Tuesday, February 8, 2011

2011...is over a month old.

Hello all, glad to see you again. I can't actually see you. But I'd like to imagine that you are there, you know, in spirit. Anyway, I won't make a rambling apology for my lack of blogging, I simply have been busy, at least for the case of January. For December, I have little excuse other than perhaps "I didn't quite feel like it". But more importantly, dear readers, now I do feel like it. So, where shall the text woven paths of this blog post lead you tonight? Shall we discuss my past two months? Talk about some animal facts? Discuss the woes of hard college classes maybe (**makes firm eye contact with anthropomorphic representation of Calculus 17B)? Who knows? Let's just go!

Well, first off, if you were here in dear Laben Hall, in Davis, you'd see the white board outside my door inscribed with a very exciting countdown. Yes, it's that time of year again. February, when the chill winds of late winter bring on them the scent of joy and happiness, all culminating on that special mid-month holiday...DARWIN DAY! Yes indeed, the 202nd birthday of dear Charles Darwin himself is this Saturday, February 12th. I really got into the Darwin Day spirit last year, when I pieced together a costume of my favorite scientist and wore it to school. And, rest assured, if you're in Davis this saturday, I will don the traditional Darwinian garb once again. Dear EEB friends Tyler and Evan will also be joining in the festivities, which we have yet to fully plan. However, our speculative plans include the selective distribution of cookies to those who can name the holiday, a party here on Laben 4, and perhaps a screening of Darwin biopic "Creation", or another evolution-related program. All good fun, for a man worth celebrating!

In other news, I won't bother you extensively with tales of my day to day class life. But I will a little bit. I'm taking four (well, five really) courses this quarter: Geology 3 (History of Life), Geology 3 Lab, Geology 12 (Dinosaurs, a piece of cake, I must admit), Calculus 17B (with a professor who's never taught before and is very poor at doing so...it's hellish), and Chemistry 2A (with the excellent Dr. Enderle, who is one of my favorite professors thus far).

As hinted at between the parentheses above, Calculus is once again a killer. Mostly, I blame my lack of formal calculus in high school starting me off on the wrong foot here. I barely squeaked by last quarter, and this quarter's fast becoming a sequel to the horror film that was 17A. At any rate, we'll see. Other than that, classes aren't too bad.

Chemistry's not too hard, thanks to high school AP chem, and other than a medirocre midterm, the course is going swimmingly. Dinosaurs is easy, and I enjoy it. My only complaint is mainly the fact that so few people in the class seem to appreciate the course material. I mean, for one, few know anything about dinosaurs from what I can gather from overly loud conversations in class, but then they choose to disrespect what I feel is a tremendously awe-inspiring subject by talking during lecture, like alot. Annoying. But hey, maybe that's why the midterm average was kind of low. My favorite course this quarter is Geology 3, history of life. The lecture is alot more challenging than Geology 1 stuff, and I really feel like I'm learning alot. As one might gather from the title, the course consists largely of a complete tour of the history of life, including the various evolutionary trends, from the origin of life to the present. The lab is also pretty demanding, lots of drawing and memorization. But again, learning.

Research wise, I'm also still a proud helper in both the fish lab and the herpetology lab. The former consists of more of the same: measuring cameroon cichlids to chart their speciation. As for the former, I've gone out once so far to help check traps at Jepson prarie. It was an average day, despite pretty torrential rain, and this seems to be indicative of the late winter trend of the salamanders reaching the vernal pools for breeding. And since we usually catch them in the process of coming or going, when they're actually now in the ponds having glorious salamander spawning times, we catch less of them.

A new and fun thing was, however, the practice of seining the vernal pools. See, in addition to California tiger salamanders, the vernal pools also contain two endangered species of shrimp: Tadpole shrimp [lower image] (Lepidurus packardi) and the Conservancy fairy shrimp [upper image](Branchinecta conservatio). That means yours truly got to wade knee deep into the ponds and help drag a net along the bottom to pull out a load of these fascinating little critters. And when you raise one eyebrow skeptically at the mention of "fascinating shrimp", consider this: The tadpole shrimp is one of the most evolutionarily conserved animals on earth, meaning it's overall body plan has changed little since the Triassic period, 250 million years ago. They're fascinating!

Anyway, that about does it for me tonight. I'll check back in soon though, certainly before the Darwin Day this Saturday!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Past Few Days

Hey everyone, sorry I've been quiet the past couple of days, but I have an excuse: calculus. Seriously, calculus has pervaded every facet of my daily life for the past few days, haunting my dreams, wearing me down to a weary, broken shell of a man...and my final was this morning. I'll say simply that it didn't go well. For further explanation, I defer to Nicolas Cage. Fastfoward to 1:19 in the following video:

I wanted to do that. It was bad. I mean, I studied, but the simple fact is that I don't have high school calculus to back me up, and this class has been brutal. The final was worse than I suspected, and frankly, I admit defeat. I'm just going to hope the curve saves me, and if not, I'll retake the course next quarter. It's not fun, and I'm really embarrassed to truly fail at a class, something I've never done before, but that's life. If I want to be a zoologist, I just have to tough it out and keep fighting Newton's challenging legacy tooth and nail...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blogging Among Friends

So, those of you that read me on here (and I fear that number may be low, as my absence has no doubt discouraged you) tend to have your own blogs as well, or at least be connected with a few others, so it's hard to find new ones out of the blue without some prior personal knowledge. The converse is also true: unless your friends start reading it, having a blog at the start is like having a journal which is open to googling. Point being: it's nice to be connected to other people on here.

That brings me to my point. See, I have a friend here at Davis, Evan. He too is in the Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity department, and he too spends some of his rainier weekends plunging his hands into muddy buckets in search of salamanders, just like me. We are friends. And now he has a blog! I find it quite entertaining, so if you would like to get a taste of this wonderful internet opportunity, pop on over to "Ramblings of a Young Biologist". Yes, he too rambles, and he too is a young biologist. We're like twins without the same mom part.

Fun Fact 12/2

So it's a rainy evening here in Davis, and I'm currently enjoying a Diet Coke and some rest in my dorm before heading off to Calculus, followed by a couple hours of work at the fish lab. So, I decided to blog a little bit before I go, seeing as I've underutilized these interludes for most of the quarter. Needless to say, a fun fact for today is in order. So, for inspiration, I turned to my room mate Trevor, who sits about 10 feet from me at his desk. I asked him what his favorite animal was, and after some pondering, he concluded that he likes tigers. So, rather than doing one long fact about these big cats, I figured I'd give you a small list of things to digest about tigers.
  • Tigers belong to the genus Panthera, which includes all other big cats. It's latin name is Panthera tigris, but there are also several subspecies of tigers, nine in all. Three of these, sadly, are extinct, but the other six still exist, despite critical endangerment in some areas. The largest of the living subspecies is the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica)
  • Tigers are the largest of all big cats, weighing in excess of 500 pounds in some imstances
  • Tigers are notorious in some parts of the world for having developed a taste for human flesh. In one part of India and Bangladesh, a large swamp known as the Sundarbans boasts huge numbers of tiger attacks. In one case, a tiger actually leaped up into a boat from the water to attack a man.
  • Tigers can take down very large prey. In India, they often hunt Sambar deer, sneaking up on them and then pouncing on their backs, attacking the neck with their powerful jaws. Bites to the neck can sever the spinal column, deprive the brain of oxygen, and cut through the jugular vein, all of which are fatal.
  • stripes on these animals serve to break up its pattern in dense brush and forest. Few realize how effective this is until seeing it in action. Try to find the tiger in the following photo:
  • Tigers can sprint between 30 and 40 miles per hour
  • To avoid tiger attacks, many people in India and elsewhere would wear masks resembling human faces on the back of their heads, believing that these would convince hunting tigers that the element of surprise had been lost.
  • The only place where tigers can be found alongside lions is in India, where small pockets of the endangered Asiatic lion (Panthera leo perscica) can be found along with Bengal tigers
  • Tigers are highly solitary and territorial animals, with home ranges extending (in males) up to 100 square kilometers
So yeah, that's some of my tiger facts. If you want more, email me or something. I'm going to get ready to go to Calculus discussion, but you have a nice evening.

NASA Finds new life...in Mono Lake

Mono Lake, for those of you who haven't been there, is a pretty extreme place. Located downslope of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, north of Mammoth and right near the entrance to Yosemite National Park at Tioga Pass, it's a lake characterized by amazingly high salinity and alkalinity. Very little lives in it, save for some species of shrimp. It is also a breeding ground for over 90% of seagulls in the state, making it a pretty important place.

But as of an announcement today, this place also apparently has some residents which are pretty mind-blowing. Researchers from NASA, the US Geological Survey, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have found a microbe that uses something in its biological structure that no other organism on earth can: arsenic. See, every living thing on earth, from you to your cat to a squid, uses the same six elements for life: Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorous. But a particular strain of Gamaproteobacteria found in Mono Lake completely changes that assumption. The researchers grew this particular bacterium in the lab, feeding it these elements, including phosphorus. But when they removied phosphorus and added arsenic instead, something astounding happened: the bacteria kept growing. Somehow, though more work needs to be done, the bacteria are incorporating the normally extremely poisonous element into their cellular structure.

This is a big deal, mind you. It may not sound like much, but this creates a whole other view of how life can exist, both here on Earth, and (for astrobiologists) on other planets. I'm pretty excited to see where this goes from here!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fun Fact 12/1

Ah yes, fun facts, those are back.
Well, today I decided to enlighten you all to a fact which is another common misconception. I often like to do these sorts of fun facts, since it may help my small readership avoid making otherwise commonplace errors in zoological discussion. Today's clarification falls similarly into the vein of the sorts of taxonomic errors pertaining to species distinctions. Namely, the differences between two very well known amphibious creatures: Crocodiles and Alligators.

So, what is the difference? Well, I'm going to tell you how to tell the difference, but I'd also like to delve into reptile classification a bit as well so you can see not only how but also why there is a distinct difference between using those two names. First off, lets get the easy part done. Let's say you're in a swamp somewhere in the world, or a wetland of some sort, and a scaly, toothed creature swims past you. Now, those of you who don't already know the difference, both anatomically and geographically, might be inclined to peg the reptile you see as a "crocodile". But you might feel equally inclined to call it an "alligator" as well. They're both green, scaly, and bitey, aren't they? Cartoons often depict them identically, right? Well, no. And knowing the difference in this hypothetical situation could in fact save your life!

Anatomical Differences:
So, first off, take a peek at the creature's head. Almost all the distinguishing characters for your ID are around the animal's head. So, if it's an alligator, several things should be clear. For one, the snout should be rounded. If you look at the lower picture there on the left, observe just how broad the individual's snout it. Now compare that to the upper image, the crocodile. See how it's jaws are shaped more like a triangular death machine? Here's a better picture:

An additional difference on the head can be seen from the side. Namely, these critters have dental differences as well. With an alligator, if you were to lay down alongside it and peer at its impressive jaws from the side when they were closed, you would notice that only upper teeth are visible when it has its jaws closed. The lower teeth fit inside the mouth when the animal has its jaws closed. In crocodiles, this is not so. Their lower teeth are clearly visible in several places along the jaw. Additionally, crocodiles are typically lighter in color than alligators.

Taxonomic Differences:
So, that was my long winded way of explaining just what the very basic differences are between crocodiles and alligators. It could have been a short paragraph. "But Charlie!", you implore your computer screen, "those are so basic! I want a complete understanding of this topic so that I can know for sure!". I'm glad you asked. So, as you can imagine, differences in the animal kingdom are not sorted simply by looks. Indeed, the practice of sorting animals according to their most accurate relations is called taxonomy, and it may spice up this seemingly easy clarification to explore some taxonomy this afternoon. So, to begin, let us first establish the basic group that crocodiles and alligators belong to. They fall, like all reptiles, into Class Reptilia. And from there, we narrow it down to Order Crocodilia. Crocodilia contains our two topics of discussion, as well as caimans and gharials, pictured below:

Aren't they precious? At any rate, these groups all fall under this order, which in turn is broken down into three superfamilies (which is an overarching category for the family):

  • Gavialoidea: This group contains family Gavialidae, which encompasses the gharial of India, as well as the false gharial of southeast Asia.
  • Alligatoroidea: This group contains one family, Alligatoridae, which in turn contains two subfamilies: Alligatorinae and Caimaninae
  • Crocodyloidea: this contains family Crocodylidae, which again in turn contains subfamily Crocodylinae, which encompasses crocodiles.
Whew. So, they are in different groups. So what? Well, this distinction encompasses the fact that each has been shaped by different forces of evolution, as well as the fact that there are distinct variations across the whole group. Alligators and caimans are very similar, whereas crocodiles get their own Superfamily. But more importantly, there are also departures from one another in diversity. There are only two species of alligator: the well known American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the highly endagered Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis). Though, the group does get a boost from the closely related caimans, of which there are eight species. Compare this to crocodiles, which boast a more impressive species count at 13. Total, there are 23 species in the Order altogether.

Geographic differences:
So, with taxonomy covered, how about that question of where they live? Go back to out hypothetical wetland. You may be able to figure out what the animal is simply by looking, but with so many species out there, and some species looking alike (like Alligators and Caimans often do), that may not do you a whole lot of good. So, let's discuss the geographic variations among the Crocodilians. To begin, Alligators are found in small pockets in China and in very high numbers across southeastern North America. Caimans are found in much of South America, with their range extending into parts of the Caribbean as well. Gharials are more limited, with their natural range only occuring in India and parts of Southeast Asia. Finally, Crocodiles. Crocodiles occur very widely, on 5 continents. They are the only crocodilian species in Australia and Africa, and they share continents with other groups.

However, keeping in mind the relatively limited scope of the original question, the only place on earth where you would be able to see both a crocodile and an alligator would be right here in the good ol' US of A, in Florida. There, the extremely numerous American alligator actually overlaps the range of the aptly named American Crocodile, which is found primarily in Central America, but extends into Florida.

Behavior Differences
Lastly, I wish to briefly touch upon the fact that there is also a pretty big difference in how dangerous these critters are as well. Alligators are generally the safer of the two, but some species of crocodile, namely big ones like the Nile, Saltwater, and Mugger can be pretty bad news should you stumble upon one in some waterway. Nile crocodiles kill a surprisingly huge number of people in Africa each year, and attacks in Australia by Saltwater crocodiles are also rather high, particularly compared to many other large, traumatogenic animals.

This could be due to alot of reasons. My guess would be that, in the wild, alligators typically hunt pretty easy to eat prey, such as turtles, waterfowl, and the occasional deer. Compare this to the diet and ecosystem of a Nile crocodile, which makes a living munching on wildebeest, cape buffalo, and zebras, all of which have evolved to fight predators on the savannah. Additionally, Africa is filled with competitors: lions, hyenas, leopards, you name it. As a result, Nile crocodiles are probably a much more "take what you can get" type of animal...not to mention more than ready to kill you for food. All in all though, this is also due to the fact that so many people live around and use water across Africa for a variety of things, and so put themselves right next to crocodiles.

So, in short, that's the difference. I hope you enjoyed the MEGA Fun Fact! Have a good evening.

My Oatmeal.

It has little dinosaurs in it! I'm eating it right now, rather than trudging all the way to the dining commons. So far, the species lurking amongst the brown sugar and oats include: Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, what appears to be an Ankylosaurus, Triceratops, and an unidentified lump presumably scarred by the heat and stirring of its brutal microwaved environment. This is awesome.

I have my floormates to thank for this bountiful paleontological feast of course, they gave me a box of this wonderful stuff as a birthday present. The dinosaurs hatch out of eggs as you stir. So magical.

Some Rearrangements

Hey all, just letting you know about some rearrangements here on the ol' blog. I have a new email address, see, and this means I have a new Google account as well. I'd like to link this blog to my new address, but the process is a headache. I'm going to try it, but I may lose some info in the process, mainly followers. So, if you follow the blog and you're reading this, just resubscribe if it disappears. I'll let you know how the changeover goes.

UPDATE: It worked, surprisingly well. I'm all linked up and ready to go!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Wow. It has been a while, hasn't it? And I mean that in the "months" sense of the phrase, not the "weeks" sense of it. And even after I promised to keep up posting! Alas, I feel I have let my small readership down, I must admit. But today I'll change that. Today is my birthday, first of all, and turning 18 should endow a certain degree of responsibility in me, blogging included.

So, let me fill you in, should you care to listen. I'm a student at UC Davis now. Not "going to be" or even "just about to be", I flat out am ladies and gentlemen. And it's great! The quarter is nearing its end, and I've had a blast along the way. Let me summarize:

Geology has been fun, though most of the material we've covered isn't exactly new, I tightened up alot of the things I vaguely recall about basic geoscience, and its been really interesting studying it in a class to be sure.

Wildlife Ecology has been without a doubt my favorite class. We have guest lecturers on everything from zebra stripes to great white sharks, and I have yet to attend a class where I don;t feel totally engaged. I've learned alot about conservation as well, which is pretty awesome. Also, I got to meet Peter Klimley, author of my favorite shark book, and professional shark nut. It was great!

Calculus. Oh Calculus. Calculus is that great invention of Newton's, passed down over the centuries as a noble application of numbers and theory to the heavens. Calculus is central to many things in physics, it is a true scientific innovation. And here, in the 17A lecture series for this class...I despise it. It has been brutal. I've been barely getting by, and frankly, I'm a little worried if I mess up the final, I may have to retake the class. But at the same time, I am glad I'm taking it, in a funny way. It's a challenge, but I'm going to feel so much more accomplished having finished this one up than any of my other classes.

Communism. Basically, it was a reiteration of Dr. Reti's history class from last year. With donuts and a kindly Romanian lady. But I enjoyed it.


Ah-ha! The fun stuff! Well, research here has gone, if you'll pardon the partially appropriate pun, swimmingly. I'm currently involved in work under two labs: The Wainwright Fish Lab and the Shaffer Herpetology Lab. For the Wainwright lab, I work for a great gut named Chris Martin, and I measure African cichlid skull features on a computer! They're undergoing speciation in the wild, see, and in order to determine just when and where this happening, its important to collect appropriate measurements of their phenotypes...and that's where I come in!

In the herp lab, I get to have even more fun! On rainy days, I get to go out to Jepson Prairie Reserve and check salamander traps for the elusive and adorable California Tiger Salamander! We use drift fences, which are essentially staked tarps running along the ground with gaps filled by buckets. Salamanders are migrating this time of year as it gets wetter and wetter. The adults are moving to the growing vernal pools for breeding, while the freshly metamorphosed juveniles are dispersing outwards from their summer homes on the pools' fringes. They hit our fences, find the gaps, and fall in the buckets. Fun stuff!

Whew...so that's my brief summary, here to assure you that I'm back, and I'll begin to post again.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Blog Shall Rise Again

I'm not dead. Neither is this place, this electronic temple of my ramblings, I assure you. I'm in Davis now, typing from my dorm room with a week of residence hall living and classes behind me. And in the tumult of this change, it has been easy to overlook my dear blog. But, just as the birds survived the mass extinction of 65 million years ago and moved on into the Cenozoic, so shall I write anew amidst my new and updated college life! In short, I plan on resuming regular logging of thoughts, fun facts, and all else here. So, if you're still reading, fear not, for (like the birds) I am still here. =)

By the way: UC Davis is AWESOME.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fun Fact of the Day 8/27: Stream of Consciousness

First off, let me tell you about something that, while a fact, is not at all fun: i got all four of my wisdom teeth unceremoniously torn from my skull yesterday, and though numb and frantically breathing in laughing gas from the mask they gave me, I was still a bit too lucid through the whole thing...I just tried not to think about what exactly all that clicking, tapping, and immense pushing actually entailed n terms of damage to my poor mouth. I instead attempted to focus on other things, anything actually...unicorns, that one person I like (she came up alot, damn laughing gas), Stephen Jay Gould's paper I was reading in the lobby, and lots and lots of dinosaurs. Anyway, the point is, it reminded me of a past couple of fun facts I've done, in which I relate a barrage of random facts rather than one long one. Just like my brain clicked and whirred to a bunch of different places while the dentist tore my jaw apart, so I shall now impart on you, dear readers, a series of randoms much in the same manner. And so, with my analogous and biographical introduction typed out, let us begin. **inhales deeply**

  • Godzilla, both the American and Japanese versions of the monster, is actually impossible: his weight and nuclear organ (yes, he has one) would cause him to explode like bomb upon surfacing, making a great mess of the harbor, but leaving alot to be desired in the vein of classic urban destruction
  • Zebras' stripes serve as a means of blurring together their outlines when they are in a group, making the group appear large and threatening to a potential predator
  • While most populations of African lions display sexual dimorphism, in which males have manes and females do not, there is an area in Kenya called Tsavo where the males are maneless, and also hunt with the females. These lions are also infamous for attacking and eating humans
  • The largest fish in the world is the Whale Shark, which feeds on plankton and can reach over 5o feet in length
  • Vultures are bald so that they are able to insert their heads inside of carcasses without their feathers becoming coated in fluid and becoming a hindrance
  • Bats are the only mammals native to the Hawaiian islands, colonizing them with their also distinctive gify among mammals, flight
  • Every flying animal has a different anatomical configuration for wing design. In bats, the wing is formed of the extended finger bones, for example. But in pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the Mesozoic, the weight of flight was actually borne by the equivalent of the bone of the pinky finger, which could be several feet long
  • The lines seen on the chins and bellies of many species of whale (all with this "pleating" belong to the Rorqual family of whales) are actually small folds that allow the animal to distend it's mouth when feeding, providing extra water volume
  • The largest carnivore living on earth currently is the Sperm whale
  • When the evidence of dinosaurs was first discovered, some scientists actually believed it to be evidence of the previous existence of giant birds. Only in the late 20th century, when science shed light upon just how bird-like dinosaurs really were, does this very early supposition actually appear ironically correct in some capacity
  • Killer whales are not whales at all, but large dolphins
  • Some of the most venomous species of snakes are the sea snakes, but biting for them is difficult because they are rear-fanged, with tiny teeth in the back of the mouth delivering the venom
  • The bite of a shrew is mildly venomous
  • California was once home to several species of wolves, lions, and mastodons during the Pleistocene era. During the time of the dinosaurs, over half of the state was underwater, including the spot from which I type, here in Palmdale. At least we had it better than the central US, which was entirely underwater at the time
  • There are rumored to be moths in the Amazon rainforest which feed on the fluids in one's eyeball. A victim of such a moth would likely awake in the morning to find their eye a shriveled, tiny sac, devoid of fluid.
  • Some species of catfish deep in the amazon and mekong rivers, in South America and China respectively, can reach lengths of over 10 feet, and are rumored, at least in the Amazon, to have eaten human children
  • Constrictor snakes (boas and pythons) kill their prey with immense strength as they wrap around them. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is usually not suffocation that kills the prey, but the rupturing of capillaries in the brain by the immense increase in blood pressure
  • Portugese ManO'War are not actually single organisms, but entire colonies of specialized organisms, much like coral. This stands in contrast to jellyfish, which are singular organisms.
  • Aquaman can swim at speeds of over 150 miles per hour, and , in some versions, is immune to bullet fire on land because of his ability to survive immense pressure while submerged.
  • The evolution of color vision in primates was largely driven by the need to distinguish between poisonous and safe leaves and fruits to eat, a determination usually made by subtle differences in coloration.
  • Only female mosquitoes suck blood, males eat nectar
  • We have explored less than 10% of the ocean floor, and new species are discovered almost every time trips are made down there
  • The Mariana trench is the deepest part of the ocean, reaching 6.85 miles deep at it's lowest region
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex teeth have tiny serrations, which end in pinhole slits. These pinholes absorb force and prevent the serrations from breaking
  • Badgers are rumored to dig so fast, that they seem to disappear straight into the ground in a shower of dirt
  • Asian elephants, among other differences, have only one lip on the end of their trunk, while African elephants have two, allowing them to pick up objects easier
And, that will be all for tonight. Until tomorrow, dear readers, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh Hey...CrikeyF**k! It's been a while!

Hello, all. Well, I've been a bit remiss since I got back from SNARL: catching up with people, adjusting to the disgusting heat here, etc. But I like blogging too much, and if anyone reads this, I owe them the usual regimented posting pattern I've adhered to since picking up blogging. So, let me begin by regaling you with my trip, the long two-week Odyssey to Davis and halfway back...

First off, orientation. I left for Davis on August first more than a little stressed out, I must admit. My IB scores were missing, I couldn't figure out some code they needed me to have, and I was worried about both my score on the math placement exam and taking the chem exam. So, I piled groggily into the car early that morning with my dad and headed up there. And, perhaps to my surprise, the whole affair turned out to be pretty nice. I won't go through the whole process with you, nor do I want to type it out, but basically I spent three days doing a variety of things. Firstly, and most importantly, our orientation leaders familiarized us with the class catalog and how registration works beforehand, and how to line up major and GE courses we wanted. Secondly, it gave me the chance to meet some new people. Within my major (Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity, one of seven for the College of BioSci, which had three ~500 person orientations), there were only seven people, and I got to know all of them personally, which was kind of cool. One guy reminded me, if I may be so bold, of myself, and I really liked talking to him. We also got to see the campus, and get our placement exams squared away (I passed both of mine, but chem was full when I registered, so I'm only taking Calculus this quarter). All in all, it was a busy, but worthwhile three days, and I'm glad to be al registered. Here's my schedule:
--Math 17A, Calc. for Biology
--Geology 1, The Earth
--Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
--And a freshman seminar on electrical issues...it was the last out of like 50 open...

After Davis though, my Dad didn't take me home. Instead, he drove me up through the mountains and down into the Eastern Sierra and dropped me off for my first official employment at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory, or SNARL. My job there consisted essentially of what I've been volunteering to do for the past few summers, by helping with squirrel research up in Rock Creek Canyon. I did that back in June, but because one of the other employees had to leave early, the professor running the study was nice enough to offer me an 11-day job up there. When I got there, it was me and one other employee in the cabin, she was also doing squirrel work, and we'd ride to Rock Creek every day with Andy, the phd student who's finishing up the study for the summer (The professor left in July, so it was just Andy, Page, and Me, and then Page left a few days after I got there).

Daily work consisted of trapping squirrels and processing them: weighing them, getting fecal samples, noting sex and age, etc. Then, if Andy hadn't caught the squirrel recently or at all, he'd put it through a brief behavior test of curiosity called the holeboard, which examines how many holes the squirrel investigates in a set amount of time. Behavior observations, and thus dye-marking, were already done for the season. Back at SNARL, we also had a few sets of captive squirrels in the lab, and Andy would test them in a more elaborate version of the holeboard which examined their reluctance to emerge from an artificial burrow system after a predator is sighted (in this case, a Frisbee thrown over the holeboard). We also did some tests with hormone blockers, so I had to get up a couple mornings and clean the cages (we traded off), and in addition, feed the squirrels drugged peanut butter.

As for daily life at SNARL, I'll admit, at first it was a bit hard to adjust to. After Page left, I had Q8, my cabin, all to myself, and with work finishing at about noon each day, it got pretty lonely...
Ok, not that lonely, but it was a bit depressing at times. I missed people, and it was dark as hell up there and creepy at night. But I got used to it, my mom came to visit one weekend, and I rented some movies to watch. And, the thursday before I left, I got a whole slew of roommates from UCSB doing amphibian research, and they were really nice. One was even a doppleganger for Sheldon, from "The Big Bang Theory". And I must say, do biologists ever like to drink. I didn't know what a prairie fire was before I went to SNARL, until I watched them do one with tequila and hot sauce. I did not partake...but it was interesting to watch.

In short, SNARL was a good experience in solitude, field research, and meeting new people, all useful things for college if I may tack on a life lesson here. It was a good two weeks, and I hope you enjoyed hearing my paraphrased version of it here on my blog.

In other news:
Back in palmdale for the past week, it has been pretty fun as well. I went to the beach at Point Dume last Tuesday, and was witness to both how freezing the Pacific is even in August and a variety of sealife: purple-striped jellyfish, dolphins, and several species of birds. I also went to Magic Mountain last Friday, which was short on wildlife, but still pretty fun (I got a picture with Batman =D). In less exciting and more nerve-wracking news, I get my wisdom teeth removed tomorrow evening. No anesthetic, only laughing gas, two are impacted...it's gonna be a long weekend...

So, that's my recap, thanks for reading: fun facts and more will resume shortly.