Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who is the who?

This is my dilemma.

I've spent the last month trying to figure out the best way to recognize individual capuchin monkeys.  Is it the slightly different shape of the intersection between the black and white fur on their foreheads? or the size and protrusion of their brow-ridge?  How stable are these traits?  will a juvenile I recognize today look similar three months or a year from now?

Sometimes, when I get really lucky, individuals have scars or moles, which makes it much easier to tell who is who.  For example, this male from TB group has a nice mole on the right side of his face.  Very convenient, as the other big male doesn't have any moles.  

Unfortunately, the mole is very small, and as soon as he turns his head--you'd never know it was there.  

I'm not convinced I'm going to be able to recognize even distinctive individuals in the middle of hectic intergroup fights, so a good part of last week was spent reading about various methods for marking animals.  Ear tags, tatoos,  flash freezing their fur--all these require catching the monkeys, so I've been considering the super-soaker and hair dye approach.  

My time online has introduced me to a very strange pet-subculture:  

I have learned that there are many people who seem to spend a lot of time on online discussing how best to dye their pets strange colors.  My personal favorite post was the following:

"My pet Pekingese is starting to go unfashionably grey and it is seeming to age him prematurely. He's become quite reclusive and shy about his appearance and refuses to go out. We've been dying his hair with boot polish and it appears to do the trick."

Ahhh, the things you learn while doing "science."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Santa Rita Ridge

Last weekend, I took a vacation from BCI with some of my friends, and went to visit one of the STRI staff scientists in his weekend home near Colon (on the Caribbean side of Panama).

Dave has a beautiful house on a hilltop in Santa Rita, with a pool and gorgeous views out to the ocean. . .

. . .which is a good thing because we had to brave the Transismica!

The Transismica is the road that runs more or less along the canal from Panama City (on the Pacific side) to Colon (on the Caribbean), and it is in excruciatingly bad shape. Excruciating because more of the road is pot-hole than not, and a 35 minute trip took four hours.

Please note the sign that says "excavacion profunda": what they mean is "we dug a hole that will swallow your car if, for any reason you get to close to the curb.

Dave studies stingless bees, and keeps a lot of colonies at his house in SantaRita.

They live in boxes, like these--and you can lift up the lid and see what they construct. It was very cool!

There were great some moths around the house at night:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Panamanian road kill--averted

There has been a lot of road-kill on the Gamboa road this fall.  I don't know if it is related to the time of year, or the general lack of food in the forest at this moment, but lots of animals seem compelled to travel, crossing roads and often getting hit by cars. Somehow, when it is an "exotic" animal like a monkey or an ant-eater, this seems even more tragic.  The sloths are particularly heart breaking, as the slowly, deliberately try drag themselves across the wide strips of pavement.   

It made me happy, therefore, to be able to save at least one.  We came across this sloth on a drive back from the beach at Galeta on the Caribbean coast.  

After a few photos, we looked both ways and gave it a lift to a tree on the other side of the road.

Election day in the canal

Thanks to streaming internet video, we watched election results live in the BCI lounge and

unlike when I was here four years ago, were able to celebrate with the rest of the country!

One small difference, perhaps, being that we opened our bottles of champagne with a machete--a great party trick courtesy of Meg Eckles!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I've been having a lot of fun with my new camera.

Leaf cutters outside the shade houses, decimating a tree.  There were so many ants in this one tree, you could actually hear the click, click of them cutting the leaves as you walked by.

I took a few minutes out of following monkeys to follow a line of army ants back to their bivouac. These writhing balls of ants always kind of creep me out!

Some other cool things I saw in the forest.

Tetragonisca angustula--a (relatively) docile, stingless bee

And a couple of spider monkeys behaving themselves.  We like them a lot better when they aren't raiding our labs.

Here we go again. . .

Five years in the middle of the Panama canal chasing monkeys!  

I'm back down on Barro Colorado Island as a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, continuing the research I started for my doctorate on how, and when, and where and why monkey groups fight with one another.  If you missed the first installment of this blog and are interested, check out Panamania:

My time here started auspiciously, with spider monkeys raiding the labs.  

The airconditioning wasn't working last weekend making it remarkably hot and unpleasant in all the offices. Most of the researchers living here had their balcony doors open in a vain attempt to get some air flowing through their labs. The spider monkeys, who have develloped the habit of hanging around the balcony searching for food and cigarette butts, seized this opportunity and rushed through a couple of the open doors and grabbed stuff that was out on the desks!  One stole a bag of seeds for Kristen's experiments and, for the first time in my life, my area of academic expertise had a practical application.  How do you get a monkey to give back something it stole? Offer it something it wants more!  

So, we traded the monkey a tree tomato for a bag of seeds.

Such is life in Panamania!