Student - April 21, 2011

On a plank in Mexico

Who? Rianne van Toor, third-year Animal Management student
What? Study of fruit-eating bats
Where? Mexico
Why? 'I wanted to get some fieldwork experience in an unusual country.'

'I had only been abroad once before in my life so this felt like a very long way from home. Mexico! I came across the cultural differences straight away when I ate my first tortilla in a market. I poured large quantities of this tasty-looking green sauce over it. The result: smoke coming out of my ears and peals of laughter from a Mexican who called out 'picante'!
'I did my internship with a Dutch PhD student. He is studying fruit-eating bats in secondary forests with a variety of species of trees, and in forests with one dominant tree species, the O. pyramidale. Each month, we went into the jungle for a few days to collect data. Around dusk, we would march into the rainforest and put up mist nets. Then we had to wait for the bats to fly into the nets; sometimes one or two but at other times as many as fifty. I would then put one of the bats we had caught in a cotton bag and carry it back to the camp. There, the animal would be measured and then released again. The species of bat I liked most was the large Artibeus. Two malicious Artibeus bats did bite my finger, but even so they are still my favourite species.
'When doing fieldwork we stayed with a native family in a village called Lacanj√°, in the Lacandon rainforest. Wooden houses, hens wandering around and two parrots in the tree. I could choose between three beds: a double bed so soft that I would wake up early covered in sweat because of the heat; or a comfortable single bed where the many hungry bedbugs lay in wait for me; or a wooden bed without a mattress, also known as 'the plank'. I tried each of them out and plumped for the last option. At night, after our work, I would retire satisfied to my plank.
'All in all, I found it a memorable experience, especially the fieldwork. Walking through the rainforest at night, crossing a stream and clambering over rocks. The only light was the beam from the lamp on my head and the luminescent insect eyes. Rustling leaves and the constant buzz from the ever-present swarm of mosquitoes. And especially standing face to face with so many wonderful species of bat. Mexico is cool; I would really love to go back!'
 

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