Belle Bats

Bat Bioacoustics Research Team at Saint Mary's College




UntitledWritten by Makenzie Duncan

Two days ago, I returned from Auburn, Alabama where I conducted microbiological research involving the bacterial communities hidden in bat poop at Auburn University. Yes. You read that right.

For the last two-ish weeks, I accompanied Dr. Kloepper’s transition from the field to the lab with our microbiology Yoda John McInroy, and it was filled with what seemed like endless amounts of agar plates, Southern barbecue, early bedtimes, and excitement.

When we had our first day in the lab on June 13th, Dr. Kloepper and I both didn’t know what exactly to expect. Though I have some microbiology knowledge (many thanks, Dr. Khadka!), I, too, am an organismal biologist through and through. I never would have guessed that in just a week and half’s time, I would grow to actually enjoy running PCR gels, staring at collections of As, Gs, Cs, and Ts, culturing seemingly innocent colonies of bacteria to find that they could rip my blood cells for food, and more thrills of being a microbiology novice.

When we first entered the lab, we quickly scrunched our noses to the potent smell of cultured plates and gawked at the first round of bacteria we would study. This would be the first of several lines of cultures that we scrutinized for the next week and a half, praying that we could get something freaky to grow. By the end of our time in the Kloepper laboratory, we had successfully cultured and isolated 99 samples (and we have more in the works!), some of which we have already identified. Who would have thought that two organismal biologists and one microbiological sage could have carried out such a feat? We were also able to take our samples back to Saint Mary’s, where they will hibernate in the -80°C freezer so that another Belle can eventually continue this research. Our poop treated us well and left us with many questions that we hope we can address and answer.

All microbiology aside, I discovered many other new things during my time in the South. I learned that humidity can truly make you feel like it’s raining outside even when it’s not. I learned how to de-seed a tomato, make savory oatmeal, run uphill correctly, watch Naked and Afraid without thinking it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and wake up before the sun rises without being a total grumpy pants. I had the chance to meet Dr. Kloepper’s awesome family and be a part of a remarkable collaboration with a major university—and I don’t even have a degree yet!

Now that we have made the 12 hour drive back (and listened to another fabulous crime podcast), my current homework is to collect information regarding the pathogenicity of bacteria found in a bulk collection of guano for a manuscript that we are completing with Molli, another member of the Auburn lab family. Pray for me—this is one of the longest Excel sheets I’ve ever seen! After that’s done, I can begin formatting my senior composition, and that makes me both super excited and terrified at the same time, but mostly excited. J

Thank you for all of those who sent kind thoughts our way throughout the trip. It was a life-changing week and a half filled with both the typical and atypical ups and downs of research and I am so honored to have had the privilege of being an Auburn Tiger for a short time. Thank you to Dr. Kloepper for allowing me to accompany her on this terrific journey into the lab and for letting me load most of the PCR gels :), to John for guiding both of us to not contaminate our data, and to Saint Mary’s for allowing research to continue to grow at our institution.

War Eagle, Belle Yeah! Makenzie



18 Things Learned During a Month in the Field

By Morgan Kinniry

The Belle Bat team just arrived home from a month of working at our field site in New Mexico. This month was one of the most incredible and fun experiences that I have ever had the pleasure of taking part in. During my time at the field site, I kept a running list of things that I learned to share with those who couldn’t be there. Please enjoy the list below of some of the things I learned over the last month:

  • Rattlesnakes sound like sprinklers.
  • Desert sunsets/sunrises are the best
  • The scent of bat guano can become kind of endearing with time
  • The Milky Way looks like a sparkly cloud
  • Harris’ Hawks make great biological drones
  • Mechanical drones sound like a swarm of bees
  • Fast flying bats sound like zippers
  • Bat emergence waits for NO ONE
  • Baby bats are pink
  • Baby buffalo are red
  • Asking locals (during mass) is the best way to find a good lunch spot
  • Oryx have impressive antlers
  • Bats are not afraid of drones
  • Trader Joe’s bags are GREAT for carrying anything/everything
  • Desert dust is very apt at finding its way into everything
  • It’s possible to live for a month without internet or cell service
  • Running a 5k is possible
  • The rumors are true: dry heat is truly more tolerable than humidity

I am so grateful to Dr. Kloepper and the Biology Department at Saint Mary’s College for allowing me to take part in this experience. Now I just need to analyze data and write my senior comprehensive!


Sunday Funday

By Morgan Kinniry

After over a week of working hard in the field, Dr. Kloepper decided that the research team deserved a day off. Because it was Sunday, we all headed into town for a day of fun activities that could be found in the area. The plan was that while I went to mass, other members of the team could go to a coffee shop for Wi-Fi and cell phone service. Our goals for the day also included floating down the Rio Grande in an inner tube, visiting the natural hot springs, and eating a famed green-chili cheeseburger for lunch. Many rumors were swirling about who had the best green-chili cheeseburger in town. Since none of us were locals, I decided that I would find out the best lunch spot from the parishioners after the mass I would attend.

In Truth or Consequences, I attended mass at a parish called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As I walked into 11 o’clock mass, I saw that the assembly was quite small and made up of approximately 65-70 people. My presence as a newcomer did not go unnoticed. Mass began like any other mass would with an opening procession, and liturgy of the word. As the priest took his place for the homily, rather than getting into the expected synopsis and analysis of the readings, he asked “Do we have any visitors celebrating mass with us this weekend?” I quickly glanced around the small congregation and realized no one raised their hand. Not wanting to lie in the middle of mass, I raised my hand indicating I was a visitor. The priest then curiously asked where I was from and what brought me to Truth or Consequences.

I responded that I was in town from Notre Dame, IN for biological research on a colony of bats. With that answer, the entire congregation turned around with an intrigued and collective “Oooooh”. At that point, I could feel my face turning red. The priest then kindly went on to ask questions about the bat colony and began saying that I will enjoy the area. Before he could finish his thought, I asked out loud: “Where is the best place to get a green-chilli cheeseburger?” The priest and the parishioners then responded in unison without hesitation, “Tony’s on South Boulevard!” The priest then continued on that Tony’s closes at 2PM so I should head over there right after mass.

With that, he then went into the rest of the homily and mass continued as usual. After mass ended, the gentleman next to me gave me more detailed instructions on how to get to Tony’s and explained that he lived next door to the restaurant. I thanked him and then met up with the rest of the team to head to lunch. When we pulled up to the restaurant, sure enough my friend from mass was waiting outside of his house to make sure that we found the restaurant. The green-chilli cheeseburgers at Tony’s were as delicious as promised and did not disappoint. Sunday Funday then continued with a free-floating tube ride down the Rio Grande followed by a soak in the natural hot springs, which were so relaxing! Special thanks to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church for sending us to the best green-chilli cheeseburger establishment in town!IMG_1477.JPG.jpeg

First Week on the Ranch

By Morgan Kinniry

In the week that we have been at the field site, so many things have happened and I have had the opportunity for so many new experiences. The beautiful New Mexican scenery blew me away when we first arrived. The first night, Dr. Kloepper took Felix and I to the cave site to observe the bat emergence without worrying about data collection yet. Once the bats took flight out of the opening of the cave, it was like nothing I have ever seen before. Thousands of bats began to fly out of the cave in a dramatic stream. They then went underneath a natural land bridge and up into the twilight for a night of foraging. The stillness and quiet of the desert was replaced with faint chirps and the flapping of thousands of pairs of wings. I felt like I was standing in the middle of an episode of Planet Earth. The stream of bats was flying so close to me I could have reached up and touched them. It was incredible and my words cannot do it justice.

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The next day, other collaborators of the research team began to arrive. We then headed up to the front of the ranch to pick up the trio of falcon and hawk experts from Oxford University. On the way there, we brought with us a gallon of sour milk (that expired in March) to throw away that had been in the refrigerator when we arrived. The sour gallon of milk was at my feet during the drive. Unfortunately, the gallon of spoiled milk was no match for the bumpy desert roads. After a streak of road bumps, the gallon of milk tipped over and spilled smelly chunks onto the car floor. Right away the stench was widespread and I told Dr. Kloepper quickly that the milk had spilled. She stopped the car rapidly and all of our effort was diverted into cleaning up the spilled milk that had the potential to make our car smell like rotten dairy for the rest of the trip. Luckily, the spill was not as bad as it could have been and over the past few days has seemed to mellow out with the help of some Febreeze and Clorox wipes.

After all of the team arrived, we began settling into a schedule of data collection that includes a 3:30 AM wake up for data collection/observation at dawn that ends around 8:00 AM. After arriving back at the bunkhouse, naps are encouraged along with afternoon data analysis before dinner at 5:00 PM. After we eat dinner, we depart on the 35-minute journey to the cave site for observation/data collection of evening emergence until around 9:00 PM. It is a different sleep schedule than I am used to but I don’t feel exhausted. I think it is because I am so eager to go in the cave, see the bats emerge, or collect new data every day.

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One of the bigger projects taking place during this month is collecting thermal imagery and acoustic recordings of bats returning to the roost in the early morning via drone. The drone has been a source of frustration for the team at first because it could not get off the ground successfully without unnecessarily deploying the parachute. This issue took several days and many test flights by the drone team to work out. Eventually, replacing the electrical board and motor of the drone did the trick. As of this morning, the drone had its first successful flight and data collection.

It has been outstanding working with so many motivated, intelligent, and innovative researchers through this project. Even though frustrations of equipment failure have come up, it makes seeing the successes that occur that much more satisfying. I feel so honored to be a part of this team and look forward to what the rest of the trip has in store!

Somewhere Over the Steel Yard

By Morgan Kinniry

Today was the inaugural day of the BelleBats summer research project! Dr. Kloepper, Felix and I met at the BatMobile at 4AM South Bend time to get a head start on our long journey. We wanted to get a good start to the first half of the journey before stopping at a hotel in Texas for the night.

Severe weather was a concern as we began to drive into tornado alley, and Dr. Kloepper kept a close eye on the radar as we drove into Oklahoma. For the majority of the day, we had managed to dodge cells of severe weather seamlessly. At this point, we were making great time and hoped to stop for the night earlier than originally planned. Shortly after passing the border of Oklahoma, we began to drive into a rain storm. I was driving the gargantuan Chevy Suburban BatMobile while Felix and Dr. Kloepper navigated. The rain storm then began to escalate quickly. Severe Weather alarms began blaring over the radio and our iPhones were notified that there was a Tornado Warning Issued by the National Weather Service.

And for good reason:


We were unsure if we should keep driving down the interstate to pass through the storm cell, or if we should exit and seek shelter. The radio warnings were terribly confusing for us because they listed counties and towns that the tornado was expected to hit. But, being travelers we were not sure exactly where we were in relation to those places. Clarity finally came with the warnings when the announcer reported that a tornado was predicted to hit the exact stretch of interstate mile markers we were driving on. We then attempted to exit the interstate as soon as possible. Remaining calm, we pulled off at the nearest exit hoping that the predicted “quarter-sized hail” would not bruise the BatMobile. Dr. Kloepper and Felix scoured their maps for a nearby gas station with an over hang that we could park under for refuge, but had no luck.

After driving down a road for several miles with rain falling down in heavy sheets, the only shelter in sight was a steel yard. The steel yard was a fenced in property that seemed bizarrely abandoned yet welcoming at the same time. Steel beams and rigs sat around the barns and parked cars presumably belonging to employees were parked outside. About half a dozen pole barns sat with open gates and wide open sliding doors. After pulling into the garage for shelter, we saw more long, circular steel beams sitting on truck beds. Strangely, inside the structure we were parked in, some sort of water source had steam rolling off it. There was not a person in sight at this point, but we were just thankful to have found shelter.

After watching the rain fall from safety and thankfully not seeing any funnel clouds forming, some steel workers appeared and told us that they had been in a shelter. They let us know that an all clear had been issued and that the storm was headed in the opposite direction of our travels. We were good to head back onto the interstate!

For the rest of the day’s drive, we saw plenty more ominous skies and had our fair share of heavy rainfall and some lightning. Luckily, no tornado warnings or watches were issued again. We even saw a rainbow!


We made it to Amarillo, Texas where we stopped to enjoy some Indian food before turning in to rest for the night.

Poop Soup

By Makenzie Duncan

UntitledThere’s not many ways you can ease into my research, so I’ll just come out and say it: for my senior comprehensive project, I will be making poop soup.

Now that I have that out of the way, I can actually tell you why this research is, in my humble opinion, beyond intriguing and eye opening.

When I attended a meeting concerning the projects being offered for senior comps, Dr. Kloepper mentioned a project focused on bat guano that was an intersection of chemistry and biology. My classmates thought I was insane when I said I was interested, but as Dr. Kloepper says.. “Everyone is trying to cure cancer. No one is looking at bat poop!” And so she and I took on this project even though it was not in either of our wheelhouses, and I am so happy that I chose this road.

Specifically, my research will be conducted using multiple depth guano samples from a cave of Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) in New Mexico. These samples will travel from New Mexico to Auburn University in Alabama, where Dr. Kloepper, myself, and multiple amazing colleagues will be studying bacterial growth and differences in bacterial populations in guano of various ages. Over the course of 10 days on Auburn’s campus, we will be using the samples to make poop soup and plating this solution on multiple kinds of agar, including tryptic soy agar (TSA), a non-selective agar, blood agar, which will test for hemolytic activity of the bacteria, and a specially designed agar that we will compose to mimic the cave environment, which will be high in nitrogen content. We will then be using rRNA analysis to identify what bacteria populated the samples.

Guano studies in the past have mostly been aimed towards defining the microflora of different species of bats or discussing the possibility of bats being vectors for human disease. In my research, the guano will be studied and considered in the context of the extremes present in the cave environment. Aspects of guano, including the extensive populations of bacteria it contains, play an imperative role in the ecosystem of the cave. Establishing an understanding of guano at different conditions in the cave can provide speleologists and bat enthusiasts alike with information regarding the differences in bacterial abundance of samples and how this could affect nutrient cycling and other ecological interactions in the cave itself.

We have already begun composing a paper for a pilot study using samples from the same cave that we will be taking our samples from this summer. I was able to do a lot of statistical analysis (yay SPSS!!) to determine what genera and species were the most prevalent across all the samples and the significant differences in abundances between the treatments. I have gotten to know Microsoft Excel pretty extensively, if I do say so myself.

My research has already been a whirlwind in which I have learned and developed my knowledge about a subject that had never crossed my mind before this year. I look forward to where this research can take us and I am thankful for the opportunity to do something that stands out and serves an important purpose while being able to navigate a new area of research with remarkable advisors. Stay tuned for our Auburn Extravaganza!

Bat Beginnings

By Morgan Kinniry

brazilianfree-tailedbat_tadaridabrasiliensis_001If you had told me when I arrived at Saint Mary’s College as a first-year that I would be spending a summer break studying Brazilian-free tailed bats, I would have called you crazy. However, through my time at Saint Mary’s, I have grown to embrace my inner spirit of adventure and try things that at first may seem daunting and out of my comfort zone. This led me to apply for the summer research position within Dr. Laura Kloepper’s Bat Lab. Not having any previous experience with small flying mammals, I am now extremely excited to be a part of Dr. Kloepper’s lab for my senior comprehensive project.


The summer research will involve a twenty-two hour cross-country road trip from South Bend, Indiana to a cave site outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Colleagues from Oxford University in England will join Dr. Kloepper, her post-doctoral assistant Felix, and me at our research site.


When conducting preliminary research on Brazilian free-tailed bats, I primarily read published scientific articles. This was an attempt to find a question that could be answered about the Brazilian free-tailed bat to base my research project off of. The occasional National Geographic video footage would arise through search engines showing various birds of prey making flight attacks at the emerging bat colony. Astonishingly, the bats were sometimes able to dodge these highly skilled predators. This was intriguing to me, and I knew I wanted to base my research off of the bat’s incredible ability.



I am interested in finding out what kind of anti-predator communication calls Brazilian free-tailed bats emit as a response to aerial attacks from a raptor. I hope to discover if bats are being social or asocial with one another as a bird of prey is attacking them. This will be conducted through obtaining audio recordings that will hopefully pick up any communication calls made during a raptor attack. From the ground at the same time, I will be observing if the attack made by the raptor was successful, along with what if any visible flight dynamics were altered in an attempt to evade the predator. I will also be recording what kind of predators are present at the time of day near the cave opening along with if the raptor attack is successful on the colony.


I am extremely excited and honored to be working in Dr. Kloepper’s lab this summer. Research on the communication calls as an anti-predator response in the Brazilian free-tailed bat has not yet been studied in depth, so I am looking forward to contributing to this area of research

Summer 2017 Coming Soon!

The Belle Bats lab is growing! This year we’re adding 7 new students, a research tech, and a post-doc. Plans are already underway for our summer work in New Mexico. We aim to hit the road in mid-May and spend about a month in the field.

Stay tuned for field antics!


Our mini vacation

Written by Cassi Mardis

We only have 7 days until we see our families! After spending an amazing few days with our host family, whom of which were absolutely wonderful to us, we headed to Colorado for yet another few days off. 

We were extremely fortunate to have met the Henkel family and stay at their wonderful resort, Dunton Hot Springs. 

They put us up in the cabin called Tipping, which had a living room and a bedroom downstairs and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The porch off the back bedroom had a stunning view. We would see deer playing in the river in the morning and early afternoon. 

When we first arrived we were greeted by the wonderful staff and were shown to the saloon and dining hall where we would have our meals with the Henkel family. 

Our first meal was intimidating because we weren’t sure how it worked. We had cocktail hour at 7, which consisted of meats and cheese and dinner following at 8. We had Halibut for dinner with an amazing blueberry coffee pudding dessert. The table was lit with candles and there was a fire burning behind us. 

Every night we joined in some great conversation and afterwards took a dip in the hot springs. 

The following day the Henkel family took us on a breath taking hike. Altitude was at 10,500 feet so it wasn’t easy, but it was worth every moment. The pictures of course do not do it justice, but I want everyone to try to picture how gorgeous it was. 

Every night ended in the hot springs to relax and because it was so beautiful. From the outside hot spring you could stare at the stars and we even got to see the Milky Way again!

As bat biologists of course I have to mention that there were bats in the bath house! We were excited to see them and all of their guano. 

The following day was my birthday and it was a pretty spectacular birthday to say the least. Dr. Kloepper and Kaipo went on a very long hike and Steph and I stayed at Dunton and relaxed. In the morning we went on a horseback ride. Allison who is in charge of the horses was great to talk to and very helpful. 

Steph rode Lem

And I rode Pageen

We had yet more beautiful views if that is even possible! It was a great way to start my birthday that’s for sure. 

Afterwards we had a neuhoff meeting and lunch and then we went into the hot springs and later took a nap. It was the most relaxing day we have had. I was surprised by Dr. K and Steph singing up stairs to my room with a piece of cake they smuggled from New Mexico while we were with Dr. K’s mom! It was so great. 

Now it is time for cocktail hour where we heard about everyone’s day because we all did something different and snacked before dinner. For dinner, we had bison steak and vegetables. Now it’s time for dessert and as mine was getting passed out to me, a card was set in front of me along with my dessert which had a candle and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. The note was from my mom and it said “happy birthday miss you bunches love mom” of course I started crying because I had no idea. All of it was such a great surprise. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday! 

I have to thank the Henkel family one more time for opening their second home to us and being so welcoming and friendly. It was a great experience to have met all of you and being able to enjoy Dunton Hot Springs!

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