Gah I love bats!! I’ve always loved bats, and while I knew that UCLA had some, I never imagined I’d have the amazing experience with them that I did today.
I planned to get to UCLA at 9am, because the doctor I’ll be working with (let’s just call him Dr. Bulldog – and that’s NOT because he looks like one, lol) was going to join the IACUC team on some of their inspections and wanted me to join him. It’s an important part of being a lab animal vet and it also would allow me to see some of the animal rooms and facilities. But when I arrived, his 7:30-8:30 meeting ran late and we missed the IACUC team. So I went with him in search of them. But with so many animal facilities and with them so spread out, we couldn’t find them. Along the way we stopped by the zebrafish core facility. It was truly amazing. Everything was state of the art – the filtering systems, the water circulation system, the brine shrimp tanks (what zebrafish eat); everything was remarkable. And it’s great to see that fish are treated with just as much respect as non-human primates, as well as everything in between. That’s one thing most people don’t think about with research – the animals are looked after with such great care and respect – all animals. Even if no one really cared about the animals (which is obviously not the case – the animal health technicians (RVTs) care for them as any RVT in any animal hospital cares about their patients), they would be humanely cared for because any stress/pain/discomfort/etc. could drastically negatively effect research and results. Okay, off my soapbox for now, haha.
Anyway, along the way while looking for the IACUC team we heard that they would be stopping by the bat room at 10am. Since we couldn’t find them, we went to wait with the “bat guy.” This guy is ridiculous; he’s just so brilliant. He knows absolutely everything there is to know about all bats, not just the species he works with (which are tiny little horseshoe bats)… after given Dr. Bulldog and I some green tea, he just talked to us about all different species of bats and their characteristics, anatomy, and physiology. I was blown away and fascinated the entire time he was talking. I learned so much in those 20 minutes!
So then the IACUC team comes for their inspection, and they talked to him all about his research and animal welfare issues, which was all really interesting. But then it was time to visit the bats!! So we all went and entered the room, and there’s a wire mesh window between us and where the bats live. Again, the facilities were incredible. Because bats use echolocation, the environment needs to be stimulating for them. An empty room with four plain white walls would be extremely boring for them, and probably confusing because everything would “sound” the same. So the walls are covered with different size and shape pieces of wood, arranged randomly over the entire two rooms. There are also wires overhead, and tons of different plants that have wire hooks attached that are moved around weekly, to keep them enriched. And then bats need caves… so large, black, thick pieces of plastic hang down from a corner in each room, with just enough room at the bottom for the bats to fly up into the “cave” and perching surfaces inside. This guys obviously cares about his bats and giving them the most authentic environment possible. So watching for a bat from the window was great and all, but then he asked who wanted to actually go into the rooms. Um… me!
We went into the rooms, and the bat guy roused a few bats from the cave and they started flying around. Dipping in and out, all around my head. I knew they wouldn’t hit me because they were echolocating the entire time (as evidenced by the Doppler instrument going absolutely nuts), so I just stood still and let them fly around me. I can’t really explain why, but I’ve always loved bats and having them fly all around me was amazing. After hanging out in the room for a bit, we went back out. Then the IACUC team needed to get going, but the bat guy said that if I wanted, he’d stay and catch a bat to give me an up close view. Okay! So he went back in and caught this tiny, cute little bat. They are such amazing little creatures. I got to really get a good look at their anatomy, which is unlike any other animal out there. I got to touch it’s fur (WAY softer than anything you can imagine, seriously; like a chinchilla), feel it’s wings (3 cell layers thick!!), and then hold him (in a towel, of course) and move him around to feel the entire body vibration caused by him echolocating. Super effing cool.
This is getting super long, and I’m super tired, so the rest of my day will be summed up in a few sentences (I’ll try anyway, brevity is not my strong point, obviously!) I did some of the online UCLA online training modules (necessary for me to be involved in certain things) over lunch, then read up on mice some more from that enormous book I referenced in my last post, and then went and observed while Dr. Bulldog sat down with some investigators and scored some renal histology slides from mice involved in a lupus study.
Okay, off to hang with the hubby a bit and then off to bed! Dr. Bulldog is out of town for the rest of the week and I don’t really know what I’ll be doing. All I know is to report to the clinical lab technicians, and hopefully they can find something for me to do!