Saturday, April 28, 2018

Paste Trials

 I have now been in the Mara for almost 2 months! Where did the time go, you ask? I am asking myself that same question. I woke up and all of a sudden, it was the end of April. Do you ever wake up and feel like your whole life has gone by?

No, actually, I am happy to say that I have started my field project; the very thing I came here to do! And boy, has it been an adventure! Who knew so many problems would arise, ha! For my field project, I am conducting scent-discrimination trials where I basically present hyenas with the scent gland secretions (paste) of 2 other hyenas they have never met. I smear the paste on the tops of two, thick wooden sticks, hammer them into the ground, and then videotape the interactions. We think that these scent gland secretions, which are most likely synthesized with the help of bacteria, encode information about the hyena; such as their sex, age, and social group. Back at camp, I review the videos and record the amounts of time hyenas spend sniffing each of the sticks. If at the end, hyenas smell one of the sticks (paste) more, then that would suggest that the sticks are not the same and are indeed encoding different information.

It has been extremely fun to conduct these trials! The cubs are highly entertaining! They get really interactive with the sticks; not only do they sniff them, but they also bite them, and rub against them. On one occasion, they completely removed the sticks from the ground and ran off with them (bye, bye, stick!). That stick became their new favorite toy (Awww!). I thought, hmm, maybe the sticks are too thin, so I bought thicker sticks that I have been really hammering into the ground. This has worked; the cubs have not been able to take them, except now, the subadults are taking them 🙃 🙃 🙃. Bless their hearts. Can’t blame them; they are curious about the actual stick and the scents of these 2 hyenas they have never met before! Addressing this issue is currently one of the things I am working on. Another issue I need to work on is getting more adult participation. They usually come late into the evening, but so far, rain has forced us to terminate the trials early. I hope that once these rains leave, I can conduct my trials more frequently and stay out longer; increasing my chances of encountering adults. I’ll have to get creative about where I position the sticks as well 🤔 🤔 🤔.

Here is a hyena cub sniffing my sticks:

Here is another getting close and personal with these sticks: 

And lastly, here are 2 cubs running off with the sticks(!!):

Overall, the field work has been fun! What else has been fun? Seeing all of the animals, getting to know the staff, RAs and grad students here, watching 30 Rock, stuffing my face with French toast (my favorite), sleeping in, getting fancy juices at the lodge, and sharing my experience with my family via the pictures I take 😊 😊 😊.

Well, that’s it for today!

No comments:

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science