Friday, May 6, 2016

Poison frogs, deadly bugs, cold showers, Oh how I've changed

We have been at La Selva Biological Station for the past few weeks. La Selva is the most productive biological station in the tropics, and it often feels like an amusement park for researchers. We had the opportunity to work in this research amusement park conducting our own project. We wanted to investigate how warming temperatures might affect strawberry poison dart frogs. To do this we walked around the forest collecting frogs. After we caught dozens of them we brought them back to lab to see if they had a temperature preference and to test their jumping performance at different temperatures. It was only after we had finished our project and written our papers that it really hit me—I had just spent the past week catching poison dart frogs with my bare hands. This was something that I would never have thought to do before I began this program.

I remember back to January being completely freaked out by our lecture on Dangerous and Annoying Creatures of the Tropics. The week following that lecture I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified that there might be a Chagas bug crawling on me. Chagas bugs are in the family Reduviidae, and also known as kissing bugs or assassin bugs. These bugs suck your face while you are sleeping and then defecate on your face. Their poop contains a protozoan, and if this protozoan gets into the open bite then you become infected with Chagas disease, a potentially life-threatening disease. Now I am proud to say that I can sleep through the night, and when I see Chagas bugs I think, “Oh that would be an easy insect to identify. Let me catch it!” I have completely gotten over any fears of outdoor creatures I may have had before this program.

I now see the forest in a completely different way. Remembering back to our first field notebook, I was so bored that I had to stand in one spot for 45 minutes. Looking back at what I had written I realized that I had missed so much—I saw “plants with leaves”, an ant, and a trail. Now when I look at the forest I see so much more—palms in the understory with pinnately compound leaves, large Ficus trees, Oophaga pumilio frogs hopping into bromeliads, Atta ants carrying pieces of leaves many times their size, and I could go on for hours. I have learned to look deeper and better appreciate my surroundings.

This semester has taught me so much and changed how I see the world. I would gladly suffer a million freezing Monteverde showers to do it all again.

Andriana Miljanic
Emory University

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