Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wildcam is back!

The National Geographic webcam at Pete's Pond in Botswana is online again. Here are some warthogs taking a drink (right before they wallowed in the mud) yesterday. You can watch the wildlife all day and all night - right now it's night there, and I just saw a ringtailed cat or something like that sneaking in for a drink. Cool.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Invisible bat detectors

Here are the bat detectors with their G.I. Joe pajamas. They turned out a little dark, but they actually are difficult to see at dusk. Hopefully I won't have to leave them against a really light background. Next up is to test them out. I want to do side-by-side comparisons, with one Petterson inside a casing, and another naked to the elements. Then I'll see how much, if any, interference the casings introduce. I'm actually thinking about writing up the results and publishing them. It's exciting to consider my first publication, and this is much less daunting than my main project. On other news, I recently got some research funding, to the tune of $350! My second win. Alert readers will remember last fall when I got my first rejection notices. Well, this new award is basically the same one that I was rejected for last year. To show how far I've come, not only did I not jump up and down at the news, but I was actually slightly annoyed that I had to use it for new equipment, not as reimbursement for what I'd already bought. What a difference a year makes.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The finished bat detector casing, before camo paint

Here's a shot of the detector and data recorder inside the casing. The detector sits into a notch in a PVC pipe elbow which lets the sound in from the outside -- but not the rain. Next I have to paint these puppies, since a bright yellow container just screams out for someone to steal my expensive equipment. This is something I'm worried about, since my study will be about urban bats, which requires leaving these overnight in city parks. So I tracked down some actual camouflage paint in two colors: olive and brown. Now I need to take them outside and do my best G.I. Joe artwork so that they'll be invisible.

Who needs a whole gallon of mustard?

I actually bought three of these to act as waterproof containers for my bat detectors. I borrowed my advisor's costco card and walked up and down the aisles looking for a container that would be just the right size. Then I had to figure out how to give away three gallons of mustard. The last bit of it is sitting at school in the lab, waiting for hungry grad students to bring in their empty jars. Then I made a rough drawing of what I wanted, took the parts in to the school workshop, and crossed my fingers. Tom did a great job of fabricating these casings.

News from the world of bat research

I got a chance to look over my notes from the recent North American Symposium on Bat Research and here are some of the fun things I learned. The coolest thing was a new bat species Anoura fistulata, which can stick out its tongue more than twice as far as any other bat. In fact, its tongue is longer relative to its body length than any other mammal, including anteaters. It is the exclusive pollinator of Centropogon nigricans, which as you can imagine has a flower with a Very Long Tube. How could a bat have such a long tongue? Instead of attaching to the back of its mouth, it actually attaches to its sternum. Imagine having your tongue come all the way up from your chest. Wierd. Some other bits I picked up: - Do nets work to capture bats? Films at nets in Monserrat show that only 4.2% of bats flying near nets were actually captured in the nets. So not only do you miss the bats that fly higher than the nets, but you also miss almost all the bats that fly low enough. Yet another reason to stick to acoustic monitoring. - If you do research on tree bats, take lessons on professional tree climbing so you don't break your neck. - If pandas and cheetahs are called "charismatic megafauna", then bats might be called "enigmatic shadowfauna". Kind of a cool term. - There is now a pit tag reader, like what you'd use to read the microchip in your dog or cat, that works under water. It was designed for fish, but it turns out you can use it to track bats drinking at water holes. A clever study showed that lactating female bats drink way more than females without pups. - My friend Kiera showed fun video clips of a maternal colony of Townsend's big-eared bats. There's a nice clip of one of the mother bats working her way out to the edge of her group, turning over to hang from her thumbs, and then taking a leak. Then she flips back over to hang upside down again and works her way back into the crowd. Remember this important etiquette tip next time you're hanging with the bats. - There was a session on bat play which showed that bat pups do indeed engage in play, but only with other pups their own age. Sadly, there were no video clips. I wonder what games they play? Finally, after last year's focus on bat mortality at wind farms, we had a flurry of related papers this year. Wind turbines are going up across North America at an amazing rate. While the highest mortality rates for bats appears to still be in the southeastern forests, many bats were also killed at turbines in the Canadian prairies. The majority of bats killed at turbines are migrating tree bats. Turbine height seems to be the key to mortality rates for bats -- the higher the turbine, the more bats killed. This pattern is not seen in bird mortality. So a strategy of fewer but bigger turbines might save birds, but will probably kill more bats. The best news is a device designed to emit ultrasound, which would theoretically keep bats from being able to echolocate. The idea is that you could mount one or more of these loudspeakers (which would be silent to humans) around wind turbines, and the bats would avoid them. Early trials show that bats do tend to avoid areas where these speakers are broadcasting. Now it's a small matter of dealing with the physics of pushing that much high-frequency sound through the atmosphere. I'm sure you can figure it out, Joe.