Learning the Ropes

Hi all! This is Annie Fagan ’15 coming at you live from the dry forest of Costa Rica. Here’s a quick update on our way out of Palo Verde National Park this morning. (Next stop, Santa Rosa!) 

Costa Rica is a small country, but it has ~4% of the world’s biodiversity, and that became obvious within the first 24 hours. In the last week I’ve seen coatis (kind of like raccoons), actual raccoons, geckos, deer, herons, whistling ducks, crocodiles (6-7 feet long!!!), peccaries, ctenosaurs (huge lizards that can run on 2 feet if you make them move fast enough), howler & capuchin monkeys, scarlet macaws, snakes, king vultures, fire ants, scorpion spiders (the love children of scorpions & spiders, if that wasn’t clear from the name), and so much more. It’s mind-boggling what you can find around here when you’re not even trying. One night, we saw a coral snake (super poisonous, thank goodness we didn’t step on it) and a tarantula bigger than the palm of my hand. We’re definitely not in Hanover anymore.

Now to the projects! They are real fun. So fun that it’s hard to believe we’re getting credit for doing them. Apparently the only difference between playing around in nature and science is writing down your results. My favorite project from the last week involved tracking monkey troops – a logistical nightmare. My group had to get up at 5:30 every morning to find them, as they are most active before it gets hot, and we had nothing to go on but a) hearing their calls or b) coincidentally sighting them in trees. There was a lot of bushwhacking required, and I think we probably all hiked ~15 miles in two days. But the rewards made all the hard work so, so worth it. Sometimes the monkeys came so close to us that I forgot to breathe. We saw lots of howlers, lots of capuchins, baby monkeys, female/male monkeys… and lots of interesting primate behaviors. One howler male got really aggressive towards us and started howling, pooping on us and dropping branches on our heads. It was AWESOME. Howler monkeys can poop on me any day as long as I get my data. 

As for the scorpion experiment, well, that was crazy. A few nights ago I found a baby scorpion in my room (about the size of my thumbnail) and had to get Lars, another FSPer, to kill it with his hunting knife because I was so nervous. 24 hours later, I was helping my teammates to design a study that would require us to go out into the park at night and catch 3″ scorpions. (If any of you can follow my logic there, please let me know.) Before we left, we consulted with Park Ranger Sergio, and he told us that these scorpions are poisonous but wouldn’t land us in the hospital if we were stung. Instead it would just hurt a lot, and we might feel dizzy and nauseous for a couple hours. I think he was trying to be reassuring. He then gave us 1 piece of advice for reaching down to pick up a scorpion: “Don’t miss”. With this in mind we set out into the night, and ended up finding & capturing about 15 scorpions over 2 nights. Then we proceeded to do science, which in this case consisted of us constructing forts in the library (to simulate darkness since scorpions are nocturnal) and feeding crickets and grasshoppers to our scorpion prisoners. The trials were simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying and inspired lots of would-you-rather questions about scorpions (would you rather fight a cat-sized scorpion or 200 regular-sized ones?).

Scorpion update: After 2 days of safely capturing and handling finger-sized, very angry, scuttling, fast-moving scorpions, my friend Amelia reached into her backpack and got stung by a scorpion hiding at the bottom of it. The irony was so great that she laughed through her tears. Sergio’s response? “Welcome to the tropics!”

Stay tuned to hear more about our adventures over the next 9 weeks!

Over and out.



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