How to become an amateur biologist 102

Hey everyone!

It is time for a new sequel on ‘how to become an amateur biologist’, edition 102! More and more I am becoming a true Gamboadian, but more importantly an amateur biologist! Little by little I start to recognize different birds’ songs, calls, colours and shapes and know how to name them. And I love it!! The same accounts for insects, butterflies and to a much lesser extent bats, all thanks to Kitty, Andy and my friends at STRI. At the animal rescue I am also learning so many fun facts about the sloths 🙂 Did you know that sloths are the only mammals whose hair grows downwards instead of to their extremities? No, me neither!

The past three weeks I have been working on multiple things. I have been gathering more information about agouti’s and bats. A few times I had the privilege to join STRI’s Bat lab on their netting expeditions, feeding training and experiments. Leonie, a bat scientist, has taught me so much about Trachops. Trachops are frog eating bats that locate the sound of the Túngara frogs, and with that the frogs itself, with echolocation. Even when the frogs have stopped croaking the bats know where to locate them because of the ripples they make in the water. So, very cool bats. Also, they also just get bonus points for being so darn cute.

Besides observing bats and agouti’s, I have been trying to study them by modelling something of their behaviour in P5js, an online JavaScript editor which allows you to program visually. I organised a small workshop where scientists got an introduction to this programme and got to try out their own ideas about their own subjects of study. Andy and I also reorganized the hardware room, so things are way easier to find now! 🙂

Next to my big project, I am also creating toys for the animals at the rescue center. Last week I, with the help of Andy and some residents at Adopta, have created a first prototype of a food enrichment toy for the spider monkeys. This toy is entirely made out of recycled plastic (besides the metal zip ties which connect the recycled pentagons)! I am very curious what the monkeys think of it, and whether the design works or not. Only time will learn. In the future I want to make other recycled plastic toys, for example cubes with bells, rocks or anything that can make sound. Monkeys love making noise, so I would love to make their life more noisy (and more irritating for us 😉). Serena, my new lab buddy, arrived last week and from the beginning she was thrown deep into the Dinalab hole. Together with Jessie, Andy, Serena and I we made a device where the strength of a butterfly can be measured!

Besides studying animals, programming and creating toys, I have had several very inspiring meetings with a few member of the Gamboa community. I met with Mulget Amaru. Yes that is right. It is the man who is running from Patagonia all the way to Alaska. Because of the pandemic his journey was being put on hold, and he stranded in Gamboa. He has told me some amazing stories about his adventures across the Americas, and he has taught me wonderful things about his home country Ethiopia. Next, Patricia and Yoel, besides being my neighbours and landlords, are two amazing artists which excel in different artistic disciplines such as piano, theatre and visual art. I have had some lovely talks with them over coffee and I hope there will be many more to come. Patricia and Yoel also brought me in contact with Grace. Grace is a writer and a poet. She writes amazing poetry based on her sharp and detailed scientific observations. I also came to know that her husband was Ray Solomonoff, one of the founding fathers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, which is so cool! Unfortunately, she was leaving in a few days since I met her, but she really has inspired me with her poetry and the amount of wisdom that she has. So, putting that in my back pocket for the future 🙂

Of course there was also lots of time to have fun in the past three weeks. I have been to a music festival, organised a potluck dinner party, went on a trip to Boquete and climbed Volcan Barú, sneaked up on the canopy tower, again had some nice sunset hangouts and ate pizza every week at the local bakery here. The next upcoming month I am going to experiment with Arduino and have lots of fun with it. Can’t wait to tell you more in ‘How to become an amateur biologist 103’!

Lieke