Wednesday, November 23, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (11/23/22): How to read other scripts and languages?

 I'm never one to turn down an SRS opportunity... 

As you can imagine, in the back pocket of my mind I've got 4 or 5 SearchResearch Challenges queued up and ready to go, questing ever onward bringing you the tidbits of knowledge we all need in our searching lives. 

But every so often, a chance comment tilts the universe in a slightly different direction by pointing out an opportunity for a new SRS topic.  

In a comment this week, Mathlady wrote that "I also encountered the problem of needing to translate signage in an unfamiliar language using an alphabet unknown to me. So I started wondering how to use Google Translate with a different alphabet..."  

Excellent question. 

This is a great chance to talk about how to do exactly that--read in writing systems (what the pros call "orthographies") that you don't recognize.  In some cases (such as Arabic), I can't even recognize the letter boundaries.  

Thanks, Mathlady, for the chance to pose a couple of interesting and potentially tricky Challenges: 

1.  For each of these images below: What is the language?  What is the translation of the text?  





As always, be sure to tell us how you did the translation.  (Did you find a friend? Or did you use an app to do this for you?)  And, as Mathlady points out, how did you enter the text to do your search???  

I'll tell you how I did this next week--but in the meantime, have a great American Thanksgiving!    روز شکرگزاری  or  ਧੰਨਵਾਦੀ   or  Þakkargjörð... or... fill in your own orthography here! 

Search on! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

More surprising insights about bat predation

 I ended last week's post with this... 

Once you know that other animals capture and eat bats, you can do a more direct search for them (e.g., [ spider eats bat ]) and get even more articles to expand your range of bat-dining predators, including one article from LiveScience telling us that bat-eating spiders are everywhere!   

So bat predators include hawks, falcons, owls, alligators, weasels, mink, snakes, fish, spiders, and centipedes!  Who knew?

I can't leave well enough alone.  

Over the weekend I was doing Just one more search, and found a remarkable paper, this one by Peter Mikula, Fish and amphibians as bat predators, European Journal of Ecology 1.1 (2015): 71-80.  Now this is a paper I highly recommend.  Here's a sample quote from the abstract: least 14 species of fishes and 14 species of frogs were observed as feeding on bats. Moreover, 7 and 16 species of bats were recorded as victims of hunting activity of fishes and frogs, respectively.... In some cases, these predators can regularly feed on bats, especially when hunting near roosting places of bats; however, with respect to number of recorded cases (21 for fishes and 37 for amphibians), bat predation .. [has]..  limited influence on bat populations or their behaviour.

We'd learned last week that fish eat bats, but I had no idea that frogs could snag bats on the wing, but apparently that happens enough to be captured multiple times.  Check this out:  Australian green tree frog eating a Bent-winged bat; another Green tree frog eating a bat; and another Green tree frog consuming a bat.  Finally, a cane toad eating a bat somewhere in Peru's Cerros de Amotape national park

I also learned more about bat-eating fishes. Not too surprising, most bat-eaters are freshwater fish, mostly because bats tend to favor insects that fly low over fresh or brackish water.  It is noteworthy to say that not all cases of bat predation were completely accidental; some  catfish were seen systematically waiting under maternal colonies of Buffy Flower bats (Erophylla sezekorni) for falling bats near the entrances of caves in the Bahamas.  Biologist have also seen some frogs hanging around  cave entrances in Australia, waiting for bats knocked to the ground by collision when emerging. However, even in these cases where fishes and frogs catch bats relatively often, they usually prey upon only a few bat, mainly bats knocked from the sky.

It's hard to catch a flying bat, although it does happen.  This is especially true if it's in your house at night, or even if you're a very patient frog or fish.  

Search on!  

Friday, November 18, 2022

Answer: Questions about bats--How many? Why do they hang upside down?

 Bats are mysterious...  

Greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis) P/C C. Robillier, from Wikimedia.

... creatures of the night, and you have to admit they have a real PR problem--vampires, high-pitched squeaky noises, their long association with dead things.    

But they are fascinating, and these questions drove a lot of comments this week. Thanks for all the things you found and for sharing with the SRS community.  (Who knew?  South American bats that hibernate in snow banks? Amazing.)    

This week's Challenge is another in our end of year series of Challenges that are not-too-hard-but-fun.  

I've been curious about bats for a while and have always wondered a couple of things.  Can we find the answers to these curious questions?  

Here's what we asked and what we learned... 

1. Why do bats hang upside down when they sleep?  (It seems like a terrible idea to hang by your feet, so what drove them to adopt this unique sleeping posture?)

Fruit bat in tree in typical roosting posture.  P/C

One of the biggest changes to Google in the past few years has been the ability to handle questions in a natural language form.  As longtime SRS readers will recall, once upon a time, you had to really think long and hard about what the exact search terms should be in order to elicit just the right response.  Now, more often than not, you can just ask the question.  

Knowing this, my first query was: 

     [ why does a bat hang upside down ] 

That gives me some pretty decent results including a post at La Trobe University (Australia), and another at Mental Floss (a rewrite of a Quora post) telling us that it's simpler for a bat to start flying if it drops down from its heads-down roost and gets a bit of velocity just by letting go.  This post also points to a longer, evolutionary story about why bats got to be that way.  If you want the original reference, see: Fossil Evidence and the Origin of Bats  in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution, Vol. 12, Nos. 1/2, June 2005. This paper points out that bats were originally gliding mammals (much like flying squirrels) that would hang from the underside of branches.  You can see how that might easily turn into an overnight sleeping posture.  And once you're sleeping upside down, the falling into the air trick is easy to evolve.  

The original post also mentions some bats that sleep head-up, usually in leaves, where they have evolved octopus-like suckers on their feet to hold onto the leaves.  And these bats typically sleep in a heads-up pose.  So how do they get launched?  They slide out of their leafy tube-houses and then fall to earth.

So, why do they sleep like that? Because it's simpler to become airborne!  

2. I'm not really a bat-ologist (that is, a chiropterologist), but I've seen many different kinds of bat in my travels and that makes me wonder: Just how many different kinds of bat species are there?  

Let's try that same approach (asking the obvious question): 

     [ how many different kinds of bat species are there

which gives a reasonably authoritative answer and a few good links. 

The large answer (1,400 species) comes from the (US Department of the Interior) site, which is pretty authoritative.  But... On the other hand, the text on that page is fairly informal  and click-baity enough to give you pause, ("13 Awesome Facts About Bats..They’ve been called creepy, scary and spooky, but bats are an important species"). You're right to be a little skeptical about it.  Note that all of the information on this page actually seems very accurate, but it's so informal that you'd want to double check it.  What happens when you do that? 

I opened up a bunch of other link in the top 10 results from my previous search, and found that they're all fairly similar.  I kept reading that the estimate of species is always "more than 1,400" or "around 1,200."  But I'd like to find a source with obvious credibility on the worldwide bat situation.  (I mean, I believe the Department of Interior, but they might not count all of the bat species worldwide.)  

So I re-did my query using more precise language: 

     [ species of Chiroptera ] 

in the hopes of finding more scholastic and accurate results.  Take a look at these results and check out where they're from: 

The first result is from the AnimalDiversityWeb (which claims there are 925 bat species), the next is the Wikipedia article on bats claims over 1,400 bat species, but without any citation, while the Wikipedia article "List of bats" claims "estimated 1,300 species."  Other hits include ScienceDirect (claims 986 bat species), BBC Science Focus ("more than 1,200), and the University of California Paleontology (UCMP) (claims "nearly 1,000 species").  That's a pretty big range of answers (from 925 - 1400)!  How do we get some consensus?  

Maybe we need some higher quality resources.  Looking in Google Scholar for 

     [ chiroptera ]

I find a few hits: 

Farina, Lisa L., and Julia S. Lankton. "Chiroptera." Pathology of Wildlife and Zoo Animals. Academic Press, 2018. 607-633.  (in the text:"over 1300 identified", however, oddly, the abstract says "over 1200"... someone needs a proofreader). 

Buckles, Elizabeth L. "Chiroptera (bats)" Fowler's Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine, Volume 8 (2015): 281. ("1240 species") 

And so on. When I did a search for: 

     [ list of bat species ] 

I found a book chapter which seems pretty definitive. Order Chiroptera, by Nancy Simmons, is in the book Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference 1 (2005): 312-529.  This text, which many refer to as the master list of mammals, has a long list of bats (1,242 to be precise). It is the standard reference work in mammalogy giving descriptions and bibliographic data for the known species of mammals

There's a small problem: It's from 2005.  And, as we know, species numbers change over time.  Some of these are new species discovered in the last decade, but many were previously considered to be subspecies of other taxa. Species merge and split as we change what we consider a species.  This isn't a sign of a problem, but rather an indication that we're learning more and more as time passes.  

So I'm willing to settle for "more than 1,200" species, but I need a bit more data to go with the unfounded assertion that there are 1,400 species, as Google proudly proclaims (having extracted that number from the Dept. of Interior's bat page, which points to the Bat Week web page, which doesn't say where they got that number).  Since that's unattributed, I feel better going with "more than 1,200" since I have a list of 1,242 bats by name!  

3. We know many bats eat bugs, and some bats drink blood (vampire bats), and some eat fruit (fruit bats)... but what eats bats?  Do they have any natural predators?  (Let's exclude humans for the purposes of this discussion. As we know, humans will eat just about anything.)  

For this I went with another question: 

     [ what eats bats ] 

which takes us back to the Dept. of Interior page.  That page in turn says "Bats have few natural predators — disease is one of the biggest threats. Owls, hawks and snakes eat bats, but that’s nothing compared to the millions of bats dying from white-nose syndrome."  That sadly true, but our Challenge is about direct predation--what other animals eat bats?  

Digging a little deeper into the SERP for this question and we'll that find minks, weasels and raccoons also eat bats.  As with the previous Challenge, the question query format is good for a kind of surface level understanding of the question, but not the details.  

How to dig deeper?  Answer: By using a bit more precise language.  What's a synonym for "something that eats another organism"?  How about predation or predator?  

Rephrase my query as: 

     [ bats predator ] 

which quickly led me to an article titled Do predators influence the behaviour of bats?  Lima, Steven L., and Joy M. O'Keefe.  Biological Reviews 88.3 (2013): 626-644. (Unfortunately behind a paywall, but I was able to see it with my university login.)  

In this article I learned that bats are eaten by all the creatures we saw above, but ALSO eaten by bat hawks (Macheiramphus alcinus) of the Old World tropics, and bat falcons (Falco rufigularis) of the New World tropics.  Alligators also sometimes snatch bats from the air, and I also learned that "trawling bats" (that is, bats that fly very close to the water in search of stranded insects) are often captured by large fish and frogs!  

Curious about this (a fish catching a bat?), I searched for a video with [ fish catching bat ] and found this one from NatGeo that shows both a bat catching a fish, and a fish catching a bat!  

This made me wonder what other kinds of "X eats Y" kinds of bat-eating behaviors we could find.  So my next query was: 
     [ "* eats bat" ] 

where the asterisk (*) can stand in for one or a few words that precede eats bat.  

After I ran this query I learn that bats are also captured an consumed by spiders (Texas banana spider captures a bat in its web and eats it), centipedes (David Attenborough shows a Peruvian giant yellow-leg cave-dwelling centipede capturing and devouring a bat).  And of course, cats and dogs (and humans!) capture and eat bats, although they're not major predators.  

Once you know that other animals capture bats, you can do a more direct search for them (e.g., [ spider eats bat ]) and get even more articles to expand your range of bat-dining predators, including one article from LiveScience telling us that bat-eating spiders are everywhere!   

So bat predators include hawks, falcons, owls, alligators, weasels, mink, snakes, fish, spiders, and centipedes!  Who knew?  

SearchResearch Lessons 

So many things to point out this week.  

1. Even simple questions might need careful clarification.  You'd think "how many species of bats are there" would be pretty straightforward.  But as we found out, the number varies by when you check your sources. Believe it or not, biologists are still finding new bat species and re-organizing the old ones.  Species split ("oh look!  we DNA-sequenced these bats and find that they're NOT the same!"), species merge ("oh look!  these two bats that look different are really the same!").  My general advice:  Look for a master list of species and count THAT.  Biologists love to make taxonomic lists of things, and that's probably the best resource for such a question.  Just realize the answer might change over time. 

2. If you have a specific term (Chiroptera), use it.  Your searches will be much more focused than simply using a word like "bat." One doesn't use specific language to sound academic or smart, but simply because it's more precise, meaning you won't have to look around through low-quality results.  

3. Remember the fill-in-the-blank ( * ) operator It's a great way to expand your searches and find additional items you seek.   

Search on!  

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (11/9/22): Questions about bats--How many? Why do they hang upside down?

A small bat flittered by me... 

Greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis) P/C C. Robillier, from Wikimedia.

... early one summer evening a few weeks ago, flashing in a hinky-jinky flight path across the blueing sky.  Bats have always been creatures of wonder and mystery so they're a natural fit for this week's SRS Challenge.  

I didn't get a decent image of the bat I saw (or more properly--barely perceived, it was so fast and dark).  I'm 99% sure it was a Little Brown Bat (Myotis, spp.), but, as usual, that got me to thinking about bats... 

This week's Challenge is another in our end of year series of Challenges that are not-too-hard-but-fun.  I've been curious about bats for a while and have always wondered a couple of things.  Can you find the answers to these curious questions?  

1. Why do bats hang upside down when they sleep?  (It seems like a terrible idea to hang by your feet, so what drove them to adopt this unique sleeping posture?)

Fruit bat in tree in typical roosting posture.  P/C

2. I'm not really a bat-ologist (that is, a chiropterologist), but I've seen many different kinds of bat in my travels and that makes me wonder: Just how many different kinds of bat species are there?  

3. We know many bats eat bugs, and some bats drink blood (vampire bats), and some eat fruit (fruit bats)... but what eats bats?  Do they have any natural predators?  (Let's exclude humans for the purposes of this discussion. As we know, humans will eat just about anything.)  

As usual, please let us know what you've discovered and HOW you found the answer to this week's Challenge.  

(And yes, I know, I'm a week after Halloween. Things take time.)  

Search on!  

Friday, November 4, 2022

Answer: A missing building in the park?

 This mysterious space in the park...  

What was once here? 

... is mysterious no more thanks to the remarkable SRS Regulars!  

To remind you of the Challenge for this week...  I was walking through a park in Berkeley (California) and happened upon an area at 37.885832, -122.261408 that was fairly blank.  That's a puzzle, because so much of the surrounding area was clearly built-up.  Since it was on an otherwise hilly area, it looked very much as if a building had been there at one time--but what?  There were a few pieces of flat concrete that looked suspiciously like former building foundations, and even more mysteriously, there's a flagpole on the western edge of the flat spot.  

In this case, the SRS Regulars came up with the answer... and more!  

So this week, I'm just going to merge their comments together and add a little twist of my own at the end.  

1. What was once at 37.885832, -122.261408?  Can you figure out the story given just that lat/long and a keen desire to figure out the past?  Was there a building there?  If so, who built it and why?

Many readers figured this out rapidly.  Remmij was first to post the answer--the blank spot is in the middle of Codornices Park, the site of a former clubhouse that was designed (and partly built) by the famous Californian architect, Bernard Maybeck.  Although Remmij didn't give the path to the answer, I suspect it was very much like what Arthur Weiss wrote: 

 "[eventually by looking at the map I found multiple hits]... However things didn't quite fit - I couldn't add everything up. Eventually I found that the park was called Codornices Park (or Creek) and that there was a clubhouse there that had now gone. But the Wikipedia article {about Codornices creek} on this didn't mention the fire. I then tried [ "Codornices Park" History]  Plus I looked at the map and the panorama images - that included the flag pole.

Eventually I found gold. I wanted to see if there was anything on the club house so searched for [ "Codornices Park" "club house" ] and this gave images. 

So I looked at the images and found { this picture of the clubhouse } with both a history and pictures of the club house and what happened to it - it continued to exist to the 1970s (so nothing to do with the fire). The site describes the building including the flagpole - which was built in 1916 by the Codornices Club." 

 Naomi chimed in with her search path: 

I went directly to the map to confirm the location, did a search for Codornices Park history, and after a few dead ends refined it to the slide history and came up with the link that gives the answer:

That's a good strategy, and it's what I did--look at the map first, then look around for nearby place names to focus your search.  In this case, the blank spot is clearly in Codornices Park, so I used that in all of my searches, and the concrete slide is really an unusual thing, so searching for that is sure to give good results as well.   

2. The architect that that building is also the architect of a few other pieces nearby.  Can you figure one that's closest to this spot?  

Regular Reader Krossbow found the clubhouse, but also noticed it was designed by the famed California architect (and Berkeley resident) Bernard Maybeck.  Krossbow writes: 

Finding the name Bernard Maybeck, I did a search for 

[list of bernard maybeck houses in berkeley]

First on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) was a list with addresses of his buildings from Noehill:Architects Bernard Maybeck (1862-1957)

Can I use Google Sheets to calculate the distance from Codornices Park? 

Search for:  [google sheets calculate distance between two addresses]

And learn that this is the Google Maps Formulas for Google Sheets.  

Using a copy of his sheet, I copied the data from Noehill. Then cleaned up the data to create this sheet.

Sheet of Maybeck buildings:  Bernard Maybeck buildings Distance from Codornices Park

From that I see that there are two that are within a quarter mile of the park.  The Rose Walk and the Senger House at 1321 Bay View Place.   

In a brilliant move, Arthur then took Krossbow's dataset and made a Google Map of all the Maybeck buildings in California.  (Here's that map with a few additions by me.)  

The blue pin in the middle of the green area marking off Codornices park is the location of the clubhouse.  In Arthur's sheet, you'll see that the distance is the same to both (0.2 miles).  Interestingly, I knew about the Rose Walk (which is really a stairway designed by Maybeck), but not about the Bay View Place house.  

SearchResearch Lessons 

1. Take a quick look around for relevant information.  In my case, I immediately went to Google Maps to find that the location was in Codornices Park, using that as a search term, it was fairly simple to find the clubhouse information.  Noticing that there's a concrete slide there as well gives you additional high quality search terms.  

2. Look one level deeper.  Once I found that Bernard Maybeck was the designer, it was straightforward to do an image search and find that photo of him actually sawing a board while working on the clubhouse in 1916.  Fascinating stuff!  

3.  Use Sheets to compute distances automatically.  Follow Krossbow's lead--Google Sheets can compute remarkable things, IF you know that it's possible.  Check out the formulas in each of the cells.  Nice job! 

4. MyMaps lets you visualize the spatial relationships.  With input from Krossbow's sheet, Arthur created a map of ALL the Maybeck buildings in California, which implicitly gives the answer to our Challenge.  

5. Get your spelling right!!  When I first started this challenge, I wasted about 2 hours looking for Cordonices Park (note the extra R in the name--and I note that Naomi had the same spelling problem as I did.. the string "codor" isn't a common one in English, but "cord" is VERY common.  The thing is, I found several articles with "Cordonices," so I thought everything was fine. Only after a while did I spot my error.  

Of course, it doesn't help that one of the original maps of the place ALSO has a spelling error in it: 

From USGS original map of Codornices creek, 1894 Note the spelling error.  

For what it's worth, this is a pretty poor map--trust me, Codornices creek looks nothing like this.  

6. Remember to check other resources.  A quick search in YouTube showed me this video of the park.  At 1:10 you can see the boy walk into the open space of the former clubhouse.  (And at 1:29 you can see how the concrete slide works.   

7. For historical content like this, be sure to check online newspapers.  I used my account at to look for [ "Codornices clubhouse" ] and found a large number of hits.  Here are a few of the more interesting hits... 

- 1915 - clubhouse built in 1914?  "At Codornices Park in northeast Berkeley... a clubhouse has been built." (Was this a predecessor to the Maybeck clubhouse?  It's possible.)  - Oakland Tribune, January 22, 1915, page 62

- 1949 - Maybeck's Codornices Park clubhouse used for fraternity parties  – Oakland Tribune, Feb 3, 1949, page 54 

- 1956 – “Berkeley condemns Codornices Clubhouse” Oakland Tribune, Dec 27, 1956, page 8 “is now doomed for demolition as a hazardous structure”  (earthquake hazard) 

- 1964 - “clubhouse distinguished by its large stone fireplace and designed by the world-renowned architect Bernard Maybeck, who once was a member of Codornices”  … “condemned as an earthquake hazard and will be torn down…”Oakland Tribune, March 24, 1964, page 26,     

- 1981 SF Examiner, 19 April 1981  “residents are united in their eagerness to have it [the clubhouse] rehabilitated.”  (Really?  See the next item.  A better reporter would have noticed that it wasn't there in 1981.)  

- 1982 - SF Examiner 23 May 1982 – p 132 “Codornices clubhouse, which was demolished in 1973”  

- 1987 - Codornices Clubhouse: Was made in 1916, then demolished in 1973 and “a flagpole and four stone benches mark the spot” where it was. A caretaker’s house was at the site until 1981, when it was destroyed in a fire.  SF Examiner, May 10, 1987, page 154

Interestingly, I haven't been able to find any news coverage of the clubhouse opening or its demolition--both the beginning and the ending seem to have been left out of the story.  

Search on!