Belle Bats

Bat Bioacoustics Research Team at Saint Mary's College

Why Saint Mary’s?

Written by: Steph Dreessen

Saint Mary’s has provided some once in a lifetime opportunities for me, as well as other fortunate students. I cannot express the gratitude enough for these opportunities. The most prevelant would have to be this research trip. Not only do we as students have such opportunities, our professors do as well. Dr. Kloepper was invited to an inclusive seminar and had to decide what to do with her two students…

She reached out to our Alumna network and they offered to be hosts while she was away. Cassi and I were excited to hear of the energetic replies of the Alumna to host a few current SMC students. We met an Alumnae, Erin Reilly Stroka, and her wonderful, generous family. I cannot say positively who was more excited to stay with other another smick chick! It was awesome to hear of all her memories from Saint Mary’s, and update her on what is going on currently at campus. 
Her family and herself showed Cassi and me the iconic towns and cities of New Mexico. Not to mention, they also took us to lunch for our last New Mexican based meal. We visited one of the oldest Roman Catholic Churches, El Santaurio de Chimayo which is also a National historic landmark. It was remarkable to see all the culture that has been kept as pristine as possible, and to learn about some of the south west United States culture. They also took us on a tour of old town Santa Fe, NM which is a must do if you visit New Mexico! There was some kind of festival about to begin and lots of vendors selling lots of products of all kinds. On top of this, they had an amazing backyard with a pool and a hot tub. The pool was a slice of heaven in the southwestern climate! 

They spoiled us with great food! Breakfast, lunch and dinner…even better by topping it all off with cake and cookie dough dessert!
Erin informed Cassi and me that she was so excited for her daughter to head off to school, and as college students we tried our best to pass off some knowledge for the incoming freshman. Lindsay you’ll do great and create even greater memories!! I admire the relationship you and your mother share! 

They also had two adorable pups to entertain us! Kelsie, a border collie, seemed to never tire of chasing the tennis ball whereas Scarlet, a yorkiepoo, was always content to snuggle.

We only had two short days with Erin and her family, but it’s that graciousness, welcoming persona of a smick chick that makes me proud to say that I too, am Saint Mary’s. Again, thank you Erin, Eric, and Lindsay for the unforgettable weekend!


That gentlemen, is how Belles change a flat tire

Written by All of us!

Last night started out as a typical night at the cave. We had a great emergence, got great data, and headed back home early excited for the possibility of watching a movie. That all suddenly changed with a series of loud thuds. At the same time, Steph and Dr. K yelled “tire” and Dr. K brought the car to a stop. We got out to assess the situation: 

We had a pretty severe gash in the side of the tire, and no idea how it happened. Right away, we knew what to do. Dr. Kloepper did what any good professor would do, and instructed us how to change the tire. 

Just kidding—she actually rolled up her sleeves with us and we all got to work on changing the flat. 

Proud of our tire-changing skills, we headed back to the bunkhouse, finally watched that movie, and headed to bed satisfied.

When Dr Kloepper woke for her morning run, however, that mood changed. She noticed two more flats on the car. Since the phone at our bunkhouse was broken, and we had no cell service, she biked to the nearest house (after she finished her run, of course) with a phone to call Enterprise to get everything sorted out. She left a detailed note on the counter explaining the situation and to “stay calm and keep doing data analysis.” She also left post-its everywhere to “see counter.” Cassi’s first thought when seeing the post it that said “see counter” was holy crap what did I do. Whereas Steph’s first thought was “what counter in MATLAB? I didn’t even know we had a counter function!” Little did she know that there was an additional note by the coffee that explained everything until Cassi found it.

About an hour later Dr Kloepper returned and told us to pack a bag. A tow truck was on its way to take us to Truth or Consequences to hopefully get our tires fixed. We weren’t sure if tires would be in stock, so we packed an overnight bag and left Kaipo with plenty of food and water. Two hours (and one Cujo movie later), the tow truck driver arrived and loaded up our batmobile 

We all piled in front for the long ride into town 

We were so fortunate because Walmart had exactly 3 of our tires in stock. We spent the day waiting for the tire to be fixed, but we’re fortunate that it only took one day!

Where has the time gone?

Written by: Steph Dreessen

It’s only been six weeks. Only six weeks of data collection, analysis, fun times, frustrating situations, and unforgettable adventures. 

The data collection is basically a habit for us now, we know what equipment goes where, when everything should start recording, and when to pack up for the night. We continue to analyze our data from the previous night, but we’ve definitely had some hiccups along the way. For instance, we found out one of our software programs was performing the right functions, but not in the order we intended. There should be some signal window in programs that state “operator error” – it would make my life way easier! (A lot of frustrations come from this) The analysis time has gotten shorter for us, but can still take up most of our day depending on how determined we are when we wake up. 

Cassi and I have also submitted our first abstracts for our first conferences (potentially), which we will find out if they are accepted at a later date. We are also currently working on submitting another abstract for a different conference! Hopefully, we will be getting good news near the beginning of the fall semester.

We are now back in New Mexico and we are enjoying the swamp cooler! We were tent camping at our last site in Texas, and the temperatures were probably in the triple digits. I say that because one, I didn’t really want to know and two, my phone was recooperating from some mild water damage. While in Texas, we visited Davis-blowout cave, James-River cave, the Chiroptorium, and Bracken cave. The Davis-blowout cave was extradinary in the aspect that we were so close to the emergence! The James-River cave was neat because we were able to sit close, (but not as close as the Davis cave) and we also met another research scientist! We met Dr. Gary McCracken at James-River and couldn’t have been more excited since we’ve read a few of his papers!

The Chiroptorium is a man made bat cave that is amazing for research. Mr. Bamberger built a batcave for his ranch! He was so passionate and inspirational about maintaining nature and the ecosystem. The Bracken cave was a sight to see and experience! The emergence was impressive and the staff was too! They were all engrossed in the emergence while we were there and their interest in keeping the cave and the surrounding area in prime condition is always awesome to see.

While we were conducting research at the Chiroptorium, we were able to walk inside and see leucism in some bats, which is a condition where the bats have a lack of pigmentation causing white patches of hair! When we weren’t researching, we got a tour of the ranch. My favorite part was seeing dinosaur footprints of Acrocanthosauras! We also were able to take a swim in the spring fed lake. It was gorgeous!

Then, while camping at Bracken we headed into Newbraunfelds, Texas which had a tourist attraction of floating down the river. It was the perfect thing to do while trying to cool down on our hot and humid camping trip. Here, as well as the Dos Rios campground, I was attacked by ants. They kept biting my feet and mine only! They must’ve been attracted to the sweet odor of my sweaty feet (hopeful but doubtful). Needless to say, I am not a fan of ants. 

Back in New Mexico, we’re greeted with some rain. The past two nights we have tried to record as much as possible, but due to weather web had to cut our nights short. I also had another run in with ants. This time they invaded my water bottle, and I only noticed halfway through gulping them down. At least I got extra protein, right? 

Terry and Bettie 

Written by Cassi Mardis

Terry and Bettie are the names of two wonderful people. The last cave we were at, we had the luxury of meeting these two fine souls. They welcomed us strangers into their bunkhouse while we were researching at the Davis cave. They had no idea who we were or if we were friendly or not, but they welcomed us with open arms. 

This bunkhouse was the cutest and homiest we have been in. There were 3 bunk beds, a regular bed, couch, table, kitchen and a bathroom. The bathroom looked like a spa! It even had air conditioning. We each claimed our beds and soon after we met Shep! Shep was the cutest dog and him and Kaipo did very well together! He waited for us every night so we could love on him. 

Back to Terry and Bettie! I can’t explain how amazing they were to us. They cooked us a homecooked meal in their own home and we had great conversation. They invited us to see their ranch, so Terry gave us a beautiful tour of their ranch and we even got to meet their longhorn, Rio! He is the prettiest longhorn. Terry mentioned that Rio has some of the longest horns. We got to feed him some treats with precaution because he swings his horns around (got Dr. K in the hip). He was precious though. Afterwards we got invited back into their beautiful home and had some more fun conversation and had some delicious watermelon

Terry and Bettie are like grandparents to us. They were so welcoming and loving. They invited us to their home back in San Antonio when we’re at bracken to swim, nap, do laundry, whatever we needed or wanted to do. I can honestly say it was hard to leave them. In that short time they became our family.

So one last thank you to Terry and Bettie for your wonderful hospitality!

Everything’s Bigger in Texas

Written by Dr. Kloepper

Well, here we are, the last night at Cave #2 in Texas Hill Country. Cave #1 was the Davis Blowout Cave, and Cave #2 was the Eckert James River Cave. So far, our time in Texas has been amazing.

Our first stop in Texas was the Davis Blowout Cave. Due to strange connections that only field biologists can muster, we ended up on the property of Bettie and Terry Green, who live exactly 1.2 miles from the cave. They graciously opened up their bunkhouse to us, and made us feel incredibly at home. We saw their smiling faces throughout each day, they fed us an amazing home cooked meal, they invited us over for watermelon on July 4, and they gave us a thorough tour of their gorgeous ranch. We entered their property as strangers, but left as dear friends. Their lovable dog also became dear friends with Kaipo. We had an amazing time (and got great data too!) and have this lovely “family” portrait as remembrance of our time there:

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On top of having top-notch accommodations, we also realized that Davis Cave is ideally situated for our research needs. We recorded both the nightly emergence and morning re-entry at the cave, recording with our ultrasonic microphones and FLIR Camera

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On our way out of the Davis Cave, we stopped at the legendary Cooper’s BBQ in Llano, TX and stuffed ourselves to the gills!

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We’ve now wrapped up our time at Eckert James River, but unfortunately don’t have too many pictures since we’ve been so busy staying cool and avoiding the fire ants! We have all been crunching data ’round the clock since we have two upcoming deadlines for abstract submissions for conferences. We are *this close* to finishing up the analysis for each of our projects. The girls have all gotten crash courses in statistics and SPSS and it’s been so fun to watch their knowledge grow with each passing day! From field work to data analysis to camp cooking to digging a “bathroom” hole with our shovel…these are the kinds of lessons you just can’t teach in a classroom!

It’s the little things

Written by: Steph Dreessen

First, I would like to thank Terry and Bettie Green for their wonderful hospitality and generosity while we were at our last cave site.

They spoiled us! We are now tent camping at Dos Rios campground. We have no shower, therefore dry shampoo has been used! Thankfully, our campsite is right next to the river so everyday Cassi and I take at least 4 swims while taking a break from data analysis. This is to give ourselves a mental break and to cool down from the heat. We have great timing when camping, as the heat index rose to at least 110 degrees everyday. 

We also do not have any electrical hookup, so our Goal Zero power bank has been saving our butts! We charge it everyday with a solar panel, and use a lot of the energy everyday while doing our data analysis as well. We’re located in Mason, Texas for this cave site, and headed into town for a day to work in the air conditioning and keep our computers happy 🙂 . 

I would also like to say how much I appreciate air conditioning, and to say thank you to my parents for supplying it in the humidity of Indiana. While out in the heat, Cassi and I take multiple swims everyday as I mentioned earlier to make up for the lack of air conditioning. I always get a kick out of listening to Cassi, and Cassi always kicks a rock. She always kicks a rock with her right big toe, to be exact. Not only am I a good friend and laugh first then ask if she’s okay second, but I also laugh until I cry. She is currently suffering from a broken toe nail and some swelling, but the prognosis is good in the long run.

Enjoying the emergence at James-River batcave.

When we aren’t swimming or analyzing the data, we continue to eat our canned meals and collect data at the bat caves. We have a cooler and we are being spoiled in the sense of having CHOCOLATE. It’s always the little things in life that get you through each day. 

At this particular bat cave, we met Dr. Gary McCracken, who Cassi and I have referenced multiple times in our presentations thus far. We were both ecstatic to meet him and of course we got our picture with him. Again, it’s the little things.

When things don’t go according to plan…

Written by Dr. Kloepper

To say I am a planner is an extreme understatement. I have lists and spreadsheets for everything. For this trip, I made sure we had lists for lists, every detail of every cave location mapped out, copies of all waivers and documents, and back up equipment for everything. 

But what happens when things don’t go according to plan?

That seems to be the theme for our past few weeks. In Kansas, everything went great. In Oklahoma, it started out wonderfully, but then the storm came through that disrupted our routine and broke our tents (thankfully the folks at Marmot sent us replacement parts). 

In New Mexico, coming face-to-face with a rattlesnake certainly shook things up, and coming face-to-face with a raccoon at 3am that chewed through our window screen and ate the dog food gave us quite a fright (and resulted in me chasing it around the bunkhouse with a mop). 

And of course, the students will agree that I am the queen of forgotten pelican cases. Several times now we arrive at the cave and open the trunk to hear me proclaim “oh shoot” and then fly back to our lodging to retrieve the equipment just in the nick of time. The girls now have a “Dr. Kloepper don’t forget this” list.

Also for me, the first 2 nights at Carlsbad were rough as I came down with a fever and extreme dizziness and weakness. Trust me, no student wants to hear “if I pass out, prop up my feet and cover my face with something so the bats don’t poop on me.”

Thankfully I have recovered, and due to very liberal use of hand sanitizer the students avoided contracting my illness. And despite all our setbacks, we have still be able to collect complete datasets every night. Our hard drives are filling with terabytes of acoustic and thermal data, and we can’t find enough hours in the day to process everything. Trust me, this is a very good feeling for a field biologist. Having too much data is never a bad thing!

Carlsbad Caverns

Written by: Steph Dreessen

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be behind the scenes during a bat emergence at Carsbad Caverns? Well, It takes a lot of patience and the ability to stay quite for a few hours. If you’ve never experienced the emergence at Carlsbad, I’d highly recommend it! It was breathtaking and unique.

This is where we would set up our equipment for the night! Not everyday you can look at the cavern opening with no one in the frame!

Before the Bat Flight program started, Dr. Kloepper, Cassi, and I would head down into the iconic walkway and start setting up our equipment. Cassi measures environmental parameters, so as soon as she is done helping us, she heads back up towards the back of the ampitheater to begin her recordings. That’s when the fun begins for Dr. Kloepper and me.

At this point of time in the day, the cave has now closed therefore Dr. Kloepper and I are the only ones near the mouth of the cave. We have a thermal camera and ultrasonic microphone set up, along with a FLIR thermal camera. To power the FLIR  thermal camera, we carry down a 100 pound power bank. We use this equipment to film and record the acoustics of the bat’s emergence. Since we get all of this set up before the program starts, we have about an hour before the emergence starts. 

After waiting for a while, the FLIR starts to pick up movement inside of the cave, the characteristic counterclockwise circular flying pattern that the Mexican free tailed  bats do before they leave the cave. Then we hear the wings of hundreds of bats as more and more congregate near the mouth of the cave. The sound of hundreds of bats’s wings is similar to a continuous ocean wave crashing the shoreline. As the bats emerge, they pass by only a few feet above your head! They fly so close that you can feel the breeze from their wings beating so furiously. When the bats first emerge, they have a dense stream that gradually rises to the opening before the bats reach the openness of the night sky.

Im near the bottom, looking up and out so I’ll guarantee there are some bats in this picture!

Dr. Kloepper and I also move the FLIR to different spots to get different points of view of the bat emergence, which requires some heavy lifting (the power bank) while simultaneously remaining slient. The aspect of staying quite is sort of challenging for me just because I’ve never been too great at being quiet. I used to be that kid in the movie theater that would always ask those annoying questions. I’m not that way anymore, but I usually announce myself by bumping into things. 

Roughly an hour passes by and the bats are done emerging, all three of us begin packing our equipment up so we can head back to our hotel. 

This was our fouth cave out of a total of eight caves, meaning we’re halfway done with our research trip! We’ve collected some great data and are always working on analyzing it whenever possible, or when we’re not out and about exploring what the region offers to tourists like us!

Just a few pictures from inside the cavern! It was gorgeous!

Life on the road continues

Written by Cassi Mardis

It’s crazy to think we have been on the road for 23 days! It feels like much longer.. But really though, for a trip like this with three women, we are doing surprisingly well. We have learned each other’s moods fairly well too. For example, when Dr. Kloepper gets frustrated with equipment, you just do NOT make eye contact! We get frustrated as well, but what Dr. Kloepper said was as long as we still laugh everyday we know everything is still okay!

Our first day heading to a new place begins with packing up from the previous location and turning the trunk of the car into a game of Tetris. Which Steph is very good at by the way! Once our car is packed we head off to the location of our trip. For example, we’re headed to our first of many locations in Texas right now! This drive is eight hours and we will be here for four nights. When we arrive we unpack everything we will need for that location. The sleeping arrangements very with every location. The last place was a hotel, this place is a bunkhouse, and the next place we camp. 

For those days at each place we spend our time working extremely hard doing data analysis. We don’t get much time off, but when we do Steph and I take advantage. In Carlsbad, we got to swim for a bit and lay out. It was relaxing and just what we needed and wanted. The last day we got to tour the caverns, which was spectacular. At the other site, we got to go to the lake and get icecream. 

Now, it’s not all fun and games. We have a camping stove that we use to cook our dinner at hotels and when we’re camping. We eat canned food everyday. We have many different options and it’s honestly not even that bad, but having a meal out is a nice treat. 

For me, the longer I am away the harder it is getting for me. I am really close to my family and of course miss them, my boyfriend, and my friends like crazy. These next few weeks, however, will go by very fast because for the next four locations we only spend four nights at each. 
I have been seeing some new animals too since my last post! It is so fun and I have been keeping a list because so much is different from the southwest than Indiana. Like rattlesnakes. So it’s official, I will forever live where there are no possibilities of rattlesnakes. Anyways, some new creatures I have seen include a badger, some lizards, an oryx, a gazelle, and even a desert tortoise. We couldn’t get close to the tortoise because their defense mechanism is to pee, but then they lose all of their water and usually die before they can find more. 

It is still exciting to see the new places because every cave is different, every sleeping arrangement is different, and all the people are different. We are still going strong. The journey continues for another 33 days! Three women, a dog, some bats, and 3100 miles into our trip!

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