Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ants, Bugs, and Girls That Go AHHHHH

June 25, 2013
It’s a rainy day! I’m supposed to sad because that means we can’t go out and find some more ants today but I’m not because that mean we don’t have to hike! My poor legs are killing me. So today is a map drawing, field notebook organizing, and possibly ant caste drawing for my STAR poster day. And stretching. Lots of stretching. 
This morning looked like this day would be our typical wet season day so we should have seen this coming, but we had a coffee and tea meet and greet kind of thing at some of the residences house. It started at 9:30 and we didn’t leave until 1:30. Needless to say, we spent a long time enthralled in stimulating conversations and good little snacks which were a mix between cinnamon rolls and hard bread. Everyone was very amenable and we shared tons of stories including our “The Scorpion Debacle.”
Here’s how that went:
I had asked Kaitlin for an extra mattress pad that we found in her room. Upon moving said mattress, Kaitlin exclaims that there was a little scorpion hiding behind. Kaitlin being the cute bug person that she is, is all like “Aww. Look at the cute little guy.” We all get up to go see it and ending up crowded in her doorway. Then this very odd series of events unfolds. Someone behind me starts backing up, then someone else kinda jumps around causing the other person to run into the other room. I, being the not bug person that I am, make the conclusion that the scorpion has gone into invisible mode and is now running full speed at me, stinger ready. The obviously calm and appropriate response was to do a flying leap into the air and on to a chair. My actually rather graceful flight was accompanied by the piercing screams of terror produced by Tessa, Siobhan, and myself. Meanwhile, Kaitlin and the scorpion, who was as it tuns out not in invisible attack mode, just sat there chilling. It was a very good demonstration of mass hysteria.

We did get one good hike in this morning to go check on a new colony by the house Professor Sean had found yesterday.  Unfortunately, the little buggers emigrated last night after we had checked on them. Ensue a nice little romp through the forest following the rough compass bearing that the colony had raided in the previous day. (Army ants tend to emigrate in the same direction they raided in the day before.) After trailing a tiny trickle of a column of ants, we eventually found this puny excuse of a bivouac that we assume its the new one.
(I’m just now realizing I haven’t adequately described army ants for you all. Here’s what I know: Eciton bruchellii are rather large ants (by our standards) with black bodies. The heads range in color from black of a worker , pinky of a porter, and white of a solider. These ants are carnivorous so to go get food they raid, basically they spread out from the bivouac and kill any bugs in their path, some several hundreds times their size. There they promptly rip it apart and drag it back to their bivouac which is where the porters, the heavy lifters, come in. The ants keep a direct link to the nest via columns, basically a highway of ants extending from the raiding front to the bivouac. They don’t really kill humans, to be honest I haven’t asked if anyone has been killed, but their bite and sting hurts like a not nice word I’m sure Drexel doesn’t want me to put on this blog. A cool feature of army ants: they can build bridges with their bodies over gaps. It’s no wonder they use them as nightmare bugs in Indiana Jones.)

It’s funny, I frequently lose my way while hiking (with other people thankfully) because I am so fixed on looking at the ground for ants that I forget to look up. I miss so much. I wonder if that’s how we should feel back in the states when we are so fixated on our cell phones. 

Other humorous stories:
Tessa’s piercing shrieks echo in the house as she frantically tries to unlock the decidedly stubborn bathroom door. The rest of us thinking that she was surprised post shower by another scorpion, await her escape, which she eventually manages to do. 
“There is a giant mouse in the towels!” (I don’t get it, everything is super-sized here.) Surely enough a rodent of unusual size scampers out after her. (Not the size of the ROUSes in the movie, though they do have a less ugly more cuddly version of those here called Agoutis.) The response it illicited from most of us was “Aww” or “Hey, that’s a species you only find here.” Tessa and I acknowledge those from the safety of the kitchen chairs. 
Speaking of Tessa and me, clearly not bug people, we found a roach in our room. (We have to accept that we are not the only living things sheltered in this house but it was just one step too far with the crawling over our stuff.) Tessa wielding a bottle of sunscreen, rather than the more practical shoe right next to it, attempts to smoosh the intruder. The odd thing about cockroaches is that they have a really hard smooth rounded back. So when Tessa attempted to smoosh it, what she succeeded in doing what propelling said roach at breakneck speed right towards herself. Ensue much more screaming. I’m sure chair would have been jumped on had they been accessible. 
For the record the word for cockroach is “la cucaracah” not to be confused with “la cuchara” which means spoon. Yea... my suggestion is to not mix those up. 

June 26, 2013
So I tried to get up to go running this morning. I actually got around to setting my alarm. But when I woke up at 5, I realized I didn’t set out my stuff the night before. Fearing that I would wake Tessa, I turned of my alarm. That totally wasn’t an excuse or anything. 

June 27, 2013
Rainy day today. I’m not quite sure what that will entail yet though. 
Yesterday we tromped around the Stouckie Farm to check on the two bivouacs. Of course we had to stop at the epic view along the way.
 Our one good one is staying put for the time being which is very good for data. The other one had moved. However, when trying to climb a strangler fig, Professor O’Donnell discovered a raid column crossing the trail further up. After following the column we discovered a colony nesting in a tree ten feet up! I managed to get stung on this expedition. Not a pleasant feeling let me tell you. It stings long after the actual attack. The ants were everywhere, thank god they can’t fly. (Strangler figs by the way are these really cool tree/vine/plant things. They start out as epiphytes growing on a branch. Then they send down roots which reach the ground eventually. Once it does, it’s growth accelerates and the vines suddenly decide to not be roots anymore but trees. So the tree-like vines wrap around the host tree and quite literally strangle the tree by cutting off the water flow of the vascular tissue. The host dies and decay away leaving a mostly hollow, really charismatic tree. Very good for climbing.)

The afternoon was filled with guess what, more hiking! These trails have been named the “behind the institute” trails. (They do have a better name but for the life of us we cannot remember it.) Sadly no army ants were to be found of this particular portion of the mountain side. However, there was a stream that ran through one of the small valleys. We haven’t really seen a lot of running water since most of it is in the valleys. We can hear rivers sometimes if we are by a cliff edge but that’s about it. Anyway, the point is that this was a new thing for us. We sent a good amount of time playing around in the water and standing in water up to the top of our field boots, also known as wellies! Best investment ever made.

Afterwards, Professor treated us to ice cream at the creamy situated at the entrance to the trails. Mmmmm. Savoring out delicious and quickly melting treats, we continued on to “the magic path,” unfortunately not having to do with unicorns or fairy god mothers. However, to bug people like Professor Sean and Kaitlin, whom I am convinced was born with a stick insect in her hand, this hike offered something that is rarely ever seen. The colony here was reproducing and preparing for a split. Basically, the colony grows, splits down the middle, and the two halves march in almost polar opposite directions of each other, never to come in contact again. We walked in right in the middle of this.

After a not a long feeling day of hiking (I think my legs are getting used to it), we made a quick pit stop at La Colina Lodge where Sara and Mica are staying. We found Mica relaxing in a hammock reading with a cat purring on his lap. We sat down with him, resting our tired, but not thoroughly exhausted, legs. Tessa indulged in her fascination of birds here and asked Professor Sean to whom each call belonged to. This is how one of their conversations went:
*bird sound*
“Sean, what’s that one?”
“That is the Clay Colored Robin. You know, they say that Clay Robins sing when it’s going to rain” And then the heavens opened and it poured. It was a little creepy actually. 
Yesterday was also the first time that Tessa and I went off on our own to bivouac check. It was only the two here, on the Rockwell Farm, but we had a hard enough time with that. It was getting dark which meant that it was already dark under the canopy. So trying to find bivouacs that only one of us had every seen before was interesting. Thankfully both had stayed put so there was no need to go further traipsing around the forest in search. 

It being a rain day today, we are doing a lot of the indoor stuff like thermotolerances of individuals. This basically means we are heating individual ants until they die and find out what temperature their death occurs at. (It’s a bit sick when you think about it.) This way we can compare individuals to the bivouacs data. (Or so I’m told.) The test requires that we go get live specimens so Kaitlin and I went out to the bivouac closest to go retrieve some. After getting lost a couple of times despite the flagging tape, and nearly stepping on a pair of mating snakes, we eventually found the bivouac which was HUGE! It had grown to the point that it had swallowed the control iButton which was 15 cm away from the bivouac when we first put in the iButtons.

I guess this would be a good time to also mention that there is a butterfly migration going through Monteverde. I’ve never seen so may butterflies in my life.

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