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

Sunday
May152011

Updates - Round 3 Week 4

Week 4 was full of little surprises. The most exciting was that we were able to collect a fecal sample from Melanie’s “infant,” who is now about 5 months old. Samples from monkeys that young are tiny and tend to fall without warning so they are very hard to get. Furthermore, the unique developmental stage and diet (milk and solid food) of this juvenile suggest there may be interesting microbial differences when I compare this sample to the others. The fact that we were able to get it made me happy for most of the week.

Most of the other surprises this week involved Isa’s infant, who is only about three weeks old. The first series of situations came about because Melanie kept taking the baby from Isa. Most times Isa didn’t seem to mind, but one time she clearly wanted him back. The only problem was that Melanie didn’t want to give him back. She grimaced and swatted at Isa, who acted submissive and had to wait patiently until Melanie finally allowed Isa to take him. Intra-group aggression is fairly rare in howlers, so to see Melanie lash out was unexpected, especially when she is not the mother. Brianna and I were on opposite sides of the tree watching different monkeys when it happened, but we both saw it and gasped at the same time. Obviously, Melanie has a strong interest in this infant, but we’re still not sure why.

Another time, Maia, the infant’s one-year-old sister somehow ended up with him on her back. It was amazing to see how big such a tiny monkey looked on an only slightly-bigger monkey. The whole situation was funny in a sweet kind of way until Maia decided she wanted to play. All of sudden, she was hanging from her tail with her brother clinging onto her for dear life while she tried to undo his grasp one limb at a time. We all held our breaths until Isa came to the rescue and took him back. To be honest, I was impressed that Maia could hold both of them up for so long using only her tail. He looked heavy!

Maia with her 3-week-old brother hanging on for dear life.

Isa comes to the rescue!

 

Everything else was fairly routine this week. The heat index was at 43C (109 F). The monkeys slept for four hours each day. We found some more ticks. There were several intergroup interactions in opposing Poulsenia trees. And, of course, we had to walk part-way home yesterday because no ‘colectivos’ showed up outside the ruins and the forest when we were done for the day. Also, on a slightly unrelated note, I went on a run this morning, and there are trees with beautiful pink flowers in bloom everywhere along the highway. It made me smile.

Monday
May092011

Updates - Round 3 Week 3

Things got a little crazy with the beginning of May. Our focal group this week decided to stay out of view during many of the hours we were following them. We got data, but we had to work hard for it. At the same time, a neighboring group that we want fecal samples from for this season appeared and foiled us on two separate occasions. We decided to try to get samples as long as we knew where the group was, but the first time they appeared, they did not defecate. The second day, they all switched spots right before they defecated and did it from high up in a tree so that not a single sample fell to the ground in one piece.

To make up for our lost opportunity with the extra groups, Brianna and I split up to collect from two other extra groups on Saturday with the help of colleagues. Both of these forays were successful , and we now have half of our extra groups sampled in addition to the focal data we have been collecting.

The dry season means ticks, and this week I had my fair share of ticks. I found ten on me in the field in one day, which is more than the total number I have found on me in past years. Luckily, most of them were still crawling around looking for a place to dig in when I saw them. I only found one or two that had actually bitten me already.

5 de mayo was this week, and although it was quiet in Palenque, just the thought of a holiday put me in a good mood. This was a good thing though because it kept me alert, and I was able to spot what I consider my “5 de mayo present from the forest” quickly.  As we were marching out of the forest for the day, I spotted a ‘nauyaca,’ or fer-de-lance, in the center of the path. It was very small (maybe 0.5 meters), and it was coiled up and seemed to almost not notice us. These snakes are very venomous, and supposedly common in this forest, but I’ve seen very few during my time here. I prefer that for our safety, but snakes fascinate me. We stood and took pictures of this one from a safe distance until I was able to tear myself away. Unfortunately, this made us a little late in getting out of the forest, and there were no ‘colectivos’ (public transportation vans) to give us a ride when we emerged from the forest. We had a long walk home, but to me it was worth seeing the nauyaca.

Nauyaca or fer-de-lance!

 

 Colorful fecal samples from one of our extra groups in a forest fragment.

Monday
May022011

Updates - Round 3 Week 2

This week went by quickly despite the hot weather. It was still hot, though. After a certain point, you expect to not be able to tell the difference between a few degrees, but you definitely can tell.

The most exciting discovery of the week was that there is another baby in the Motiepa group. I wrote about Melanie having an infant a few months ago, and she is still around. Isa has an infant now too though. We think it is about two weeks old, and we think it is a male. I tried to take a picture again, but when they’re so small, it’s hard to see them in the photos.

Another interesting thing is that one of the males copulated with Isa this week. The interbirth interval in these monkeys is supposed to be a little more than a year, but Isa’s last daughter just recently turned one, and she has already given birth, AND she is apparently copulating now even though she has a tiny infant. My guess is that nothing will come of the copulation, but it did happen!

Everything else has been pretty routine. The monkeys are starting to eat more fruits. One, Poulsenia armata, is very sweet, and I’ve seen tourists pick one up for a snack occasionally. They’re about the size of a strawberry though and have lots of seeds inside (approximately the size of orange seeds), so it’s not much of a snack. The monkeys also started eating a fruit that I hadn’t seen them eat since my seed dispersal work in 2008.

Isa is on the right, and you can barely see the baby on the center of her body.

 

Sunday
Apr242011

Updates - Round 3 Week 1

The last round of data collection is off to a good start. The weather is really hot, and the monkeys were very inactive at the beginning of the week. However, a rain storm in the middle of the week cooled things off a bit, and the feeding and defecation behavior that this project hinges on began to increase. Still, most days were spent in interactions with other groups. Our focal group spent three of the five field days this week howling at two neighboring groups. Maybe it was the howling that distracted them from eating and not the heat.

It was also Semana Santa in Mexico (the week before Easter) so the park has been full of tourists. Bus after bus arrives with people visiting Palenque during their vacations. Luckily, the group we started with is in a slightly less-visited area of the park so we weren't overwhelmed by tourists. Still, it's nice to be able to share what we know about the howlers with the people that pass, and we met several groups of people that were very interested in the forest and the monkeys.

An interesting insect I found sitting in some dead leaves in front of me.

When it's cold, the monkeys curl up into little balls to rest. When it's hot, they stretch out like this.

 

 

Sunday
Mar272011

Updates - Round 2 Week 10

Round 2 is officially finished! Data collection, that is. Shipment of samples will happen tomorrow, but my first shipment went through last week so I'm optimistic. Round 1 samples were sent back to me because of a miscommunication on packaging so I had to get those out the door before I could really organize the Round 2 samples. Round 1 samples have arrived in the U.S. though, so hopefully some time this week all my samples will be together in a freezer at the University of Illinois.

In the field, the week was fairly good. Two monkeys have left the group we followed this week. The group had become quite large (10 individuals), and these two individuals had been disappearing and reappearing for the past few months. It's been at least a month since we've seen them now so I think this time they may be gone for good. Both males and females disperse in this species, but both of these individuals were males.

The monkeys have also been resting a lot more since temperatures are starting to rise. Outside the forest today I think we hit 39C. During the dry season (coming up), temperatures will start hitting 40-42C fairly regularly so this is just a taste of what's to come. It's cooler under the canopy, but it still gets pretty hot. Of course, we're not the only ones that feel the heat. The monkeys tend to sprawl out on branches under the canopy during the hottest hours of the day. It's easy to keep track of them, but it makes data collection much less exciting.

There were a few animal sightings that kept our last field day interesting when the monkeys were sleeping. First, I saw a small orange/tan mammal run out from a behind a fallen tree. I could have been an agouti since two species exist here (one black and one tan). I didn't get a great look at it though, and it looked like it could have been something else. A few minutes later, a male great currasow strutted by. I recently saw an article about bird populations in Mexico, and it reported that this species does not exist in Palenque. However, today was one of several sightings I've had in the past few years. Finally, our favorites, the agoutis. One almost walked into us again! This time there didn't seem to be any sort of mating or fighting going on, but it was equally oblivious. It amazes me that, as prey animals, they are so easy to surprise. I managed to get a picture of it as it ran away. (They are about the size of a house cat for reference, but they look like giant hamsters with longer legs.)

 

That's all for now. We'll take a two-week break, and then I'll start updating on our final round of data collection!

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