Saturday, September 24, 2005

Where I've been

E.g. not posting to my blog. Jacek shamed me into putting up another posting. Bat content: Next month I'm going to the North American Symposium on Bat Research conference in Sacramento. And just before that, a two-day class on California bats. It will be good to get back in touch with bat people again. In addition to school, I've been taking a self-defense class, which is very intense. I recommend it highly to any woman who wants to live her life more fully, without fear. Finally, I found the ultimate way to avoid having to clean out my kitchen drawers during midterms: National Geographic's Wildcam Africa. I first heard about this from Jon Carroll, then went lickety-split to see for myself. It's a live 24/7 camera panning around a watering hold in southern Botswana, complete with sound! At night they use an infrared camera, so you can watch the impalas and zebras come to drink - it's 2am there now and I just saw a hyena come to drink. I keep hoping to see some bats swooping in to catch the moths. In the day, there are all kinds of animals coming and going. It's true what they say, that Africa gets in your skin once you've been there. Strange to think that someplace I only visited for a few weeks could make me so homesick. I keep Wildcam on all the time, just to hear the sounds even if I can't watch the video. Now if they could only somehow transmit the smells, that dusty sage-y smell, I'd really be in Africa heaven.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

God and the Preying Mantis

OK, here's another bat-free post. Sorry, but it's really hard to work bats in when I'm forced to study pickleweed distributions and iguana metabolism. I took this photo yesterday up at China Camp state park, doing a field survey for my plant ecology class. This Preying Mantis was climbing on the dodder-infested pickleweed (Cuscuta-infested Salicornia to me) and posed nicely. It was really big and it was both cool and creepy. Its head swiveled as it watched me watching it. Note that it's preying, not praying, but it's not a bad transition to my other topic. My friend Lisa sent me a hilarious article on the hot new religion worshipping FSM, a.k.a. the flying spaghetti monster. This is a very clever way to illuminate the high nonsense-to-meaning ratio of the current science vs. creationism debate, detectable even here at a state university campus. Seems likely that the preying mantis would not be too interested in worshipping pasta, unless it was a kind of bug pasta, but I'm sure the Great Noodly One knows better than me.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Being a bat scientist is ultra kool with the kids. Here's my nephew, totally enamored with bats at the moment, hanging upside down "like a bat." I just got back from a visit to southern california, where a friend and I shadowed a real-life bat biologist, peppering her with questions and trying out her equipment and stuff. She took us out one night to try to find out where some Mastiff bats were roosting. Then the next day we visited a bridge where Mexican Freetail bats roost.

Molossids: Mastiffs and Freetails

This picture is a shot of the underside of a bridge where Mexican Free-tail (Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana) bats roost. We could hear them chirping but this crevice was too narrow to be able to see them. We could actually make out some Myotis bats in another, wider, crevice. Bats like to roost under bridges because they're open underneath, so it's easy to drop out and fly away. Plus they're usually over water, which means lots of bugs, yum.

This is not a picture of a bat.

Sorry, I didn't see any bats flying around, though I heard them. It turns out that Western Mastiff bats (Eumops perotis) echolocate at a low enough frequency that you can actually hear them flying around looking for bugs. We scrambled up a ridge in a nature preserve and heard a bunch of them, but were never actually able to see them. Even with infrared binoculars! Eumops are the largest bat we get in North America, though that only means they're seven inches long. They roost in cliff crevices with enough room under them to be able to fall three meters in order to take off flying. In the desert you have to be careful where you walk, especially in the dark, in order to not step on the tarantulas.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Back to school

I've been busy with back-to-school stuff lately. This post will probably be bat-free, so be forewarned. Happily I got into all the classes I wanted. Unhappily there were not many. Times are hard for public education, so there just aren't as many classes offered. But please, it doesn't cost less to schedule them all at the same time! This semester I'm taking Plant Ecology, Animal Ecology, and Animal Physiology. I have no problem staying interested, and we'll get to have lots of cool field trips. Oh, that part about being able to understand most of the animal behavior stuff? Doesn't apply to plants. I'm learning how to think like a plant, and let me tell you the more I learn about plants the less I think we need science fiction. This is wierd stuff. Here are some things that seem familiar from the days back in the pleistocene era when I went to college the first time:
  • The earnestness of youth. Things are just Terribly Important. Hyperventilating signs around the campus urging me to join this fraternity, or that coalition. There are actual (gasp) socialists and marxist clubs! And even more amazing in San Francisco: Campus Republicans!
  • Teachers trying to act really tough the first day, but then dropping all pretense of it after that.
And here are some things that are new:
  • Cell phones glued to all the ears that don't have ipod headphones in them.
  • People talking on the cell phones even when they're using the bathrooms.
  • Buying textbooks online for the cheapest price. OK, lowest price.
  • Fast wireless network access across campus. That part rocks.
  • Science teachers feeling the need to "acknowledge" that not everyone believes in evolution. It almost sounds like they're afraid of offending someone. I can't imagine anyone majoring in biology and not buying into the ideas of evolution. In fact, they're the basis for all three of my classes. We live in strange times.
Speaking of religion on campus, I saw a funny thing on an office window at the library - Top 10 Reasons Google is Not God. My favorite: There is no "I'm feeling lucky" feature with God.