Archive | October, 2013

Going ‘Batty’ for Halloween

23 Oct

Halloween is a tough time to be a bat.

Only a month ago, the Flying Mammal had a buffet of available bugs to choose from for its meals. But the cool weather of late fall has drastically reduced the volume of mosquitoes, gnats and other flying insects from which to dine. The chillier conditions and declining food supply has sent some bats into hibernation already, with others preparing for the long, sleepy fast.

Brown bats are common in the United States.

Brown bats are common in the United States.

But if that’s not enough to give bats the blues, their reputation is annually besmirched during Halloween season. In movies, we see Dracula turn himself into a bat, flying around a haunted house and sucking blood from his victims. Kids equate bat costumes with those of witches, goblins and other menaces of the night.

“With the exception of ‘Batman,’ we generally don’t see bats portrayed in a positive light,” says Miranda Dunbar, assistant professor of biology at Southern and a self-proclaimed Defender of the Bat. “But the reality is the bat is actually one of the good guys.”

Dunbar, who has conducted extensive research on bats, has offered to help dispel some of the biggest myths about bats. Here are some of them:

Myth: Bats like to suck people’s blood.
Reality: There are only a few species of bat that consume blood at all, none of which are regularly found in the United States or Canada. And even among the species that do feed on blood, such as the vampire bat, they prefer livestock.

Myth: Bats are dirty animals that often spread rabies.
Reality: Bats are actually very clean, frequently giving themselves and their young tongue baths. And while it is possible to contact rabies from a bat, like many animals in wildlife, you have a much higher chance of getting rabies from raccoons, rats, foxes or dogs. When a bat gets rabies, it often dies within a week, not allowing it to hang around very long to spread the disease.

Myth: Bats are blind, at least during the day.
Reality: Although most have small eyes and don’t have great vision, they can see, even during the day. Some tropical species actually have vision that’s quite good.

Myth: Bats do nothing but sleep during the daytime hours.
Reality: Like other nocturnal animals, bats certainly sleep during the day. But they don’t sleep the entire time. In fact, they often groom and socialize during the day. Yes, they have friends.

Myth: All bats are brown or black in color.
Reality: While most in North America are some variation of brown, the Eastern red bats are actually a fiery red or orange. They are very handsome, but they tend to be a little high maintenance compared with the other bats.

Most bats wouldn't want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.

Most bats wouldn’t want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.

Myth: Other than eating some insects, the bat contributes little to the eco-system.
Reality: Not true. They eat a tremendous amount of insects – sometimes even their own weight in bugs during the course of an evening. But one of the little known facts about bats is that they are the primary pollinators and seed dispersers for many tropical fruits, such as bananas, mangoes and figs, as well as cashews and even for the Agave plant, which is used to make tequila. Their fur gets full of pollen when they eat the nectar of flowers. They then spread the pollen in their travels.

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Taking Note(s)

1 Oct

Note taking is one of the most underrated skills a person can learn in school.

You generally don’t get graded on it, per se, unless you take a class in shorthand. It’s often taught as a small component of another course.

But unlike some academic subjects that have little or no practical use after high school or college graduation, the ability to take notes has lifelong value.

blogphotonotetaking

Good note taking goes a long way toward making good journalists. Doctors and other medical staff rely on notes concerning a patient’s symptoms and diagnosis. Staff meetings often require taking down important information.

“Note taking is a skill – like shooting free throws or dancing the waltz – which must be learned and practiced to be done well,” says Lisa Kuchta, an instructor of communication at Southern.

She actually landed a job in college as a note taker. In the long run, the profitability of her job depended upon the accuracy and effectiveness of her notes.

Kuchta offers the following suggestions to students on effective note taking, although many of the same principles can be applied to adults, as well.

  • Do your homework. It is important to read the material on which a lecture is going to be based before the class. Teachers and professors will use terms or ideas from the readings in their lectures. If you don’t understand the material, it will be difficult to grasp the meaning of what is said in class.
  • Eliminate barriers to learning. Simply put, you can’t take good notes if you can’t pay attention. So, make sure you can see and hear clearly what is said and written on the board. Turn off your cell phone. Avoid the temptation of checking an email or instant message if you are taking notes via a laptop or tablet. And while students today are probably better at multi-tasking than in the past, research has shown that the brain can’t fully focus on two mental tasks at once.
  • Learn to pick out the main ideas. “Ten minutes of lecture can likely be boiled to a few main points and a handful of sub points,” Kuchta says. “Trying to write down everything the instructor says will inevitably cause you to miss important information. You just can’t write as fast as the lecturer can speak, unless you know shorthand.”
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you find yourself having difficulty choosing what to leave in and what to leave out, take some extra time to improve that skill. One way to practice is to listen to a news broadcast. After each story, try to retell the gist of it in one sentence.
  • Use a clear, outlined structure. Outlines enable the brain to think logically. They enable us to differentiate between major and minor points. You can choose your own style – Roman numerals, capital letters, stars and bullet points, or whatever system that makes you comfortable.
  • Put ideas into your own words. Just robotically copying what the lecturer says – even when you don’t have a clue as to what it means – isn’t going to help you understand the material later. “Instead, listen completely to what the professor is trying to tell you and — in your head – re-explain it to yourself in your own words so that it makes sense to you. If you realize it does not make sense to you, ask the teacher for clarification,” Kuchta says.
  • Type or reread your notes later that day. It takes a little more time, but it will be worth it in the long run. By re-reading and/or transcribing your notes, it will allow you to fill in the blanks on what you don’t understand while the information is still fresh in your mind. And it will also help you commit it to a longer-term memory.

“Becoming a better note-taker may take commitment and diligence, but improving your proficiency will make your job – in school and in the real world – so much easier,” Kuchta says.

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