While at Baboon cliffs (see previous post for silly pictures of me watching the sunset) we found a snake that had been fairly well eaten by a bird. The bird was gone but the snake was still pretty intact (viscera were missing but the head and body scales were actually in good shape) so we decided to bring it home with us to try to identify. Lucky we did, it ended up being a new species for Mpala! This is a boomslang carcass, as near as we can tell. Boomslangs are pretty famously venomous in South and East Africa. While wikipedia says they aren’t well known for causing human death they’re very well respected/feared here as one of the particularly dangerous venomous snakes. I’m going to have to ask around about this apparent discrepancy. Nonetheless this is a pretty cool arboreal snake with a famous name and a serious reputation. Don’t worry, I don’t anticipate running into any poking around in my trees. Apparently they don’t like the ants hanging out in my acacias. Whew!
So, Walker and Kayla are off to live in a nearby community for the next week or 10 days. Their adventures will be sufficiently harrowing (at the very least two deep river crossings in the car) that they decided to take “baby” and I’m now renting a new Land Rover. If any of you are land rover enthusiasts and can tell me what year this car was made I’d love to hear. My guess is that it’s pushing 35!
Whatever this car misses in terms of creature comfort (crazy seats, bad shocks, holes in the roof) or safety (No power steering and I don’t think any of the seat belts work) it certainly makes up for in character. For some reason the driver’s seat is tiny, even all the way back the steering wheel hits me mid-thigh, and this is my first experience with pump brakes – Yikes! The first time heading down a steep hill and having the brakes hit the back of the foot-well was quite a heart stopper.
On the upside though it’s a convertible! That turns out to be a huge upside outweighing all of those other ‘endearing quirks.’ I took it out for its first game drive on Sunday and we took off the top to get a bit of air and see the animals around us. Yipee! It was fantastic.
We made somewhat of an interesting discovery on the game drive though… To make driving somewhat more interesting, the speedometer is on the “broken list” in the car. As the gas gauge is affixed right next to it in the dash at a rakish angle, and the needle was firmly set below “E” (who loans a car with no gas in the tank?) I assumed it too was among the instruments that had been consumed by old age. It turns out the gas gauge actually does work… a fact we discovered as we sputtered to a stop deep in the Black Cotton. We were rescued after an hour or so… now I’m going to be a bit more mindful of the gas gauge in the future.
Here’s a quick glimpse inside of the cockpit. Note the red and yellow lollypops. Not quite sure what they do but they look tempting… Among my favorites though is the gas pedal – a bent piece of metal and the light switches that evoke an airplane (or space shuttle?).
I’m really sorry I don’t have a picture to go along with this day and a half’s fiasco! There’s no way I could have though, my hands were such a mess I’d have completely destroyed my camera.
So, the next step in the insect research is to get a sense of the flying insects that can be found around the glades. These’ll be the primary food for my lizards I think so I’m anxious to get a sense of what’s out there. Sampling flying insects is tough… there are lots of methods (I’d be happy to send you a dozen papers on the topic) but my first effort is going to be to use sticky traps.
The idea is to hang very sticky notecards that will trap any insect that happens to bump into them. The stickiness comes from a product called Tanglefoot. I have no idea what combination of chemicals they used but this is the stickiest, gooiest, thickest goop I’ve ever come across. It’s like pine tree sap and honey and molasses all in one. I spread it over these notecards, getting it all over me as well. I seriously doubt if I’ll ever be able to get it out of my pants. It’s really impressively sticky!
Funny though, it has a beautiful caramel color – very much like some kind of candy. It made me think… if this biologist thing doesn’t work out then perhaps a dessert shop… I think I’ll have to invent “Tangletooth Toffee.”
Sorry for the long lapse in posts. This week has been extremely busy! I don’t think I’ve taken a single photo from out in the field and so didn’t have anything to share. This is a quintessential “Black Cotton” savanna picture to serve in place.
I started midweek by finishing setting up the grasshopper experiment. I, with the help of Elcanna, built 18 grasshopper enclosure cages. They’re 70 cm wireframe cubes made of iron that we covered with a nice thin cloth mesh. I’ve set them out in three glades in the black cotton in the center of glades and far from any glade edges.
The next step was stocking all of these cages with grasshoppers. The goal of my previous grasshopper surveys was to get a sense of the density and species that would be expected in each of these places. While the vacuum didn’t work especially well, I think (hope) we got the density just about right.
“Stocking the cages” actually sounds pretty straight forward but it turned into a huge project. I ended up bringing along 3 field assistants and another researcher to lend me a hand! I couldn’t have managed it without them! For each cage we had to dig a 10cm trench, find 12 grasshoppers and then mass and mark each of them with an individualized code. That turned out to be over 200 grasshoppers. My hope is that when I recollect these grasshoppers I’ll be able to take their mass again and get a sense of how much weight they’ve gained. This will hopefully give me the productivity measurement that will tie this whole project from grass productivity, to insect productivity to lizard productivity. Fingers crossed!
One thing I’ve learned working in the savanna filled with mammals and here, filled with cattle as well… the ticks are ferocious and plentiful. I can’t begin to count the number of ticks I’ve picked off my pants to date. Luckily only about 1 in 10 actually makes it past the pants and into my leg but I had 7 embedded in me the other day. A friend here wanted to use ticks for an experiment and so asked our help collecting them. I found 180 in a single day but others ended up way ahead. All in all, over the course of about a week he was given over 1500 ticks! Yikes!