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.