Thursday, September 17, 2015

Life Changes at OTS Las Cruces Station

People always say that study abroad programs are life changing, and I have to agree because at OTS Las Cruces Station, I’ve literally seen life change before my eyes. When studying taxonomy of the Phylum Arthropoda, we learned about the different mating and feeding processes that different species undergo. For example, earwigs are one of the few species in which females take care of their eggs. When tailless whip scorpions mate, the females whip the males. And then praying mantises actually combine the two and females may eat males, forcing them to release their sperm. It’s amazing how different species have adapted their life processes to best accommodate their own characteristics and the factors of their surrounding environment, yet from a human standpoint, many of these adaptations are downright bizarre. But fortunately, and quite extraordinarily, my averse and disgusted reactions to insects and spiders before arriving in Costa Rica have transformed into attraction and wonder at Las Cruces.
            Within a week, night hikes have become my new favorite pastime. I love taking my headlamp and camera into the botanical garden and discovering creepy yet intriguing giant wolf spiders, long-horned beetles, glass frogs, scorpions, etc. One night, I was lucky enough to witness the end of the molting process of a newly matured cicada. The bright green and white creature slowly extricated itself from its fading brown exoskeleton and I knew, from lectures, that its next step was to pump lymph into its glowing blue wings to expand and harden them. Another night I was trying to get a good picture of an orange-bellied spider and its gigantic scintillating web when the web started pushing and pulling and the spider rapidly wrapped silk strings around a beetle, all in the matter of the few seconds it took me to adjust my camera. Witnessing the cicada mature and the spider eat were almost intimate experiences, as if they were letting me in on their secrets. It was like I was seeing into the very core of their identities, what made them, them. My feelings contained an ounce of truth—our biological life processes do define who we are (or at least what species we are). I’m excited to experience more enriching life-changing moments with OTS because this is just the beginning!
Jeanne Shi
Duke University

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