Trip to El Pinacate, May 2016

Last May, we visited the biggest maternity roost in The Great Desert of Altar and Pinacate Biosphere Reserve in the State of Sonora, Mexico. Our goal was to monitor the colony of bats that use this cave as a maternity roost and sample a few individuals to study their genetics. This year, our team was quite big as there are so many interesting projects that look at several aspects of the biology of the Tequila bat. We spent 15 days working all night long in the middle of the desert collecting tissue samples, parasites, fresh guano, pollen, taking measurements, and filming. 

A normal working day for us involves getting our equipment ready by 4:30pm, drive across the desert for one hour and hike 40min until we arrive to the cave. We then set up camp, hydrate and rest for a few minutes. Dr. Medellin prepares infrared lamps and video cameras to monitor the emergence of the bats from the cave; the emergence begins around 7:30pm and goes on for about 1.5hrs. Once the females have left the cave, Begoña Iñarritu, who is interested in studying the behaviour of newborns, enters the cave and sets up her filming equipment. In the meantime, the rest of us prepare our equipment and rest for a couple of hours before the females come back from feeding.

At about 1:30 am, females start returning to the cave. Luis Viquez and I are interested in different aspects of the migratory behaviour of the Tequila bats; we have been collecting samples for the last 2 years. We wait for the females to return to the cave as we want to make sure they fed and they are well hydrated. We set up mist nets and capture a few animals; this is when things start getting really busy! We need extra hands to process the samples as many bats get captured in the mist nets in a matter of seconds. 

We collect different samples, for example, I collect blood and tissue samples while Luis sets up individual 'restrooms' for the bats. He needs this fresh guano to study the microbiome of the bats. In the meantime, Abigail Martinez Serena, Ana Soler, and Nora Torres Knoop take parasites and vaginal swabs.

This year, we were lucky enough to have Jens Rydell as our official photographer. He came all the way from Sweden and documented this trip. Jens has perfected his technique to photograph bats in flight and combines it with acoustic recordings to identify species. He was a great team member and taught us a lot about photography and field work!  

Marco Tschapka was another official reporter of this trip. If something funny or embarrassing happened, we could rest assure that Marco was documenting that moment forever. We hope those photographs do not see the light of day anytime soon, or at least before we get our degrees! 

This trip was a success and we had yet another amazing time in the Sonoran desert! Thank you to the other team members who helped us collect samples: Estefania Ramirez, Omar Calva, Salvador Loza, and Anna Vogeler. And special thanks to my funders: The Rufford Foundation, Idea Wild, UNAM and Bristol University.