20 Jul Cute Critters @ Mammoth Cave National Park
These past few weeks of my internship, I have done a lot of different things like identifying and mapping springs while kayaking the Green River, finding rare wildflowers in deep parts of the woods, and going into the caves to look for shark tooth fossils. One of the most meaningful experiences I’ve have had here at Mammoth Cave is my work with animals. I have been involved in bat counts, cricket counts and two types of bird monitoring. It has been amazing to apply the scientific process in the real world and not just in a classroom. Out here, the stakes are high, the data that we collect is all the data we have on these critters.
Collecting data on animal populations is essential to finding trends of environmental effects on ecosystems. We can learn so much from data taken consistently every year (or on a cycle of a few years) when we put it all together after a long time.
It may seem quite simple to go to a cave and count the bats coming out, but the bat count process is a much more precise procedure than just showing up and counting. We come prepared for every possible issue that could occur. It all starts back at the office where we go through our packing checklist, making sure everything has charge and extra batteries. We then arrive 45 minutes early to the cave to ensure any mistakes don’t hinder out ability to count the bats that night. We set up a night vision camera and a thermal infrared camera to record the cave on top of our counting with night vision goggles and clickers. There are always at least two people doing a count so the counter can keep their eyes on the cave the whole time while the assistant switches out their clicker and records the data. We count bats from 19:45 to 21:00 (everything must be in military time). and record the number of bats exiting every 5 minutes. After doing a count in the field, two separate people have to recount based on the night vision and thermal infrared video recordings. And we do each cave twice (typically two nights in a row). In the end we have three counts per night for each cave. This leads us to have as accurate as numbers as possible.
Cricket counts use math and statistics to estimate how many crickets are in each cave. As the field workers and data collectors we don’t do the math and statistics part but we do get to go into the caves and be with the crickets. We collect data from a random arrangement of 35 strips each 10 centimeters long. For each strip we look at the groups of crickets, take pictures of the groups and find the distance, temperature, humidity, and estimate the number of crickets. To mark the strips, we use lasers spaces 10 centimeters apart perched on a tripod. The images taken are later looked at in depth to get an accurate count of the clusters we encounter. A bio-statistician then uses our data to find trends in the data over long periods of time.
This is a Kentucky based bird monitoring program that happens once a year. During a specific time frame in summer a group of researchers goes out to 10 predetermined locations and listen for a few species of birds. We drove around Mammoth Cave National park and stopped at each station to listen for night jars for 6 minutes at each spot. There are three nightjar species in Kentucky: Chuck-will’s-widow, Common Nighthawk, and Whip-poor will. We focused on listening for Whip-poor wills. We did not hear any Chuck-will’s-widows or Nighthawks which are typically found at the edges of the forest and at the nearby Walmart parking lot respectively (according to Brice Leech one of our natural resource managers at the park).
I am surrounded by biologists when I am doing these monitoring and it is so interesting to gain from their perspective of the world and how they view nature.
Fun things do not only happen at work! I went to Nashville with a group of interns and here are the highlights of our mini trip. It was a 1 hour and 35 minute drive and while we didn’t dance the dirt off our boots, we had a darn-tootin’ good time!
Fun things near Mammoth Cave:
Trip to Nashville!
Dinner: Mas Tacos Por Favor has the best fried avocado tacos and amazing sweet plantain!
Dessert: Doughnut Distillery had perfectly sized mini doughnuts with unique flavors and a fun concept!
Honky Tonk Highway: This is the section of Broadway street where all the Honky Tonks are (country bars). These were an absolute blast to say the least, the live music is amazing!
Something Surprising in Nashville: I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high concentration of bachelorette parties and party buses.
Thought of the day: Science is so cool (but not as cool as math)
Wooooo! You made it to the end! Thanks for reading, I appreciate you and hope you learned something 🙂 Next post coming soon.