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Yesterday I posted about how the different labs around campus use different colored nitrile gloves (I am sure there is actually some legitimate reason to this other than personal preference/outfit coordination).
Well today here’s another example of different standard personal protective equipment (or PPE as Risk Management calls it) - lab goggles!
When I’m not wearing the uber-stylish goggles over glasses look in CEST (see previous selfies), my favorite goggles are these vintage 80s aviator style protective goggles that are frequently lying around. Trés chic!
Some great photos of our Singapore and Gibraltar monkeys’ Japanese cousins - Macaca fuscata- relaxing in hot springs. With the winter weather in South Bend starting, I have to admit those hot springs look pretty tempting!
Just a Group of Snow Monkeys Enjoying a Japanese Hot Spring
The relaxing sensation of soaking in an onsen—or Japanese hot spring—is so popular that even the country’s monkeys take part in the tradition. At Jigokudani (Hell’s Valley) Park just outside Nagano, snow monkeys soak in the hot springs on winter days and return to the forest at night.
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Tools of the trade for weighing out samples at the CEST laboratory for isotope analysis.
Clockwise from the top left:
Balance - to weigh out the samples
Ethanol - used to wipe down instruments between samples to prevent cross contamination
Sample vials - containing tin foil wrapped monkey hair from the Gibraltar site
Wells - perfectly sized for the tin capsules to place samples in.
Calipers - used to measure of 2mm of hair for sampling
Various tweezers - helpful to fold up the capsules into little tiny balls
Brush - helps get rid of stray hairs in between samples
Hair sample - wrapped in tin foil, lined up root to tip
Tray - holds my samples so that I can identify them
Tin capsules - what the sample is put in before it is combusted in the mass spec.
More specific details about how we go about prepping samples before combusting them in a mass spectrometer coming soon! Hint: you need really good eyesight.
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Fun fact: the different labs on campus have different colored nitrile gloves. Over in Galvin (biology labs) and Reyniers (anthro labs) they are blue, but here in CEST (in the engineering building) they are black! I think I am going to start campaigning for neon pink in the future.
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SPOILER ALERT: If you have not read or seen the Hunger Games Catching Fire, stop reading now. This post contains plot details that could be considered spoilers.
This Black Friday, while most people were out shopping, I decided to go and check out the latest installment of the Hunger Games film series, Catching Fire.
I loved the film (and who wouldn’t?) with all the fast-paced action and intrigue surrounding President Snow, Katniss, and the uprisings in all the districts, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how they portrayed the monkey “mutts” (genetically altered animals specifically created for the Hunger Games arena) in the film.
In the book, Katniss (who has never seen a monkey before) describes them as having orange-ish fur, being half the size of a grown human, having long fangs, and switchblade-like claws. To begin, there are a few issues with this description. Primates have hair, not fur as well as fingernails, not claws (and certainly none that shoot out like switchblades). And generally we just refer to those “fangs” in mammals as canine teeth. But we’ll forgive Katniss and Suzanne Collins for not being primatologists, and not knowing this.
Luckily in the film, the filmmakers avoided doing something I absolutely hate in film/television, where they call something that is clearly an ape, a monkey or vice versa, and used CGI versions of these guys:
That’s a Mandrill, a type of Old World monkey, a member of the Cercopithecidae family that lives in the southern and western part of continental Africa. Their social groups, or hordes, are found in rain forests (like the one portrayed in Catching Fire) as well as forest-savannah mosaic landscapes. Only the males display the bright coloration used in the film, and as the heaviest monkey in the world they can weigh up to 54kg (119lbs). Males typically are solitary rangers, only entering hordes when females are receptive. So it is pretty rare to see that many adult male mandrills together in the wild, as portrayed in the film, nor are they generally all that aggressive towards humans, but we could probably chalk it up to the fact that they are mutts produced by the Capital for the game.
High five though to the filmmakers for getting the monkey/ape thing right!
Go see Catching Fire, in theaters now!
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Singapore has a reputation for being pristine and orderly and they live up to it. As such, its monkeys are typically seen in and at the edge of their well manicured parks and nature reserves.
Outside of Singapore, however, there are hundreds of cities and towns where monkeys live alongside humans in an urban environment. Lopburi, Thailand is just one such city. One of the oldest cities in Thailand, about 3 hours north of Bangkok, 3000 monkeys roam around the city and temple ruins.
300 particularly lucky monkeys roam around Phra Prang Sam Yot temple where a monkey festival has been held in their honor since 1989 to thank the macaques for bringing in tourism and prosperity.
Here are a few scenes from around Lopburi on a typical day.
^ Phra Prang Sam Yot temple
^ Getting under the cage meant to prevent them from accessing hotel windows
^ Local boys are prepared to ward off monkeys with a piece of bamboo
^ Snacking on some stolen eggs
^ Snacking on some raided or possibly gifted chips
^ Catching an evening snack of bugs by fluorescent light
Catch you on the flip side,
I’ve been meaning to make this post for … well … over a year. Then this morning I woke up and kicked myself in the butt and dumped all my stuff on the bed and took the photos. Going out to get biological samples from monkeys ends up turning into a somewhat massive accumulation of both necessities and recommended, comfort-increasing additions. I’ll try to comprehensively outline my field repertoire below.
^ Field gear
Comfortable clothes is obviously a given - for me, pants should be lightweight, sweat-wicking, with as many pockets and humanly possible. I like to add my Team Monkey swag shirt and hat, especially in more open park spaces. Other items include:
1) Cooler + ice pack (usually 1 big one in the car and 1 for hiking around at each site) for keeping samples at a reasonable temperature until I can get them to the lab freezer.
2) Swabs & tubes of lysis buffer for sampling - usually frozen to decrease the extreme heated conditions of SE Asia.
3) Field pack - this season I went with a serious backpack, mostly because I messed up and locked my normal messenger back in a trunk that I’m missing the key to. Lesson learned. I avoid backpacks for good reason though - the action of taking it off your back taps into some keen monkey senses and makes they’re monkey brains ping to ‘what does she have in there??!?’ and when I’m sampling the less monkeys interested in me at once the better when it comes to getting identified samples from individuals. I want the attention of one or two monkeys, not the whole troop. The messenger bag has a flap avoiding the sound of a zipper which also taps into the primal monkey brain. Discretion is key. Either way, a reasonably water resistant field bag is a must for holding gear and samples.
4) Field GPS - a serious GPS for plotting anything of note in the field - in my case, rubbish bins, especially exposed ones.
5) Sharpies for labeling samples - BRING ALL OF THE PENS. Seriously, probably my single biggest frustration is how sharpies have a serious ability to fail to write on cold test-tubes during sampling. So after wiping the tubes about a million times and trying 5-6 sharpies, I usually have a sample name that is sufficiently legible for me to stash before I relabel tubes later on.
1) Sunblock and Ben’s Bug Spray (30% DEET) - if you are me and don’t want to look like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, then sunblock is imperative (ladies and gents - check out moisturizer with SPF 30 so that for at least half your day you don’t have to be dripping in your own dank sweat and greasy sunblock). I also get eaten alive by the mozzies so I’m committed to DEET based bug block.
2) Bandana for dealing with sweat - gross, but true
3) Multi-tool / knife - because who knows when you’ll need one
4) Contacts - sure, if you a distance-vision challenged like myself you can wear glasses, but if you don’t want them to rapidly fog up everytime you shift your line of site, contacts are the way to go. Also, if you’re me, you’ll lose your glasses.
5) Binoculars - I went with the tiniest Bushnell binoculars I could find - also I found ones with anti-fogging property. Great for seeing if a monkey is still chewing on a swab or identifying the sex of a juvenile monkey far up in a tree.
6) First-aid kit & anti-bac - because who knows. The time I got a raging fever in the field I sure did appreciate the instant cold pack in my kit. Tylenol and Imodium are always a good idea too. Anti-bac because sometimes you put your hand on a railing and then remember how many monkeys have pooped there.
7) Monkey stick - I have a variety of these ranging from the most natural ‘stick-from-the-woods’ to the fun Ikea ‘shoehorn-that-looks-like-a-snake’. This year I went with trekking poles that expand as my monkey stick of choice. This is a good tool for scooting a saliva swab closer to me for collection and for warding off over-eager monkeys by way of pointing it at them. They serve the dual purpose of helping me navigate off-trail slippery spots.
8) Rain Gear - I personally use the Patagonia Houdini - it’s about 3 oz and fits into a lovely compressible stuff sack. While not fully waterproof, here in Singapore some part of you is going to get wet if you are caught in a storm - I balance not overheating with a desire to keep my upper torso dryish. This jacket is best for somewhat drizzly days. I keep an umbrella in my pack as well and usually have a poncho nearby for dire situations.
^ Field shoes in order of seriousness from left —> right
Okay, so the flip flops really just live in the car as a means of escaping totally mud-infested, waterlogged shoes. Crocs are great for manicured trails - it’s a nice way of walking around in footwear that doesn’t retain every ounce of atmospheric moisture and keeping your feet reasonably dry. For any amount of actual trekking the trail running and hiking boots are my go to option.
^ Sampling map for giving yourself helpful reminders about locations and keeping track of sites.
This map is solid gold - not only fun to write on with dry erase marker, but practical for keeping tired minds on track of where I’ve been and where I need to go to fill in gaps. Also just nice for visualizing sampling coverage.
^ The massive, inconvenient cooler that you leave in your car whenever possible - with the exception of when you want to lure shy monkeys out of the forest by setting it down and waiting for them to come explore.
^ The range of super accessories I like to use in the field
Super Optional Extras:
1) Neck coolers - okay, these seemed way cooler when I bought them - they’ve been underwhelming. They have absorbent beads that expand in water and are supposed to keep you cool through evaporation… I didn’t notice a big difference to a cold bandana.
2) Headbands - if you have any amount of hair, especially of the curly variety - humidity in SE Asia is going to make it hard for you to see past your own shaggy mop. I use a variety of hair retention devices for the days I don’t want to tightly braid my hair.
3) Buffs - the field biologists headband - a bandana, an infinity scarf, and a headband had a baby and the multi-purpose Buff was born. I use this primarly to mask how my hair actually looks by the end of a field day.
4) Velcro cable ties - great for bunching up the sleeves on a t-shirt, if you are a like me and find them immensely annoying.
Over & out,
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I’m back with a shout out to collaboration! While the blog is called Two Girls and Some Monkeys - that’s not 100% accurate. Our work gets done with loads of support from others ranging from academic and moral all the way through fending off irritated monkeys. Here are some of the bright faces I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with this past year!
^ National Parks crew meets Fulbright America in Singapore - Noeleen and her team will be supplementing my collar project with their own satellite collar deployment and I’m very excited to see all the data this spring!
^ Patrick Kramer is another Fulbrighter here studying dengue and in his down time occasionally helping me chase down the monkins. Patrick also has a stellar blog that highlights both his research as well as the fine cultural experience we’ve been having throughout this lovely part of the world http://singapat.blogspot.sg/. Noeleen and her team accompanied myself and Jayasri throughout October and were a large part of why I was able to collect ~700 spit samples!
^ Jayasri now works with National Parks! We’ve come so far since summer 2011 when I had never seen a wild monkey and Jayasri was just beginning her stint with the macaques. Jayasri helped me throughout September and October with sample collections and I couldn’t be more appreciative.
^ Milan Cvitkovic is the third Fulbrighter here in Singapore studying the theoretical physics behind how water molecules function in solutions (I admittedly don’t really know what that means - but it’s apparently super important). Like Patrick, Milan has been on a few of my sampling excursions and they were certainly more fun for it!
^ Mondays are for lab meeting. I’m still getting used to being in such a large lab, but I couldn’t have found a better group of people to be in a crowded space with. The diversity of projects in the Meier lab at NUS is astounding and I’m sure my own work will benefit greatly from the exposure I’m getting here.
^ Jayanthi is a research assistant in the Meier lab who has been letting me get my dose of fieldwork by accompanying her to her sites - this has let me see Pulau Semakau which is an amazing landfill island with some primary succession landscape. We even saw dolphins on our last excursion!
^ … and of course, I have to thank the monkeys, for, well, being themselves day in and day out. Stay cool monkeys.
Now bear with me - coming up are insights into why I study urban primates (I actually wasn’t all that taken by super urban landscape, lab trials and tribulations (aka - please let my replicates work), and much much more!
Let’s face it: the stereotypical specimen is a young white male with thick glasses, strong opinions about operating systems and a collection of Star Wars figurines. If that’s what we immediately associate with science – whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal of actual scientists – then coolifying nerdiness might be attractive for those who fit the mold, but could inadvertently steer away from science those who don’t.
Might a more inclusive portrayal of science – one that includes a few well-dressed and socially astute women, for example – draw more people to science than a “coolified” depiction of stereotypical nerdiness? It might. (via npr)
I’d like to think my partner in crime and I are in the “well-dressed and socially astute women” group of “coolified” scientists - and we have to be since we study monkeys in urban areas!
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