Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hipster bat returns

Just keeping with a theme not touched upon for sometime... hipster bats!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I had to share this! It is silly but kind of cool in a hipster sort of way. Enjoy! Everybody's Got a Body
Created by: (Originally from:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Do bats have eyes?

Out of curiosity I wanted to see what google suggested is one of the main questions regarding bats and apparently it is 'do bats have eyes?'  The answer to this question is yes.  In fact many bats have big beautiful eyes.  In some cases bats do not rely on their sight very much and instead echolocate, other bats use their noses to find fruits but some use their eyes extensively.  Here you can see some beautiful examples of bat eyes!  Also- should you like musical inspiration while perusing please enjoy a cover of 'Call me Al'' by Noah and the Whale- a song with its reference to a 'rolly polly little bat faced girl' that just comes to mind when I consider bat faces!
Science Photo library winning photo by Steve Gschmeissner

Ok some species have tiny little 'batty'-eyes!

Friday, October 19, 2012

I'll see you at the bat meetings!

Really?  A meeting all about bats?!  Yes.  Why?  Because bat biologists need a place to get together and update each other regarding their research and network!

What better?

For the last 42 years the North American Society for Bat Research (NASBR) has met annually (now in October of course- what better month?!) 
Taken from their website:
"The North American Society for Bat Research (NASBR) is a society dedicated to the promotion and development of the scientific study of bats (Chiroptera) in all its branches, including conservation and public education. The society holds an annual meeting called the North American Symposium on Bat Research, usually in October, of professional bat researchers from throughout North America, with occasional attendees from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central and South America."

This year the meetings will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  255+ participants from across the globe will get together to geek out over their favorite taxonomic group: bats!

Entire days will be spent on topics like White Nose Syndrome and bat conservation in general.  I will do my best to update as the conference progresses with interesting and important talks or topics that come up!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Postdocs, academic gypsies, hobos, vagabonds?

What is a postdoc really all about?  A wise postdoc here at my current university compared it to being an 'academic gypsy'.  The description fit and stuck in my head and has since turned into a web of thoughts.  What makes the lifestyle of a postdoc so different from a graduate students (beyond the obvious qualifications)? 

To start off let's clarify- in case you don't know: a postdoc is a position you may take upon completing your PhD.  Assuming you plan to continue in academia for example to become a professor (at least in the sciences) it is almost a pre-requisite.  A postdoctoral position is intended to provide you with skills you didn't acquire during your PhD or that you would like to refine.  You conduct research and are paid by a principle investigator, the school or some external funding source.  You work hard, try to publish lots and hopefully enjoy the heck out of it!  That said it can be (is generally) hard work.  You may even be called upon to be the work horse of the lab, a 'lab coordintaor' who is in charge of other students or other activities in the lab.  Most postdocs last about 2 years (if you are lucky) some 1 (if you are unlucky) and others longer (if you are REALLY lucky).  Because you likely need several years to get sufficient experience and publications from your postdoc most people have 2 or more post docs before applying for a long-term academic position and this number increases all the time as more and more qualified folks are on the job market.  Thus, you can imagine that the second you arrive you are advised to start applying for another postdoc and that all of this can lead to a transient lifestyle.


So what fits best: academic gypsy?  hobo?  vagabond?  let me even suggest a few additional options: trustafarian or  beatnik?  It probably depends to some degree on what kind of postdoc you do (or don't) secure for yourself.

1.  The 'gypsy' in the post-doc
Now obviously gypsy refers to in many cases a group of people better referred to as Romani (or other ethnic groups).  However, it is also presents the connotation of a way of life, and this is the way I am using the word here - i.e. 'a nomadic way of life'.  Romantic notion although it may have been/usually was not out of choice: traveling the world, nothing but the road in front of you and nothing holding you down.  Certainly sounds great.  In fact the term Bohemianism is related to this very life style and things like 'the bohemian index' are used to denote the general intellectual creativity of a place!  I think this term perhaps best fits the postdoctoral lifestyle.  Part choice part necessity.  You must move to pursue your endeavors...  Generally it is a dynamic time in your career in terms of ideas.  Voluntary poverty in some cases.

A beautiful gypsy woman at Ellis Island (1902).  This woman's expression reminded me of that of other immigrants such as those below.
Volga River Germans in a refuge camp in Germany after kicked out of Russia.  My 'German' relatives came from this group who moved from Germany to the Steppes and Volga River area of Russia and as ethnic Germans were later asked to leave. 
Not 'gypsy' but a gypsy life-style illustrating that this type of 'moving from place to place can be for many different reason.

2.  the 'hobo'
 You may or may not already be aware of my idealization of Woodie Guthrie but in case you are not- here it comes again.  A working class soul transversing the land to take it all in, to experience it and fight against the fascist machine.  This is sounding about right.  Full of ideas and noble notions, not yet burned down by the rigmarole - but there is a catch: are you living out in the streets?  do you have a car?  a house?  Has poverty and desolation driven you from your home to seek better options?  Hard to say.

Woodie Guthrie spreading his word.  A lonesome traveler, traveling from town to town.

Beautiful image from  Another view of the hobo- here an optimistic view of what can be.
3.  the 'trustafarian'
There are indeed some postdocs that are so very prestigious that I think receiving one might be compared to being a trust fund baby.  The trustafarian all comes in based on how you use it.  A trustafarian is generally (in my mind) a young person who comes from money but chooses to talk about politics, ideas etc. without ever having to really WORK for a living so these notions come without a lot of personal experience of how the working man lives (sort of the opposite of our hobo postdoc)! 

4.  the 'beatnik'
Yes, you can picture it.  Intellectual.  But- I never got what this generation did for work.  That said- a hero of mind: Keroauc seemed to have gotten it right.  My favourite book of his: the Dharma Bums describes his time in the Sierras serving as a fire watch.  Maybe just soaking it all up and sharing these experiences through papers submitted to theoretical journals or writing tomes reminiscent of John Muir and Edward Abbey are what this group is all about.

In summary- I think it is what a person makes of the experience (of course as well as circumstance).  Lucky is the soul who can be a gypsy, hobo or vagabond as many others are tied to the place they find themselves for one reason or another.  I think by allowing people at this stage the opportunity to travel somewhere new they are able to grow and develop new ideas- perhaps while moving to work with an expert in the field who was previously far away.  I would love to hear what other people's thoughts and or experiences in the matter of 'what is a postdoc really like' are!

crisp changes

After what seemed to the longest destination-orientated road trip of all time: starting in California and ending in Massachusetts, I am at my destination in crisp New England.  Leaving behind the hot aseasonal summer (i.e. it never is truly fall) of my days as a PhD student in Southern California and starting my first fall as a postdoc the change from hot to the cold crisp fall of Massachusetts.  

(Pictured below is one amazing co-pilot and mostly willing participant...)

It is amazingly beautiful here.  Cold but beautiful.

I don't know what the change from PhD student to Postdoc is like for most people.  So far for me it covers most areas of my life: I live in a new place (let me say I LOVE my new apartment!) in a new city which is entirely different from where I lived before.  I chose to live in a town neighboring the University I'll be working at given it's reputation.  Northampton, MA is considered a seat of bohemian culture.  It is an art community, a home to intellectuals and also as home to Smith college and thus it is also a LGBT friendly city.  I love the perks of all of these attributes which include a suite of cool restaurants and stores within walking distance and local farmers markets as well as an involved community.  Instead of buying all my groceries at the grocery store I can buy them on the side of the road where they are grown!

The department at my new school (in Amherst) is great and now instead of walking to school I take a bus (another change).  My first week here there were several exciting events at the University: a wine and cheese sunset hike, a Science Cafe among others.  Other obvious changes: new people.  I miss my lab mates and friends but irony of ironies one of my very favorite people from my undergraduate and Master's lab is in my new lab!

The final transition is my research.  New projects to pursue abound and I have spent the last week or so reminding myself of what needs to be done to start them.  I look forward to sharing that information here as I proceed.  I meanwhile am making every effort to wrap up old projects which in many ways is equally exciting as it seems the transition from 'dissertation chapter' to 'submitted chapter' is easier than the usual preparation of a manuscript.  I suspect it is all the feedback you receive from your dissertation committee on each and every paragraph you write!   

(Below a view from the window of my new apartment.  Beautiful golden leaves are visible each morning!)
I suspect for many people fall signifies the end of summer.  For me fall has always represented the beginning.  Its the time of year you start school, its when you reap harvests and of course I remember the days of 'back to school shopping' so it is uniquely tied to new clothes as well!  So this beginning as a postdoc in the fall seems appropriate.  I am signing off here enjoying a crisp fall morning view and I look forward to many exiting updates in the weeks ahead!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What is a dissertation anyway?!

Now the question is out there - what is a dissertation anyway?!  Perhaps it seems I ought to to have breeched this topic with you earlier dear reader but here we are so let's dive in.


A long essay on a particular subject, esp. one written as a requirement for the Doctor of Philosophy degree
Ok sure- this definition is true but in the sciences a dissertation is based on research you have conducted.  Generally this includes subsets or chapters.  Historically (at least in biology) these may have been on a single topic like 'the ecology of the Naked mole rat' or 'behavior of the wood shrew.'  Nowadays it is more common for each chapter to be on a different topic but with the umbrella of some unifying theme.

My dissertation focuses on how animals might use reproductive delays to allocate limited resources to reproduction (i.e., are delays adaptive?)
The number of chapters of a dissertation seem to vary but are usually around 3-4 in the US (I think 4 like I will have is fairly common).  

Reproductive delays are pauses in reproduction that occur between mating and egg fertilization, between fertilization and implantation of the embryo in the female, or after an embryo has implanted. Stated simply, females with reproductive delays can take a break (energetically speaking) mid-pregnancy while the embryo (at various stages depending on what type of delay) sits in a convenient sort of suspended animation.  The mother can continue her pregnancy at a later date when food or weather is more favorable.  This type of reproduction while understudied is not uncommon.  Over 200 mammals are able to delay some part of a pregnancy. 

My dissertation addresses 4 questions (each a chapter) regarding delays.  I won't go into the details here.  Regardless, all the data are in and while I have a lot written some things more so than others I find that the final push is upon us! 

So now back to work.  Just know this break was good for both of us and in no form nor shape represents any sort of procrastination!  Yes the sock drawer is organized, and I've read numerous posts from my home-girl Orangette's blog but I'll have you know ... the dissertation will be done tomorrow...right?

Ah that reminds me of one of my favorite songs from days gone by 'Come Next Monday' by KT Oslin all about what you are going to do... (tomorrow).

Monday, July 9, 2012

the Mariana fruit bat and Pagan Island need you!

I have been traveling recently and so I am still catching up as one always does for a few days after their return home.  Amid the various e-mails was one from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) about a conservation issue I thought I should mention here.  To quote the letter directly:  "The government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is considering a proposal from Japanese investors to lease nearly one-fourth of Pagan Island as a dumping ground for tons of tsunami debris.  Pagan Island hosts much of the endemic flora and fauna of the Mariana Islands, including several threatened and endangered species." 

One of the species on the island is the endangered Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus mariannus) (picture below).  These bats have already been reduced in numbers both due to consumption by humans, introduction of predators to islands and may suffer from bioaccumulation of DDT in their food sources.  In Guam this bat went from 60,000 individuals (historical estimates) to fewer than 200 today (re- Paul Alan Cox and Oliver Sacks). 
***This is by no means the only species that would be impacted by the proposal.

Please see the information at the link below regarding a petition to stop this from happening.  There are already over 3,000 signatures but more are needed.  You can sign the petition by going here: (a banner on the upper right hand of the page will allow you to sign) and read more about the biodiversity of this island.  It only takes a second to sign.  Also if you can pass this along it would be much appreciated!

Thanks for your time and accept my apology for the soapbox moment but I think this was information worth sharing...

Bats in Movies 1_ the Neverending Story bat

This evening as I sat down to watch a movie from my childhood: 'the Neverending Story' and noticed that in addition to a 'Rockbitter' and Troll called 'Nighthob' one of the first characters we meet is a bat.  This seemed like a fun topic to blog about.  I've been intending to start a list of movies with bats in them anyway together with comments on the overall accuracy of the depictions.  So lets start here with this 1984 classic!
Surprisingly, (in my opinion) the bat is depicted rather accurately.  Indeed, if I were pressed to identify it I would suggest a real species namely the Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) .  This species would be consistent with the filming location (and hence bats the film-makers may have seen) in Germany. (See below to see if you agree with my ID of this bat!) 
In fact, I am inspired to see if I can contact the filmmaker (Wolfgang Peterson) to ask where he got this idea and who he may have consulted to make the mechanical model bat used in the film!  Perhaps the author (Micheal Ende) of the book upon which the movie is based should be credited with the accurate depiction.  I am not sure but in either case it seems the movie does a good job! 

So why is this an accurate depiction? 

The bat's wings are made of it's hands and the thumbs are free.  This is something many makers of movies and toys often mess up.  Thumbs are free of the wing at least in microbats whereas in megabats two digits are not part of the wing (see here for a video).
Also in the movie, the wings appear to function in a manner very similar to how bats actually fly.  When it does fly, the bat is carrying something about 1/3rd it's weight (the troll).  While I can't be sure how much the troll might weigh (a 'not accurate' part of the description) female bats are known to carry their near-adult-sized offspring while flying.  Thus, this seems feasible.  I also like how the troll fastens himself under the bat which would likely help keep the center of mass of the bat in place.

At one juncture the bat is seen to drift off to sleep while flying (i.e. it is narcoleptic).  This obviously would NOT be a good strategy.  Bats instead sleep while roosting in caves, rock crevices, trees or buildings.  Also, the bat seems to not mind the loud sounds around it and keeps sleeping while hanging (in the clip here).  This would not be  the case.  Bats have excellent hearing and would be disrupted by the loud sounds around them.  Of course... keep in mind the loud sounds are coming from the 'rockbitter' and other fanciful characters so we can leave some room for imagination!

Similarly, trolls using bats as modes of locomotion... well if trolls were to exist and a bat was 2 times their size they would surly be able to manage!  Joking aside I found this to be a very cute depiction of a bat that I had not recalled from when I saw the movie over 20 years ago.  If you haven't seen it check it out!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The real bats of Orange County! (part I)

In case you were curious 'do we have bats in Southern California?'  The answer is a most definitely 'yes'!  In fact we have many species and there are bat walks sponsored by Sea & Sage Audubon Society
Experience and the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary that those of you living in or around orange county might want to attend!  (Thanks Brian for that information!)  While these may be filling up/full its worth keeping an eye on the website for future events! 

Keep your eyes here for an update on 'the real bats of the OC'!

(Sorry- SoCal makes me think 'hipster' which led to the discovery of this lovely image from Queen Le-Fra-Fra)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sucker-footed bats don't suck!

Sucker-footed bats (Myzopoda aurita), resident to Madagascar were named for the suction cup like structures on their hands (see image). It has long been thought (ever since the little critters were named) that these structures no only look like suction cups but also work like them.

However, through recent research efforts we now know that these structures do not work like suction cups at all. Instead, these little pads function the way a fly climbs a windshield by a process called wet-adhesion. Specifically. a recent study by Riskin and Racey (2010) described the biomechanics of how sucker-footed bats attach to surfaces. By placing these bats on materials with even spaced holes (which would prevent suction) these researchers determined that sucker-footed bats don't! Instead like a fly, they use the surface tension of water (in this case sweat) to attach to surfaces (wet-adhesion). The water-based material used for wet-adhesion would be a sweat like substance.

Another interesting observation they made was that these bats cannot hang upside down. (Or they COULD but then they would plummet head first to the ground!)

Most bats hang upside down and this rare behavior of roosting head-side-up is likely because of how these bats detach themselves (and their wing/hand pads) from the surface of objects such as leaves that they roost upon. To let go of a surface and move forward these bats push their pads forward to break their attachment. This works well if they are say climbing a surface. However, upon roosting head down the force of gravity would be in the same direction (forward) and would thus passively deform their foot pad and start to detach them from the surface.

I will admit I am somewhat disappointed to learn these little bats are not in actuality sucker-footed. That said, the fact that they are more fly-like just might compensate for it... maybe they could be renamed fly-footed bats! Just a suggestion.

If you would like to read more the article can be found (HERE) and the citation is as follows:

Riskin, D. K., and P.A. Racey. 2010. How do sucker-footed bats hold on, and why do they roost head-up? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 99:233-240.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ernst Haeckel, and the art of nature

Ernst Haeckle's art and to some degree life are encapsulated by Proteus an interesting film from David Labrun that presents the art side of Biology during Haeckle's life and time (mid to late 1800s). After viewing this film I thought it might be worth writing a little about Haeckle here.

Haeckle born in 1834 in Potsdam, Germany (then Prussia) was mentored in part by perhaps one of the most diversely brilliant minds of this time Wolfgang von Goethe (author of Faust, and a biologist in his own right). (Haeckle shown below left with a fellow field biologist Nicholi Miklouho-Maclay).

In his numerous books on biology Haeckle coined many terms still used in biology like 'ecology,' 'protist,' 'stem cell' and 'phylogeny' among others. He also presented an important idea during its time 'recapitulation theory' (i.e. phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny). With an interest in Darwin's ideas regarding natural selection and evolution, Haeckle examined ontogenetic (i.e. developmental) changes of various organisms and suggested that these followed evolutionary transition stages. A famous picture of his illustrating this is below but it is important to note that recapitulation is no-longer thought to be true. But, it at least spurred lots of research and thus was a valuable insight for its time. It is somewhat ironic that Haeckle's writing on the topic of evolution helped it catch on but that many of his ideas are no-longer supported by evolutionary research.

Haeckle is particularly interesting given his struggle throughout his early career regarding a decision to pursue art or biology. The rigor and seriousness of biology was surely in stark contrast with the aesthetic joy and beauty of colors and shapes that attracted Haeckle's eye. Indeed, he was an excellent landscape artist in addition to scientific illustrator. Luckily he trudged on and pursued both. He found great beauty in nature and to that we can be thankful as multiple tomes of his can be accessed with amazing illustrations of a suite of animal life.

Images of bats by E. Haeckel, including illustrated bat faces at the top of page.