Weekly Article: Pollination Isn't Just for the Birds and the Bees

Pollination Isn't Just for the Birds and the Bees

By: Raquel Zuniga

Bats eat more than just insects, they also eat nectar. After the sun sets, moths and bats take on the role of a pollinator. Bats are important pollinators in tropical and desert climates. Bats, like the Northern Blossom Bat Macroglossus minimus from Australia, pollinate the flowers of plants that have evolved to produce nectar to attract them. Scientists believe that flowers have evolved a musty, rotten odor to attract bats as they are able to carry much larger amounts of pollen in their fur compared to other pollinators. The smell is created by Sulphur-containing compounds, which are not common in most floral aromas but have been found in the flowers that specialize in bat pollination.

As discussed in last week’s article, bats use echolocation to hunt insects/pest, but they also use echolocation to find flowers. Some plants have evolved acoustic features in their flowers that make the echo of the bat’s ultrasonic call more conspicuous to their bat pollinators. These flowers often have a bell-shaped concave form, which effectively reflect the sounds the bats emit, enabling the bats to easily find flowers in the dense growth of tropical rainforests.

Two species of nectar-feeding bats, lesser long-nosed bat and Mexican long-tongued bat, migrate north about a thousand miles from Mexico to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Over 500 species of flowers from 67 plant families depend on bats for pollination such as bananas, mangoes, and guavas. Additionally, the agave plant, the plant necessary to make tequila, depend on bats for pollination.

Our way of life is dependent on nectar-feeding bats. Bats pollinate many ecologically and economically important plants from around the world. The products that we value from these plants are more than just fruits, including fibers and timbers that we use every day. Flying foxes, nectar- and fruit- eating mega bats from Australia, pollinate the dry eucalyptus forests, which provide us with timber and oils that are shipped around the world.

Read more at http://www.batcon.org/resources/media-education/news-room/the-echo/998-bats-the-unsung-heroes-of-plant-pollination?highlight=WyJwb2xsaW5hdGlvbiJd

Weekly Article: Bats Usage of Echolocation

Bats Usage of Echolocation

By: Raquel Zuniga

Contrary to popular belief, bats aren’t blind, in fact they can “see” in total darkness thanks to echolocation. Echolocation is “the use of sound waves and echoes to determine where objects are in space,” says www.askabiologist.asu.edu.

Bats, dolphins, whales, shrews, and some birds use echolocation to communicate to others in their species, as well as to find food. For bats in particular, they send out sound waves from their mouth or nose. When the sound waves hit an object, it produces echoes; these echoes come back to the bats ears. These echoes tell the bat where the object is, how big it is, and the shape of the object. Because of echolocation, bats can detect objects as thin as a human hair in complete darkness.

Echolocation is a useful tool that some blind people utilize to navigate within their surroundings.

Sonar, for those who don’t know, is a system for detecting objects under water and for measuring the water’s depth by emitting sound pulses and measuring their return after being reflected, just like a bat. Scientists developed sonar and radar navigation systems, used by the military, from studying bats use of echolocation. Radar navigation systems use electromagnetic waves to determine the location of objects like planes and ships. Bat echolocation is used only in open air as well as radar, but sonar is used only under water.

For more information on how bats use echolocation, visit https://askabiologist.asu.edu/echolocation.  

Weekly Article: The Mexican Free Tailed Bat and Seasonal Changes

The Mexican Free Tailed Bat and Seasonal Changes

By: Raquel Zuniga

 

 photo from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/summer-nights-some-bats-jam-180953257/

photo from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/summer-nights-some-bats-jam-180953257/

Bats migrate every year from Mexico to our local cave named the Bracken Cave and spend their summers helping farmers by eating pests that would otherwise feast on their crops. The Bracken Cave is the largest in the world with a peak population of about 40 million Mexican free tailed bats. It has been studied recently that these bats are migrating earlier than usual, which might be caused by global warming. There is another weekly article that goes into more detail about global warming affecting bats migration cycle that you can read at https://www.sticksandstonesrescue.org/news/2018/3/4/weekly-article-bats-new-migration-cycle-due-to-climate-change.

Since bats are migrating earlier than usual, they may not be able to find enough food for themselves and their young because the insects they eat might not have hatched or arrived yet. If food isn’t available for them, bat colonies may shrink, and crops could become vulnerable when the insects arrive. This could cause farmers and their consumers a hefty loss.

The Mexican free tailed bat eats 20 different moth species and more than 40 other agricultural pests. The corn earworm moth is a favorite of the Mexican free tailed bat which eats plants such as corn, soybean, potato, and pumpkin, which costs U.S. farmers millions of dollars a year in ruined crops. A 2011 study estimated that bats indirectly contribute about $23 billion to the U.S. economy by keeping agricultural pests at bay from crops.

Another than dying from starvation, Joy O’Keefe, biology professor at Indiana State University, says, “early arrival at [the bats] summer roosts could expose these bats to cold snaps and they could freeze to death.” Another factor that bats could face is rainfall patterns. Many insects that bats eat breed in seasonal lakes and puddles. O’Keefe says, “If the bats arrive too early to benefit from summer rainfall and the resulting abundance of bugs, they may struggle to feed their pups or skip reproduction altogether.” She fears this shift could cause Midwestern bat population to decline towards extinction.

Read more about bat migration cycle and how they affect crop growth at:  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bats-are-migrating-earlier-and-it-could-wreak-havoc-on-farming/ and https://www.popsci.com/climate-change-bat-migration.

 

 

Weekly Article: Bats Have Inspired a New Model of Drone

Bats Have Inspired a New Model of Drone

By: Raquel Zuniga

On January third of 2018, the Department of Defense announced that the Defense Enterprise Science Initiative, or DESI, began a competition for basic science grants to build a “new paradigms for autonomous flight, with a focus on highly maneuverable platforms and algorithms for flight control and decision making.” Another announcement was later released with more specific details, stating that they are looking for bat-like drones that can be powered with directed-energy beams.

In case you don’t know, drones in a military sense are named Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UVA) or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS). The military uses drones instead of people when the situation is too dangerous or difficult. Another purpose of a drone is how long it can be used, which is about 26 hours if it is in “predator” mode, or armed, but 72 hours if unarmed. Also, drones are cheaper to use. A drone can cost 40 million dollars, but a fighter plane can cost 350 million dollars.

Fun fact: the CIA first tested an armed drone in 2001. The CIA used drones for spying until they were armed with hellfire missiles, which is known as a predator drone. The hellfire missiles are still used today.

The bird-like drones on the market today that for the everyday consumer can fly for just a few minutes, which isn’t useful for the armed forces. The Air Force believes that a more naturalistic design with more powerful and smaller sensors should make a “significant improvements in maneuverability, survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed wing designs.”

The United States isn’t the first country to produce and use machines; China has produced robotic fish for about ten years now.

When the Air Force made the announcement for these bat-like drones, they also called for new research into airplane skins that can sense and transmit data from the environment they are in while also being able to allow high maneuverability. “To achieve robust, resilient, and energetically versatile agility and dexterity rivaling biological systems, robotic systems require breakthrough components featuring locally tunable material properties with embedded sensing and actuation.” The maximum amount for the grants is 6 million dollars.

Read more at: http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2018/01/pentagon-seeks-laser-powered-bat-drones/144964/

Read the press release at: https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/1407566/dod-announces-defense-enterprise-science-initiative-to-support-university-indus/

Read the grant opportunity at: https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=299112&source=GovDelivery  

Weekly Article: Witness Bat Migration at Kasanka National Park

Witness Bat Migration at Kasanka National Park

By: Raquel Zuniga

 Photo credit: Katie Seidel. (Thumbnail photo credit: Gilmour Dickson)

Photo credit: Katie Seidel. (Thumbnail photo credit: Gilmour Dickson)

Hello bat friends! Are you planning ahead for your next getaway? Look no further! Kasanka National Park is the place to be any time from October to mid-December to witness millions of straw colored fruit bats migrate inside the park’s Bat Forest.

Kasanka National Park is on the south western edge of Lake Bangweulu basin, one of Zambia’s smallest national parks in South Africa.

Kasanka is a chance for a seasoned traveler to experience a Southern African safari with tropical Congo elements in an area that is remote. This park is offers a rich diversity of animal, bird, and plant life including several rare species such as sitatunga, wattled crane, and blue monkeys.

Kansanka is the largest mammal migration on Earth with over 10 million straw colored fruit bats. This natural phenomenon is unique only to Kasanka’s Bat Forest. The Bat Forest is a few hectares of mushitu swamp forest. The Bat Forest has several treetop hideouts to enjoy sunrise and sunset viewings of the bats leaving and returning.

“Watching clouds of bats leave the colony to feed at sunset is pretty impressive, but that’s nothing compared to the thrill of climbing into a treetop hide at dawn to see them return” said Emma Gregg, an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.

If you would like to visit and lodge within the park, you have two options to choose from; you may lodge with Wasa Lodge or Luwombwa Chalets. Wasa Lodge is located in the heart of Kasanka, overlooking Lake Bangweulu. If you are a fearless explorer, Luwombwa Chalets is the place for you. These chalets are tucked away on the banks of the Luwombwa River, offering a private stay with a focus on adventure and exploration.

After reading this you are still unsure if this is the destination for you, I recommend reading expert reviews about this national park at https://www.safaribookings.com/kasanka/expert-reviews and visit Kasanka National Park’s website at http://kasankanationalpark.com/

Weekly Article: In Remembrance of Space Bat

In Remembrance of Space Bat

By: Raquel Zuniga

This blog is in remembrance of Space Bat, a bat who became a legend and a meme about nine years ago. 

space bat on shuttle.jpg

For those of you who don’t know, an injured free-tailed bat was clinging onto the foam insulation of Space Shuttle Discovery’s external propellant tank before its takeoff on March 15, 2009. NASA’s final inspection team of the rocket assumed that the bat would fly off once the shuttle started to launch, but alas Space Bat held on for as long as it could.

“A bat that apparently had trouble flying instead tried to hitch a ride on the space shuttle Discovery,” NASA officials said. NASA had a wildlife expert examine the images of Space Bat and came to the conclusion that the bat most likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist. NASA admitted that the bat probably died quickly during the climb to orbit.

With the advantage of social media and all things technology advanced, this bat is living through the Internet as a meme known as “Space Bat.” Here are some examples of this meme from www.knowyourmeme.com

spacebat never forget.jpg
space bat meme.jpg

All bats die but not all bats live. Rest in power Space Bat. 

Read NASA’s press release of this incident at: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts119/launchbat.html

Weekly Article: Bats New Migration Cycle Due to Climate Change

Bats New Migration Cycle Due to Climate Change

By: Raquel Zuniga

Little has been known of how bats migratory cycle is affected by climate change, until Phillip Stepanian and Charlotte Wainwright, meteorologists from Rothamsted Research, conducted a 22-year study on the bats in the Bracken Cave, which is located on the outskirts of San Antonio. "Our initial goal was just to show that the populations could be monitored remotely without disturbing the colony. We weren't expecting to see anything particularly noteworthy. The results were surprising," Stepanian said to www.phys.org.

This is the first long-term study of animal migration using radar and the findings are just as revolutionary. Each night during the span of 22 years, a nightly population count was conducted—the first climate-scale phenological analysis. Using quantitative radar monitoring, the pair of meteorologists found that spring migration and summer reproductive cycle has started earlier by two weeks since the start of the study. "We found that the bats are migrating to Texas roughly two weeks earlier than they were 22 years ago. They now arrive, on average, in mid-March rather than late March," Wainwright said to www.phys.org.

The pair’s theory is that the bats have established an overwintering population as an environmental change, and to the presence of insect prey earlier in the year. While most bats tend to have left by the end of November, the pair discovered that about 3.5% of the summer population are now staying for the winter, compared with less than 1% 22 years ago and, from written cave surveys, no overwintering bats at all in the mid-1950s.

Their observations reveal that the bats are able to adapt due to the changing resource availability of prey, with clear implications for pest management across wider regional agriculture systems. These observations provide the first long-term quantification of bats response to a changing climate.

Thanks to this study, we now have a new perspective of bats adaptation to global change. This study answers many questions all the while raising many more. The pair has also said to www.phys.org, "weather radar networks are key infrastructure around much of the world...and hold the promise of providing continental surveillance of bat populations, as well as their ongoing responses to global change."

Read more at https://phys.org/news/2018-02-results-unique-reveal-shifting-behavioral.html

And read the published study at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.14051/abstract;jsessionid=613C408686EC1312907F40A9538BC845.f02t01

Weekly Article: Myotis Bats and How They Live Longer

Myotis Bats and How They Live Longer

By: Raquel Zuniga

Myotis bats have been recorded to live as long as 41 years! This has left scientists puzzled because usually the bigger the mammal the longer they live and the smaller the mammal the shorter they live. Bats are the exception to this rule and Myotis bats are the exception to the exception. Back in 2013, a group of researchers came together to study Myotis brandtii and they concluded that the answer to their longevity is within their genetic material. However, another group of researchers came together to put the previous hypothesis to the test and studied four different species of bats for their genetic material.

Once these bats were captured, 3-mm wing biopsies were taken from them before being released. Samples from the biopsies were observed at the genetic level and for each species, the researchers modeled the relationship between relative telomere length (rTL) and age using different graphs. Based on their data, the researchers concluded that Myotis bats do not have a relationship between rTL and age, debunking previous experiments.

After this revelation, a comparative analysis of their blood’s genetic material was done which proved that M. myotis doesn’t express telomerase, which means that their longevity is not from telomerase.

Instead of telomerase, this group of researchers suggest that ATM and SETX, which function to repair and prevent DNA damage, may contribute to telomere maintenance in Myotis. If telomeres are maintained by ALT mechanisms in the Myotis species, then these genes may represent excellent therapeutic targets, since cancer in bats is such a rarity.

In addition, from a human perspective, telomere maintenance in the absence of telomerase is highly desirable because telomerase expression is present in about 90% of human cancers.

The researchers experiment suggests that DNA repair genes, ATM and SETX, affecting DNA repair and telomere maintenance have contributed to the evolution of exceptional longevity in these Myotis species and represent excellent future study targets to better understand the aging process.

Recent published journal:

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/2/eaao0926.full

Published journal from 2013:

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms3212

Weekly Article: What Hollywood Won't Teach You About Vampire Bats

What Hollywood Won’t Teach You About Vampire Bats

By: Raquel Zuniga

Misrepresentation:

hollywood vampire.jpg

(photo provided by TheRealBrushguy at www.deviantart.com, photo of his plaster bust that he made inspired by the film Dracula)

Hollywood has ruined vampire bats image by misrepresenting them in films such as Dracula.

Reality: 

vampire bat.jpg

 (photo found at www.nationalgeographic.com, taken by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark)

Vampire bats aren't as scary as Hollywood portrays them. In fact, vampire bats weigh about 2-4 ounces, depending if they ate recently. Also, vampire bats only live in South America, Central America and Mexico. Another characteristic that Hollywood misrepresents is that vampire bats only feed from livestock, such as cows, pigs, and horses.

One thing that Hollywood got right is that vampire bats are nocturnal; they emerge out of their caves once all the light has disappeared.

Contrary to popular belief, when vampire bats draw blood from their host, the host doesn’t feel any pain. According to National Geographic, “Rather than sucking blood, vampire bats make a small cut with their teeth and then lap up the flowing blood with their tongues. These bats are so light and agile that they are sometimes able to drink blood from an animal for more than 30 minutes without waking it up.”

Vampire bats are the only mammals able eat nothing but blood. They are also the only kind of bat to be able to fly and walk, run, and jump. They have strong hind legs and a special thumb that helps them take off after feeding.

Since vampire bats are mammals, their young drinks milk just like other mammals. Vampire bats don’t start to drink blood until they are about three months old. And as you suspected, mother vampire bats are busy tending to their young and don’t always have time to go hunt. If vampire bats don’t drink blood after two days, they die. It has been observed that other female vampire bats can be generous and will often regurgitate blood to share with new moms for about two weeks after giving birth.

While it is true that there are reports of vampire bats attacking humans, these are rare instances. Scientists say these attacks happen when their regular food supply disappears, often when the livestock as been moved or taken to market. Scientists also blame urbanization and deforestation for destroying these creatures’ homes and bringing them closer to humans.

 

You may read more about vampire bats method of consumption at http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/06/17/draculas-children/?_ga=2.162225534.33912380.1518316935-885804758.1511230265

And read more about urbanization and deforestation at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/bats-rabies-deforestation-brazil-urbanisation-diseases-humans-animals-transmission-between-species-a7768666.html

Weekly Article: New Discoveries within “Bat-Nav”

New Discoveries within “Bat-Nav”

By: Raquel Zuniga

The brains of bats have an inherent 'compass' or “bat-nav” system, that enables them to navigate in three dimensions. This explains the long-standing mystery of how bats manage to orient themselves in the air as well as on the ground. These systems are not 'compasses' in the sense of north or south; they are systems for keeping track of information that the brain has integrated from the senses. The “bat-nav,” located in the hippocampus, is responsible for mapping a bat’s own location as well as the location of others, based on new experiments. 

Researchers in Israel experimented on bats while researchers in Japan experimented on rats, both social creatures like humans, and have discovered that their brain cells are attuned to other animals as well as themselves. (Because mammals are social creatures, they need to know the locations of others in their groups so they may interact, learn from each other, and move around together.) These unexpected discoveries deepen the understanding of the mammalian brain’s navigation system and may help explain why recalling events often involves re-envisioning a place, street, or landscape.

The experiment done on bats was conducted by neurobiologist Nachum Ulanovsky and his colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. This experiment was designed to see what happens in a bat’s brain when it tracks the movement of another bat. The researchers trained pairs of Egyptian fruit bats, Rousettus aegyptiacus, in a room to fly from one post to another and back, in return for a treat. The scientists implanted electrodes into the bats’ hippocampuses to record their brain signals. Based off observations, the same part of the brain seems to track both the physical landscape and the social landscape, says Ulanovsky—but using slightly different cell populations.

The experiment done on rats was conducted by Shigeyoshi Fujisawa at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan. This experiment made similar conclusions. As with previously identified parts of the navigation system, it's probable the phenomena extend to other mammals including humans, researchers say. Whether social place cells are exclusively for tracking other members of the same species, or whether they are part of a system of hippocampal cells that encode all sorts of trajectories- be they those of animals or objects- isn’t yet clear.

Read more at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00484-w

And read the published experiments at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6372/213 and http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6372/218.long

Weekly Article: Two Newly Discovered Species of Dog-Faced Bats

Two Newly Discovered Species of Dog-Faced Bats

By: Raquel Zuniga

Great news, batty friends! The list of 1,300+ global bat species has welcomed two new members! These newly discovered species, native to Ecuador and Panama, have been added to the Genus Cynomops, or dog-faced bats. 

The Waorani dog-faced bat (Cynomops tonkigui) was named to honor the Waorani tribe of Ecuador, some of whom live in the same forest where these bats were captured and studied. Freeman's dog-faced bat (Cynomops freemani) was named after bat researcher Patricia Freeman.

When caught, researchers didn’t realize that they were dealing with a new species until they observed the DNA and compared it to the other six known dog-faced bats.  Ligiane Moras, lead author of the study, explained to the Smithsonian Insider: “After characterizing the body shapes of 242 dog-faced bats from museum collections across the Americas and Europe, comparing their DNA, and adding in field observations including sound recordings, we consider there to be eight species in this group, two of them new to science.”  Moras led this project as a fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. during part of her doctoral studies at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil.

Field observers were able to capture a recording of the Freeman bat’s echolocation. The stored sound data has been added to bat detector software, which can be used to re-identify the species again in future studies.

Read more about these newly discovered species at:

http://insider.si.edu/2018/01/sky-puppies-scientists-discover-two-new-species-dog-faced-bat/

or

http://www.newsweek.com/photos-two-new-species-bats-look-dogs-discovered-south-america-786876

And read the original published paper here:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1616504717300964?via=ihub

 

Weekly Article: UV Rays and the Possibility to Cure White-Nose Syndrome

UV Rays and the Possibility to Cure White-Nose Syndrome

by: Raquel Zuniga

 Wing from dead eastern pipestrelle ( Pipistrellus subflavus ) bat shows points of orange-yellow fluorescence when exposed to UV light. From  Turner and others, 2014, Figure 1E, page 569 .

Wing from dead eastern pipestrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus) bat shows points of orange-yellow fluorescence when exposed to UV light. From Turner and others, 2014, Figure 1E, page 569.

White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a deadly fungal disease which affects North American bats. Caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans, a fungus, the syndrome was first found in a New York cave in 2006, and since has taken the lifeof at least 5.7 billion bats in 31 States and five Canadian provinces, according to Smithsonian Magazine. 

This fungus has evolved to thrive in cold environments, where bats tend to hibernate, thus growing on the wings, ears and snouts of the hibernating bats, which irritates them and causes them to wake up during the winter. “Hibernating bats have just enough fat stored to make it through the colder months, but each time they wake up, they waste energy and burn too much fat, which leaves them too exhausted to survive through the spring,” says Smithsonian Magazine. 

Don’t fret bat loving friends, there is talk in the research community of a possible cure for this bat-killing disease. A new study that was published January 2nd in Nature Communications (www.nature.com) explains this fungus is missing a  key "self-healing" enzyme, which means that when exposed to UV light, the fungus is irreparably damaged. 

Previously, UV light has been used to detect the fungus, which, in it's early stages, is often invisible to the naked eye. This newly discovered vulnerability to UV light could be exploited for WNS management and help save the bat population.

While there is no threat to humans from WNS, people should still implement safe practices when entering caves to avoid contamination of equipment and prevent continued spread of the fungus.

As always, remember: Don’t attempt to rescue a bat on your own; always call an appropriate animal rescue service in your local area. 

For more information on this subject, you can read the published study at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02441-z#Sec7 and check out: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/uv-light-could-be-cure-bat-decimating-disease-180967741/  and https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/01/north-america-bat-killer-white-nose-syndrome-ultraviolet-light-spd/