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

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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.




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!


Updates - Round 2 Week 9

We finished our second rotation with Balam this week! The group kept moving from tree to tree all week, but on the last day they stayed in areas that were more easily visible. Only one more week left with Motiepa! In the next two days we will send our first shipment of samples to the U.S. as well.

In other news, my rubber boots now have holes in them. I guess they weren't made for walking over Mayan ruins everyday all day for a whole year. My next big field decision is whether to try to tape them or patch them or buy new ones.

No pictures from this week, but since I had to post two weeks at once (no internet on the permit trip last weekend), the pictures from Week 8 will hopefully help ameliorate the situation.


Updates - Round 2 Week 8

The weeks are starting to fly by. It's interesting because the days seem long in the field. (My focal observations require me to be looking at my watch every two minutes for the entire eleven hours I am in the field everyday.) However, because we really don't have time for anything else during the day, before I know it a whole week has passed.

The weather took another turn this week, unfortunately. After starting with a few beautiful days, we had an entire day of rain followed by a less-cloudy but equally-rainy day. It has been keeping the weather cooler, but it starts to wear on your mood...especially when the monkeys seek shelter as well and make data collection difficult.

On a more positive note, the female infant in the group we were following has grown significantly over the past month. It leaves its mother sometimes to go investigate other members of the group, and this week I saw it putting leaves in its mouth. No ingestion yet, but it's at least interested in "adult food."



Brianna and I also made a trip to San Cristobal de las Casas y Tuxtla Gutierrez over the weekend to get export permits for the samples I need to send. We stayed with a fellow primatologist friend and even got to see "snow." It hailed and the pieces of hail accumulated like snow. We built a small snowman with it. Aside from the snow, we also enjoyed some coconut candy, and got our permits without a problem. Although the bus ride is 6 hours on bad roads with lots of curves, the whole process is fairly easy. I only wish it was a shorter trip.



Updates - Round 2 Week 7

Time is starting to pass quickly as we get closer to the end of this sampling block. Although this was a short week, it was busy. My birthday incited some social events that took extra time as well. Of course, birthdays are always fun. The highlight was coming back from a run and realizing that Brianna had decorate our entire cabana in balloons.

In the forest this week, there was quite a bit of howling. I'm not sure what provoked it, but it seemed like all of the howler groups in the area we work in were encountering each other. We had a loud few days.

It also seems to be agouti mating season or something similar. On our way into the field on Saturday, we stumbled across at least six agoutis running around making grunting and screaming noises. One almost even ran into Brianna before it noticed her...only to jump out of the way in my direction, which lead to another last-minute leap. It was hilarious. Unfortunately, agoutis are too quick for pictures.

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