The ecology and biology of vampire bats and their relationship to paralytic rabies. United Nations Development Program, 51: 22.

Magatagan, M. D., E. H. Boyer, and B. Villa-Ramirez. 1984. Revision del estado que guarda Phocoena sinus Norris and McFarland y descripcion de tres nuevos ejemplares. Anales del instituto de Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Serie Zoologia, 55: 271-294.

Brower, L. P., B. E. Horner, M. A. Marty, C. M. Moffitt, and B. Villa-R. 1985. Mice (Peromyscus maniculatus, P. spicilegus, and Microtus mexicanus) as predators of overwintering Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in Mexico. Biotropica, 17: 89-99.

LeBoeuf, B. J., K. W. Kenyon, and B. Villa-Ramirez. 1986. The Caribbean monk seal is extinct. Marine Mammal Science, 2: 70-72.

Villa-R., B., V. H. Tejera-N., and J. Arauz-G. 1993. New records for some mammals from Panama. Anales del instituto de Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Serie Zoologia, 64: 78-85.

Villa-Ramirez, B., M. Peralta-Perez, and A. Delgado-estrella. 1996. Description of the third metacarpal axial process in the pectoral fins of Phocoena sinus. Pp. 205-208, in Contributions in mammalogy: a memorial volume honoring Dr. J. Knox Jones, Jr. (H. H. Genoways and R. J. Baker, eds.). Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.

Ortega-Ortiz, J. G., B. Villa-Ramirez, and J. R. Gersenowies. 2000. Polydactyly and other features of the manus of the vaquita, Phocoena sinus. Marine Mammal Science, 16: 277-286.

Aguilar-Aguilar, R., R. G. Moreno-Navarrete, G. Salgado-Maldonado, and B. Villa-Ramirez. 2001. Gastrointestinal helminths of spinner dolphins Stenella longirostris (Gray, 1828) (Cetacea: Delphinidae) stranded in La Paz Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Comparative Parasitology, 68: 272-274.


Reprinted from Bat Research News, Vol. 48: No. 1 (Spring 2007) with permission of the publisher, Dr. Margaret A. Griffiths. All rights reserved.


Web page by Margaret Griffiths, Publisher/Managing Editor, Bat Research News. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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