How to become an amateur biologist 103

Hey everyone!

The time flies here. On one hand that is a positive given but on the other hand it also means that time start getting short to work and finish my project. These past few weeks have been very fruitful. While Andy and Kitty were away to Sri Lanka to organise stuff for DinaCon, Serena, Jorge and I were โ€˜in chargeโ€™ of the Dinalab. Besides working on our projects, we had lots of dance parties, ice cream celebrations and movie nights.

After two and a half months with a lot of researching, experimenting and seeking inspiration, I decided to do my project here at Dinalab about Leafcutter Ants. With the concept of Umwelt in mind, I try to ga in a little bit more insight in how these ants perceive the(ir) world. Right now, I am experimenting with ‘sound’, or vibrations. Ants don’t make sounds through the air (air-borne), but through surfaces (substrate-borne). With the help of Lisa Schonberg (former DinaCon participant in 2019) I started exploring this with piezo microphones, which are surface microphones. The cool thing is that you can use piezo as a microphone and as a speaker! So besides recording, I am testing whether the Leafcutter ants will react to certain frequencies and changes in frequencies. So excited to find out what is coming from this! Maybe we will even be able to communicate with ants in the future… ๐Ÿœ

Serena and I started working on our collaborative project under the name โ€˜Cool2โ€™. We chose three main themes where we wanted to build the project around, which are Nature, Feminism and Arduino. From these themes we started creating a mindmap and picked out four keywords which spoke to us the most. Cycle, misunderstood, meaning and ruthless. Last week we got the idea to make a plant that shows you in which fase of your menstrual cycle you are in by the colour of LED lights. The LEDs will light up when you water or touch it. This is a new way to track your period and to simultaneously learn about periods. The thought behind this was sparked by the fact that a lot of women I know use a period tracker but are not consciously aware of the fase they are in. For example, sometimes I would get quite moody and sad and then in a week or less I get my period. Afterwards I am always like: โ€˜Oh now I understand, I just needed to get my period!โ€™ What a relief ๐Ÿ˜‰

In the time period when Kitty and Andy I kept on volunteering at the APPC. My love for the sloths grows stronger each day. They are just the cutest things ever! Especially Ingmar, the sloth I named after my supercute cousin. Such a kind soul ๐Ÿ’• New sloth fun fact by the way: sloths have four stomachs, just like cows. Also Mireya taught me a lot about the different plants that the sloths and Valencia the tapir eat. I learned to recognize poro poro, indio desnudo, jobo, cecropia, mango and berignon.

For a long time Andy has been working on trying to sense ants. This has been proven to be a difficult task because they are so tiny, fast and with so many. Andy made a 3D design for a simple ant gate where leafcutters can be sensed. The gate works with a light source (in this case a laser because a laser light is the most stable) and a photoresistor. Right now, the ant gate only works for ants with leaves. If I have time, I will try to make the ant gate better by making it more sensitive to smaller ants, and ants without leaves, as well. Anyway, it was a fun (side) project that involved leafcutters and Arduino!

Serena and I also organised a small Arduino workshop for some students are doing a project with a heart rate sensor and a GPS. We taught them the basics of Arduino and they learned it very quickly. Thank you Daniel and your group for joining us and being so enthusiastic and good students! Good luck with the project ๐Ÿ™‚

Luckily there was also enough time to explore the beautiful nature that Gamboa has to offer. I took Serena for the first time to Pipeline Road and she was very happy as you can see in the picture. Last week Andy organised a night hike. It had been a long time since I had been on one so it was very nice to go on one again. We saw so many frogs and I saw my first treefrog! Andy says that you haven’t been to Panama if you haven’t seen one. So fortunately now I can say that I have been in Panama for real!!

And last but not least there was also a lot of time to do fun stuff with my Gamboa friends. We went bowling, partying in the city, watching series and movies and playing tennis and volleyball. For the week I also went to Bocas del Toro with Josie and had a super fun time!

The upcoming weeks I will be working very hard on finishing my project. It will be a lot of recording sounds and videos, experimenting with different sounds, frequencies and other stimuli and combining this to a meaningful endproduct. Hopefully the ants will cooperate and will I be able to share something very special, a glimpse of one part of the Umwelt of a Leafcutter Ant. Can’t wait to unravel the secret life of Leafcutter ant ๐Ÿ•ต๏ธโ€โ™€๏ธ I will be back…

Lieke