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Posts Tagged ‘bats’

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Photo: Sasha Gusov/Alamy
Boris Giltburg … and a composite image showing his fiercest critics.

Becoming a professional musician requires dedication no matter what the situation, and you have to admire the perseverance of all musicians. But sometimes the dedication is so completely over-the-top it deserves an Olympic medal.

Pianist Boris Giltburg survived to tell his own story at the Guardian.

“There I was in a verdant valley, playing an open-air concert to 2,000 people, with snow-capped mountains rising off in the distance behind the stage. …

“As night fell, the brightly lit piano became a shining beacon in the surrounding blackness. It also became, I now realise, an immensely attractive object to various heat- and light-loving creatures. Shortly after the opening of Chopin’s Ballade No 1, a thin black insect landed on the keyboard. Before long, it was joined by another, then a few more, and by the time I got to the whirlwind of passages in the coda, I was fighting a mounting panic – as there were insects everywhere. …

“In the interval, the promoters sprayed me all over with insect repellant. It made me very sticky – and it seemed to matter not a bit to the crawlies occupying the keyboard. If anything, they seemed to actually be attracted to it, with several now landing on my ears and a few others exploring the nape of my neck. …

And then there are all my encounters with bats.

“Bats like to live in theatres, particularly in old Italian-style ones that provide them with comfortable rafters above the stage, and plenty of flying space in the darkness above. I discovered this fact during a rehearsal in one such theatre, when loud, neurotic squeaks erupted above me as I started playing. ‘Ah, the bats!’ the promoters said with smiles, in reply to my slightly concerned questions. ‘They’ve lived here since always. Don’t worry – you can’t hear them from the hall.’ …

“It turned out that having had the theatre as their residence for ages, the bats had become very cultured – and also very opinionated. They liked the Rachmaninov preludes well enough and listened politely. The darkening mood of Prokofiev’s 8th sonata, however, put them into a state of nervous agitation. They clearly didn’t like my take on it and I heard them fluttering above me, conversing in worried squeaks.

“Then came Ravel’s La Valse, darker still. That turned out to be too much. At first there was ominous silence from above but then in the coda, as the demise of the Old World inescapably approached in rising waves, first one and then many black-brown signs of the bats’ displeasure rained down on to the stage.

“[It] fell from above on my hands and the very brightly lit keyboard. The first made me jump – literally — and I pulled my hands off the keys for a split second. I then managed to go on, all the while noticing in growing discomfort and disbelief the continued delivery of the bats’ verdict on my performance. I think that was the bat equivalent of zero stars.

“After the concert, I was livid with indignation and shock. I expected the same sort of reaction from the promoters, but they took a much more pragmatic and good-natured view of the situation. Bats lived in theatres, they said, and that was that. Apparently they saw the discharge from their vantage point in the hall and thought it quite funny.

“They also told me of a previous attempt to curtail the bats’ activity (and population) with the help of an owl – but the owl proved to be just as, well, opinionated as the bats. It had nothing against Ravel, but seemed to show a particular dislike of the cello, which it let be known in no uncertain terms. After two cellos and their adjoining players had to be wiped clean, the owl was dismissed, and the bats had free rein to continue their musical education.

“I go back to that theatre almost every year. The audience is wonderfully enthusiastic, the acoustics clear and carrying, and the promoters’ hospitality among the warmest I’ve ever experienced. But I still haven’t been able to win over the bats. During my last visit, they pooh-poohed the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto.”

More here.

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I’m hearing more and more these days about “good bacteria,” including in a song by singer-composer Will McMillan on the friendly bacteria we humans carry around.

Now, it seems, bacteria found in soil may help to save amphibians from dangerous fungal epidemics. Public Radio International’s environmental news program, Living on Earth, has the story.

“Around the world, fungal diseases have been killing millions of frogs and bats and snakes. And a newly emerging disease in salamanders in Europe is scaring biologists here, so the US Fish and Wildlife Service has introduced a ban on their import to try to protect amphibians in the US.

“But now scientists see some hope in soil bacteria that get onto the salamanders and frogs and apparently protect them. Doug Woodhams is an assistant professor of biology at UMass Boston, who’s been working with amphibians in Panama – and he explained what his team has found to Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer.

“WOODHAMS: Some of the amphibians have beneficial bacteria that live on their skin and these have antifungal properties.

“PALMER: This is kind of like having good bacteria in your gut, for instance, that stop you from getting sick. … Is there any evidence that  good bacteria actually work against devastating funguses?

“WOODHAMS: Yeah, there’s quite a bit of evidence. Many of the bacteria that we can culture from some amphibian species are able to inhibit the fungus in culture. We also have some population-level data that shows populations that tend to have these antifungal bacteria can persist with Bd in the environment and survive. …

“Bd is the chytrid fungus that’s been spreading around the world and devastating amphibian populations. So salamanders, frogs, toads. Populations that tend to have more of these beneficial bacteria seem to be surviving, and populations that don’t have as many of the individuals that have these bacteria seem to disappear. …

“The next thing we want to try is adding some of these bacteria, not just to petri dishes, but to soil and see if infected amphibians can be cleared of their infection by being housed on soil that’s been inoculated with these bacteria. …

“There are other fungal pathogens, so it could be something that you could apply in a cave that could reduce White-nosed syndrome [in bats]. Also, rattlesnakes have been recently affected by fungal disease during hibernation, so it could be applied into a rattlesnake den.”

More on the science here.

Photo: Matt Becker
The Appalachian Mountains are home to this Cow Knob Salamander, Plethodon punctatus, from George Washington National Forest, Virginia.

 

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