Has there been times that something could have been done an easier way than the way you are doing it? Have researchers used new methods to answer scientific questions? The image above is a photo of a glued bee specimen on the left and a pinned one on the right. Traditionally, insects are pinned on the right side of the thorax (right) because specimens stay in place and even with the right side of the thorax damaged, the left side is still intact for identifying characteristics. I learned that bee specimens can also to be glued to pins (left). The purpose of gluing specimens rather then putting a pin through their thorax is because it does not damage it. It also leaves all the parts of the insect undamaged and gives entomologists a different angle to view the insect. I found it easier to view the characteristics of the it when it was glued on its ventral side as shown above because it require less focusing and positioning to view it under the microscope. Gluing insects is a controversial method of pinning because insects could fall off pins over time of glue does not last. From my experience, too much glue could get legs or wings struck together if not careful. Overall, gluing them requires more of a steady hand, and requires more time to make sure the glue does not attach to a wing or leg. With smaller specimens a microscope is needed to see where you are putting the pin. Putting one through the thorax requires just a good eye to make sure the pin goes in the right side of thorax. This is done just with your naked eye. Both methods have their pros and cons, but as long as the specimen is identifiable it makes no difference how the specimen is pinned.
“Ouch, I lost count how many times I poked myself with these pins.” Pinning insects can be delicate work and requires a steady hand and a gentle touch. After weeks of collecting across different sites at the park, the collection for this year’s project is coming together. If you are wondering how insects are preserved, it requires little labor compare to other animals. For my project, bee specimens that were collected have to be washed first. Wait a second, washing bees! Yes, bees require “washing” to get rid of pollen and to overall clean specimens. All that is needed to do this is a sealed container filled with soapy water. Bee specimens are placed in the container and the container is shaken up for 10 mins. After they are washed, then they are gently patted dry with a paper towel. Dried specimens are then ready to be pinned. Pins are placed through each specimen on its right thorax (near wing joint). Pinning on the right side of the thorax is the standard for pinning insects. Pinned specimens are put in a display case to store for future research. Often, specimens that have been stored for decades are still used today by researchers doing studies on the species. Many insect species may look similar, but small characteristics identifies the differences between them.
“Sweeper river left”, “strainer river right” these are common phrases you’ll most likely here when going down a river, whether kayaking, canoeing or even tubing. Sweepers and strainers are two main things you want to be aware of and avoid. Sweepers are things, usually trees, that hang over the river near the banks and can sweep you off your boat if big enough, and hit with enough force. Strainers are harder to see and sometimes more dangerous. These are hidden underwater and they’re usually downed branches, where the water can go through them, but you can’t. It’s easy to get pinned against these with the downstream flow keeping you there, so as you go float down river its good to keep an eye out for strange water features and sweepers hanging around.
For this kayak trip we went from Lock 29 to Boston Store, which seems to be the most popular trip by visitors. It was a little over two miles and took us under an hour and a half to do. It was a relatively easy stretch of river and could be done by beginners. The water flow was around 400 cfs, which is relatively slow for this river, although it could get into the thousands, and its been as low as 200. There are a few patches of white water but they’re easy to navigate, especially when you have a good guide in front of you.
I took two GoPros out with me to record that stretch of river. Most of that video will be used in presentations about the river, regarding a future designated water trail!
Do you enjoy eating fresh fruits and vegetables? Well, if you live in a remote park, you might have to jump some hoops and hurdles to just to get them. Unless, of course, you grow your own fruits and vegetables, which is exactly what the staff at Lava Beds National Monument are doing! At the beginning of my internship park employees came together to build a community garden next to staff housing. The community garden arose from a growing need among staff members for fresh, affordable food. Fresh, affordable food is hard to come by living inside a remote park because the nearest grocery store is almost an hour away and fresh produce there comes at a hefty price. Given some investments in time and seedlings, the garden provides the opportunity to have produce right outside our doorstep. Over time, it also will become a space for connections within the park community, bringing together interns, seasonal employees, and managers across divisions in the struggle for good food. It is, after all, a community garden not just a small-scale farm.
Early in the season, the garden plots were just large boxes of soil and compost. Now, the garden is full of flowers and bustling with butterflies. But recently, we’ve encountered the first enemy to our garden: a very gluttonous squirrel. It has mowed over lettuce, cilantro, and cucumbers, leaving only little nubs in its path. This squirrel even has a palate for spice; it snacked on my cayenne peppers. Frankly, there have been moments when I’ve discovered the entire plant gnawed off and contemplated giving up on my garden plot altogether. But as Rudyard Kipling once said, “gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” I’ve come to realize that gardens are made of sheer persistence. And so the members of the community garden have teamed up to battle this squirrel by making natural repellants to spray on our vulnerable vegetables. Look out hungry squirrel because we’re up to the challenge of defending our garden!
The last few weeks here have been busy with field preparations and field work. Because we are working with insects, there are many details that go into preparing transects and in making sure we pack enough of what we need before going out. Aside from work, I went on my first hike in the park the second week I got here and got to do some exploring with a friend who lives in the area. On this first hike I encountered my first grizzly bear on the trail. I didn’t think bear encounters happened frequently, making this encounter feel as if it was just a figment of my imagination. Of course, till it started walking towards us. Luckily we followed procedure raising our arms in the air and backing away slowly and being a curious rather than aggressive bear, it simply continued eating, foraging for food while occasionally making eye contact with us. This bear was 25ft. away in front of us. Rather than taking a photo of the instance (which would have been a pretty terrible idea), I later decided to sketch the encounter from memory. My first drawing of the summer. It’s a little rough looking but I had to put it down on paper to con
vince myself that it truly did happen.
Anyway, my favorite plant here is the cotton grass which is only found in certain small sections of the park. They remind me of the truffula trees from the Lorax and are simply just comforting little plants to touch and admire. Aside from just enjoying the surroundings, I will be honest and admit that field work has been a little rough. Not the actual work and measurements, but simply the hiking that is required. I’m way slower that I thought I was compared to my coworkers and i’m always falling behind not because i’m stopping but because i’m slow and fall short of breath. It’s made me feel pretty weak as a team-mate and because of it I enjoy the microscope work way better.
Starting something new usually leaves me with a combination of feeling excited and nervous. I am happy to say by the end of my first week I am feeling much more excited than nervous. I started with the natural resource management department at Manassas Battlefield National Park and I have been warmly welcomed by the entire team. My first day was my orientation day so my supervisor and the other two natural resource interns took me all around the park introducing me to different areas so I could get familiar with the park as a whole. I have never been much of a history buff but I have learnt a lot about the Civil War in the past week and I am looking forward to learning more. Two major battles between the Confederacy and the Union were fought on this national park and its amazing to see the way the land and building have been preserved to teach people about those important battles. A fun fact I learned was that General Jackson was given the name Stonewall on this very land. Here is a picture of me with the other two natural resource interns on the stone bridge from my first day!
My second day was a field day and we went out and did some vegetation management. That means I got to wear the full white suit and spray herbicides from our backpack sprayers in large fields. I had never done this before so it was exciting, we were targeting an invasive species in the field that was outcompeting what we wanted to grow in that field. The park has a lot of grassland habitat which is rare since Virginia and the countries grassland have been rapidly declining so it is important to preserve a healthy grasslands for a variety of grassland species. The next day the department of forestry hosted us and gave us a tour on urban forestry in a park where they have used a variety of different management techniques which was really interesting. Afterwards we had a big barbecue with the whole department and some people from the department of forestry which was great to get to know the team!
We also went to the NPS Youth Summit for this region this week which was really fun! The summit was at Anacostia Park in Washington, D.C. and they had a variety of different stations that we rotated through. The stations included an aquatic center, living history, the park police, bird watching, and even roller skating! It was really interesting talking to all the interns at other parks to learn about their experiences. Here are a couple pictures from the event!
I have already learned a lot this week and I can’t wait for some more of those long field days. Although this is just the beginning, I know this is going to be a great summer.
Grand Teton National Park is located in northwest Wyoming. It encompasses the Teton mountain range, the 4,000-meter Grand Teton peak, and the valley known as Jackson Hole. Sagebrush monitoring has been identified as a key component in detecting changes in high elevation parks due to increased rates of climate change. I aided the vegetation monitoring field crew members in hiking to survey points and identifying plant species present. Various data was collected at the sites such as: Bare ground, litter, rocks, shrubs, forbes, and grasses (both native and non-native).
However, the excitement didn’t end there. I was also able to work with crew members who are responsible for monitoring avian productivity and survivorship. We conducted call-back surveys for the endangered Yellow Billed Cuckoo, as well as Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon monitoring. During off-work hours, I attended an invasive plant, and Mountain Goat seminar. I am so fortunate have the opportunity to be involved in such a wide array of subject areas as well as meet professionals who a very knowledgeable and dedicated to their work. I look forward the adventures and opportunities that are yet to come!
Ever left something outside and bugs get into it? For my project bowls were left outside for a day, and look what I caught. After a struggling task to figure out coordinates for our transects Desi and I were able to put out bee bowls for one of the sites at the Dunes this week. The coordinates I am talking about are locations that were used in a previous survey study done in 2011. When we first went out into the field to find the pre-set coordinates on our GPS, the accuracy was off by 10 ft. From what data we had, the previous researches that did the study were not accurate as well. For some projects in science, precision is not a key component in some aspects. The area we were in had good diversity and abundance of flowers for bees. The next day we went back to points we set to put out bee bowl traps filled with soapy water. I have mentioned in previous blogs that colored bowls are used imitate flowers to attract bees and soapy water prevents surface tension when bees land. 24 hours passed and the bowls were collected. Shown below is what was collected. These traps can attract any insect besides bees. Collected specimens were placed into a freezer for further processing. The fun part will be sorting what was collected to find bees.
National Parks are incredible areas where we’re able to preserve these beautiful environments and continue them sustainably, with as little impact as possible even with the public and recreational activities going on. While this may sound to some like an easy task of just putting aside some land and not doing anything too damaging, it takes a lot of work and management from devoted people. During my stay here at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park my role in that is taking water samples and testing them. This helps us to see bacteria levels in the water, and convey this to the public who are increasingly interested. I’ve also been helping out with butterfly counts, which is something this park has been doing for the past ten plus years, to help monitor the numbers of butterflies and their species.
Recently I helped one of the environmental protection specialists when she went out in the field to check on some sites here on the park. Most of the time we walked through a creek which got pretty deep at times, to get to the different spots, so it’s a good thing we wore our waders! We went to six different locations where we monitored the ground water and the creek water levels. This was pretty cool to do because I got to see different parts of the park that I wasn’t able to yet, and it was definitely off the beaten path which was fun!
When we were measuring the stream levels we used the gauge (left photo) that was in the water. At this site we can see the stream was measuring roughly one foot and seven inches high. When measuring the ground water levels we used the dipmeter (right photo). This measuring tool has a water sensitive tip, so that when it touches water it emits a high pitch noise, that way we know its reached the ground water and we’re able to measure it’s height. All of this is in an effort to keep track of this area’s water levels and their quality, which is all a part of the Environmental Management System (EMS) plan for the park. Without monitoring our environment and making sure we follow safe practices and act sustainably, there wouldn’t be a good environment for our national parks. So, while its great to go and camp in these areas, kayak, bike, etc…, we’ve got to remember to try and practice the “leave no trace” so that our environment is here for future visitors to enjoy the same way!
Mycology and mycorrhizal networks. Exploring the ways in which fungi interact with and complicate forest networks and growth patterns has been one of the most complex intellectual endeavors I’ve ever attempted.
…And also one of the most fascinating. Expanding and destabilizing my own definitions of sentience, recognition and life as they applied to forest ecology has been one of the most important things I have ever done as someone studying sustainable development and environmental history. Challenging myself as an intellectual at the undergraduate level is something I didn’t initially know how to translate to my work with children. Yet, I knew I still needed to do it.
This weird meditation on how I’ve come to think about and consider forests as sentient, beyond any assertion of their “living” qualities brings us to (somehow) the completion of my very first Junior Ranger program here at our Jr. Ranger Headquarters at Hidden Valley at RMNP.
While I was developing my program outlines, I kept remembering one of the head researchers (with whom I was fortunate enough to have a conversation) tell me that too many interns in Interpretation (my division) are “afraid to let their programs have teeth.” His words stayed with me, even after two weeks of intensive training in which I was inundated with information.
Maybe I like a challenge (if you want to be nice) or I am a bit of a masochist (the truth is somewhere in between the two) but I resolved to imagine programming that was rooted in complex and interesting science, elevated kids rather than lowering them down or our expectations of them, and just somehow proved to be engaging. I worked and worked myself trying to imagine how I could accomplish this.
About a week before my first Junior Ranger programs were slated to begin, I had a bit of a breakthrough – which mostly involved cheering to my roommate and a host of flurried scribbling in my notebook. I wanted to take a huge risk and talk about something that was on the surface incredibly boring and in every other regard (to me at least) wickedly fascinating – mushrooms.
I spent the next week and a half scrambling – how was I going to get six year olds to relate to a complex, and hidden at that, ecological phenomenon that only I seem to care about? Was I going to cave and develop something average but well-attended and well-liked?
This week’s programming at Junior Ranger Headquarters was one of the most pleasant and validating surprises during my time here at Rocky Mountain – my program wasn’t too abstract or a flop! It was the highest attended afternoon program yet. Kids enjoyed it and were curiously asking me questions about mycorrhizae in greater detail. This kind of success is what makes working with children so rewarding – they have an ability and thirst for learning that far exceeds what people would imagine them to be capable of. There are smaller kinks a perfectionist like me will have to iron out in the program as I give it week to week but my most important critics have already spoken – the kids.