Saturday, May 6, 2017

All the things you can see

Photo Credit : J. Mauricio Garcia-C.

One of my favorite parts of fieldwork is feeling as though I am part of nature.  At La Selva, walking transects in search of anole lizards and standing still to observe harvestmen, I noticed many animals, some of which even approached me, I would not have seen otherwise.  I was able to explore the animal diversity of La Selva even though I was only studying a few species.
            While working on my independent project, which involved observing the responses of harvestmen aggregates to a perceived predation threat (tapping one of their legs with a stick), I had to stand still next to trees for 15-minute periods.  During this time, many insects and spiders seemed to pop out of their camouflage.  I found striped mantises, which before I had only thought were only green, preparing to attack harvestmen for food.  There were many moths behaving similarly to the harvestmen by staying still on tree trunks during the day.  Spiders that ambushed hunt would suddenly jump up to catch a passing fly. 
            While searching for anoles in the leaf litter for one of the faculty-led projects, we found a variety of poison dart frogs and other lizards.  Most of them scurried away, but we did get to pick up a few.  Chasing after anoles it almost felt as though I were a reptile or amphibian in leaf litter, trying to decide the best place to go to hide from the nearby threat.
            Many vertebrate animals approached me not realizing I was there.  I saw many peccary babies close up running to keep up with their mothers.  Unfortunately, the peccary groups often were not pleased when they realized I was there and would grunt, scrape their hooves on the ground, and pee to mark their territory.  A toucan also flew up around 20 m from me.  Most exciting, I found spider and howler monkeys, which were in adjacent trees.  This is the second time I have seen these two species so close together, the first being in Las Altures.  Once they found me, they started to throw branches and leaves down from their trees.
            I hope that my future as a tropical field ecologist will provide me with more experiences encountering the amazing animal diversity of forests.  In Costa Rica, I have found that you cannot fully appreciate what is there just by hiking through the forest.  Stopping and letting the animals come to you allows you to experience the forest.
Ariek Barakat Norford 
Franklin and Marshall College

Visit to a Dole Banana Plantation


I was excited to go visit one of Dole’s banana plantations. I love bananas and I usually have at least one a day when I am at home, so I was interested to see how they are harvested.  When we arrived at the plantation that was only fifteen minutes away from La Selva, we were welcomed by one of the directors of the plant named Carlos who also is charge of giving tours. Carlos has been giving tours for over twenty years at Dole, so he knew his information well. He started off the tour by making us step onto an iodine soaked pad that will kill any type of fungus on the bottom of our shoes. There are fungi that are capable of killing all of the banana trees in a plantation, so of course they do not want any fungus spread to theirs. He sat us down in the shade and talked to us about the history of the bananas in Costa Rica; how they were brought here, how they became a huge business in the early 1900s, and how the big corporations came to be what they are today. He then demonstrated how the bananas are grown from when they are a seed until they are ready to be cut and brought to the factory to be exported. Then he took us through part of the plantation and showed us how the bananas are cut, which is a two-person job. When a long line of banana bunches are hooked together on a cable, a mule hauls the bananas to the packing plant. At the packing plant we watched workers cut the bananas that came from the field into smaller groups of bananas, where they are then passed through a water system that cools them down. They are then cleaned, stamped with the “Dole” sticker, and then packaged to be shipped all over the world. At the end of the tour, we had time to ask Carlos some questions about the environmental effects that come with banana production, as well as worker rights. He answered parts of our questions, but definitely seemed like he was trying to avoid answering them directly. It reminded me that there are still issues in these large corporations that the majority of the public does not even know exists, and that more people need to be aware of where they are getting their food from. Overall, it was really interesting to visit a banana plantation and see how they are harvested and shipped. Now whenever I buy bananas at home, I will think of the long process and journey they took to get to my local supermarket!

Andres Ripley
Wheaton College ‘18

A Cat in the Woods

Of all the many wondrous creatures of Costa Rica, perhaps the most elusive and therefore most sought after, are the various jungle cats. All semester long I have been dying to see a cat, so, naturally when a classmate came back with the story of a cat sighting about two hundred meters away from the field station, I had to go out and find it for myself at the first chance I got.
We were just finishing up a night project, when our professor received a phone call from another student saying that they had just seen two distinct twinkling eyes in dark forest and were certain it was a cat. Elated, our group rushed back to the lab where we stashed our samples and research equipment and took off cautiously into the woods where the cat had supposedly been seen. Because I could hardly contain my excitement, a classmate and I rushed ahead of the main group to get to the kitten before it disappeared into the night for good.
When we arrived at the trail where they said they had seen the dark figure, we walked in total silence, shining our light this way and that to find whatever it was that was lurking in the forest. After searching for what seemed like ages, but, in reality, was only ten minutes, we heard movement far off the trail in the woods. When we shone our lights in that direction, all that we saw were two piercing eyes staring straight at us from the darkness. The eyes slowly dropped to the ground, while still maintaining contact with us. Although we could not see the body these mysterious eyes were attached to, we were certain that we were looking into the eyes of some sort of feline. I felt the hairs along my entire body stand straight up and I began to sweat uncontrollably. After a moment, the two eyes shimmered and then disappeared as whatever they belonged to turned back into the forest and began to walk away soundlessly.
The classmate that I was with turned around and ran back to the group of stragglers to tell them of our discovery, leaving me alone in the darkness. I began to shine my light around desperately trying to find the beast, but to no avail. When the others joined us we all combined our efforts (and lights) to find this mysterious animal. Finally, I spotted eye shine deep in the woods, and shouted “I see it! The cat is back!” We all scrambled to get better views of the animal, while making sure not to get too close.
Finally, a classmate of mine, who was carrying a much brighter light than I was using shone his beam on the eyes, and revealed that we were, in fact, looking into the deep piercing eyes of a collared peccary. Although peccaries are incredibly interesting creatures, they are of equivalent rarity at La Selva to White-tailed deer across most of the United States. Needless to say, my classmates have yet to live this experience down.
Luca Grifo-Hahn
Saint Mary’s College of Maryland