News and updates from our outreach events as well as journal entries from Katie's fieldwork seasons.

Sunday
Jun262011

Updates - Round 3 Weeks 9 & 10

Field data collection is complete! Our last day of field work was June 25, and now we are in the final stages of organizing samples for shipment and packing everything up in our cabana. Last weekend I was unable to write an update because we were traveling in San Cristobal de las Casas and Tuxtla Gutierrez. I went to Tuxtla to get my export permit for the last batch of fecal samples. All went smoothly except that the system wouldn't print the permit so I had to go back a second day to pick it up. I was also able to verify my plant identifications at the herbarium at EcoSur, a university in San Cristobal. It was a busy couple of days, but I left feeling like I got a lot done.

The last two weeks in the field were pretty routine. We got our samples without a problem...although there were a few days when the monkeys made themselves difficult to observe. Leaving the Balam group for the last time and then the Motiepa group was a little hard. We are both tired from all the hard work we have been doing, but the forest is so beautiful here, and of course, we enjoy being around the monkeys. We'll be so busy with last-minute errands here that I don't think the reality of the situation will hit me until I'm already gone. Even so, I'm trying to enjoy my last few days in Palenque and plan on taking one more walk through the forest before I leave.

Updates will probably be less regular once I start the labwork in Champaign. Labwork doesn't have exciting surprises like snakes. However, I'm confident that I will find some interesting patterns in my data. I will be sure to update as much as I can and to notify when anything gets published.

Sunday
Jun122011

Updates - Round 3 Week 8

Week 9 flew by. The nightly rains have continued so the heat remains tolerable. However, the behavior of the Motiepa group this week matched that of the Balam group last week. There were not as many intergroup encounters, but the Motiepa group traveled almost the entire length of its territory almost every day. The Motiepa group has a much larger territory than the Balam group and is located on a long incline. Although the distances we traveled each time they moved were still less than a kilometer, the hill made the journey seem hotter and longer. In addition to that, most of the traveling the monkeys did was along the small river that runs through their territory. The river is beautiful and full of cascading waterfalls (due to the inclined terrain), but following the monkeys back and forth across it as they moved along made for some wet afternoons.

Other than the monkeys, we ran into several agoutis and a coral snake this week. The monkeys also spent a couple days in a fruiting fig tree overhanging the largest waterfall in their territory, and we were able to spot a huge variety of birds, including mot-mots and toucans.

Monday
Jun062011

Updates - Round 3 Week 7

It is starting to rain again, which has cooled things off significantly. Luckily, most of the rain comes at night though, so we are able to work comfortably in the field still. Cooler weather means the monkeys are more active. It’s a nice change, but this week Balam was very active and tended go into the middle of tall trees with dense leaves almost every day. There was also at least one howling encounter with another group every day. Data collection was a challenge.

 On top of that, the Balam males were very difficult to tell apart. Although they have some distinguishing characteristics, they are subtle and hard to see if the monkeys are moving quickly or if the light is wrong. Usually we use botflies to tell them apart more easily. Botflies are flies whose larvae grow under the skin of a mammalian host, in this case, the monkeys. When a monkey has a botfly, it develops a very visible lump wherever the botfly is—face, neck, chest, back, etc. Because different individuals have botflies in different places, this makes it easy for us to quickly identify the monkeys once we know where each one has a botfly. However, the botflies only last for about a month, after which the fly emerges and the lump disappears; we are constantly on the lookout for new ones. One of the Balam males has had a botfly on his right collarbone for the past three weeks, but this week it was almost gone. The other male has no botflies. While this is great for the monkeys, it made it very difficult for us to quickly distinguish the males from one another. We were able to do it using the faded botfly, a faint scar, and facial characteristics, but several times we had to follow our focal individual around after the focal had ended to verify the identity. Luckily, the females and juveniles are easy to tell apart using permanent characteristics so our frustration was limited.

Aside from the monkeys, we saw a coati this week. This is the first time I've seen this raccoon-like animal in Palenque National Park! We also saw an encounter between a small snake and a big tarantula. I didn't get close enough to see what the end result was, but when I looked at the pictures I took, it looks like the snake is belly-up.

The end result of snake v. tarantula.

 Teresa and Luz resting together.

Sunday
May292011

Updates - Round 3 Week 6

The heat continues! Melanie's interest in Isa's baby also continues. Melanie constantly follows Isa around and handles her baby whenever she gets the chance. There have been a couple more instances of aggression between the females, too. Although social behavior is not my focus, it's very interesting to watch all of these interactions. They remind me how important inter-individual relationships are among primates.

As I've mentioned several times, the heat is affecting the monkeys' behavior. We've had a few days where the monkeys rested for eight hours! This makes collecting behavioral data easy since they are not moving very much, but it makes collecting fecal material difficult. Instead of defecating several times each day, the monkeys defecate only once around 4pm. Howler monkeys in a single group tend to defecate all at one time. Now though, because they are all resting in a pile, they also all defecate in the same place. This makes matching samples to monkeys tricky. We get all of the samples coming at us at one time in one place, and we only have one chance at them per day. Sample collection is hectic to say the least. Still, we're getting it done. We have not missed a single sample, and we were able to collect from the 5-month-old infant again this week!

This week we also ran into a large fer-de-lance (or nauyaca). It was at least 2m long and curled up in a ruin. It was beautiful. Its coloring was quite different from the small one we found a few weeks ago though. I believe this week's was a true fer-de-lance. The small one is likely a different species, but I'll have to check with a herpetologist.

The hummingbird nest we found (unharmed) near the nauyaca this week was also beautiful. It's amazing how small they are! Slightly bigger than a golf ball...with mint-sized eggs. It was in a tree about 1.5m tall. I'm always amazed at how fragile they seem and at how precariously placed they are. I wonder how often they are damaged or destroyed.

A nauyaca resting in some ruins under a tree where the monkeys were resting.

 A hummingbird nest on top of the ruins where the nauyaca was curled up.

Sunday
May222011

Updates - Round 3 Week 5

There's another new infant! This time it's in our other focal group, Balam. On our last day with Balam, two weeks ago, we couldn't find Luz, and when we found her this week, she had a baby! Just like in the Motiepa group, the other female in the Balam group kept taking the infant from Luz. It's a little different in this case though because Teresa does not have her own young one, and we haven't witnessed any aggression over it yet.

The other exciting news is that we were able to collect from two more of our outside groups this week. That means that only one remains, and we still have five weeks. Although we're not completely finished with the extra groups, being so far along this early on takes a lot of the stress away.

Aside from these two developments, the rest of the week was pretty routine. We did spot a new kind of snake (for us) on Tuesday though. It was only a couple of centimeters in diameter and maybe a meter long, but it was a beautiful green/blue/turquoise color with a red/brown head. I've never seen it before, and I haven't been able to identify it yet, but it was quite striking. Unfortunately, the encounter was too quick for a photo so I'll have to rely on my memory as I continue to search for it in books.

Teresa inspects Luz's new infant.