The past three weeks I have spent at La Selva has presented me with some of the most memorable moments of my undergraduate experience. The lowland wet forest that we have been able to explore during our trip is the most biodiverse area I have ever experienced; I have seen more species of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, insects, plants and birds at this station than anywhere else I have traveled to just from walking between class and my cabin.
While these past few weeks have brought amazing wildlife sightings, I can’t say that they have been leisurely. My time at La Selva has been the busiest and most rewarding few weeks of the semester thus far. Our independent projects, conducted over a course of only four days, required extreme efficiency and long hours in order to collect a sufficient amount of data in such a short period of time. I was lucky enough to examine further one of the species I have been most fascinated by since my arrival in the tropics: leafcutter ants. These ants live in a close mutualism with a fungus that they cultivate with their leaf clippings and use as their main food source. With the diverse array of exotic and striking species at La Selva, ants might not be the first organism many would pick to work with if given the opportunity to study in the tropics, but I have been completely captivated by them since first seeing them, and never get bored of staring at them while they clip and carry leaves, or walking along their massive highways to see how far they travel. Back at Sarah Lawrence, an ecology class I took focused on the complex mutualism between leafcutter ants and their fungal symbionts; seeing them for the first time in the wild after having read and studied so much about them was one of the most exciting experiences I have had yet.
I know it hardly sounds possible for anything to be more exciting than ant colonies, but a few days ago I experienced what I think will turn out to be the most memorable moment of my undergraduate experience. Walking across the bridge late at night between the academic center and my cabin, I was able to see one of my absolute favorite animals up close: the sloth. She was only a few feet away from me, carrying her baby, across the bridge. Cool, calm and collected, the two of us regarded each other, as we looked at each other from a distance so close that I could have reached out and touched it. I stood there for as long as I could while it slowly moved across the bridge, occasionally reaching up to look for branches. After it securely grabbed one and retreated into a nearby tree, I walked back to my cabin, but not without snapping just a few pictures.
From insects to mammals, I am amazed by the complex and charismatic animals that inhabit the lowland wet forest at La Selva. I will always look back to this trip as one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career.
Sarah Lawrence College