It's a Bird, It's a Plane ... It's Nikki Giovanni's Bat?

Throughout her career, world-renowned poet, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni has received countless honors and awards – and now, thanks to a Texas Tech researcher, she can add her own species of bat to the list.

Written by: Ben Samples

Throughout her career, world-renowned poet, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni has received countless honors and awards – and now, thanks to a Texas Tech researcher, she can add her own species of bat to the list.

Robert Baker, a Horn professor of biological sciences, discovered the new species in 2001 during a research excursion in West Ecuador. The discovery, said Baker, allowed him a unique opportunity in the scientific world.

"There are literally millions of stars in the sky to be named, but probably no more than 2,000 species of mammals remain to be named," Baker said. "In the grand scheme of things, using one of those opportunities to make a statement about somebody is a special deal.

"I decided to choose someone whose life work I respected immensely, but that I had never had contact with. It was a way of going outside of my own world."

Baker selected Giovanni in 2004 and dubbed the species, "Micronycteris giovanniae," meaning Giovanni’s small night flyer.

"I enjoy reading her poetry and I come from the Deep South, so I really can appreciate what she has done for race relations and equality," Baker said.

Baker remembers breaking the news to Giovanni, and how it was slightly reminiscent of an adolescent prank.

"I wrote to her, ‘You don’t know me and this isn’t a joke, but I want to name a bat after you.’" Baker said. "I told her it was a serious honor, but I wished to have her permission and not to offend her."

Giovanni – amused by the proposition – accepted and even toted her newly acquired honor to a Washington Post reporter, Baker said.

"They did a story on her after she was nominated for a couple of humanitarian awards," Baker said. "She told the reporter she wasn’t going to win and everyone would ask, ‘Who’s that woman in black?’ But she didn’t care, because she was special – she had a bat named after her."

CONTACT: Robert Baker, professor of biological sciences, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-2702 or Robert.baker@ttu.edu