One of my favorite aspects about field biology is observing animals up close, so I was really looking forward to mist netting. During the first week of the course we were able to visit mist nets set up on Pipeline Road and see the distribution of mid-story birds present in the surrounding forest. We caught ant birds, manikins, and even a humming bird! It was amazing being able to see these beautiful animals so close. We were even able to hold a release some of the birds we caught, which really excited me; actually being able to handle some wild animals was phenomenal. It was also a great relief that none of the birds were injured while we were netting, which is apparently common given that birds are so delicate and prone to stress.
Along with mist netting, we also walked up and down the road to do some birding. We observed many of the same species we caught and even some we didn’t like toucans! While we were closing up the nets we had the privilege to see several army ant swarms. We watched as the swarm front covered the forest floor, causing other insects and invertebrates to run for cover.
The following week we had a “bat night” where we did some evening mist netting along with observing echolocation and learning about food sharing behaviors in vampire bats. The mist netting, like that we did for the birds, was my favorite part. Although we were not able to touch the bats, we got to see some amazing species very close up. While learning about echolocation we utilized some instruments that allowed us to hear and visualize the various calls the bats made while hunting for insects. Lastly, I really enjoyed learning about peculiar behaviors in vampire bats. Vampire bats depend entirely on blood meals for all their nutrition, so they are very vulnerable to starvation. If a vampire bat goes more than two nights without a meal they can easily starve. However, vampire bats have developed a behavior in which mostly females will regurgitate and share part of their blood meal with a conspecific. Some bats will beg for a blood meal by licking the other bat’s mouth, but often bats will offer blood meals to emaciated bats. Bats that share blood meals are not necessarily related either, which I found fascinating. The basis behind this behavior is still being studied, but it is a creative way for the bats to sustain their colony.