Well, it finally happened. As I was carrying my third (or so) cup of coffee from the dining hall back to my lab, I opened the door to the balcony and heard a tiny “plop!” into my cup. I have been dreading a potential conflict of this type with my neighbors for the better part of three months, and now it is here. Though I instinctively scanned my surroundings, I knew exactly what I would find above:
In case you can’t tell, these are bats. And yes, one of them pooped in my coffee. I tried to get a picture of it, but as it turns out, taking pictures of black poo in black coffee makes for some really boring photos. You can probably use your imagination on this one, though.
These bats hang out on the wall of the lab building, and with the exception of a couple rare instances in which they accidentally flew inside they really don’t bother anyone. Aside from that I don’t really know anything about them, which actually feels a bit rude now that I think about it. It’s like taking the same bus route every day and never learning the names any of your fellow commuters – understandable, but still weird because in a way you do sort of know them. All I can say for these guys is that they are small and they have little tags on their wings…so I guess someone knows them.
Anyway, I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce you to a few of my other neighbors with whom I have become acquainted (sort of) in my time here. While the research station itself is amazingly well cleaned and cared for, we still do live next to a very species-rich forest, which means you tend to interact with plants, animals, and other strange beings far more often than is planned. These are all the critters that make their homes in or very near my own living quarters.
Lots of excitement in the past few days, particularly in the cat department. You may recall that during my best day ever I encountered an ocelot kitten trying to Simba-roar at me. Shortly thereafter, Jackie and Greg Willis, the researchers in charge of the Barro Colorado Island Mammal Census, placed a camera near the site and check out what they found!
These are photos of the mother, who has shown up on the cameras before. Ocelots all have distinctive spot patterns so you can identify each one individually. All the ones that show up on the census cameras have names, though at the moment I can’t remember hers.
There also happens to be a film crew here planning to get footage of ocelots hunting for a new series airing on BBC in 2015 entitled “The Hunt.” They also decided to set up some cameras at the site in hopes of catching the cats hunting spiny rats. Quite a popular spot!
Finally, over the weekend there was a jaguar sighting on the island! There are not typically resident jaguars on the island, though on occasion they swim across from the mainland. The first one ever spotted on the island showed up in the census around 30 years ago, and it took 25 years for the for them to show up on the cameras. The one that was seen over the weekend was melanistic (appears all black), which is rare but known to occur in jaguars on the mainland.
Biting critters are part of the game when you decide to do research in any forest, particularly the tropics. Because I'm told that DEET can damage the nylon ropes that I use when I climb, I try to minimize my use of repellants. Instead I always wear a long-sleeved shirt tucked into my long pants, which tuck into my socks, which minimizes potential points of entry. It makes for very sweaty walks in the forest, but it usually works…usually. Yesterday I made the mistake of treating myself to a little ventilation while I walked (i.e. I untucked my shirt) and then never tucked my shirt back in…
…thanks Julia, couldn’t have said it better myself. Upon return I found myself covered in bites from tiny red harvest mites, also known as chiggers (pictured below). The bites aren’t painful and itch slightly less than mosquito bites, but I have certainly learned my lesson. Apparently your body eventually gets used to the bites so the welts become less of a problem over time, but from here on out I will keep myself tightly covered at all times…or perhaps just throw caution to the wind and take a daily DEET bath.
Black box provided for modesty. I also found ticks later in the day, but they would have been underneath a different modesty box and this just isn’t that kind of blog.
I know I just posted the other day, but yesterday I had possibly the best day I’ve ever experienced in Panama, so I had to share! Below is a is an email I sent as soon as I got back – please excuse all the capital letters and exclamation points. I swear I’m not a tween-aged girl, I was just excited.
***Disclaimer – my photojournalistic talents leave much to be desired, so none of the images in this post are actually mine. Sorry, but you would thank me if you saw the photos I tried to take.***
I just got back from the forest and had the BEST DAY EVER! Seriously, this may have been the best day I've ever had in Panama, and it almost didn't happen. I was really tired this morning and thinking about just taking another day off from the field to rest, but I got myself up and twiddled my thumbs for a little bit before finally committing to walking a short bit of trail to look for a few more trees.
On the very first trail I saw a few capuchin monkeys running around in the trees above me! The capuchin populations have been low lately and this is only the second time I've seen them in all the hours I've spent in the forest, so that was really special.
I turned onto the next trail that I've been meaning to get to all week. As soon as I turned I noticed a big pile of brush and fallen branches right next to the trail. I thought I heard something, so I stopped and listened to the tiniest little growling sound that was right in the middle of the brush pile! I didn't know exactly what it was, but it was definitely a cat. It was like in The Lion King when baby Simba is trying to roar at the hyenas! I wasn't quite sure whether it was an adult version of something small (i.e. an ocelot) or the baby version of something big (puma, jaguar). The latter is pretty unlikely as there isn't known to be a breeding population of pumas on the island and I think there has only been one jaguar documented in the 90-year history of the island, but still. Just as I was contemplating this, I heard a...
I nearly soiled myself! Luckily I was wearing dark-colored underwear, so even if I had, no one would ever have to know…
Turned out it was just a howler monkey above me, but in the midst of thinking about cats, that was not where my brain went. After I collected myself, I decided not to press my luck and kept going, not wanting to disturb anything. Later on when I got back to the research station I told the resident mammal specialist about it and said that it was likely a baby ocelot. What a discovery, right?! They set up a camera near the area, so hopefully they’ll get some mom-and-baby photos soon!
I went a bit further down the trail and stopped to write down all the things I had just seen. When I looked up there was the PERFECT tree for my project. I am only looking for one species and I’ve been having a hard time finding them in certain places on the island, so this was a valuable find research-wise. I started taking measurements and marked it on the GPS, when I saw a PERFECT-ER tree right nearby! So I walked over to that one and it truly was amazing - all sorts of great branches and that connected to other trees, big limbs to climb - everything! But then I took out my binoculars and looked at what I thought was a termite nest only to find - AFRICANIZED KILLER BEES!!! Well, actually, I wasn’t completely sure at the time, but I talked to a bee researcher when I got back and he said that there are basically three types of bees on the island:
1. Stingless bees that are docile but have formic acid in their saliva, so if you do happen to get on their bad side they can still do a lot of damage.
2. Native honey bees that are pretty much your average bee (i.e. not something to mess around with).
3. Africanized honey bees, which have invaded the area and are extremely dangerous if you disturb them! I have heard some horrific stories (one in particular from my climbing instructor) about these guys and I have no intention of ever having such a story of my own to tell.
Here's a quick NatGeo spot they did on Africanized Bees - the scientists is from the Smithsonian here in Panama!
Conclusion: No go. No matter what kind of bee it was, I don’t want to go anywhere near them. Oh well, cross that one off the list.
I was heading back on the last trail of the day and found the PERFECT-EST tree! I walked over to take measurements, but just as I was about to put the measuring tape around it, I saw it was covered in bullet ants!!! You may not have heard of bullet ants before, but they are exactly how they sound - terrible. I actually got bit by a bunch of them the first time I came down here and it was insanely painful. They have giant mandibles and I think they also have formic acid in their saliva, so it burns for a long time after they bite. Cross another perfect tree off the list :-(
When I was almost back to the station I heard some spider monkeys running through the trees above me, and I looked up just in time to see a monkey literally SOARING right above my head! Limbs stretched out, tail flailing in the air! It was almost like I was watching it in slow motion. So amazing.
When I got to the dining hall they had beets at the salad bar for the first time since I've been here! I. Love. Beets. I'm gonna be pooping magenta for a couple days, but it's totally worth it.
Anyway, just wanted to fill you in while everything is fresh in my mind. Hope you’re having a good day!
There you have it, folks! Ocelot kittens, killer insects, monkeys everywhere you turn, technicolored feces…what more could you want?! Hope all of your weekends are going well. I’m planning to start setting up my first cameras on Monday, so I have a lot of prep work to do before then, but I’m so glad to have had such an exciting day to remind me why I’m here.
Take care, more posts coming soon!
Yale Grad Student.