Summer interns for the vampire bat project

Every season, two interns will be assisting the vampire bat food-sharing project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama. These are our two STRI-funded interns for Summer 2016.

Emily Dong is a major in the Biology and Society, and will be starting her third year at Cornell (my alma mater). Emily is always positive, excited, and enthusiastic. Ever curious, she seems to absorb information like a sponge. She is linking feeding interactions between vampire bats with grooming and food-sharing, and testing whether specific bats follow each other to feeders.

What are your interests?

Beyond scrolling through, my interests revolve around examining relationships, especially friendships that occur across animals, whether it be humans or vampires. I’m intrigued by cooperative bonds, the behaviors that enable (or disable) social bonds, and how specific bonds have become evolutionarily persistent. I also like stories! A lot! Storytelling, from historical narratives to dinner table conversations, is a powerful way to share information and create (or maintain) social order.

What do you hope to gain from working on the vampire bat project?

I’m excited to spend quality time with vampire bats and observe the colony to the point of knowing specific bats’ unique habits. Besides working closely with bats, I’m hoping to see first-hand what the research life entails. (And I’m stoked to hang out with Gerry and other cool bat people, so that I absorb all their knowledge and coolness). 

What are your plans for the future?

My future holds many social bonds and much reciprocity, but whether I’ll partake in them, study them, or both is still undecided!


Yelitza Garcia is entering her final year at Earlham College driven by a passion for science and research that she has fostered since childhood. As a first-generation college student, she became interested in science after entering a science fair at the age of eight. Yeli is highly-motivated to get research experience and she plans to study animal behavior, evolution or ecology. Armed with valuable combination of being highly-motivated and ambitious without a drop of overconfidence or selfishness. She is working on the sensory basis of roost-finding in vampire bats.

What are your interests?

Like most young, starry-eyed, field ecologists, I have a deep-set admiration for being outdoors and learning about the world around me. I am primarily interested in behavioral ecology and conservation biology, but love to learn and read about vertebrate evolution and bioethics in my spare time. Other than reading, I love spending time outdoors hiking, climbing, and birding, and cooking for my loved ones.

What do you hope to gain from working on the vampire bat project?

In addition to interacting on a daily basis with these adorable flying furballs, I hope to learn as much as I can from this project about research as a career, behavioral ecology, and tropical communities. This is the first opportunity I have to do research full-time, so I want to learn about and contribute to meaningful discussions about reciprocity, sensory ecology and more. I have never felt as grateful or lucky as I am now that I get to wake up every day to do research and discover more about animal behavior.

What are your plans for the future?

After graduating from Earlham College this coming spring, I hope to attend graduate school and work towards a masters, and hopefully a doctoral degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Through the rest of my education and after, I hope to continue research and conservation work in the tropics. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work on this project because this is the work I plan to dedicate my life to.

Figure 1. To test the effects of association, we began housing unfamiliar female humans Emily (left) and Yeli (right) together in close proximity within the same roost, and we have already observed cooperative behavior, including huddling and food sharing (shown above).


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