November 13, 2011

Monkey Tales

I have been woefully remiss in updating my blog! So now, for your monkey pleasure, here is some recent drama from Pelon group, with whom I have spent most of this month.

Love: There's a female named Brava who has had an epic romance with Jorge for years (he's subordinate to the alpha male Oden, who is supposed to get all the matings as an alpha. Reproductive skew is about 95% in capuchins). A couple days ago, Brava and Jorge disappeared for the whole morning! The whole group spazzed out when they showed up again. They spent the rest of the day grooming each other (and males hardly ever groom females), and Brava's son Bedlam was always near them. It was so freaking adorable. Except when there was stepdad-stepson tension, and Jorge threatened Bedlam. Whom would Brava choose??? Apparently she is conflicted, because she would switch back and forth between supporting her lover and her son. Confusing for everyone involved.

War: Yesterday I was with Pelon group when they had a triple intergroup! They ran into both Cupi's and Abby's groups and spazzed out. They sprinted back through a patch of bamboo and I lost the group. Then I heard them intergrouping again in the middle of the impenetrable bamboo area. Teresa, the other researcher I was with, had been with the fighting males but ran into Amiens, an ANCIENT female from the group. Amiens is basically senile and deaf at this point. Teresa stayed with Amiens for 2 hours, as she got more and more lost. She made nonstop lost calls (horrible screechy brays) and ran around in circles. Eventually Teresa dropped her to help me search for the rest of Pelon group. I found them about 3 hours later after searching through the jungle. We were kind of nervous about Amiens, because she's so old and we left her about 2 km away from where I found Pelon. At around 4:30 we start hearing distant lost calls. They got closer and closer, until Amiens finally appears! She immediately starts eyeball poking with her buddy Tamora, the second oldest female in the group. Tamora and Amiens sit with blissed out expressions, fingers in eyes, for about 5 minutes. Old lady love.

October 19, 2011



October 13, 2011


Goal 1: I passed all of my speed tests! I am now considered completely competent to take data in the field, which makes me a true monero! I am obviously still learning and in training for other things, but this makes it so that my data counts. I am part of science!

Goal 2: I have passed 2 more monkey groups! Newman's and Rafiki's groups are now totally recognizable to me. This means I can correctly identify every single monkey in either of those groups :)

Now I just need to pass one more group and I will have accomplished all of my month's goals.

Future Goal: Have the best vacation ever! I'm going to a remote island off the Caribbean side of Nicaragua for scuba diving. It's a place called Little Corn Island and it's supposed to be the best value diving in Central America. I'm going with 3 other moneros- Teresa, Amy, and Chelsea- for this end of the month vacation. I can't wait.

October 1, 2011


It's a new month! And I am on my (newly working again) internet to give a tiny taste of the new things in my life. First, I passed my speed typing test so I can start the month one step closer to being a real researcher! Basically, I can type recordings of old monkey follows on my handheld computer very quickly whilst sitting in a comfy chair at home, and now I need to prove that I can write down everything the spotter says during a follow while I'm in the field chasing after our monkey. More challenging but my goal is to pass this next stage by the end of October, which would make me into a full-fledged monero, except for recognizing all the vocalizations (which can take around 6 months). My other goal is to pass 3 more monkey groups this month!

Another new thing in my life is my new room! It's my old room, but without my roommate! Not that I don't love Chelsea, but it's great to have my own space. So I started decorating and completely revamped it.

Here is my shelf space, complete with some pictures (that I'll rotate out as the humidity destroys them)

I've put up a map of Costa Rica on the door to my bathroom, and I'm marking all of the places I visit.

My new bed! This is my old mattress with a new foam pad underneath and without mosquito netting. It was too annoying to keep and I don't think it saved me all that many bug bites. I also constructed a bedside table out of 2 cinderblocks and an old cabinet front. Recycling at its finest :)

And now! The BEST part of my new room! The lounge! I took another old mattress foam pad and folded it 3-ways to create a comfy chair, covered it with this pretty blue sheet from storage, and draped a lovely yellow storage sheet behind it to soften the room.

September 21, 2011


We found a scorpion in the house today! Specifically, hanging out on our stove.

I was skyping with my parents when my roommate Chelsea called me into the kitchen to check it out. We took some pictures and then began our attempts to kill it. Check out this bad boy (it's HUGE!)

Neither one of us wants to get too close because we're afraid of getting stung. We'll get close with an item for smashing and then shriek like little girls when the scorpion threatens. We trap it halfway under the kettle and pause for more pictures.

Big mistake. It frees itself! Now not only is there a scary scorpion around- there is an angry, scary scorpion around. We try to smash it but it races behind the oven. With only its tail and stinger visible, we can't hope to kill it. But I decide to grab a huge knife in an attempt to chop off the dangerous bit of this ravenous beast. I wield my knife like a pro (i.e. frightened 7 year old) and barely knick the tip of the tail as the scorpion rushes farther back behind the stove. Alas.

Teresa and I decided to name the scorpion MC, short for The Scorpion of Monte Cristo. I know that MC is lurking behind the stove, just itching to avenge itself on me at 3 in the morning as I stumble around in the kitchen. Waiting. Lurking. Brooding on its wrongs. Planning a massive sneak attack that will leave me with a painful welt for days. Curse you, MC!

Anyway, that was the most exciting bit of my day today. Stuff with the monkeys continues in much the same way as previous posts. I saw an awesome interaction between an alpha and beta male the other day. It started off as a slow and gentle play wrestle, then the alpha started play biting the beta's head. The beta starts to let out these little half yelps like he's saying, "Ow! This is fun but ow! Also I don't want to piss you off, but ow!"

Finally, beta has enough and runs away. But only for a few feet before he turns and starts sex dancing with alpha (capuchins make duck faces and walk back and forth quickly on a branch, pirouetting, whilst courting). They dance for about a minute, making ridiculous sex squeaks and grunts, before alpha mounts beta. Then all of a sudden they start threatening someone out of view! Mood killer. They freak out a bit and start screaming at the other monkey. Beta runs away.

And we got all of it on dictaphone (recorder), so the data from that will be top notch.

September 13, 2011

Best monkey day yet!

Today was so awesome!!!!!!!!!! I had such an amazing time. Basically everything about it was perfect. I was with Pelon group, which I had seen about 3 weeks ago and not since, so I was pretty much seeing the group for the first time.

The day started off with a river crossing. Which I totally beasted as I hopped from rock to rock and didn't get my feet wet at all! We had an eeriely lovely predawn hike through misty forests and pastures with an almost full moon illuminating everything. It only rained a tiny, tiny bit which cooled down the forest. There were barely any bugs. Sunset was glorious.

Once the monkeys woke up, they behaved themselves all day. They were mainly close to the ground, didn't move too fast, and stayed away from nasty parts of the forest. They played on the ground and did adorable things. They got into big, interesting fights. I saw two very browy, ancient females eyeball-poking each other. I saw two monkeys having sex and the female didn't bother to stop chewing on a stick the whole time. I saw a lovers' tiff between Jorge and Brava. Pitufo, the one-handed male, was his normal badass self- running around, "stumping" things, threatening everyone.

I also had a great day for monkey ids. In order to "pass" a monkey, you have to correctly identify them 5 times, separated by a reasonable amount of time. If you make a mistake, you go back to 0 for that monkey. So far, I've been stoked to pass 6 monkeys in a day when I already had some points for them. Today, starting from 0, I passed 12 monkeys and got a total of 73 id points! It was crazy! It was just "bam! there's a monkey I know" over and over again.

Happy times.

September 10, 2011

A day in my non-monkey life...

A few snapshots of my life outside of the jungle... The first set of pictures takes you on a trip through my town as I run errands.

First, I head down this street to get to Norma's Shop to pick up basic groceries (for fancy things like meat I have to go to SuperCompro). Norma's is a small store run by a woman that Susan (the director of the field site) has grown close to over the years. We have a running tab there and forage behind the counters for whatever we need. I didn't take a picture of the shop itself because I didn't want to feel like a silly gringa. And no, I didn't mess with the colors in this picture- those houses are pink.

Next, on my way to the post office I pass this store. I haven't explored inside yet, but I'm loving the door.

And for those of you who thought you couldn't get quality poutine in Costa Rica... Think again! My town of Bagaces with its 15 streets has Comida Canada! I bet their poutine is better than Montreal's.

And of course, no trip to the post office would be complete without Rawley, the house dog. He follows us everywhere, regardless of how hard we try to lock him inside. Barb wire fences are no obstacle when his moneros are running errands! (Seriously. He crawls through our barb wire fence so that he can walk with us). He's pretty well behaved while you're walking but is impossible to keep out of the stores.


And now here are a couple pictures from my recent trip to Liberia, the main city in this region.

This is a guanacaste tree. And it is awesome.

These are statues outside of an old fort. And they are awesome.


Finally, I leave you with something I see every night. My bootleg mosquito net, repaired with bright purple duct tape.

September 9, 2011

A day in the life...

Hello again! I'm fresh off another 4 days in the field with the monkeys, and I feel I'm starting to get the feel of this job. Here is a description of the exciting bits in a recent field day:

While hanging out with a group of monkeys called "Splinter" in the early morning, Lindsey, Theresa and I spotted a lizard upside down in tree. Lindsey was about to start throwing rocks to determine whether or not it was alive when a tayra showed up! The tayra raced up the tree in which the lizard was lying and stole it. The monkeys spazzed. Predator alarm calls abounded. After the excitement we sat down for breakfast. The monkeys did not. We proceeded to lose them by 6:45.

We searched for a while. First we did a couple trails, then we sat by a favorite river crossing for 2 hours. I ate a delicious field potato and had some field gazpacho (also delicious). Lindsey decided we should check the other side of the river and so we crossed. And found monkeys! Five minutes later the monkeys crossed the river where we had been waiting so I did again as well. Got my feet wet for no reason. Ugh. Aaaaand then 15 minutes later they crossed back. Stupid monkeys.

We got to follow monkeys up an awesome cliff (so much fun!). It was great to literally pull myself up a cliff using vines while avoiding scary ants and thorns. Adventures! We stayed at the top with a fig tree that Splinter was going crazy over. It sounded quite delicious. Capuchins give a little "food peep" when they are snacking on something tasty, and the louder and more frequent those peeps are, the more awesome the food is. Apparently they sound quite obscene during mango season.

All of a sudden we notice ominous rainclouds upriver. We rush down the slope to escape the imminent flood in the river! Very nerve-wracking. We cross and sit by the banks to watch its fury. It proceeded not to flood even the tiniest bit. Anticlimatic.

August 25, 2011


I spent yesterday with Flakes, a group that broke off from Abby's group several years ago. This is the part of the forest I've liked best so far (at least before the river flooded and cut us off from the main road). I was able to get a few pictures and videos, so enjoy:

2 views of the forest:

This is what it's like to do research here. The girl in the photo is Rhiannon, the field manager.

Monkeys through the vines and monkeys playing in the vines

A baby monkey (possibly Darth Vader) making an adorable toothless threatface during play with his daddy, the alpha male Quijote. Here's a video of the action: Flakes Play

Me in the jungle! If you look closely, you can tell that fully half of my forehead is swollen from mosquito bites. Ridiculous.

August 23, 2011


Today was a day of cliffs. Lots and lots of cliffs. Steep slopes between ridges and valleys and more ridges and valleys. The monkeys had it easy today. The moneros, not so much.

I was reminded of the mac gym today as I treadmilled my way up the steep slopes. I stepped up and up and up but just went down as the ground slipped away beneath me. I had to test each step before I took it to make sure it wouldn't crumble away beneath my weight, sending me careening into thorny vine tangles 5 meters below. I couldn't even trust the rocks- those were the treacherous bits, the bits you thought were solid and safe until a 10 pound chunk comes off at the first touch of your hand.

As terrifying as that was, I got an awesome adrenalin rush as I finished each up or down (the downs were way harder than the ups). I made it! Mostly intact! Still sort of with the monkeys!

Today wasn't a great day for monkey viewing since it was so steep and viney, but my quads and gluts are going to look great.

August 22, 2011

Yellow House and Bagaces

Hello all!

Here's a quick post with a few pictures of my life outside the jungle (it exists! and is civilized!)

Here's the park in the town of Bagaces (my town). It is lovely.

Here's the street to town (it's a minute walk to get to town).

Here's the street outside Yellow House!

Here's the gate to Yellow House!

Here's my new room! Or my half of it.

This is a psion (the handheld computer on which we collect data in the field)

August 19, 2011

Lomas Barbudal Capuchin Project!

A new chapter in my monkey studies is about to begin! I have just arrived in Costa Rica to study capuchin monkeys with the Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project. The site is near the town of Bagaces in Guanacaste (the northwest region of Costa Rica).

I have spent 2 days in the forest with the monkeys already and am on my way to becoming a monera: monkey person. On my first day I started off with Weibke (a veteren monera and data analyst) and Yukiko (a Japanese girl who's been with the project about a year) searching for a group of monkeys called Pelon. We were initially unsuccessful and didn't find anything for the first two hours. We did see some howler monkeys, which are pretty cute and make an absurd amount of noise.

But then! Lo and behold Weibke hears a monkey call and we crash through the forest after it! We find some monkeys, but it's Cupi's group rather than Pelon. We hang out with them for a bit so I can see some capuchins, but then we take off again. We travel onwards so more, crashing through the forest (which is technically a tropical dry forest). Along the way I learn to be SUPER careful of Acacia and their ant protectors. Whilst they may be an awesome example of symbiotic mutualism, they are way more fun to encounter in a textbook than in real life.

After traveling some more Weibke hears some more monkeys. I am so busy watching where I put my feet and being exhausted at 9 am that I have no idea how she can pay attention to distint leaf shaking and faint vocalizations half a mile away. Impressive. Our next monkey group also fails to be Pelon. Abby's group, the first group under observation at this site, is one of the largest and has a ton of juveniles. Which makes for some awesome play. We stayed there for a few hours, watching them as I try to learn to distinguish monkey faces and the real researchers take some ad lib data. They were lovely. I cannot belive how habituated these monkeys. They were playing on the ground a few feet from me. And were totally indifferent to my presence, except when they would occasionally threat face at me.

All of a sudden we hear a "VA M" (enemy monkey alarm) from the edge of the group. Intergroup! We rush over to try to catch a fight but Abby's group appears to be fleeing from the enemy monkeys. Alas. We decide to chase after the other group of monkeys in the hopes of finding Pelon, and finally we have success. :)

We join up with Pelon as they too flee from the enemy monkeys. The first bit consists of just trying to keep up with them as they move (seemingly effortlessly) across ridges and down steep slopes and up steep slopes and down steep slopes and up steep slopes and down... They chill out and go to a nice area where they come down from the trees a bit. There's a lot of foraging, some playing, some fighting, but they seem quite relaxed. I listen in as Weibke and Yuki do focal follows of particular monkeys. Later in the day I try spotting my own follow. Generally, two researchers are needed for each follow- one to "spot" or dictate, and one to type the data onto the handheld computer psion, which is uploaded to the main computers after you get home from the field.

I saw a baby! Yuki and Weibke joint spotted a new addition to the group. It was so tiny!!! It didn't really look up from its position draped across its mother's shoulders. They think it was around a few days old.

Here's a picture of my after my first, totally awkward, follow of Benicio (BX). He's an adult male who doesn't particularly like people, so he spent a lot of the follow glaring at me as I made tons of noise moving through the forest after him.

It started getting darker around 4:30 and the monkeys foraged closer to their sleep site. Capuchin groups have several trees throughout their home ranges where they like to return to sleep, and the monkeys (especially Pelon's group) are pretty reliable. They started curling up in their sleep tree by around 5:30 and we hiked away at 5:45, once we were sure that they weren't going to give us the slip at the last minute and take off.

The sky was a crazy grayish pink as we left the forest and there was a perfect rainbow across the sky. Which, along with the new baby, were pretty good omens for my first day.

Phew. End of day 1.I had never been more exhausted in my whole life. 15 hours of near-constant travel through the jungle. Oh man. I feel asleep at approximately 8:30.

Just in time to get 6.5 hours of sleep before day 2! Waking up at 3:00 am the day after that was tough. Very tough. But whatever, I did it.

Day 2 started off much better than day 1, since we knew where the monkeys slept the night before. Rhiannon and I had Pelon again, so we hiked out to the sleep site and arrived by around 4:35 am. The monkeys didn't wake up until 5, so we sat in the forest til then. Which was actually very nice. I loved listening to the sounds of predawn insects and seeing glimpses of a starry, starry sky. It's kind of surreal to follow the monkeys in the early morning, because they travel fairly quickly before it's really light out, so you have to listen for them in order to keep up with them. We couldn't start trying to take any data on things other than vocalizations until it was fully light around 5:45. Apparently Pelon was very nice and didn't take us to any particularly horrible places (I spent a large portion of Day 1 searching for monkeys in "the Anus" on "Cacapoop" trail... "7th Circle" is supposed to be the worst area of the forest). I spent a lot of the day trying to identify monkeys and listening to Rhiannon record data for transcription later. I practiced typing on the psion and tried spotting a few follows. This day we traveled 3.7 km with the monkeys, but it felt like 10 miles because of the ups and down and vine tangles and whatnot.

Most interesting things of the day:
---> EYEBALL AND FINGER SNIFFING!!!!!! This is one of the coolest and most interesting behaviors in all primates. I saw Brava and Tamora (adult females) stick their fingers in each other's eyes and noses and chill out with blissful expressions on their faces. This lasted around 10 minutes. It's a form of social bonding (Brava and Tamora are buddies and spent a lot of the day together; at one point they took an adorable bath in a stream together).
---> Tenenbaum (a young juvenile female) found a frog and played with it for a while. Poor frog. She was rolling it around on the ground and against tree trunks and letting it hop away only to catch it in a second before she deposited it in a random bird's nest. She found another frog later. Frogs are apparently an unusual addition to capuchin diets.
---> Coalitions!!! I saw overlords, which are when two or more monkeys stack their heads to make a totem pole of threatening aggression. I saw overlords against other monkeys during fights, against Rhiannon when she accidentally shook Camille's tree during a fight, and against a wasp nest. One male monkey, Pitufo, was shaking the sapling containing the nest while threatening it, and then he joined up with Oden (the alpha male) to overlord against it. They shook the branch so hard that the nest fell and Oden braved the wasps to snatch away the honeycomb and enjoy a painful snack.

There's my long initial post. Upcoming posts will include more pictures and videos, interesting things I saw the monkeys do, and a post about my town of Bagaces and the house in which I am living now.

Tomorrow will be a search day since we lost all the monkeys, so we get to leave the house at the ridiculously late hour of 6 am.