Saturday, July 19, 2008

Home Again

I should apologize for the small number of blogs written. I was unable to sign into my account from Kenya, making it extremely difficult to get blogs posted.

I got home last weekend in a state of extreme jetlag. I fell asleep around seven that first night back.

But most importantly, my ant samples got home safely (dead and preserved) with me and I have already genotyped my first 90 samples. Now I am trying to figure out how to interpret the data. It isi frustrating and exciting.

Kenya was absolutely beautiful and I will go back as soon as I can. I hope that I get the opportunity to go back periodically but I would have to be very very lucky for that to happen. In the meantime I have plenty of samples to keep me occupied.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Yesterday we compiled a list of 46 distinct mammal species that we have seen in Kenya. That list excludes all domesticated animals and most small rodents. In addition to the unbelievably good luck we have had with mammals, Shawn (the bird crazy student) has found over 200 species of birds, many of which are not on the official Mpala bird list for the area. We have not been quite as successful with herps but there are Agama lizards basking at every turn and in total we have seen about 10 species. The insect crazy student on the trip would certainly be very frustrated if I did not mention the uncountable insect diversity. Many of the students were lucky enough to see an aardvark (a species so rare and awkward looking that neither of the two instructors had seen one until now) and the first lion that the class has ever seen on Mpala. The lion was absolutely gorgeous and much bigger than anyone thought it would be. Certainly much more substantial than the leopard we saw eating a dead gazelle. The aardvark, on the other hand, was absolutely ugly and we had a long discussion about how such a strange looking organism could continue to survive when all the other animals must be constantly teasing it about its long nose, short stubby tail, and tall flappy ears.

A few days ago we made a stop in town and the students had their first opportunity to haggle for souvenirs. Vendors are aggressive and overwhelming but most students left with plenty of souvenirs without spending too much money. Now all of the students are working on collecting data for their final projects, ranging from ant lion experimentation to vast dung surveys. They will have a hard day of writing up the projects tomorrow and then we will try to get out and have some fun seeing even more animals on Wednesday before beginning the long trip home on Thursday. It will be another busy few days until we leave.

As for me, I am nearly finished collecting my ants and then I will just need to preserve them in some dessicant and I will be ready to head home. While I dread leaving Kenya I cannot wait to get home and start using my labeled primers in earnest so I can get some real data and learn everything that I can about these ants. I have been bitten so many times that I may be starting to develop an allergy. I often find ants on myself well after I have left my collection area.

Despite a few brief stints of stomach aches and difficulty sleeping from hyena yelping and elephant roaring all night, spirits are high and I have heard no one expressing regrets of coming. The brave among us tried camel for dinner a few nights ago. It was chewy and fatty but not as bad as you would think it would be. At the very least it was an interesting experience.

Overall, we are all dreading leaving Kenya and most of us will try to come back again someday.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Day Before

It is the day before I leave for Kenya. I am packing, trying to fit clothes and all of my ant collecting tubes into my bags. The tubes are clearly the priority.

New labeled primers arrived for me on Wednesday and all ten of them worked beautifully, meaning that all of my work up to now has been at least a little successful. I am pumped.