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On Today’s Menu: A Special Science Smorgasbord!
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** Share some birthday cake for an environmental pioneer.
** Linger for an international tour of bat habitats.
** Savor a last ½ cup puzzling over some starry conundrums!
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My parents were not scientists.
They knew almost nothing about science.
But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder,
they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought
that are central to the scientific method.
– Carl Sagan
Slice of Cake:
The year I was 17, two things happened that changed the way I eat still to this day.
The first thing was getting hired as the cook at a small vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco.
Usually, I got the early shift.
I remember that sometimes the manager was late.
And since I didn’t have a key, I would crawl through a back window to get in and get the oven heating up on time to feed the early breakfast crowd.
On the job I learned to make whole wheat pancakes from scratch, to fold cream cheese and mushrooms into a three-egg omelet, and to grind carrots up with a little apple to make carrot juice.
What would you like for breakfast?
The second thing that happened to change my diet was a book I read:
Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé.
Her argument for environmental vegetarianism was very convincing to me.
Her idea was to eat less meat as a way to use less water, land, fertilizer, and pesticides.
I have been a vegetarian ever since.
** Happy 75th Birthday **
Frances Moore Lappé
♪♫ “Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!” ♪
— from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll (1865)
I’ve been thinking this week about bats.
In Tucson, I loved sitting in my backyard in the evenings and seeing the tiny bats flitting in their graceful pirouettes, feasting on bugs.
Four road bridges in Tucson are particularly popular bat roosts. It’s estimated that the bat colony under the Pantano Wash bridge contains 20,000 bats. Seeing them fly out all together from underneath these bridges in the evening is quite dramatic.2
A female Mexican free-tailed bat will have a single baby born during the summer. The young roost separately from their mothers, historically higher up in a cave where it’s warmer. The expansion joints of Tucson’s bridges have one-foot-deep groves which is ideal for their young because the temperature remains consistent. Five hundred baby free-tail bats can cluster in one square foot under the bridges. In these large maternity colonies, a mother comes to feed her pup and has to find her own among the thousands. It is thought that she locates her baby by recognizing its individual call.3
The Sonoran Desert’s giant saguaro cactus depends on bats for pollination.4
Each saguaro flower blooms for less than 24 hours. They open at night and remain open through the next day only—which is a very short time to attract a pollinator.6
Bees and birds can pollinate in the daytime. But it’s the bats who take the first shift overnight.
In New Zealand, bats have extra-special status:
Bats are New Zealand’s only native land mammals.
There are now just two bat species: the long-tailed bat and the lesser short-tailed bat.
The Māori name for both species is pekapeka.
I lived in New Zealand for five years and never got to see a bat,
which isn’t that surprising. They are shy. They are endangered.
And they are small. Very small.
Their bodies are the size of a person’s thumb (less than 2 ½ inches). Their wingspan is nearly a foot.7
The lesser short-tailed bats would truly be something to see. They are the only bats in the world that hunt for food on the ground. Their wings fold away under side-flaps of skin, and they walk using the elbow joints of their wings like front legs. They have a fast jerky movement, skittering along the forest floor, as they hunt for insects, fruit, seeds, and nectar.8
Here in Utah, there’s also a worry about declining bat populations, mostly from habitat loss. We can put up bat houses, but given that bats like to roost together in large numbers, most bat houses we can buy or make are too small.
Out at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, which is run by The Nature Conservancy, there are lots and lots of bugs—which means plenty for bats to eat—but not so many places for bats to roost. Back in 2016, they came up with the idea of building a customized Bat Barn with enough space to comfortably hold large bat colonies.
The design of the Bat Barn gives ample open fly space, wooden baffles for them to hang from to sleep, and a 24-foot drop—the distance necessary for species like the Mexican free-tail bat, who need to launch themselves from high spaces in order to gain enough momentum to fly.9
I talked to Mike Kolendrianos at Salt Lake’s Nature Conservancy, and he said the project is still under consideration, but they’re about $100,000 short. They’re also worried that they could build this customized bat mansion and no bats would show up to live in it.10
The good news is that an Eagle Scout has taken on a project of making four smaller barns (for around $500) and putting them up near the proposed Bat Barn site. If these are successful at attracting bats, it would give a significant boost to fund raising.
Good luck, Eagle Scout and all our bat friends!
“Half Cup More”
Time for our Astronomy Pop Quiz!
(Note: Answers in comment section at end of this post)
1. Jupiter has the most moons in our solar system (at least 79!). Which planet has the second most?
- a) Venus
- b) Neptune
- c) Saturn
2. Which two planets have no moons at all?
- a) Venus
- b) Neptune
- c) Mars
- d) Mercury
3. What is the name of the largest moon in our solar system?
- a) Io (orbits Jupiter)
- b) Titan (orbits Saturn)
- c) Ganymede (orbits Jupiter)
4. Compared to other moons in our solar system, Earth’s moon is…
- a) the 8th largest.
- b) the 5th largest.
- c) the 3rd largest.
- d) one of the smallest.
5. The largest moon in the solar system is…
- a) Larger than Earth, but just barely.
- b) Smaller than Earth, but larger than Mercury.
6. What makes Saturn’s moon Enceladus special?
- a) It has the most volcanic activity of any moon.
- b) Its giant crater makes it look like the Death Star.
- c) It orbits backwards.
- d) It has continuous geysers shooting water vapor.
All the answers in Question #6 are true of some moon.
Can you name those other three moons?
Here is my favorite song.
It’s about the moon. It’s sung by Audrey Hepburn.
And it starts with a typewriter.
music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer
from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Thank you for reading!
— Kelly J Hardesty
Scroll down to the end—and you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you. .
You Can Read More…
Notes & Footnotes
because… this is science, folks.
The photo of me in the kitchen
is by Janet Lenore
sometime in the autumn of 1979,
at Harvest Moon Vegetarian Restaurant, San Francisco.
(The restaurant is no longer there.)
Janet Lenore was my most loyal customer.
We had fun—two Vacaville girls
new to the big city!
Pima County Library
I use the word “historically” for how bats lived in caves.
Prof B said I should have said bats slept in caves in their
EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness).
Which I will put up with, because I am quite attached to the
theories of John Bowlby.
You can read more about Bowlby & evolutionary adaptation
in my February 23, 2021 post called… Attachment
(F2) Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
Thank you to Leslie Boyer
for talking to me about bats pollinating saguaros.
Merlin D. Tuttle took the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat photo
Bat Conservation International
And I found the photo on the USDA Forest Service webpage
Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) Te Papa Atawhai
by Veronika Meduna
Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
24 Sep 2007
Finding a Home for Evicted Bats
by Sarah Wetmore
Cool Green Science blog on Nature.org
24 Oct 2016
(F7) Mike Kolendrianos
from the Nature Conservancy
personal communication on 11 February 2019.
Steve Hardesty took the photo of the
Blue Moon, 28 Jan 2019
I also want to thank Steve Hardesty for moon and planet information,
as well as proof-reading the Astronomy Quiz for me.
The NASA Cassini Probe took the photo
of Enceladus under the rings of Saturn.
And I found more moon & planet info
from “Guide to the Night Sky”
a special publication from
Whenever you click on ‘Post Comment’ your comments always come to me first. Then I post them below.
If you’d rather they stay between us, just let me know.
© Kelly J Hardesty 2023
4 thoughts on “Big Moons & Small Planets”
** Answers to Astronomy Pop Quiz **
Important note: I could maybe have guessed right on a couple of these questions——
but I actually *knew* none of these answers!
1. Question: Jupiter has the most moons, which planet has the second most?
Answer = (c) Saturn has the second most, with at least 62 moons.
2. Question: Which two planets have no moons at all?
Answer = (a+d) Neither Mercury nor Venus have any moons. Mars has 2. Neptune has 14 (that we know of).
3. Question: What is the name of the largest moon?
Answer = (c) The largest moon is Ganymede, which orbits Jupiter.
4. Question: Compared to other moons in our solar system, Earth’s moon is how large?
Answer = (b) Earth’s moon is 5th largest. Second largest moon is Titan, then Callisto and Io.
5. Question: The largest moon in the solar system is bigger or smaller than Earth?
Answer = (b) Ganymede is less than half the diameter of Earth; but both Ganymede and Titan are larger than Mercury.
6. Question: What makes Saturn’s moon Enceladus special?
Answer = (d) Enceledus has more than 100 cryovolcanoes that shoot water vapor, ice particles, hydrogen, and salt into space. Some of this falls back onto the moon surface like snow; the rest escapes, forming Saturn’s E ring.
Bonus Points: The other options for 6 are all true statements about different moons:
a) Io (one of Jupiter’s moon) has the most volcanic activity.
b) The moon that looks like the Death Star is Mimas (one of Saturn’s moon).
c) Triton orbits in the opposite direction of its planet Neptune’s orbit.
Thanks for including the short video of the New Zealand lesser short-tailed bats. I could not picture how they move about from the description. Totally cool but also totally freaky. If I saw them, I would immediately think they were mice, or maybe large spiders. I would then probably scream and run away. Yep, I probably would.
Enceledus and Jupiter’s moon, Europa, are the two objects that scientists think are the best candidates in our little solar system (other than Earth) to have some form of life.