Volume 36, Issue 2, 2017

Fighting Fungus

Calvin set up an experiment to find out more about local bats’ food supply

Bat flying in the sky
To answer his research question, Calvin
set up an experiment to trap flying insects.
Courtesy of Penny Carpenter

Hi! I’m Calvin. I am 11 years old and I live in Lubbock, Texas. I was five years old when I saw my first real live bat. Since then I have been interested in bats and ask questions to learn more about them.

I learned there is a fungus that causes a disease called White-nose Syndrome. It’s really bad. It has killed millions of bats in just 10 years. It started on the East Coast in New York and has spread to many states. I worried that if the fungus spreads to Texas it could reach the largest bat colony in the world, which is near Austin.

I had many questions. I emailed scientists and learned more about the fungus and different kinds of bats. I was able to test some of my questions and share what I learned in my local science fair. I learned the fungus wakes the bats in the wintertime when there is no food for them to eat and they starve to death.

But Texas is different. Our winters are warmer and shorter. I thought maybe if the bats wake up they would be able to find a few insects to eat. I had more questions. I wanted to know what kind of insects bats eat, when they eat them and how much they eat.

Bat flying in the sky
In the field, Calvin documented the size of the insects
and the temperature of the air when he caught them.
Courtesy of Penny Carpenter

Again, I asked different scientists for help. Not far from where I live there are some caves with hibernating bats. I set up an experiment to trap flying insects. I did this during the Christmas holiday during our coldest months.

Guess what? There were some nights I didn’t see or catch anything. Then one night, I saw a bat fly over me! I was so excited! That night I caught flying insects in the trap. It was just a few degrees warmer that night. I felt better knowing if the bats wake up because of the fungus, there is some food out there for them to eat.

While I was testing my experiment, scientists from BCI and the Texas Parks and Wildlife were in the same area checking the caves for bats and the fungus. I am sad to report that they did find the fungus in those caves. The fungus has spread to Texas.

This problem just keeps getting worse. But if we all ask more questions, talk to scientists and get out there and do more experiments, we will have more information to help the bats. What’s your research question?




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