FOR THE OCOTEA!

This summer I worked with Kellie Kuhn to study the mutualistic relationship between Myrmelachista ants and Ocotea trees.

 

There once was an ant on a plant

“I would love to leave, but I can’t”

The plant was her home

So she could not be gone

Without the plant shouting her chant:

 

“I am your bright and morning star.

Together you know that we are

Mutualistic,

So be realistic

Without me you can’t get too far.”

 

She still dared to dream her dream,

Even while serving the queen.

Until one day

She stood to say

“This is not the life for me.”

 

So she left with only a “See ya!”

And climbed out of the Ocotea

She reached the ground

And there she found

A forest of Fabaceae.

 

There were four lined up in a row

On the last was a bright orange bow

With a sudden burst

She climbed up the first

And decided to make it her home.

 

Soon the sun started to shine

And she thought “All this is mine”

Until she heard

Those familiar words

“All to protect our divine!”

 

Her plant had begun to lean

Causing the Ocotea to scream

Hearing the cries

Myrmelachista arise

And clear the close plant from the scene.

 

They pruned and sprayed their acid

So the seedling would die more rapid

The plant turned black

And that was that

Now there’s only a space most vapid.

 

She must decide what to do

So on she went to tree two

But the same happened here

And she began to fear

As to plant number three she moved.

 

The farther she ran from her home

The more she began to groan

The Ocotea would afford

Her room and board

But instead she sat there alone.

 

As she sat in her pondering state

She heard screams that sounded irate

For up in the trees

A caterpillar gleamed

And smiled hungrily as he ate.

 

Without a moment to think

She climbed her host in a wink

And joined the workers

To push the percher

Off the leaf, over the brink.

 

Happily, she stayed in the tree

Now this is where she should be

“For the Ocotea!” she yelled

As all their voices swelled

“This is the perfect life for me!”

 

Celena Alford
Senior Biological Engineering Student
North Carolina A&T State University
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It’s Not Where You’re From, It’s Where You’re At.

Kyle Reid

Junior, Illinois Institute of Technology, Department of Biology.

(Playing back calls to a Rhynchonycteris colony. Working with some valuable equipment and a lot of duct tape!)
Playing back calls to a Rhynchonycteris colony. Working with some valuable equipment and a lot of duct tape!

The goal of a student is not to just finish a project, not to just get an A, not to punch in and punch out 8 hours later. What separates lifelong learners from the rest is our mission to continue to learn and improve beyond our comfort level. I grew up in a steel jungle, Chicago, Illinois. Busy crowds, loud noises, the CTA at midnight, these things don’t scare me. I’ve worked in the Field Museum handling bat specimens from all over Africa. I’ve studied statistics and programming and lab work is my work; these things don’t scare me and I needed to be scared.

I applied to around a dozen REU opportunities this summer and was accepted for three interesting projects on topics like urban agriculture at UW-Madison, and distribution of grey squirrels and chipmunks along Lake Mendota. My goal however was to break out of my comfort zone. I could not count beyond 10 in Spanish. I never watched a soccer game in my life. Beyond a few mammal trapping experiences in Chicago I have never performed a behavior experiment. I had never lived away from home or left the Midwest for more than a weekend.

I am far beyond my comfort zone

Everything from living with a roommate to being greeted in Spanish at breakfast to walking over a waterfall every morning on my way to work is a new experience. Being surrounded by people passionate about their research and goals rather than undergrads taking their forced gen-ed classes keeps me on my toes and creates an environment of encouragement rather than competition.

The jungle is its own experience altogether. City life encourages a very me-focused style of thinking: What do I eat? Where will I go? What will I do? Field life encourages a level of outward thinking I have not had since my childhood. Where are those ants going? Why is that toucan dancing? Why do the bats roost differently at night than during the day? Most importantly, what is that smell?

Untangling a Carollia bat from a mist net before a storm
Untangling a Carollia bat from a mist net before a storm

My research in La Selva has been a lesson in the unpredictability of field work. Field work is a lot like soccer, something I never appreciated until my first World Cup viewing here in Costa Rica.  You have plans, methods, and fundamentals that you practice until you are blue in the face. But even when you do everything right you are going to need to wait for your lucky break to finally celebrate success.  From standing out in the rain for an hour under a Rhynchonycteris colony  just to get one good signature to untying an angry Carollia from a mist net, field work is a test of patience ,  fundamentals, and luck that provide for a payoff so refreshing you want to scream GOOOOOOOOOAL!

The best thing about La Selva is being surrounded by experienced people who want to see you grow. My mentor Martina Nagy and peers have always been willing and able to teach a city kid what it means to get into nature. I knew almost nothing about the tropics before I arrived in Costa Rica and now I want nothing more than to bring my family and classmates here and show them the wonderful things I have seen. More importantly I have allowed myself to be uncomfortable, to do something new, and I hope I never stop!

Also, I get called Batman, that’s pretty cool
Also, I get called Batman. That’s pretty neat

 

The Rainbow after the Storm

Marlena Lopez

Senior, California State University, Pomona, Department of Biology

Ethno-Botany Tour: fresh coconut water and temporarily tattooing ourselves using plants
Ethno-Botany Tour: fresh coconut water and temporarily tattooing ourselves using plants

No wonder it’s called a rainforest: it can begin pouring on you in an instant when you least expect it. The howler monkeys, however, are courteous enough to shout out a warning and let you know to pull out your umbrella seconds before the rain starts falling.

The rain has been a challenge for completing my project; I am working with Dr. Martina Nagy and fellow REU Kyle Reid on the social organization and vocalizations of the proboscis bat (Rhynchonycteris naso) and we cannot work on the project while it is raining because the valuable recording equipment we use cannot get wet. However, that’s how science works; you devise a wonderful plan and Mother Nature or some other force will disrupt it.

I am grateful to have a mentor that always has a plan B ready to go; Martina, through all of her years of experience, has learned how to expect the unexpected and she always has an idea about what to do next. It has been a valuable learning experience to work beside and learn from her. This internship has taught me so much about how to be a successful researcher and carry out a scientific experiment.

Cheering on Costa Rica in the World Cup
Cheering on Costa Rica in the World Cup

The highlight of the past 4 weeks has been living in a country that made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup. The Costa Ricans (ticos) have so much passion and love for their country, and it was great to share the experience of watching their team succeed game after game. You know that you have an awesome job when your mentor tells you that work is postponed until after the futbol game, so that you can join the ticos in cheering on their team and yelling at the referee on the television in Spanish.

Baby and Mama sloth spotted at the station
Baby and Mama sloth spotted at the station

As soon as I received the email stating that I had been accepted to this program, I immediately told all of my family, friends, professors, and any random person I saw because I was that happy and excited about it. The next thing I did was research the animals of Costa Rica. So far I’ve seen howler monkeys, basilisk lizards, green tree anoles, spectacled caimans, sloths, cat-eyed snakes, and green and black dart frogs just to name a few. Coming from the city of Los Angeles where buildings and cement surround you, to a tropical forest where you can see beautiful and exotic animals everywhere you look has made this a dream internship for a beginning zoologist like myself, and I look forward to the rest of what Costa Rica has to offer.