Thursday, August 25, 2005
Bat pix - you asked for 'em.
Actually some of these are posted on my geocities page, but I guess there has been some kind of bandwidth problem with that account so I'll try putting pictures directly on blogger. Sorry, Jacek - none of these bats bit me. No, I am not singing an aria about bats. Joe's camera caught this hoary bat flying off my hand before I even realized it had taken off. Here's a closer view of that same hoary bat. Note the leather glove - batgrrl says never handle a bat without wearing gloves. Actually never handle a bat at all if you haven't had your rabies shots. Notice the luxurious fur, brown underneath and tipped in silver. There is even some golden fur inside his ears and on his wings. This big brown bat just woke up from a little nap, hanging upside down in my pocket. She was really unhappy when I pulled her from the net, but settled down in my hands pretty quickly and later crawled into my jacket pocket. Too bad I had to wake her up!
Thursday, August 18, 2005
I get this question a lot. It's probably easier to ask than the one you really want to ask, which is: what are you going to live on after you quit your job? There are lots of answers to the first question. First, bats are just plain cool. Mammals that fly! Plus, the fact that they defy our senses -- we can't see them, or hear them -- that's also pretty cool. And they spend a lot of time upside-down. Hard to imagine how they experience this world we share. Also, we really don't know much about them at all. So whatever I decide to study will be new and probably useful. We know so little about them that we can't even prove if they should be classified as endangered or not. There are over 1,000 species of bats. That's more than any other kind of mammal, save rodents. And incidentally, they are more like primates (that's us) than rodents. There bats that eat insects, and fruit, and flowers and nectar, and lizards and frogs. There are bats that eat other bats. There are bats that catch fish, by echolocating the ripples they make on the surface of the water. And of course there are bats that drink blood, though they make up only two of the 1,000 species. Another reason to study bats is that you get to play with cool gear, like ultrasound recorders and infrared cameras. Then there's the cute factor, once you see one of them live and up close. Trust me, they are adorable. Even after they bite you.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Animals Behaving in Utah
This past week I attended the Animal Behavior Society annual meeting in Snowbird, Utah. I wanted to see what the field was about, what kind of research is going on, and particularly what's up in the area of bat behavior. Also I was shopping for graduate programs and advisors. It turns out that the area around Snowbird is wildflower central in the summer. I was able to slip away to see the mind-blowing flowers and some cute wildlife. Starting over is really hard. I didn't know anyone at all and it seemed all the other 400 people had embarrassing stories about each other. I didn't know what to expect from the sessions, or the social events, or even how to introduce myself -- I'm not a typical undergrad, nor am I a grad student. Most of the time I felt like someone standing outside and watching through a window. I actually understood much of what was presented. I'm guessing that's because I've been interested enough in the field to have a good overview just from recreational reading. A good sign. I have a shopping list now for things I don't know yet: research methods for example. Exactly how is it that you can take a bit of animal poop and determine how stressed out it is, or if it's related to some other animal? I managed to locate and hang out with some of the bat people, mainly those affiliated with Gerry Wilkinson from the University of Maryland. Here are some interesting things I learned. These are not jokes - this is serious science.
- Bored killer whales in a theme park have figured out how to lure seagulls to their pens, and then jump up and eat them. They've taught the young ones how to do it too.
- In stalk-eyed flies, the longer the male's eye stalk, the more attractive he is to females.
- Prairie dogs have unique calls for different predators that are structured similar to human language.
- Bees are smarter than humans in many ways.
- Male katydids have evolved special call frequencies, but the females don't care.
- Male chimpanzees share meat they've caught just to keep the beggars from harassing them.
- Monkeys raised without a mother are more likely to become alcoholic.
- Dogs, when given a choice between two plates of hot dog slices, will choose the plate that has more.