Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ants... why did it have to be ants?

 Hi everyone – I apologize for the delay in my entries here! I kind of over-estimated the strength of the internet in the rainforest, and additionally under-estimated the internet requirements of blogger as a platform. However, it looks like last time I tried to post I was doubly successful, and I didn’t even think it posted once! At any rate, here I am, still doing well in the middle of the rainforest.

I’ve only been here in the forest for three weeks (I got in late the evening of the 19th), but it feels like I’ve been here for much longer. I’m back to a familiar routine of waking early, eating bread and either blue band (amazing margarine spread that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and tastes kind of like butter!) or Nutella, drinking lots of tea, and wandering around the forest after monkeys. In the evenings, we’re cooking much fancier foods than I ever cooked when I was here last time. There are also two other students here, so I’m talking with people a lot instead of reading nearly as much as I did last time. Unfortunately, they both leave next week, so I’ll be on my own for a month until the next student shows up. In the interim, though, I’m taking advantages of Camille’s fancy cooking abilities. No longer am I eating only rice and eggs, rice and tuna, or rice and sardines! We’ve made carrot coconut curry! We’ve made guacamole! We’ve made zucchini chips! We’ve made sauce melon! We’ve even made cheesy flatbread! I’m afraid that canned sardines and fried onions are no longer going to satisfy me.

I’ve spent the past three weeks helping my friend Noah finish collecting data for a project we’re working on, looking at the way different monkeys here use their forelimbs while they are foraging. I’ve also been working hard at learning to recognize the female Diana monkeys. It turns out that the easiest ways to distinguish between females are comparing their calls (which I am learning), their tails (how fluffy they are, where they are broken, etc.), and their nipples (which side is bigger, what direction they face, etc.). I have notebook pages full of PG-13 Diana monkey drawings, trying to remember that it is Pensette who has inward-facing nipples and a tail like Melo does (Melo has a larger right than left nipple, and a tail like Pensette), while Eva is the one whose nipples point down and has little white spots on her face.

That may be more information than you wanted to know about my research methods – I apologize.

I’ve also been working with one of the older field assistants – Ferdinand, our Chief of Assistants who represents the assistants in all their negotiations – at learning the most important trees eaten by the Diana monkeys. My project has taken a much more ecological turn than I initially thought it would, which is great because I like the ecological stuff even more than the social stuff. We begin our 5-day weekend today (the assistants work 9 days, then have 5 off), but when Ferdinand gets back, we’re going to start going through the grid to measure the abundance and size of different tree species so that I can see what the monkeys are eating in relation to what is available for them. I’m hoping to get between 10 and 20 100m x 100m squares measured in the following two weeks, and then start my data collection with the monkeys in earnest on July 30 when my official field assistant finishes his two-week break.

When I’m not staring intently at monkeys’ chests, searching for their feces, or trying to figure out what tree the monkeys I am staring at are in, things back in camp have also been exciting. We had a green mamba eat a frog under our laundry the other day, and a giant scorpion we have decided to call Alfred has chosen the steps of the old house as its new favorite spot. A few nights back, a swarm of army ants tried to move through my house. Fortunately, Noah caught them when he was heading to bed, so we spent the next two hours fighting back by pouring fuel mixed with water in all the door jambs and liberally spraying Rambo at the edges of all the mosquito nets. While this curtailed our usage of candles in the house, it also successfully kept the ants out! They also only bit me four times, but a bunch of them embedded their heads in my sandals and got stuck. Pulling them out of my sandals was probably worse than being bit. Unfortunately, it looks like the colony has decided that UNDERNEATH MY HOUSE is an excellent place to build, and we don't have any more Rambo to dissuade them for the moment. I've been having nightmares about earthquakes depositing me in the middle of an army ant nest. We were thinking that maybe if we named them, they'd be less scary, so for the time being we're calling the army ants Gloria (the workers are all female).

Well, my computer battery is growing dim and it’s starting to get dusky out. I’ll cross my fingers that this posts (once!), and try to write again soon!

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