Monday, July 20, 2015

Ortiga, Anchors, and Deborah's other adventures

This post was written by Deborah López Nieves, and the photos are hers.
            Hello everyone! My name is Deborah López Nieves and I am a Natural Sciences student majoring in Biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla. 

Deborah braves the river rocks for a photo op!
Well, the reality is that I thought this was going to be a summer like any other ... but months before, Ph. D student, Ellee Cook gave me the opportunity to work as his assistant for a month in El Verde Field Station.  The best thing about this opportunity was that I would be working doing what I like, that is working with reptiles (specifically A. gundlachi). The reality is that I was nervous all this time, waiting for the arrival of the day. When July 15 came, the adventure began early and the excitement. I went for the first time that day to El Yunque (believe it or not, I've always lived in Puerto Rico and had not been to El Yunque) and in the evening I had the opportunity to know who would be my leader for a month and my partner (Ellee Cook and Karen Patterson).
                  The next day began the adventure! Ellee gave us a training on how to recognize a A.gundlachi from the other species and showed us a species I always dreamed of seeing, the A. evermanni (I got excited when I first saw it!). In addition, we were taught to tie knots for our Pole pan fish.  She then proceeded to explain the task we would be working on and the other things we would be doing this month.  The first week and I think part of the second, were captured lizards in 6 different plots. We seized them and Ellee weighed, measured and marked them with a tag (used for marking bees) to finally set them free. These tags helped us to identify the individuals that we would be observing during this month and to know which trees they lived on so then we could record their behavior through observation.  I remember the first day Ellee handed over the observation binoculars so we could identify the color in a long distance and the number of each tag to know what lizard we were looking for. But you know what?! Surprise!!!! Binoculars were not helping and we couldn’t see them! We could’ve been very close or far away and still there was no way we could identify them. I think Ellee thought we did not know how to use the binoculars until she tested them herself. She immediately asked if we could go buy new ones (which became another adventure). We ventured into new sites in search of new binoculars which ended with my car with an empty tire! Besides the flat tire, the important thing was that we got the binoculars and they were good! We practiced for about an hour with the binoculars by using the tags we used on the lizards on a paper we hanged in the wall. The next day we were equipped and ready so we started the observations.

Deborah's favorite plant (or not) - stinging Ortiga! 
                  During this time we had the opportunity to observe the behavior of both females, males and young ones( A. gundlachi ). There were some gundlachi females with which I grew fond off, because they were the most active and to observe them was an adventure. Some were very territorial, while others were engaged on just eating and watching everything around them. There were babies that made me scream with excitement when they were doing their first push-ups in front of me or when they hunted a tiny spider moving quietly through her web (They were cute!). And how could I forget a female which was almost impossible to catch and mark. Once marked you could not see her and for that reason I named her Houdini (because she always managed to escape when I saw her at a long distance). And guess who I saw in my final days of observation ... Nothing more and nothing less than Houdini. After seeing her, and how well she was I was very happy and relieved so I think I can leave El Verde at peace. Certainly, I think it was one of the most exciting moments during this month.

Deborah found an anchor in the forest!

                  This most definitely is an experience I will always remember as it gave me the opportunity to learn new skills that would help me in my future at university level and to define a little more I want to do in the future. I am very grateful to Ellee for giving me the opportunity to be a part to her team and for teaching me many new things. In addition, I am very grateful for making this summer different from others. I'll miss them.

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