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 ‘in charge’ 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… 🐜

Serena and I started working on our collaborative project under the name ‘Cool2’. 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: ‘Oh now I understand, I just needed to get my period!’ What a relief 😉

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 💕 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 🙂

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 🕵️‍♀️ I will be back…

Lieke

My First Night Hike in the Rainforest!

I initially arrived to Panama at night; during the drive from the airport to Gamboa, I heard the sounds of the rainforest in the dark for the very first time, and I felt awe of nature wash over me.

A couple of weeks into my time here, Andy organized a night hike. Thinking back to how I felt during that first drive from the airport, I was super excited for the opportunity to explore the jungle in the dark.

And what an incredible night this was! I mean, just look at all the cool creatures we saw!!

A highlight of the hike was when the whole group took a couple of moments to turn all our lights and headlamps off, allowing our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Within a few moments, your eyes will read more details in your surroundings, and the layers of the forest start to form; slowly, you begin to see the canopy, then the stream banks, then people’s silhouettes. Eventually, fine details that you don’t expect start coming through, like stream pebbles and people’s faces!  

One of my greatest takeaways from this experience is how rejuvenating exposure to nature can be, even when the expedition seems daunting. I would be lying if I said I was not a little nervous going into the rainforest at night, but the experience was actually grounding and regenerative. Given that I grew up near the Red Sea, the closest thing I could compare this hike to is a scuba dive or snorkeling trip; you take your time to wander a novel, incredibly biodiverse environment, pointing out all the cool creatures that you spot to the rest of the group.  

I feel inspired by all the cool patterns and textures we saw – the slimy Red Eyed Tree Frog egg clutches, dark canopy silhouettes, and infinite frog color combinations. I’m looking forward to returning to the Dinalab and incorporating these elements of nature into my work.

-Serena

Taking time to play at DiNaLab

I was invited to spend two weeks in residency at DiNaLab in February. Ahead of my visit I had begun to meld my practices as a horticulturist and fiber artist into an exploration of crochet leaf studies. I decided to spend my time at DiNaLab furthering this exploration with the hope of making something new with the leaves. Kitty and I had been discussing the possibility of collaborating on a piece during my residency, as she is also a wonderful fiber artist. I love her amigurumi creatures and decided to make a home for some of them among a crochet leafy jungle. 

Fiber work can be a slow process (as can life) and I wasn’t able to make as many leaves as I would have liked. But in the end there were enough to make a nice home for a very cute sloth and a shimmery hummingbird, both knitted by Kitty. We made a headdress that one might wear as camouflage in the jungle or while rollerblading around Gamboa.  

I also learned a new skill at DiNaLab: using a laser cutter. I was really inspired by Andy and Kitty’s plastic projects. I love their keychain and earring designs and decided to take a crack at my own. Andy helped me create a two-layer papaya design to turn into earrings. I also repurposed some of Kitty and Andy’s existing designs to make new jewelry. I was able to pull off a mini collection in my time there and then got to collaborate with DiNaLab intern Lieke on a tropical photoshoot. 

DiNaLab was the perfect place to be after a very long and stressful pandemic experience in New York City. Each morning I sat in the yard with my coffee, watching the menagerie of critters: ñekes, toucans, chachalacas, iguanas, sloths, hummingbirds, and even one blue morpho butterfly who seemed to have a regular daily commute. I spent a lot of time staring at the leaves around me, noticing the subtle changes in colors, the curves in their forms, the way the light changed them completely. After two plus years of frantically trying to keep afloat during the pandemic, slowing that far down reset the chemistry in my brain. 

It’s rare to find folks as welcoming and supportive as Andy and Kitty. It was a delight to spend time making and talking about fiber art with Kitty. And being around Andy as he tinkers and explores his various projects was exciting and inspiring. Gamboa itself is an inspiring setting with the dense tropical forest and abundant wildlife. It was hard to find the emotional space to be creative during the worst of the pandemic. At DiNaLab I felt my head once again beginning to swirl with ideas. 

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

ValANTines fundraiser!

Send a message of love via our leafcutter friends! From now until Feb 7, you can place an order with us for $14 per word. We will send you a collection of videos of the ants carrying your words that you can give to whomever you want!

Proceeds help subsidize our scholarships for our local art+science residency program!

Pay via the following options and send an email to andrew.quitmeyer@gmail.com , and we will start filming yours!

if the ants are uncooperative, or we don’t have time to get to yours we will send you a refund!

Square Cash– use a debit or credit card  (USA) – https://cash.me/$AndrewQuitmeyer

Paypal – Paypal account or debit cards (international) paypal.me/hikinghack

Venmo https://venmo.com/hikinghack

(for venmo don’t write that it is for like “conference fees,” just write like “splitting cost of housing in Panama” which is what you are doing)

Credit or Debit Cards– (Only use this button below if this is your only option, and you need to add a 5% processing fee that Paypal charges)

Túngara model – now with sound!

Sound on!!

A while ago, I crocheted a túngara, a frog I hear a lot during the wet season in Panamá. I wanted to have my model make the distinctive túngara call, which sounds like a video game sound effect, but I didn’t know how. For Christmas, Andrew gave me a bunch of cool electronics that I can record on and embed in soft toys. He even loaded one with a recording of a túngara for me!

We opened the frog up and inserted the device.

Here’s a picture of a real túngara with its characteristic inflated dewlap.

I’m looking forward to making more noisy toys like this! Someone suggested a toucan, which should be fun.

Note: This post is by Kitty and is cross-posted over all my personal blog, wellreadpanda.com 🙂

DINALAB Jungle Residency

Photo of Sid Drmay by Lee Wilkins

Página en español

Gamboa, Panama – Various Months in 2020

We are happy to announce that applications are open for our new Art/Science/Tech residency program for 2020! Come be a Junglepunk!

The goal of Digital Naturalism Laboratories (DINALAB) is to provide a space with access to incredible natural ecosystems, digital tools, and prototyping equipment to explore new ways of interacting with other creatures. Our new residency program shares the opportunity to explore art, science, technology, and design for an extended period of time in the rainforest. Our lab is situated walking distance from the Panama Canal, the Soberanía Rainforest in Panamá, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

What we provide:

  1. Access to our prototyping tools and facilities including:
    • Laser Cutter
    • 3D Printers
    • Electronics and Sensors
    • Sewing Machines
    • Silicone Mold-Making and degassing
    • Power Tools
    • and more!
  2. Housing (Private Room at DINALAB)
  3. Personal Workspace
  4. Gallery Space at DINALAB
  5. Basic art and construction materials
  6. Small, unique completion gifts!

Your Responsibilities and Costs:
Unfortunately, we are a new, independent, unfunded lab, and cannot offer a stipend or travel support. We do, however, work hard everyday here at freelance jobs to subsidize your housing costs ourselves, and we even offer a couple scholarships. The basic residency’s costs and responsibilities are:

Scholarships
In 2020, we are happy to announce that we can offer :

  • 3 Local Scholarships for Panamanians (no fees, and transportation from Panama city if needed)
  • 1 International Scholarship (no fees, and transportation from the Airport if needed)

Application:

Applications have a priority deadline of January 10, and positions are filled on a rolling basis throughout 2020. Fill out our short form indicating your intentions for the residency and availability, and we will get back to you if you are selected to solidify your residency dates. If you are not selected, applications will reset in the next calendar year, and you will need to apply again.

About DINALAB

Digital Naturalism Laboratories (Dinalab) is a jungle prototyping studio founded in 2019. Our lab is fully equipped with Laser Cutter, 3D printers, hand tools, textile tools, and more! The prototyping facility is located in the Soberanía Rainforest in Panama. Our goals are to:

  • Help field biologists build their own experimental tools
  • Help designers explore new interactions with nature
  • Discover new ways of experiencing the natural world

We are also keen on documentation and open-source dissemination of all knowledge in a variety of media! Whether you are a scientist, artist, designer, hacker, or anyone excited to explore nature and technology you will find something interesting at Dinalab.

Dinalab was established by Andrew Quitmeyer and Kathleen Kelly in 2019. They live and work in Dinalab while doing freelance jobs online to cover the costs of running the laboratory and hosting open workshops for local and visiting communities.

First rainy day!

Today Gamboa had its first serious rain in months! It’s been an unusually long, hot dry season this year, apparently one of the most intense in the past century. In some ways, the dry season is terrific: it’s not that humid, and the roads are much more passable when they’re dry, making conditions safer for most humans. However, it gets REALLY hot without rain, and the plants and animals seem a little wilted.

It was wonderful to feel the fall of a real, prolonged rain today! The skies opened up, the temperature dropped, and the air was flooded with the smell of petrichor. The ground is greedily soaking up each drop of water, and I expect that the local fauna will be especially envigorated. Whenever we get even a mild drizzle during a dry spell, you can notice some increase in animal activity – extra squawking from the birds, a livelier spring in the agoutis’ step.

The storms are bound to get longer and more dramatic, and someday soon I’ll probably get sick of the resulting humidity, but for now, Gamboa is very grateful for the rain. – Kitty


Open House Birthday Party Gallery Opening!

We invite you to come to Dinalab, our house, maker space, and art gallery! Invitamos a todos a nuestra casa!

123b Humberto Zarate, Gamboa

Friday, April 5, 6pm

Kitty and Andy’s birthday is coming up in April! This is a combined housewarming and birthday party, but instead of gifts, we’d like you to bring something you’ve made that we can exhibit in our little gallery space for the party.

😊

It can be anything – drawing, photograph, origami, pottery, a scientific tool – as long as you made it! We can display the creations during the party, and you can take yours home at the end of the night . Message us if you have any questions about the thing you want to exhibit!

Also if you want to send a digital thing for us to print, please email us:

andrew.quitmeyer@gmail.com your artwork’s

-Name

-Description

-Actual artwork file

Also please bring a snack or a drink.