Thursday, June 3, 2010

Field Work Journal (Part 1)

Part 1 --- 6/1~3

I was so busy figuring out experimental protocols and data analysis during the first week of my stay. Every night I barely had energy to brush my teeth, not to mentioned writing in my journal book. My advisor left yesterday so I’m literally on my own now. But I think I am in good hands. The dormitory house keeper Lily helped me with my laundry on Sunday even though I didn’t have any soap. When I came back in 40min, she was already folding my clean dried clothes in the laundry room. The cook Aida came up with some food for me tonight when I worked overtime and forgot about the dinner time. Somehow I think they could empathize this poor young Asian kid who doesn’t even know how to say “por favor”. Of course, Dan and Winnie continued to bring me interesting caterpillars when they encounter them. What more could I wish for in the care of these people.
All the inching caterpillars I worked with so far tend to be very active. Some of them moved with impressive speed (up to ~4cm/s). In addition, they can also perform various acrobatic moves especially in the situation of disturbance. This Anomis I picked up today demonstrated one of the most memorable moves in front of my camera. It simply “disappeared” when I poked it on the rear back. 300fps high speed video showed exactly what it did. The caterpillar first span some silk around the thoracic legs, then it flip its whole body sideway with extremely high speed. The prolegs release was nicely coordinated to let go of the momentum it built up. The result was a ballistic lateral jump. The caterpillar landed on another leaf below the substrate I provided. It then used the silk line to climb back to the exact same spot where it jumped off. I simply couldn’t say a word but marvel such innate skill.

I took today off for a hike with my new friends, mainly to explore the conservation area and also to get some exercises. The focus of field collection was never about walking, and I found myself so out of shape. Nevertheless, I carried my big CASIO EXLIM camera in case my SONY Cybershot can’t do some animals justice. Field exploration is very much part of the field work. You never know what you would find by wondering about without a particular search criterion in mind. We started out right after breakfast at 7:30am and headed straight down to the valley. It was a pretty damaging road for most cars, but an easy one for hikers.
I met more butterflies than caterpillars on my way down to the coast line. They all cluster under the sun sucking liquid on the mud or some rocks. Wing flaps by wing flaps just like having group meetings. The blazing sun started to steam up the water from yesterday’s rain. Each water puddle contained thousands of tadpoles and supported tens of water surface insects. I found another beetle larva moving upside down by peristaltic on the rocky ground. I wonder why they still keep their thoracic legs if they don’t even use it for locomotion. At the bottom of the valley we crossed two rivers. We met a gang of monkeys after we waded across the second one. My friend was somewhat aggressive on photo shooting, that the monkeys decided to protest. Several of them started breaking branches to drop on top of us, and many more gather over. We left soon after these demonstrations. Sometimes, communication can be so effective. We were caught in the pouring rain when we reached the beach. It didn’t bother us much since we were all soaking wet in sweat anyways. Sweat, rain, and Pacific Ocean all mixed together as we headed back to the research station.

Today I had to move out of my room to stay with other researchers. It was a bit of a hassle, but I don't mind joining the party. Having a room with four double bunkers for myself is too luxurious out in the forest. It was always an adventure to interact with the ACG staffs, because I pretty much don't speak Spanish and many of them don't speak English. In any case, we all managed to came to the same conclusion on our subject whatever it was. Still, I wish I spoke Spanish. I’m missing so much.
My caterpillars in the barn are doing pretty well now. But I need to finish up filming these caterpillars before I can get more. I can never predict when I will lose them to stress, parasite, or pupation. The inchworm Sphacelodes I picked up before breakfast was the largest geo I’ve even seen. It’s about 3.5 cm long and weighed 0.146g. However, it had every bit of athleticism of Geometridae. Most geo’s preferred to inch on top of the branches if possible, but this one had much stronger preference. When I turned it upside down on my dowel, it started to have trouble pulling the body in. After a few steps it just spiraled around to the top of the dowel again. Well, counter-levering a hydrostatic body up to 3.5cm long does become pretty difficult with only ~0.5cm leverage.

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