The La Selva Biological Station is much more biologically diverse than the past stations we have visited. I love being able to cross the bridge to class and see a little ball of fluff in a tree, knowing it’s a sloth. I love walking in the forest and hearing howler monkeys calling, knowing when they’re calling to say that rain is coming and when they’re not. I love hearing the constant saw-like noise of the poison dart frogs as it emanates from nearly every clump of trees.
On our first day here, we got a tour of the station and got a pretty decent look at all of the different creatures that live here. However, I didn’t realize that we would get to actually work with and study some of those species.
Towards the end of our first week, we did a faculty-led project with strawberry poison frogs, looking at how male-male interactions differ based on one male’s perception of the other’s brightness, a physical trait that traditionally helps to mediate conflicts in this species. It was really cool to both go into the forest and seek them out based on their calls, looking carefully through leaves and around logs to see their bright red bodies and blue legs, and to work with them back in the lab and see them interact. We wound up being so enthralled with them that my friend and I decided to do our independent project looking further into these male-male interactions.
In the lab, working on our independent project, is where I really got to know the frogs. We watched the males interact, both with and without a female present, for nearly three hours each afternoon. I got much more comfortable with them, even managing to catch some in the field – an accomplishment that evaded me during the faculty-led project.
The males are incredibly territorial, so when we placed them in close quarters one of the males almost always started approaching or calling to the other within the first few minutes of the trial. It was exciting to see the frogs on an individual level. With such classic rainforest species, I tend to get excited just about the diversity in appearance that exists. However, this project highlighted the diversity in behavior that exists as well. I can no longer hear the frogs calling on my way to class without thinking about how feisty they are.
Doing research with the frogs transformed them from a cool sight to see to actual creatures with a complex parental care system, aposematic coloration, and male-male interactions resting on territoriality and varying by social context.