IN THE FIELD

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Science  11 Jul 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5886, pp. 183
DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5886.183c

BATTING BUGS. Katharina Dittmar de la Cruz spent half of her evenings last month atop farmhouses and barns trying to figure out what's killing hundreds of thousands of bats in the northeastern United States. The evolutionary biologist at the University of Buffalo in New York state doesn't have an answer yet, but she's convinced that the flying mammals get a bum rap.

De la Cruz is trying to track down the cause of white-nose syndrome, a mysterious disease discovered last year that weakens a bat's immune system. She suspects that bat flies and other blood-sucking parasites may be carriers of the disease, and she plans to study their DNA to better understand how that transmission might occur. But the only way that she and undergraduate Doug Brummell could obtain enough samples was to perch on rooftops and pluck the insects off their hosts.

An avid caver with a fascination for organisms that lurk in dark corners, de la Cruz says bats' reputation as spooky beasts is misplaced. “I have been swarmed a few times, but they are more scared of me than I am of them.”

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