Jose A Sanchez Ruiz
Senior, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico
Return to the land of the lost
In January of this year I had the opportunity to be part of a specialty course focused on arachnids here at La Selva. I gained hands-on experience and knowledge in diverse fields pertaining to arachnids. This was my first time at La Selva. Even though my visit was only for two weeks, I was inspired to apply to for another position at La Selva as an REU student. (Honestly, the food was so amazing that I was driven to come back). Beyond the Comedor, La Selva has been a source of great inspiration for me. I come from a tropical island (Puerto Rico), yet some of the fauna I witnessed here was new to me. Getting this position as an REU is something I will remember the rest of my life.
Arts and Craft
I was lucky enough to be paired with a really awesome mentor, Meghan Fitzgerald. She is a behavioral ecologist working with spiders. This position was ideal as I had been seeking to work with spiders for many years. My original project began as an endeavor to study the spider Argyrodes elevatus, also known as the kleptoparasitic spider (spiders that steal stuff from other spiders). The kleptoparasitic spiders use pheromones to locate possible host spiders, and then steal their prey items. However, five weeks into the program I realized my setup was not working and I needed to construct a new project.
Like everything in life, when we fail, we learn and adjust and go on. Now I am currently working with the amazing golden orb weaver spider Nephila clavipes. These spiders form promiscuous aggregations with conspecifics (individuals from the same species). Apparently these spiders hold different personalities, just like in humans. For example, some are more tolerant than others, while some have a tendency towards aggression. I am researching whether these personalities, more aggressive or tolerant, are consistent through time, or if they are affected by different factors like hunger etc.
Near the end
We are two weeks away from finishing the program and looking back at the beginning it has been amazing. I have learned a lot, not only in knowledge gained through data analysis and research, but also as a professional researcher. Working on spiders and behavior has been extremely rewarding. Even if my first project did not work I was able to change it, catch up, and learn twice as much.
One of the things I will miss the most, apart from the food, is the people. Because of this program I have had the opportunity to meet people from multiple countries (Australia, Costa Rica, Germany, Honduras, Spain, Mexico, Canada, US, Venezuela) in a single place. That is something amazing to me. I have not had the opportunity to travel much, and meeting them gave a window into their realm.
In respect to the program, I consider myself very lucky. Not only the badass coordinator and mentors, but my amazing REU partners in crime whom I will never forget: Celena, Connor, Kyle, Leigh, Mareike, Marlena and Roberto. Not only do we morally support each other during crazy work time, but we also have a lot of fun together. I have lived with them for the last 8 weeks and have grown a little bit more just by getting to know them. I could not have asked for a better, more fun or more diverse crew of people to call friends. All said, I have fallen in love with the La Selva, with the field, with biology, and with science.