Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting ready for the field! Spring trip 2011

I am happily getting prepared for my next field trip. I plan on leaving for Mexico March 7th and visiting at least the 2 caves I work at in Puebla, Mexico and Morelos, Mexico. Additionally I hope to join a student who is working with one of my favorite bats: Leptonycteris (Mexican long-nosed bats). I hope to have lots of nice photos and stories to share during my trip!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bat websites

Just in case you are intersted in learning more about bats here are a few suggested websites:

Bats in general:

Bats everywhere for kids!

More bat fun

Bats and plants

Bat sites by location:

Alaska bats

Arizona bats

California: bats of Orange County


Colorado: USGS bat research Costa Rica Louisiana Nevada New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns New York Panama's Adaptable Bats (from National Geographic- with GREAT photos!) Texas: the famous CONGRESS BRIDGE (below) Utah

Desert bats

This may or may not come as a surprise but deserts are home to many species of bats. This is in part because of the ability of bats to fly long distances to access water, as well as the ease with which many species are able to extract water from their food (normally insects). Additionally, by being nocturnal (active at night while sleeping during the day) they limit their exposure to high temperatures i.e. the extreme daytime temperatures of desert days, by roosting in nice cool habitats like caves, abandoned mines and even rock piles.

So what are some of the desert bats in the US and Mexico?
To the left is one of the most unique species called the Pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus). These bats lovingly referred to as 'Werebats' by my co-workers in the field primarily eat large insects like scorpions, and centipedes in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. They are known by biologists by their amazing ability to get almost all the water they need from the food they eat by having highly specialized kidneys (the organ responsible for concentrating and regulating the water in our bodies via a process termed osmoregulation). This little guy I captured in Arizona in at the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge.

Another interesting bat is the California leaf-nosed bat (Macrotus californicus) shown here on the left. Perhaps on first glance this bat looks quite similar to the first but look closely at its nose. You can see what researchers refer to as a 'leaf' on its nose. These bats are much more rare than Pallid bats and normally are only found in Mexico and in the US near the border in Arizona and California. These bats are not good at thermoregulation (keeping their bodies warm by producing heat) and shiver while you hold them to generate heat.

Here is another bat called the California myotis (Myotis californicus). These bats are smaller than the above species but much more common. While this bat was captured in Arizona the species ranges from Canada to Guatamala.

Photos (Saguaro cactus: T. Orr, bats: C. Gilman)

**Please come back as I update the species listed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bat Myths

I would like to have a running list of 'bat myths.' Please comment if you can think of things to add. These are all myths (i.e. NOT true) but I will go through each with more information as I have a longer running list. It may be interesting to see what is known about the origins of each myth!

The 'bats are' list:
2. flying mice (exhibit 'a' the German word for bat 'Fledermaus')
3. really into attacking people's hair
4. all infected with rabies
5. able to turn into vampires (making Edward ever so slightly less attractive- right Bella?)
6. evil?
Okay time for a confession I love B movies... so in case you have never seen the classic vampire movie Nosferatu please click below. Twilight fans beware this is not an attractive vampire! Meanwhile please consider how this movie fits in with the above bat myths. Are any bats even included in the movie?

Inspired quote- why 'bats are not bugs'

Calvin is asked to do a report for class on bats... meanwhile a patient Hobbes tries to help as much as he can.

This cartoon inspired the name of my blog that tries to deal with some of the 'FACTS' that we all think we know about bats. Enjoy!

I have always loved this cartoon. It is above and beyond cute but also depicts in some ways how we all wish life would work... what we believe to be the nature of things is in actuality true. Here Calvin is sure he knows two things: 1. bats are bugs, and 2. school report in flashy clear plastic binder = A+!
While bats are mammals and not bugs (thus #1 is not true) I do wonder if the fact that all dissertations I know of are bound in a nice and neat book with parchment paper has something to do with #2.... So assuming you trust me and Calvin's teacher about #1 please give me your thoughts and feed back on #2...

My study species the Jamaican fruit bat

Let me start by introducing my study species the Jamaican fruit bat
Scientific name: Artibeus jamaicensis (above).
These 'little' guys are in fact rather large for bats weighing around 40 grams (about 1.4 ounces roughly equivalent to a small packet of jello from your supermarket). Indeed, most bats at least in the Americas are fairly small (weighing less than an ounce which is about how much 5 US quarters weigh) and eat insects.
Artibeus however are frugivores (eat fruit) and in particular seem to prefer figs over all other fruits. This may be in part because figs (plant genus Ficus) tend to be particularly abundant where these bats live. Regardless, because they are fairly big and rely on a diet that does not provide them with a lot of protein (imagine if you were to only eat fruits and vegetables without the occasional meat or nuts) they have to eat a lot. Additionally flying takes a lot of energy so the need for food is greater still.

So to deal with their voracious appetite these bats grab entire fruits and fly somewhere nearby (a tree branch works well) and while hanging upside down they squeeze the fruit in their strong jaws and squeeze the fruit to drink the juice and the remaining pulp is dropped. Indeed Jamaican fruit bats have some of the strongest jaw muscles of bats their size because of their diet. This dietary strategy provides a fairly efficient way for them to digest the 'good stuff' in their food with minimal effort.

More to come about these lovely bats and what I am trying to research.... please come back to learn more!

Why this blog

I am starting this blog as a way to communicate about the often under-appreciated creatures that I study and love: bats.

I hope to communicate why I love these creatures, to explain what doing research on these lovely yet secretive animals entails and ideally dispel some of the negative mis-information that is out there about these amazing animals.

So if you are curious about bats, biology in general or maybe want to know what its like to be a graduate student/ scientist and do research in the natural environment this is the blog for you!