Lost but Not Abandoned

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The temples are old, twelve centuries old in some cases. They are mossy, disordered, eroded, unsettled by roots and shifting sands, and sometimes riddled with bullet holes. They were lost to pilgrims and scholars alike until painfully recently, swallowed up by trees and climbing vines until they were unrecognizable. But they were not abandoned.

The faces smiling down from the Angkor Tom towers don’t seem lonely. Nor do the happy little amblypygids smiling down from the inside rooftop corners:

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Ain’t he cute? He’s not a spider, but a completely different type of arachnid also known as a whip spider. You may recognize him from one of the Harry Potter movies, or from a late-night freakout in which you likely jumped onto something as far from the floor as you could manage while maybe squealing or whimpering just… just a little bit. Fear not, gentle readers! Amblypygi are not venomous, aggressive, or even particularly defensive. For the most part they just hang out and eat crickets. Those long pedipalps (crabby-looking claws in the front) tell you whether the animal is a male or a female (males have longer ones, females shorter) and have the capability of grabbing on to little buggy snacks, but at their worst could give you a good pinch if you really tried to make their owner mad.

The temples have been re-occupied by humans and restoration work (funded by Cambodians, the French, Indians, Russians, and Americans among others) is everywhere through the temple complexes. But the company that the temples have kept through the hundreds of years between creation, overgrowth, rediscovery, looting, and tourism refuses to give up its home.

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They live here now. It’s their temple too.

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Some of them even engage in restoration work of their own, contributing silvery adornments to the crumbling walls.

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The temples have been reclaimed many times over their long history, by Hindus, Buddhists, Khmer Rouge, the French, modern-day Cambodians, and the forest itself. But I’d never call them abandoned.

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By Any Other Name

Scientific names are very important- not only are they identifiers for different species that simultaneously differentiate groups and unify them under larger categories, but they also tend to provide some information about that species, even if the information is the name of a researcher who did seminal work in the area, or that Stephen Colbert is awesome (see Aptostichus stephencolberti and Agaporomorphus colberti, a spider and a beetle respectively named for the comedian).

For instance, upon seeing and naming this new friend:IMG_0662

I can be sure that she’s a relative to someone that long-time Agent Red Squirrel readers might recognize. Nephila clavipes was my research subject in Corcovado, Costa Rica, which is why her legs, which look like the graceful result of some dreadful hair-growing (or hair-shaving) experiments, are so familiar. This lady here is a large female Nephila edulis, which translates roughly to “edible spider who is fond of spinning,” which is illuminating if not entirely explanatory or comforting to the Western palate.

The dolphins I’ll be studying here have been, until I think today, actually, been officially known as Sousa chinensis, but have acquired independence from their northerly cousins and become recognized as Sousa sahulensis. Though not named after me, as they should have been, S. sahulensis do gain potential protection due to their smaller numbers, which brings me to my point: S. chinensis, S. chinensis, wherefore are you S. chinensis? For a research project by any other name would be as wicked sweet.Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 12.25.46 AM

 

 

The Garden

It is more or less a place of biblical beauty, especially to a bunch of sweaty, bug-bitten scientists staggering out of the wild jungle-  Las Cruces Biological Station and the Wilson Botanical Gardens.

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We spent two days recuperating from chiggers and watching birds in the gardens, taking a bit of time to learn some plant taxonomy and work on papers. My favorite hours there were spent just exploring and then finding somewhere to sit and contemplate among the plants.

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Lots of cool stuff to see:

This weirdo spider-Image

This very suspicious nest-building parrot-

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And this ethereal-looking butterfly-

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It was good to have a bit of time to chill out and be comfortable- hot showers, clean sheets, no mosquito nets necessary, and some other undergraduates from a non-Dartmouth, OTS course in tropical biology to chat with. I also found out what our mystery evil-plant is! It’s in the family Loasaceae, an old group sort of related to thistles (thus the bristles) and magnolias (thus the flowers). The species name is Nasa speciosa. It’s nice to have a name to put to at least one of the two Cuericí study organisms! Apparently all of the specimens of this plant (and there aren’t many) were collected within a mile of where we found ours.

Hooray for science, and hooray for hot showers!

Fat-Bottomed Spider Ladies

In the spider world, big girls really ARE beautiful. Male Nephila clavipes (golden orb-weaving spiders) on search for mates choose the biggest female they can find, preferring to duke it out with other males than search for an unclaimed lady-friend. Our project in Corcovado had to do with feeding different-sized prey to different-sized female Nephila, as well as counting the numbers of “kleptoparasites” (little spiders that steal prey from the big spiders’ webs) and males each female was hosting in her web. 

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They’re beautiful to watch as they build webs and snare their prey… but they’re fraidy-cats when it comes to anything bigger than this cicada. Still, that’s an impressive predator-prey size ratio. This big girl sure can handle herself. Watch out, spider-boys…