Friday, July 30, 2010


So, a little birdie told me that my blog needed some loving. :) Well, unfortunately, I don't have much to say. Every day here is pretty much the same now.... we sleep till noon, get up and putz around for the afternoon, maybe go to a lecture, maybe have a meeting, maybe work on some data analysis. We get ready for work at 8, and go out to the field. Lynne does her thing with the tungara frogs, I do my thing with the cane toads. We get done around 12 or 1, go to bed at 2, and start the whole thing over the next day.

The cane toads are responding well to the arena trials.... at least, 3 of the 5 are. We'll see what happens with the other two, I think they are compromised (or possibly just victims of a string of bad circumstances). Phonotaxis stuff isn't working, so we're trying to move the pen to a different area. 2 weeks and counting, and there's a lot to still be done!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Days 14-18 or so ….. BCI Visit and more Toad Arena Trials

So, my life here on out in Gamboa isn’t going to be nearly as interesting as it has been so far. Now that the arena/maze is built, and the phonotaxis pen is built, it’s just a matter of running everyone through the trials, i.e. sitting and video recording each toad for an hour a night. We got some interesting results the first night (I’m doing 3 toads one night and 2 toads the next), but the next night (last night) was almost a full moon, and the toads actually did behave differently. I’m curious to know if the increased moonlight was the cause. It was very bright; I could see without my headlamp, and that’s definitely saying something!

The phonotaxis trials didn’t go so hot; the toads keep trying to escape. We think it’s because the sides of the pen are made of mesh, so they can see right through and think they can hop out. I got some big plastic garbage bags at El Rey last night, and I’m going to drape those over the sides of the pen to see if that helps at all.

Miguel, Lynne and I snuck into the resort pool again on Thursday around lunchtime; this time I brought my camera. We got sunburned, which sucked, even though we were only out there for an hour. Oh, well, we bought sunscreen at the store last night, so that won’t happen again. The resort is so beautiful, it’s worth it to go just to see the view of the river and the canal!

On Thursday night Lynne and I took the boat to BCI for the dinner and the BAMBI (informal talk). The boat ride was fun, I had to ‘smuggle’ some bins on board so I could bring Rachel back her computer. Apparently there is a computer shortage with the bat people, so it was Amanda (with Jose’s help) to the rescue!

Dinner was good; not exceptionally tasty, but it was really nice to have someone else cook. Tofu-y stuff and rice and some sort of meat thing and French fries, salad and ice cream; hey, works for me. For $4 you get to the island and you get dinner, I’m totally sold for every Thursday until I leave.

After dinner we went to the BAMBI, which was an interesting talk about the relationship among understory vegetation, peccaries, and insectivorous birds. The woman giving the talk was very into her topic, which was good, considering it was her dissertation, but she definitely drew some conclusions that were not necessarily based on evidence. Oh, and she definitely got called on it.

I stayed on BCI that night to observe the cane toads in their natural habitat. Supposedly, there are large congregations of tungara frogs calling all the time, and the paper that I am trying to verify mentions a specific pond where the observer saw cane toads approach and consume tungara frogs. However, when I went searching, there were absolutely NO tungaras. Anywhere. Not a peep. Not a visual. Nothing. There were cane toads, oh yes, but they were doing their normal cane toad things; hanging out in the grass and on the sidewalk, waiting for insects or something to walk by so they could eat it. I observed these guys for a while, walked around looking for tungaras, and finally gave up and went back to the office. I looked up research papers all night, and watched a movie, and listened to some music. It was way too cold to sleep in the office; every time I touched the floor (tile) I felt like I was on ice. I finally dragged the little sleeping pad I had outside onto the balcony, and crashed out for about 3 hours. The Howler Monkeys woke me up around 6, and let me tell you, if you’re not expecting it, that is NOT a fun way to wake up!

Next week, I’ll go back, but this time I’ll bring my IPod and speaker so I can try and draw the cane toads in. We’ll see what happens; I’m skeptically, but at least I can disprove the paper by looking at the new evidence. Jose showed me where the hammocks were in the morning, so I will sleep in a hammock next week, and not on the ground. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Days 12 and 13….. or is it 13 and 14???

I am losing track of the days…. I know I’ve been here for 2 weeks, 3 more weeks to go. 2 days ago I did something I never thought I would be able to do; I drove to Panama City in a manual truck! It was rough, and thank God that Lynne came with me to encourage me on the way, but we made it all the way to Albrook mall, the fruit store, and back to Gamboa in one piece! We got all the supplies we needed, and groceries to boot!

The next day I set to work on the toad maze. I built an intricate setup of multiple levels and bridges and food bowls.

I was so excited to see what the toads would do in the maze. I built the maze in the morning, and as I was working, it started to rain, yay! It hasn’t rained in days, which is very bad for the frogs. We got a nice downpour for about 30 minutes, but then nothing else for the rest of the day. I finished up the maze feeling pretty good, then went to check on the toads. Alas, another toad had escaped, and 2 more were about to bust through their lids! Duct tape just doesn’t hold in this kind of weather. I trekked back up to the school and borrowed the drill and the original pieces of the lid that we cut out, then trekked back out to Santa Cruz and re-attached the lid pieces with zip ties. Let’s see those little buggers try and get out now! Muahahaha.

That night I went back and tried the first toad in the arena. He immediate hopped out of his hide pot, and looked around. He investigated an area of the arena that was the same as it was the night before, then looked at the maze, and just sort of stopped. If ever I’ve seen a toad go into information overload, it was at that moment. He looked around at the maze, hopped back and forth a little, and just sat there. I gave him half an hour, then took him out and re-did the maze completely. I don’t have a picture yet, but I’ll take one today or tomorrow and post it. I made it all one level (ground and cinder-block height), and used bricks as stairs. I ran the remaining three toads through this maze for an hour each, and each of them used it in an entirely different way. The first toad was most definitely exploring, the second toad was checking out hiding places, and the third toad found one of the food bowls and ate! I was so excited, I now have a good experimental design, and cooperative toads. And I found a 5th toad while at the school, so I have my boxes full again.

Tonight I go to BCI (Barro Colorado Island) for a talk and to do cane toad observations. I will sleep in Rachel’s office and come back on the boat in the morning. It should be fun, or at least, an experience! If it goes well, I will do this every week for the next 3 weeks, so I can get some observations on the toads in a natural setting. Things seem to be going well so far, here’s to good data for the next three weeks!

This is an awesome lizard I found near Santa Cruz... Gonatodes albogularis

Bufo typhonius... a diurnal toad!

Me and the arena, chugging along!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 12 …. Toad Maze!!

I woke up late today (11:00 am!), just in time to grab a shower, some food, and head down to the schoolhouse for the talk. The talk was surprisingly good; it was about the roosting behavior of butterflies. The speaker was really excited and enthusiastic, and definitely knew her stuff. I like talks like that; even though I don’t really like butterflies, I paid attention and was genuinely interested the whole time. :)

After the talk, Ximena and I took “Furn” (the latest toad) up to the apartment to meet with Venetia and see about VI tagging. We tried to put the tag in the membrane between two of the toes, and it just didn’t work. The skin on the toads is so thick, and completely opaque. You can’t see anything! Venetia (and Ximena) suggested that I write to North West (a company that makes tags) and see if I could get a sample of their injectable elastomer tag. This might work with the toads, and would still be easier than toe clipping (and last longer, too!). We’ll see what they say when they write back.

I spent the afternoon talking to Hil online and going through the 70-some-odd sound files looking for good tungara choruses. By 5:30, I’d gone through about a third of the files, and I only had 8 total tracks. Bummer. I’m hoping for 20, so we’ll see what happens as I go through the rest.

I headed over to the arena after that and cleaned out the area, and set up cardboard to block the corners. The duct tape didn’t stick to the walls all that well, so I placed some bricks in front of the cardboard as another measure to make sure the walls didn’t fall down. Toad arena complete!

About 8 o’clock, I headed back down to test the arena out. The tripod I borrowed from the frog lab was in pieces and wouldn’t hold together, so I ended up just holding the camera on my lap and perching on the side of the ring. It was fine, except that holding the same position for 3 hours (1 hour per toad) was a bit backbreaking! I will need to get a chair for next time. I placed the 3 larger PVC pieces in a small circle towards the middle of the ring, grabbed a toad from it’s home in it’s original hide box (a flower pot), and placed it backed up to a side wall of the ring.

The toads didn’t do what I wanted (explore the PVC pipes), but they did exhibit some really interesting behavior. Each toad spent most of its time walking around the sides of the ring, but not necessarily following the walls. Every time it found a piece of cardboard, it would jump and smack it right in the middle. The toads would also climb up onto the bricks and use them to jump higher at the cardboard.

Recording toad behavior for 3 hours really makes you think; I had all sorts of wonderful questions and comments for Ximena when I got back to the schoolhouse! We sat and talked for a while, and decided that the toads are bored, and novelty items won’t be enough for them. We needed to build them a more complex arena with “treat areas” so they will explore and find food. Basically….a Toad Maze! We are meeting with Rachel this morning to discuss logistics, and then it’s off to town (again) to buy more supplies. But that’s OK, we’re out of all of our staple foods anyways (yogurt, chocolate, chips, granola bars AND crackers!)

Stay tuned to see what happens with the Toad Maze…. I know I’m excited!!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 11 ….. Toad pen construction and fumbling in the dark

I spent all day building the toad pen. Lynne and I went over there first thing after Miguel (our new roommate) left with Ximena, and spent 2 ½ hours setting things up. We put up the gazebo first, which is a plastic tarp shade tent with mesh sewed to the sides. This is where we moved the toads after all the experiments were set up, so that there would be a minimal amount of stress for them between experiments.

The gazebo was fairly easy, as we found a piece of paper with a diagram of what it was supposed to look like. After that, we set to work putting together the toad pen. That proved a bit more difficult. I didn’t label the pieces before I took it apart, so Lynne and I spent a great deal of time looking and pieces, switching them around, and scratching our heads. We finally got a shape that resembled the old walls, so we decided to stick with that.

After laying out all of the pieces, we started to thread the mesh walls into place. On a whole, the walls went on pretty easily. However, I made one of the wall’s seams too short, and it wouldn’t fit on the pipe. So, back to the school we went to make yet again another panel. I sewed this last panel in about 45 minutes, and headed back over to CG alone to finish the pen. By this time, Ximena and Miguel had gotten back from town, and she brought me some shelving for the gazebo and my favorite tool of all time; zip ties! I set the shelves up, set the toad pen, attached everything with zip ties and voila! Toad pen complete!

We hung out at the school for most of the day, working on toad pen stuff, Lynne was working on beetle stuff. She caught some more tadpoles and larvae to feed, and separated them all into cups. She is testing to see if the beetles bite the calling tungara frogs, posing yet another cost for them while they call and swat the flies away.

Around 8 o’clock, we went back up to the school and I met with Ximena about auditory stimuli for the toad pen experiments. She had 70-some-odd files that we started to go through, and we found a couple that would work, but a lot of them didn’t (too noisy, other frogs calling, not enough tungaras, etc.) We edited sound files until about 11, then she went to help Martha and I tried to set up the speakers and do an equipment check. Turns out that the Ipod shuffles that she bought aren’t going to work… the controls for them are on the headphones instead of on the actual Ipod. That means we would have to unplug the speakers and plug the headphones in every time we wanted to change tracks. Fortunately, I brought my Ipod, so I ran home to get it. By the time I got everything situated and working and headed over to CG, it was almost midnight. I got the speakers set up and tested the sound, and finally got to test a toad. Then the problems of the experiment arose. It was much, much too dark to see anything. I couldn’t see the pulley for the bucket, I couldn’t see the frog to follow it with the camera (even with the night vision setting on the camera). The first guy jumped right to the side with the speaker playing the chorus, however he sat in the corner for about 10 minutes after the initial move. The second guy jumped to the same corner (even though the sound was coming from the other speaker for the second file), and he escaped under the pen. I caught him, but it obviously wasn’t going to be worth doing experiments again until Andres came with the other infrared lights. Luckily, that will happen on Tuesday night, so I can work on fortifying the pen and building the novelty arena until then. Sigh. More setup, less trials for me. But hey, that’s science!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 10……. Sewing. That’s all.

Yesterday was not very exciting. I woke up, I ate breakfast, I checked my email. The guys came to fix our hot water heater, took the old one, and said they’d be back on Monday. So we might have hot water by Monday… w00t! Cold showers are OK when it’s 95% humidity and like, 88 degrees, but it would be nice to have the option, ya know?

Lynne and I cut the fabric for the toad pen in the morning, then she went down to the resort to try and catch some tadpoles. She found some really interesting beetle larvae, and is testing to see if the larvae interact with or pose a cost to the tungara frogs as they call (it stemmed from a beetle she caught on video that bit a tungara frog). Anyways, I took all 40 feet of the mesh fabric down for the sides of the toad pen down to the school, and finally figured out where the sewing machine was. Lynne is apparently pro sewer, so she showed me how to set it up and thread the needle and all, and I got to work sewing tracks into the sides of all my panels. I started this at about 1 p.m. ….. I was done at 11 p.m. Now, I did take breaks, and go home for dinner, but it seriously took me like, 7 hours to sew all of this. I think my eyeballs were about ready to fall off!

It was a quiet night for frogs (hasn’t rained in 2 days), so it was a short night for Lynne. We loaded up the truck with the frog pen pieces and took them over to the fly cage area, and dropped them off. I’ll go back today while it’s light outside and set everything up. Toad pen should be complete by tonight, and ready for experiments tonight or tomorrow!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Days 8 and 9…. Toad Pen; start to finish (ish)

It’s going to get progressively harder for me to write every day, so I’m going to try and keep it to every other day. The day before yesterday, I started building the toad pen. As I began, I realized that I bought the wrong connectors. I bought ones that had threading on one side, for screwing in other pieces. The threading made it too small to insert the pipes and have them stay. Bummer! We tried to put the pen together anyway, and just duct tape all the pieces together. It worked, but barely held. Also, we realized as we went that my design was way too tall; the pen I imagined was 16’ x 4’ x 4’, and 4’ was way too tall. I caught a toad that night outside of the house and watched him hop around for a bit, then decided to cut my design in half, and build the pen 2’ high.

That night I went down to the school to feed Wart while Lynne went out into the field. She had a good night; 2 males, 1 female, and 3 couples (9 frogs total). We met back at the school around 11, and took some supplies to Ximena, who was at the fly cage (bat area) with Rachel, Sara and Martha. We watched them take blood samples from the two frog-eating bats that they had, then Ximena and I walked around to check out the area and figure out where we could set up my experiments. We looked at some site and decided it was best to come back during the day and look some more.

We got back to the school around 12:15, worked up the 9 frogs (which took forever!), and took them back to release them. We finally made it home around 2:30 a.m. When we went downstairs to check our email, Sara and Martha were in the lab “scheming”… they wanted to go to pizza and a movie on Friday night. We said yes, of course, let’s all go!

On Friday, Martha drove me into town yet again to get the new connecters, and a few things for Ximena. I set to work building my pen the right way, and even though I forgot zip ties (to hold the sides of the pen together), I got it pretty much finished!

Friday was great; aside from building the pen, I hung around the house, watched a movie, played on the computer, etc. etc. It was like having a real day off. By 5:00 p.m., no one had firmed up the movie plans yet, and I was really enjoying my day “off”, so I decided to myself that I probably wasn’t going to go. When it came time to leave, and we realized there were six people and only room for 5 comfortably in the truck, I decided to hang back at the house. :) I made dinner, had a beer, watched a movie, and Skyped with Hil for 4 hours. I would say that’s a pretty nice night to myself!

Today I have to cut and sew the mesh fabric for the sides of the toad pen. I am hoping to have the whole thing finished by Monday, so we can start the phonotaxis experiments then. We’ll see what happens!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 6 and 7…. People eating ice cream, Toads eating dog food

Sorry I skipped a day…. Yesterday was intensely hectic. I will start with the day before yesterday, though not much happened, so don’t worry, you didn’t miss much ;). We slept till 1, trying to make up for the 3:30 a.m. food run escapade, and woke up in time to eat breakfast, get dressed, and catch a ride over to Tupper (main bldg in PC) with Ximena. She was giving the formal lecture that day, and it would be the first time that Lynne and I would see her formally speak. She’s very good! Unfortunately, she put pictures of Lynne and I in the presentation. Much later that night, when I was down at the school looking at the toads, I met a guy and he was like, “Oh, there was a picture of you in the lecture today, you’re the toad girl!” Yes folks, I am the toad girl, I admit it and accept it full-fledged, but I’m sorry, you can’t kiss me, I’ve already found my prince. :D

Anyways, after the lecture, we hung around and attempted to ‘socialize’ with other STRI people…. No such luck. We ended up talking to Sara and Marta the whole time. We went out for ice cream in this nice little historic area with a bunch of the bat lab people, and some other friends of Ximena and Rachel. It was a lot of fun; the ice cream was delicious, and we walked around this really pretty area looking at city and the Panama Bay (part of the Pacific Ocean). There was a monument to the French attempt at building the Panama Canal as well. It was a beautiful area at night, but I think it would have been more fun during the day, so I could take better pictures.

That night I stayed at the school while Lynne went out to record alone. I fed and recorded the remaining 3 frogs (Draino and Rocky escaped; we found Rocky quickly, but no sign of Draino). I chatted on Skype for a while, so I wasn’t really paying attention to the toads. We got our work done and were home in bed by 1:30.

The next day (yesterday), I was feeling guilty about not watching the toads, so I woke up early and went down to the bat lab to watch the videos. 2 out of the three toads ate on the tapes! I was soooo excited! This means my novel item experiments will work out.  While making notes on the tapes and doing some other computer stuff, Rachel came in and asked for some help; one of the lab rooms had flooded. I quickly grabbed a broom and Rachel, Marta and I swept water out the door for half an hour. Turns out that the water heater busted…. Unfortunately, it’s the water heater for our apartment. No hot water for us for a while! Luckily, this is about the only place where it’s OK not to have hot water.

While we were sweeping, Ximena showed up, and we were chatting for a bit. I ran upstairs to get Lynne for something, and we all talked for a while about the projects. Then I ran upstairs, changed out of my pajamas (which I still had on since I didn’t think I was going to be doing so much so quickly!), and ran back downstairs in time to check my email and wait for Marta to take me into town to buy toad pen supplies.

The trip to town was long! It was Marta, Sara, Vincent (new guy from Montreal, speaks excellent Spanish!), and myself. We went to Tupper to get Vincent all signed in and official, and so I could pick up our license paperwork and the toad permit. The paperwork wasn’t ready, but the toad permit was! Which made me very happy; now my project was really official!

We headed to Albrook mall, where I bolted to the Apple store to buy a new power cord for my computer. Mine melted into two pieces the night before…. Sigh. $100 later, I have a new cord, and can use my laptop again. Vincent was starving, so we went to Crepes & Waffles again, and ate delicious crepes and drank jugo de guanabana, which Lynne and I are obsessed with. We went to Novey and to Do It center to get PVC for my toad pen, and to the fabric store to get mesh fabric. Now I have all my pieces, I am going to start building my pen today. 

Last night I caught new toad #5 (Wart), and we went out to the field to do some recordings and catch some couples. It was raining, so we didn’t get a huge load, but we got 3 recordings and two couples, which wasn’t too bad. We took them to the lab, worked them up, released them and made it home before 12:30. A successful night, for sure!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 5…. Crusing down the highway in my 45

I said the other day was long, but today was really, REALLY long. I woke up around 9:00 and didn’t go to bed until about 3:30 this morning. My own fault, though the yard work guys with their giant saws at 9:30 thing morning really didn’t help the situation.

This morning Ximena came over to teach Lynne how to drive manual. We also needed to run down to the school and get the mini USB cable so we could transfer the files off the video camera, so that was very convenient. Lynne did a great job driving; she only stalled the car when she tried to stop it (which is funny, because I only stall the car when I try to start it!). She did so well that she drove us around for most of the day (the whole 3 places that we had to go), and she drove around for fieldwork at night.

We hooked the video cameras up to the computers down in the lab and looked at the videos to determine quality, if we could see what we wanted to see, if we needed to do something better, etc. Turns out the infrared lights work to a degree, but would be better if we took both lights and mounted them on one camera. Lynne decided she would test this theory tonight.

I met with Ximena and Rachel Page (resident researcher here at STRI who works with frog-eating bats) about my project, and we spent two hours discussing possibly strategies and fleshing out my initial ideas. It was a really long, really harrowing meeting, and kind of overwhelming, but I came away with a lot of new ideas, some great direction, and a new member of my committee! I think it will look good to have someone from the Smithsonian on my graduate committee, and Rachel is really nice and easygoing, and has a lot of great ideas.

During the meeting I met Marta, one of Rachel’s research assistants this summer. It was suggested that I ride over to the fly cages with Marta after the meeting and show her how to work up the tungaras, and she could show me her project and the bats. The only problem was, Marta doesn’t speak English. I was very, very hesitant at first, and after such a brain-overload I was a little bit freaking out. It was also suggested to me (by Ximena and Rachel, of course), that I should ask to ride with Marta into town to Novey (like a Target, kind of) to get PVC later this week. So I was also freaking out about that, too.

Marta, however, is one of the sweetest people I’ve met here. She speaks slowly, and luckily I understand enough Spanish to follow about 80% of what she was saying. If I didn’t understand a word or a phrase, she would see it on my face, and she would try to say it in English or describe it to me. I think she was in the same boat I was, because when I spoke to her, I tried to do it mostly in Spanish, but I had to use some English, and she still understood. It’s not as hard to communicate across languages as I thought, and it gave me the confidence to keep trying my Spanish here. I am getting better and better every day!

During the evening I opted out of fieldwork (Lynne and Ximena went out to record and aspirate some flies), and I stayed at the school and worked up the toads (I found a 5th toad, so my boxes are full!) and tried to feed 2 of them. We decided that dog food is the best way to go, since that way we can control and standardize how much they are eating. I tried to feed two frogs and video record them approaching the food dish to get a control for feeding time, but neither of them approached the bowl in 60 minutes. Very frustrating, but hey, that’s science. I am going to try to do it earlier tonight; maybe just at dusk instead of waiting until 9:00-10:00 p.m. Also, I moved them around quite a bit, and pulled everyone out to get stats, so they were probably angry with me. 

When Ximena and Lynne got back, we worked up the frogs they brought, then dropped Ximena off at home, took the frogs to the frog lab to get toe clipped, and took them back out to the resort. I must add in here that I drove on this whole stint of the trip, and I didn’t stall the car once! My gear change is getting a bit shaky (I think I am overconfident), but all in all, I am driving much better!

After work we went with Sara (another research assistant in the bat lab) out to el Rey, a 24-hour grocery store at the edge of Panama City. That was…. An experience. Sara had never driven that far before, and she wasn’t necessarily a bad driver, but I have a feeling that barreling down the highway at 100 km/hr in the rainforest in the middle of the night isn’t exactly recommended. We made it to el Rey in one piece, bought waaaay too many groceries (turns our Lynne really likes chocolate and cheese, so we’re in trouble!), and flew back to Gamboa. By the way, I have to say, I love Lynne. She’s very quiet around other people, but with me, she’s totally hilarious.  Anyways, we passed out around 3:30 a.m. after stuffing our faces with random Panamanian candy, and awoke this morning to the sound of the evil lawn machines.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 4 …… Croak master; more than meets the eye!

So, I’ve learned that you get a little fuzzy doing fieldwork until 1 in the morning. You coming up with silly sayings, and will do just about anything to keep yourself awake.

We slept in today (thankfully), and headed down to the school around 11 to start building toad boxes. I drilled and sanded holes, Lynne cut the tops, and we had 5 beautiful cane toad habitats by 3:30!

Unfortunately, we only had one toad (Dusty) to move into the boxes…. The small toad was tragically killed in an accident (I slipped and fell on the sidewalk). I survived the fall, however I caught myself with my left knee and right palm; now they are scraped to high hell. Apparently, I don’t function well with man-made objects. Doh!

Tonight we found 3 more toads; one right outside of our house, which prompted us to run down to the school and put it in a box. Lynne caught another one right outside the gate to the school, and as I was settling them in (“Draino” and “Grumpy”), I looked to the left and saw the mother of all toads. “Big Mama” is the biggest yet, even bigger than Dusty! She escaped while we were out catching tungaras, but we found her and repaired her box. We’ll see if she stays in there until tomorrow.

Lynne and I ran around a bit by ourselves until Ximena caught up with us, and then the three of us went to the Resort area and videotaped 6 more tungaras. We took them back to the school to work them up (see silly pictures below), then over to the Frog Lab to swab and toe clip them, then back to the resort to release them. Ximena left us at the school, so we did the rest of the trip on our own. So independent are we! Luckily, I only stalled the car 3 times, and 2 of those were trying to do something I wasn’t sure would work.

Here Lynne and I are holding an H. Rosenbergi (Goliath Tree Frog)

Here are our Toad boxes (you can see on the bottom right where Big Mama escaped), and our tungara frog catches of the night

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 3… Did we park by the Purple Hippo, or the Dino?

Yesterday was loooooong. We got up early and drove to Albrook Mall with Ximena, her mom, and her son. We were then set loose of the largest mall in the world (so it seemed at the time), to purchase the items on our list. Lynne and I found most of the stuff on the list within half an hour (plastic bins, food dishes, hide box pots, etc.), but we couldn’t seem to find any office supplies anywhere. We wandered around for a while and found a store called “Steven’s”, which seemed like a Macy’s. They had a toy section, and in it we found children’s butterfly nests for only $2.50! (We had been looking for materials to make an insect-catching apparatus, for toad food hunting). The next are actually pretty sturdy, and will be good for finding food for the toads.

As we wandered around, we saw several large plastic-y animals decorating the mall. 2 giraffes guarded the Cinema, penguins stood by the Mac store, a small coral reef accompanied the gumball machines. At one point I left to put things in the car, and I noticed that there was a large purple hippo by the door I exited. The door also said “Hippo” on it in purple. Then I realized…. These are way-finding animals! They help you remember where the hell you put your car. Genius!

When we were done shopping, we met Ximena et al. at a restaurant called “Crepes and Waffles”. It’s a Columbian restaurant that Ximena and her mother love. And let me tell you, I loved it too. The food was soooo good, and they had a huge specialty ice cream menu. Tomas got a little scoop of vanilla in the shape of a smiling man; it was so cute! Definitely a new favorite, they should really bring this chain to the US.

By the time we got back from shopping, Ximena was running late to a meeting, so we dropped them off and took the car to unload. Only problem was…. It’s a manual. All the vehicles here are manual, I don’t know why. So I had a crash course in remembering how to drive a stick. All in all, I think I did pretty well. I drove to drop supplies off at the school then back to the house. Then I drove us around for work during the night as well. My biggest issue seems to be getting into first gear, and moving from reverse to first gear. Once I’m moving, I can change between gears just fine, and I can stop the car just fine. Ah, well, practice will fix that! The STRI trucks are diesel and manual, so that will be an interesting challenge. At least Ximena has a Yaris.

We took the video cameras with infrared lights out to the field last night to practice filming the tungara frogs. We need to film an individual male for 10 minutes. Ideally, the male will be calling the entire time, and have midges that land on him back, walk up to his nose, and bite him. The frogs sometimes will use their forearms to swat away the midges. We are trying to record them shortening a mating call because they are swatting away the flies. I recorded 2 individuals last night, in two different areas, and I think I got pretty good footage. The night vision lights are fantastic, you can see a lot more than I thought you would be able to!

We brought 2 of the frogs back to the school so Ximena could show us how to work them up. While Lynne was measuring the first one, we found a full-size cane toad hopping around inside of the school. Measuring the tungaras was out the window for me; I set to work drilling holes and making a quick habitat for this beast (we’re calling him ‘Dusty’, because we found him under a table and he was covered with dust). He’s in a makeshift house today, so I’ve got to go back this afternoon and finish his house up, and make a few more for any other toad sightings. We were lucky yesterday; Ximena brought me a small one that she found under her house, and just as we were leaving, we found another full-grown toad (smaller than the first), hopping around in the school. Ximena thinks I’m attracting the toads. Good, I hope I am! Less work going out and looking for them!

We took the tungaras over to the frog lab, because the “real” tungara project people are doing toe-clipping and swabbing for chytrid fungus. Two of the project interns showed us how to do this on our catches, and then we took the frogs back to where we found them. A long night, but a satisfying one nonetheless; we made it home around 1:30 a.m.

We filled our hummingbird feeder with sugar water yesterday just to see if we could attract anything. This little fattie hung around for hours, flitting from one tree to another, to the feeder, and then repeat! He's a rufus-tailed hummingbird

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 2 - the red cable connects to the.... video camera? Infrared light? What's that one do???

Yesterday was pretty quiet. We spent most of the day down at the school claiming our desk spaces and going through boxes of inventory, trying to decide what was what, what we needed, what we didn’t need, and how to label things. It was fun once we got going, but realistically, Lynne and I haven’t got a clue how half of this stuff works. Ximena also showed us the frog lab in building 183 (across the playground from us), and the acoustic chamber that they use to test and record the tungara frogs. It’s pretty cool; a big white room lined with foam, with speakers, cameras and wires headed every which way. You can close the door to the room, turn out the lights, and watch what’s going on via infrared/night vision camera on a big TV on a desk. The tungara frog is tiny (maybe 2 in?), so the chamber isn’t big enough to use for my toads; which means we’ll have to build something else.

After hours of sorting through equipment (which in reality, isn’t that bad; it was kind of like Christmas. Opening new packages of expensive equipment, figuring out what everything is, putting sets together. Lots of fun! I even got a present’ 4 Pesola scales for measuring my toads! I <3 Pesola scales) we all sat down under the house and had a meeting about whose picking up what projects and moving in what direction. Lynne is going to be working on video recording the tungara frogs with the frog-biting midges for a project Ximena is doing. I am going to be doing some preliminary background stuff for the Cane toads;

Cane toads are known predators of tungara frogs in Gamboa (they have been identified as prey items by more than one researcher; remains have been found in the stomachs of the cane toads, and 2x the cane toads have been observed preying on the tungaras). Ximena has been training the 4 cane toads back at the lab to eat dog food by playing an hour recording of tungara frog call while presenting them with their food items. She has been successful 50% of the time (2 will eat, 2 will not eat). We can draw a couple of assumptions from this; either the toads respond to a novel food source using auditory cues of an inherently known food source (the lab toads are wild caught from South Florida, so they have no prior experience with tungara frogs), or the can be conditioned or taught to respond to auditory or visual cues that mean food (like Pavlovian conditioning). While in Gamboa, I am going to see if this assumption holds true for the native species, who have prior experience with the tungara frog, and are often seen in the same areas.

Unfortunately for me, there haven’t really been a lot of cane toads sighted in Gamboa lately, and with no rain since we arrived, it will be hard to find any right now. The good news is, BCI (Barro Colorado Island) is right across the river, and there are tons of cane toads there. It would be hard to try and catch them, bring them back, put them through tests, and take them back in one day, so I need to set up a colony of toads down at the school. So today we are going into town to buy supplies for 10 toad tanks (i.e. plastic Tupperware with lids with holes in them). At this juncture I definitely have to say ‘Thank You Kyle’; if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s set up plastic box habitats! We’ll work on these for the next couple of days, and then meet with Rachel when she gets back on Monday to talk about the learning theory involved for the toads.

We are also going to try and catch one toad from the area and test out his jumping range in the fly cage; we need to see just how big of an apparatus we’ll need to build to test the toad’s auditory preferences. We’re thinking something 20 ft x 10 ft at the minimum; it’s going to be interesting for sure!

It didn’t rain yesterday, so Lynne and I went to the pool with Ximena, her son, and her mother. The pool is at the Gamboa Resort; STRI people tend to sneak in and swim as much as possible. I can see why, the pool was beautiful. I sometimes forget that we’re working in paradise. Looking at the rooms from the poolside, each room has a king size bed and a balcony overlooking the river, with a hammock. I definitely want to take a mini vacation and stay in one of those rooms at some point, maybe next field season. J

We didn’t go herping last night because of the lack of rain, so Lynne and I hung around the house and made dinner and read. We started a species list on Thursday, but then realized that we’re here for a month, and we’ll need more than just one list. We ended up making 4 lists (birds, mammals, frogs, other herps), and tacking them to the wall. That way, we have household lists, and when Miguel, Quinn and Priyanka come, they can add the things that they see too.

OK, time to eat breakfast and get ready. I am going to write every morning (or every morning that I can) about what happened the day before. I think that’s the best way to do this, so keep checking back for more updates about my toading adventures in Panama!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 1 - Up and Running!

Alas, the screaming “kick me I’m a puppy” birds apparently are not only sunrise screamers, but also sunset. I also realized today that I actually woke up at a quarter to six; much earlier that I had originally thought. It will get interesting tonight – Ximena says that fieldwork usually lasts until at least 1 a.m.

The morning started off very promising, with an Aguti sighting out the back window while I was brushing my teeth. Forgetting that there is a range of medium-sized rodents in Central and South America, I thought to myself, “look, a juvenile Capybara!” Ha Ha Ha, stupid American. It’s either one extreme or the other…. (this is ecologist humor; if you don’t get it, don’t feel bad!)

Lynne and I spent a good portion of the morning chatting about life and what we’re doing (here and in all respects). We walked around a little bit and took some pictures of the area. It is neat to see the Panama Canal so close up. The landscape here is beautiful; all trees and jungle sounds, I love it!

A section of the Panama Canal, right down the street

A tanager of some sorts, I forget which one. Neither Lynne nor I are bird people, but we have a book!

Ximena picked us up at 9:30 to take us into town to the main STRI building so we could register. We also got nifty ID cards with our pictures on them; they are washed out and make us look a little like black and white zombies. J We met 2 geologists and a wife (belonging to a geologist), and chatted with them about what to do and where to go. Ximena came to get us with good news; my toad permit went through, which means I can start collecting and experimenting with them on the 15th! Just enough time to start designing some protocol and actual experimental setup. This is great news if I hope to gather preliminary data to write a grant this fall.

From STRI, we rode a little farther into Panama City to visit Albrook Mall. Malls in Panama are literally shopping hubs. Lynne and I wandered around a grocery store for a good hour, trying to decide what to buy and how to feed ourselves for the next month. Some things are very expensive here, while others (like alcohol) are very, very cheap. We settled on many staples (pasta, rice, beans, chicken), some vegetables, and some random things that we “just had to buy”. Monster Munchies were a necessity, by and far.

We visited a produce stand on the way back into town, which had decent vegetables at really good prices. Lynne doesn’t cook much, so I am self-proclaimed house cook until anyone else gets here. Fine by me; I love to cook, and I would much rather cook for two than for one.

Getting back to the house we met Mike Ryan, who seems to be a head honcho around here. He’s been doing research on tungara frogs and their conspecifics for years. We saw a coati wandering through the backyard (also a playground). I took a nap. It was blissful. We went to a talk at Rachel Page’s house about the acoustic universe of the frog-eating bat, and how she and Ximena are going to start looking at spatial and acoustic organization of the frog choruses based on predator/prey interactions. Such cool stuff, I miss this so much. 20-some-odd people, young, old, novice, expert, all walks of life, sitting around a living room eating homemade cookies discussing experimental setup and rationalizing theory. I was born for this. I sat in the back and took it all in, just happy to once again be a part of a system that I understand. Bureaucracy is overrated; give me a subject I love and let me debate it with fifteen of my closest colleagues. That’s the life for me.

Our first fieldwork is tonight; Ximena is coming to pick us up in about an hour. I will write about all of that wonderfulness later, when I invade the computer lab at dawn. Oh, yes, the computer lab. So, upstairs the wireless access is intermittent at best, mostly just completely undetectable. Today Ximena gave us a key to Rachel’s lab, which is basically a small room downstairs with 2 desktops and AC. In other words; Heaven. I will be spending as many mornings as possible with a cup of coffee cruising the web. Oh, Happy Day, I get to talk to the universe again! Not that it isn’t wonderful talking to Lynne and Ximena and reading, but sometimes, I just need to be plugged in. In the words of the original Syler (Matrix, not Heroes), “Ignorance is Bliss”.


Species seen on our first field trip:
Hyla rosenbergi
Leptodactylus insularum
Leptodactylus fragilis
Leptodactylus pentadactylus

P. pustulosus
3 yellow Hylid spp. (1 w/ no pants on ventral hindquarters, 1 w/ivory lateral stripe tip to tail, 1 other variable markings)
Agalychnis callidryas
Smilisca spp.

We heard cane toads off in the distance at the resort, but we weren’t able to get close to them due to a fence. Leave it to mankind and progress to stop my herping trip! :( for a dry night (hadn't rained in 2 days), we did very well.

My very first catch was executed well for a gimp! I spotted the throat of a full grown H. rosenbergi under a ledge in the water, then proceeded to slowly slide down the ledge (can't walk it yet with my ankles), place one foot on each side of the frog, and blindly grab where I thought he was. It worked; I can up with a full grown frog the size of my hand. He was adorable! And what's more, he reminded me why I am doing this.... because I love catching frogs!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bag o' Cheerios

It's just before sunrise, and I was started awake by what sounded like a puppy (or multiple puppies) being repeatedly kicked. After much investigation and a little bleary-eyed wandering, I determined that this sound was coming from the bats in the area (or possibly some sort of very early morning bird), as they travelled home in the morning. That will certainly be something to get used to!

We made it to Panama safely, though night flights do have their disadvantages.... I have absolutely no idea where I am or how I got here. Upon arrival in Panama City, we made it through customs surprisingly quickly, and hopped into a hired minibus to take us the 45 minute trip to Gamboa. The parts of the city we drove through seemed interested; I will certainly enjoy exploring on some down time. I think that I will also try to visit San Blas and Bocas del Toro; those two areas kept burping up in conversation as well-wishes spooned me tidbits of advice last week.

The house we're staying in is nothing short of fantastic - so island-y and comfortable that I feel immediately at home. All the houses in Gamboa are 2-story; the first floor is a basement/workroom, and the second floor is the living area. Lynne and I have the whole house (a 2/1 with 4 twin beds) to ourselves until the 18th. We stopped at Ximena's house (down the road) to collect the keys, where she informed us of this, and handed us a ziploc bag of cheerios and half a carton of milk, with promises of grocery shopping tomorrow. There's no coffee here yet, though.... a cup of coffee would be wonderful right about now.

Back to the house; the floors are a beautiful, old polished wood, and it's very wet here, so everywhere we walk we go 'squeak, squeak, squeak'. It's definitely kind of fun. The rooms are large and airy, with high ceilings and lots of windows. Upon initial inspection, Lynne and I discovered that the living/dining/working area was strung with a multitude of holiday lights. We are determined to make them work in the next few days (at least one bulb is broken, causing a somber outage). I love this house already, and will be very at home here over the next month.

As the sun rises, the noises from the jungle explode. So many birds that I have never heard before; and I'm not a birder to begin with! I will try and sleep a few more hours before Ximena comes to pick us up and take us on a whirlwind tour of the area. Ah, to have coffee right now....

Ciao for Now!

Monday, July 5, 2010


First entry in the travel blog. *ooohhhh ahhhhhh*. I made it out of Gainesville despairingly, with a heavy heart and a trailer loaded with a friend's china hutch. Driving to Tampa with a trailer was much easier than I had imagined; I'm confident that I can make it from Florida to Texas in August; though 21 hours might be a bit of a long haul. Well, we shall see what happens!

Today I am sorting through the mess that is my suitcase. I literally dumped half of my closet and most of my bathroom into the world's largest suitcase and dragged it to Gulfport. Now I need to take the time to figure out what exactly one needs for a month-long trip to Panama. I have a list; time to check it twice!

My ankle(s) are somewhat better, but hurt much worse. The left one (which I tore both ligaments that stabilize it) it doing OK, but now the right one is hurting and swollen (probably from driving 2 1/2 hours and walking around downtown last night). Today I'm taking it easy and trying to heal. Field work in 3 days; we'll see if I can make it happen.

Ciao for now!