Guest Post: How Sanguivore-Savvy Are You?

Amy Wray, one of my classmates and good friends here at Columbia University, is doing a super cool thesis on vampire bats! She submitted this guest post as a part of our Science Communication class, with the goal of spreading the word about how cool her study species is! Follow her on Twitter: @amykwray

Vampires have always been fascinating as mythical creatures, but real vampires in nature are often surrounded by misconceptions. Take this quiz and find out how much you really know about blood-sucking creatures in fiction and in fact.

Question 1: Which one of these is a real vampire?

                          A.                                                  B.

Bat1

Finch

 

 

 

 

Answer: B. The vampire finch, Geospiza difficilis septentrionalis, is native to the Galápagos islands where it feeds on the blood of other birds. The bat pictured here, the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), eats only insects. In fact, out of nearly 1200 bat species, there are only 3 that consume blood.

 Question 2: Which one of these vampires has an impressive running ability?

                     A.                                                   B.

Edward crawl

 

 

 

 

 

Answer: A & B. Trick question! Edward might have super-speed abilities, but the common vampire bat Desmodus rotundus also has the unique ability to run on land. By using its forelimbs to propel itself forward, this bat can even jump vertically into the air.

Question 3: Which of these vampires likes to snuggle?

                  A.                                                B.

cuddlepam

 

 

 

 

 

 Answer: A. Pam from True Blood probably doesn’t like to snuggle, but common vampire bats do! By roosting together in colonies, these bats are able to thermoregulate and stay warm even when temperatures drop.

 Question 4: Which one of these vampires has provided medical help for humans?

                        A.                                                       B.

bat2 Carlisle

 

 

 

 

 Answer: A & B. Tricked you again! While Dr. Carlisle Cullen may have helped lots of humans in Twilight, vampire bats have lead to medical advances which have helped real humans. A drug called desmoteplase, developed from the anticoagulants in vampire bat saliva, has been used to help stroke patients recover.

Question 5: Which of these vampires can survive without consuming any blood?

                                  A.                                         B.

bat3 TrueBlood

 

 

 

 

 

Answer: B. In the True Blood universe, some vampires that are very old no longer require blood to survive. In the wild, however, vampire bats must consume blood at least every 3 days or they will starve to death. Reciprocal blood exchanges, where an individual who has fed will regurgitate and share its blood meal with an unsuccessful roost mate, help these bats decrease their risk of starvation.

 

Question 7: Which one of these vampires can spray a foul-smelling liquid when threatened?

                          A.                                              B.

Dracula

bat4

 

 

 

 

Answer: B. Although Jonathan Rhys Myers delivers plenty of stinging insults on NBC’s Dracula, only the white-winged vampire bat (Diaemus youngi) is able to spit a nasty-smelling liquid at its perceived enemies.

 

8. BONUS QUESTION! Here are two species of vampire bats. Which one prefers to feed on the blood of mammals?

        A.                                            B. 

bat5

bat6

 

 

 

 

common vampire bat    white-winged vampire bat

Answer: A. The common vampire bat, Desmodus rotundus, is the only vampire bat that primarily feeds on mammalian blood. The other two species of vampire bats, including the white-winged vampire bat (Diaemus youngi) pictured here and the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata), both prefer to consume the blood of birds.

 

YOUR SCORE:

0-2: Sparkly Megaderma (false vampire bat). Not quite a true vampire, but at least you’re cute.

3-5: Baby vamp/vampire bat pup. You’ve still got a lot to learn, spider monkey.

5-7: Hungry Dracula. Almost a badass vampire -  but you might need a bottle of True Blood or a shared blood meal first.

8: Former Viking turned vampire turned bat biologist. You’re a true expert at tween pop culture AND the ecology of hematophagous critters!

New York City

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This city has ensnared my heart completely. I’ve been wanting to write about my new love affair for quite some time but have been uncertain as to how to put it - New York is so elusively enchanting there are almost no words. This small island of Manhattan is absolutely humming with energy, it’s enough to simply walk on the streets to be instantly invigorated, to be reminded that we are all so vibrantly full of life. I am so grateful to be able to conduct my graduate studies in a place so conducive to thought and creativity and movement. As hard as it is to stay focused with sheet amount of things happening here  (man, is it hard), I simply can't imagine a better place to stimulate the growth of my mind and character. New York, I love you. Already, I do.

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Field Work

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Annnd we’re back! We arrived in Suva yesterday after a week of sample collection in Nagigi (pronounced Nai-ni-ni) on the northern island of Vanua Levu. And man, what a week…I’m at a loss for words when I try to articulate what we’ve experienced. Coming to mind right now are the vibrant colors of the reef fish - brilliant oranges, silvery greens, pale yellows, deep reds, fading slowly from the limp fishes’ tissues as they wait patiently in their plates for us to process them. The cerulean blue of Nagigi’s lagoon, impossibly clear as the prow of our tiny boat cleaves a path through liquid color. The weightlessness of diving, being suspended in space with the tip of my spear glinting five feet ahead and the mechanical sound of breathing through my regulator punctuating the depths. Life in the village was elegant in its simplicity, everything revolving around those few hours spent underwater and the golden afternoons processing samples. The villagers were among some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met, especially our hosts Nancy and Nyo. These wonderful people cooked our every meal, insisting we eat more than our fill, and made sure we were comfortable and well-kept throughout our time spent in the village.

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More importantly, our research endeavors were extremely successful. By the end of the trip we had collected over 100 different species of reef fish, and had observed over a dozen endangered species that we can’t collect but can record as present. The biodiversity on Nagigi’s reefs was astonishing, while apparently not even being up to its full potential. We collected dozens of surgeonfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish and triggerfish, a handful of groupers, jacks and mullets (which are more commonly fished by the villagers), two lionfish and a handful of extremely small gobis, blennies, and cardinalfish. I’m definitely missing a lot of fish families there, but that’s what I can remember without looking at my field notebook. :) And, like most field expeditions, we did experience a few hiccoughs in the plans - delayed ferries, boat problems, having to take time off because of terrible weather, etc. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about fieldwork, and not just on this expedition, is to always expect the unexpected. It sounds really cliche but it is truly crucial to have a back-up plan for when things don’t go as planned. For instance, one of the days we were supposed to collect a lot of data we woke up to torrents of rain hammering on our little tin roof, and when we saw the current absolutely RIPPING in the lagoon, all chance of diving that day went out the door. So we had to improvise, sending a few of us into the nearby town to run some necessary errands we had been putting off, and the others staying behind to do interviews with Helen. It ended up being a productive day despite not getting our expected work done, and that day was chalked up as a success. Thankfully the weather wasn’t always like that and we did get to dive in some absolutely fantastic waters (eee!), and collect all the fish and sediment samples we needed.

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Sitting here in Suva, heading back to the US in three days, I realize how much I’m going to miss this place over the next year. BUT, I’m also bolstered by the possibility of returning next summer for my thesis research (!), and am so looking forward to what my graduate school experience holds in store - it has certainly started off on the right foot. :)

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Off to Nagigi

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Stumbling upon a praying mantis in the street, we fall to our knees - cameras up, voices low, immediately ensnared. It starts moving towards Amy’s arm, which is outstretched in hopes of a species to species greeting, and soon she has the insect close to her face, cooing encouraging noises. I keep my distance, perfectly content with getting a close-up of its alien-like eyes through the lens of my camera. We hear a car approaching and reluctantly get out of the street, urging Sir Manty out of harm’s way. This is such a field biologist moment.

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Life here has settled into a comfortable routine. Breakfast around 7am at the Hot Bread Kitchen amusingly located on Butt Street or the coffee shop on Loftus, reading the paper and discussing our day’s plans in between bites of coconut buns and fruit rolls. The beginnings of our days are usually filled with field preparations, yesterday involving permitting (always, always checking on the permits), tracking down ethanol and formalin, maps, and liquid nitrogen. Today involving more permitting, tying up loose ends from yesterday’s errands (the formalin quest has taken us on a wild goose chase around various University of South Pacific campuses), and playing with underwater cameras and GoPro rigs. Lunches are taken at the food court just down the hill from our hotel, filled with amazing Indian food and sushi, and afternoon activities usually involve either doing interviews with Helen in scenic places or the tedious but extremely necessary prep work like filling hundreds of microtubules with ethanols and sharpening pencils. Evenings usually consist of more amazing food, lots of laughter and story telling, a bit of down time and then early to bed to prepare for another jam-packed day ahead.

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While this time in Suva has been ridiculously enjoyable (the Drew Crew’s ab muscles have significantly strengthened from all the laughs), we are all intensely focused on the prize ahead - our week in the village of Nagnini, diving daily to collect samples, conducting interviews with fishermen and fisherwomen. This is what our expedition is all about, everything comes down to this week in Fiji’s “hidden paradise” (which we were delighted to hear the Suva locals calling it). We depart tonight at 7pm, after one last day of frantic errand running and equipment packing, boarding an overnight ferry that will land us on the northern island at 4am the next day. After arriving in Nagnini I will be effectively off the map, not using internet or phones both because it will be extremely difficult and also for the purpose of fully immersing myself in our work, enabling myself to be fully present for every aspect of the field.

Edit: We are now leaving tomorrow morning at 4am, arriving in Savusavu in the afternoon to head to the village. The ferry was delayed so we have scrambled to make it work and it looks like we won’t be too set back :) Ahhh the challenges of fieldwork! Adios everybody, talk to you again when we have 800+ fish added to our inventory!

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On Grad School and Saving our Reefs!

It has been a tragically lengthy amount of time since I've posted, but not without good reason. I've been applying to graduate programs! :) Well, technically I haven't applied to a single school yet haha BUT I've been writing a ridiculous amount of essays for grant proposals! There are two huge pre-doctoral grants that I've applied to, one from NSF and one from NOAA, and they both involved long and torturous application processes. SO cross yo fingaaaas! I find out in May whether I'll be a funded grad student or not ;)

But one SUPER cool thing I wanted to share with you all has to do with the research I'm planning to conduct in the next few years. (Hopefully) we all know that our oceans are IMMENSELY important to the health of our planet, not only environmentally (providing climate stability, storing excess CO2, full of a ton of unique ecosystems and crazy cool critters), but also economically. Last year, CORAL REEFS ALONE were estimated to provide over US$ 30 billion in goods and services to world economies, through fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection (uhh, Hurricane Sandy, anyone?? We could definitely have used a nice litte coral reef off the Jersey shore to break up all that wave action...) So if coral reefs alone provide all that, what about the high seas, the Arctic circle, the mangrove forests, the deep ocean? That's a lottt of money coming into the global economy. Couple that with the massive importance of oceans to our planet's general health, and it's pretty obvious. We need to start taking care of our oceans better, and inspiring people everywhere to care! There are actually a ton of amazng NGO's and non-profits out there doing just that, reaching out and connecting science to the public to raise awareness for the plight of our oceans, it's extremely inspiring and uplifting. I try to take an optimistic approach to the whole climate change/end of the world projections, because I'd like to believe that we won't let our planet die without putting up a good fight!

SOO, as a major ocean advocate myself, I'm hoping to pursue a graduate degree in Marine Conservation. I will hopefully end up at Columbia University in the fall, where I'll be working with Dr. Josh Drew to investigate the phylogeography of certain coral reef fish. Ahh, big word! Basically it means I'll be checking out how genetically related fish from one area of the ocean are to fish from a different area. This actually has a whole slew of conservation applications, because it's really important to know how connected two populations are if you're going to try to make management decisions about a specific area. The idea is, whatever you do to one area could very well be affecting another area down the road, or even across the fricken ocean on a different island! So I'm looking to get into that crazy world of genetics and use my findings to help make effective, informed management decisions. I'm pretty excited!

Here's a little video by Dr. Drew introducing some local, traditional forms of management already in place in Fiji! (Fijians are pretty on top of it with preserving their reefs)

[vimeo 39862662]

Have a great day everyone! More later!