Senior, Texas A&M University, Department of Biology
After spending the past five months studying abroad and traveling across Panama, I thought I was ready for anything that the jungle of Costa Rica could throw at me. I was prepared for long days of fieldwork, I was excited for the opportunity to work in such an amazing place, and I was ecstatic to unravel the secrets of spider communication with my mentor Meghan Fitzgerald. With everything in line and worked out to a T, expecting nothing less than the perfect project, I arrived in La Selva only to realize that I forgot to send Mother Nature a memo with my methods and time line.
It is now three weeks later and my study organism, the Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila clavipes), is just finally starting to make an appearance. The harsher than normal dry season seems to have set their biological clock back by about a month, leaving me to scour the rainforest to find the few punctual spiders out there. What started out as stressful searches in the blazing and moist jungle, trying to find a few spiders to get the project going, turned into amazing nature walks across one of the most beautiful and biodiverse landscapes on the planet. While looking for the elusive Golden Orb Weaver, I encountered everything from tayras to a strange fern that caused me to break out in a rash.
For me to speak only of the picturesque outdoors and intensity of the research would not fully describe life at La Selva. One of the greatest aspects of living here is the people that we are surrounded by. Every day new people from all over the globe arrive, bringing their own regional culture and knowledge here to La Selva and making this not only a world-class research station but also a hotspot of cultural learning. I mean, I’ve only been here three weeks and I have already learned dances from 6 different countries, not to mention the culture and heritage that comes with them! How neat is that?
Needless to say I’m excited for the next seven weeks. They are sure to be filled with learning, laughter, wild animals, rashes, dancing, stress, long hikes, plenty of rain and splendid people. Hopefully if I’m lucky there will be some Golden Orb Weavers in there as well.