Another successful day of gathering data. There seemed to be dolphins and birds everywhere. The birds, gulls and terns, flock to where the dolphins are feeding to try to catch the fish they bring to the surface. Can you see them diving? This group was spotted after the survey was completed, so we were just watching in amazement.
When dolphins are located, data is collected and input into a hand held computer. You can hear some of the data being recorded in the video as JoAn photographs the dolphins. We will crop the photos in the afternoon and use the nicks and markings on their dorsal fin to identify the individual dolphins in the group.
This was our research vessel, a 6 meter Zodiak inflatable. Seven of us spent 4 hours each morning on the boat observing dolphins, birds, and their behaviors. Luckily we all worked very well together and had a successful expedition.
Here we are on the Ionian Sea after about 4 hours of surveying. The principal scientist is JoAn (driving the boat, Spain), his assistant Iva (a graduate student from Belgrade), volunteers Sophie (England) and Me (New York).
I've arrived in Greece after quite a harrowing 38 hour journey, but its well worth it.
The research station is in the little town of Vonitsa, near the west coast of Greece. We have spent each of the past mornings on the Gulf spotting dolphins, photographing them, and recording data about their behavior, social groups, feeding, etc...
My job this morning was to input data on the hand held computer. Not an easy task on a 6 meter inflatable boat which keeps moving, in the sun, with others calling out sighting information all at once.
Here are a couple of photos. I'll add more as time permits and even some video of the dolphins.
I was lucky enough to spot the research area from the plane as I made my way to Athens from Paris. Right above the engine is the western end of the Amvrikikos Gulf where I'll be surveying for dolphins! The island of Lefkada is right in front of the engine.
On our very last plot survey yesterday, my keen eyesight and visual scanning techniques paid off. I was the first to spot the top predator of these swamps basking not 5 meters away from our position; the alligator. We were able to complete our plot, collect several caterpillars, then retreat back to the safety of out transport van. All in a days work out in the field.
This morning we spent a couple of hours breaking down the field station, cleaning out the bunkhouse, and transporting about 500 caterpillars back to Tulane University here in New Orleans. I am back at the Parkview Guesthouse for the last two days of this expedition. We meet back at the lab for a final "zoo" session tomorrow, and final conferences and debriefing.
I'll post some final pictures of out last days and look forward to seeing you all back in Schodack on Tuesday morning.
The first photo here was taken by scientist Mark Fox who has been helping our team identify caterpillars and other insects. He has a great camera and was able to photograph this tulip tree beauty caterpillar which is only a few millimeters long.
Some of the caterpillars are so tiny we need a microscope to see their features clearly.
One crew did "zoo" duty today which meant going through all the bags of caterpillars, cleaning out the frass, looking for pupating caterpillars, or dead ones, and logging any new information on the database.
We were amazed to find one of the tulip tree beauty caterpillars had parasitoids! Another insect had laid its eggs in or on the caterpillar, and the photo below shows the larvae of that insect emerging from the caterpillar. Most likely they are wasp or fly larvae and they are using the caterpillar's body for nourishment. This won't end well for the caterpillar! This kind of activity is exactly what the scientists are looking for, so it is important to log that information into the computer.
Here is an amazing picture of frass. The caterpillar that produces this frass has a star shaped anus which makes the frass look the way it does. I never imagined I would learn such detailed caterpillar information.
I have one more day in the field tomorrow and we all hope to see an alligator - From a safe distance. I have had my fill of the dangerous creatures here in Louisiana, especially the fire ants. I accidentally stepped into a nest of them on Tuesday, then today I sat on a tree stump full of them. Ouch! They are called fire ants for a reason.
I can't wait to get back to school so that we can set up our own survey teams and find out about the flora and fauna on the grounds of Maple Hill!
I'm getting better at identifying vegetation after another excursion into the swamp. We hacked our way into a plot to study and gathered plenty of data. There weren't as many caterpillars, but we spotted lots of birds, and some wild hog tracks. Luckily we didn't see the wild hogs as they can be very dangerous.
Some creatures survive because they have the ability to hide themselves. Can you find the animals in the photos below?
I am learning so much about research methods here. Yes, we're studying caterpillars, but it's important to know what they eat. So we learned how to measure the amount of plant material in a study plot (10 meter diameter section of forest.) Below is a video of our team leader Rebecca Hazen getting us started on the process:
Next I found this strange little caterpillar and I knew a photo would not do, so I shot a bit of video of it:
We are getting a lot of work done here at the Pearl River. We are all settling into the routine and helping to accomplish the goals of the expedition. The video above show me collecting my favorite caterpillar - a papilionidae! (The green one from yesterday's post.)
Learning to do a vegetative assessment of a 10 meter diameter plot was the focus of today's activities. Believe it or not we have to count every plant, and every leaf on each plant. Science isn't always fun and exciting. It took us until 7 pm. Kayaking through the swamp was beautiful and peaceful. I never thought a swamp could be so interesting. We saw our first snake today, but no alligators so far.
I had a chance to take some photos of caterpillars in the lab today. Bonus points if you can identify them. See Dr. Lee Dyer's Caterpillar site for help:
One team stays behind in the bunkhouse to do "zoo". Zoo means checking the collecting bags for changes in the caterpillars (such as death, pupating, etc...), cleaning the bags to get rid of frass, and logging in the new specimens in a computer database.
The second team kayaked in the tupelo - cypress swamp to collect caterpillars. I volunteered to be on this team. I collected a few nice specimens including this cute one:
This one is referred to as a snake head caterpillar, but that is not its real name. Can you identify it by its true name?
Back to the rest of the day's schedule. After lunch, the teams switched jobs. I helped with logging in specimens and Skyped with Mr. Farrell's social studies class. The afternoon kayakers came back with lots of specimens for us to log in tomorrow. It's going to be another fine day of field work.
Our first day in the swamp was successful! The caterpillar in the photo was one of our all-stars.
I have an extra credit question for my students. One of the goals of this research is to monitor the parasitoids on the caterpillars that we find. I'm sure you've heard of parasites in your 7th grade science class. I'd like you to find out the difference between a parasite and a parasitoid. Please post your response to the comment at the end of today's post or email it to me.
One of my team mates took a bit of video of some forest tent caterpillars today. I added the music from a jazz band I saw in New Orleans and this is how it looks:
Hello Maple Hill Wildcats! I've made it to New Orleans and one of the first things I saw was this caterpillar walking on the sidewalk.
Extra credit challenge:
a) Use the diagram in my last post and name three observable features of this caterpillar. Be sure to use the correct scientific name for each part.
b) The term setae is not on the diagram, but this caterpillar has lots. What are setae?
One of the things I learned about this caterpillar (which you can't tell by looking at it) is that it stings. It has been a bit of a problem here with some people having to go to the hospital if they get stung and are very sensitive to it.
Tomorrow we'll start our first day of field work from the research station.