My life had been awfully unreasonable for awhile, but things seem to be going much better. After a scary job scare, I'm back at JPL next week. It's a good thing, I'll have more time to write and more scientists to entertain. I've been toying with the idea of putting together an essay collection on my experiences in science, you know, from a laygrrl's perspective, and I'll be soaking in the Petri dish.
For now, I'm still focused on bats.
I set out to write a children's book that took place solely under the night sky, and anthropomorphize an animal that isn't usually thought of as loveable. Outside of the classic Stellaluna, bats are seldom portrayed as the adorable little squeakers that they actually are. They used to give me hella creeps. For good reason. I shall explain…
One night about 15 years ago, I was driving home from work, when a bat was apparently knocked out of the sky by a predator. Odds being against me as usual, the bat somehow managed to get sucked into the window of my car, whacked me in the face, and died on my passenger seat.
I panicked, got out of the car (yes, I stopped the car first, PEDANTS), and waited for a very long time until a nice policeman stopped to help me remove the bat.
A few years ago, a hawk of some kind (I'll go with a red-tail, though I've grown rusty in the bird-nerd department) knocked a seagull out of the air while I was speeding down the 5 freeway. The gull's body sliced my car antennae in half, and I was grateful it wasn't my windshield.
If this trend continues, a rhino will chase an ostrich out of the brush along the 210, slam onto my hood, and that is how I will die.
However, given my need for a nocturnal hero who would travel the world in search of a colony and experience a sort of Goldilocks conundrum Flying Foxes are TOO BIG, Vampire bats are TOO WEIRD), I had to get over my issues and learn to love bats.
I began my research the old fashioned way: I typed "California bats" into the Google hole in the browser. This fantastic bit of laziness brought me the Mexican free-tail, a charmingly wee critter that lives in massive colonies throughout the Southwest, including the fantastic Congress St. Bridge Colony in Austin, Texas, and of course the Carlsbad Cavern colony.
I named my bat Sam, after my co-author on the project. It seemed like a good name for a bat.
To further my research, I planned a trip to Texas A&M so I could visit the bat lab and also take a trip to see a Free-tail colony emerge from under a bridge, but a nasty hurricane canceled my flight and I haven't had the opportunity to reschedule. I wrote to some researchers, and had an email back-and-forth with the rescue folks at the Isle of Wight Bat Hospital in the UK, to find out what my Sam would experience if he was brought to them with a broken wing. Lovely folks who indulged me with good cheer.
The random bat facts my research brought to me:
Mexican-freetail bats can live to be about fifteen years, and have one pup per year.
Baby freetail bats sing their own special little song so that their mothers can find them in the cave.
Mexican long-nosed bats pollinate the agave plant, similar to the way a hummingbird drinks nectar. Raise your shot of tequila and give thanks.
Bat poo (guano) is extremely high in nitrogen, making it an excellent fertilizer and bomb ingredient.
A large Mexican free-tail colony, like the 20-million strong Bracken colony can eat about 250 tons of pesky crop-destroying insects a night. I didn't double-check this fact. Two hundred and fifty tons is very heavy. That's one hundred and twenty-five rhinos chasing ostriches onto the 210 into the path of my speeding car.
Vampire bats actually RUN.
An occupied bat house will keep the skeeters out of your backyard.
Ricky Gervais knows a lot of shit about bats.
So I wrote, my co-author wrote, and our bat traveled the globe doing all sorts of fantastic things. We carefully researched how fast he could fly (our little guy's species has been clocked at 60MPH), how high (the highest flying bat at altitudes over 10,000 ft), and what a moth might taste like to a bat (I went with a stale powdered jelly doughnut, for texture reasons).
Legendary comic book artist Dave Dorman was generous enough to supply some artwork for my book proposal, here's a peek at the ink:
>I've no idea if the book will sell, it's my first attempt at fiction, and it may sucketh mightily. Or not. The research part was fun, though I really wished I could have figured out a way to get to hold a baby bat and examine one up close. You know, one that hadn't decked me in the forehead before meeting its doom in my crappy Mercury Bobcat in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. I forgive you, little bat. It totally wasn't your fault.
The seagull is still suspect.
4 thoughts on “nananananananananana batgrrl!”
This is a great post that not only covers scientific facts, but the research that goes into writing for a general audience. Keep up the great work. I love reading the pieces from you and your co-bloggers!
P.S. You should definitely submit to http://scientiablogcarnival.blogspot.com/.
Awesome post, I can almost taste the moth… Sounds like a cool book, bats deserve a bit of positive publicity, they’ve taken such a bad rap with all the vampire / looking like a rat / argh, it’s caught in my hair thing.
Hey, you know what else guano is good for? Pottery, like in Ace Ventura, When Nature Calls.
If you have Sam the bat as the hero of the book then who do you have as the villan because every hero needs a baddie. How about Joshua the Batcatcher (makes money pouches out of the wings) or Saul the cat (likes bats for dinner).
Sounds like an interesting project
I enjoyed your posting and wondered if you would be able to answer a question.
I know that a bat’s vision is not very good, and that they rely on echo location to navigate. Some have suggested that they use these talents to find insects for food. I have a hard time believing this, because I just can’t see an insect giving off much of an echo.
Is their echo location talents precise enough to locate insects in flight?
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