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Biology, Uncategorized

Hibernating bats and a note about who does the research

Typically when I sit down to write my blog post each week I go looking for research that I find interesting or for answers to questions that I or others have (if you have questions feel free to send them my way). But, what I have realized is that, as a result, I rarely consider who the researcher is. In fact, other than a few cases where the research is in my own field of study, the researcher is rarely more than a last name and some initials.

In the classes I teach, on the other hand, I have become accutely aware of whose voices I expose my students to. I also point this out to my students and talk about the voices I don’t bring in. This contrast between how I teach and how I write this blog is something I hope to change. I still plan on looking for research I’m interested in but I’m going to work to pay more attention to the voices behind the research as well.

For Pride month, my goal is to look at researchers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. To find these researchers, I’m looking through the website 500 Queer Scientists (I first learned of this website through an episode of the podcast Ologies). Unless of course, someone out there wants to reach out to talk about their research with me. Without further ado, I bring you what I learned about hibernating bats from a paper by Zenon J. Czenze, Kristin A. Jonasson, and Craig K. R. Willis (2017).

So, the title of this paper would have intrigued me regardless of why I found it: “Thrifty females, frisky males: Energetics of hibernating bats from a cold climate.” And the details of what the researchers found was really interesting. But first some necessary background.

A little brown bat being held by a researcher wearing a glove.
A little brown bat. Photo by Ann Froschauer/USFWS (CC-BY-2.0)

When I was taught about hibernation in elementary school, it involved an animal, typically a bear, going to “sleep” for the whole winter. And that does describe true hibernators, but bears and bats are not true hibernators. Both of these mammals go into periods of torpor. During torpor, they don’t eat or drink and their metabolic rate decreases, but they are still generating wastes that their body needs to get rid of. To do this, and to rehydrate, they come out of torpor for brief periods of activity.

The thing is that the springtime responsibilities for males and females is different. Female bats need to survive the winter with higher fat stores compared to males. This is because the females need to be able to survive pregnancy in the spring. So how does this affect their periods of torpor and arousal?

Overall, bats that were in better body condition aroused from torpor for longer and spent more energy during this time. However, females were thriftier than males. Their torpor periods were about the same length as those of males; but their periods of arousal were shorter, allowing them to conserve more energy. This would mean that they were in better condition to reproduce in the spring.

So, where do the frisky males come into this? Others have observed that males will attempt to mate with females who are in torpor. Males who are awake more often will have more opportunities to mate. These observations were also found by Czenze, Jonasson, and Willis.

Thank you to 500 Queer Scientists for help to raise up people who are scientists and members of the LGBTQ+ community. And thank you to @BlackAFinSTEM for reminding me that science communication also needs to pay attention to whose voices get lifted up.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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