Friday, January 27, 2012



25th-    Finally, we caught one of the butterflies we need.  After about 4 hours of collecting, we hadn’t seen any and were ready to head back, but one fluttered by, I caught it, and now we at least know that there are a few of the around this time of year.  Also, we saw a massive iguana crossing the road.  The rest of the day was spent working on various small projects in the insectaries.

26th-  We got off to an early start again, and were unsuccessful all morning looking for the proper butterflies.  Two other researchers had come with us, and we all stopped for lunch at a cafe 15 minutes outside of Gamboa, called Pan y Canela (Bread and Cinnamon).  We consoled ourselves with coffee, pastries, and batidos - fruit juice mixed with milk.  I had mine with lulo juice, which was excellent.  Lulo is a tropical fruit I’d never heard of before, more info here:  After lunch we stopped at another site along the road, and were rewarded with three of the butterflies we need.  Unfortunately, they were all males (we need some of each), but we were happy to have made some more progress.  After we got back to Gamboa I fed some butterfly larvae (a.k.a. caterpillars), then went for a run (very humid, but the heat isn’t terrible if you wait til sunset) and had dinner.

27th- We had another long morning of searching for butterflies, and unfortunately we came up empty handed, though we did find one butterfly egg, which seems to be from the right species and hopefully will grow into a happy, healthy adult.  We also saw a family of howler monkeys.  I think I got a decent video of them and their howling, and once I get better internet access I’ll try to upload it and some other pictures.  For lunch we ate at the fondo, which is basically a food truck in town.  There are three or four of these about, and the one we picked today was serving a big portion of rice, lentils, and macaroni, plus a sweet juice drink with a name I can’t remember, for $2.  It was a nice, cheap, and easy break from the PB&Js I’d been eating for lunch for the past week.  After lunch I fed larvae, ant-proofed some tables (which consists of putting a band of petroleum grease on all the legs), then came to the computer labs to upload this blog entry.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Tuesday the 24th started with another early morning of butterfly collecting, and unfortunately the results were the same:  after 3.5 hours of hiking, we hadn’t caught any of the necessary butterflies, but we saw some neat wildlife.  This time, it was a family of howler monkeys in the trees, including a mother carrying a baby.

    We broke off a bit early for an afternoon seminar.  Every Tuesday, the main administrative campus in Panama city hosts a talk with drinks and snacks afterwards.   They’re called “Tupper talks” because the campus in Panama City is the Tupper center, named after none other than Earl Tupper of Tupperware fame, who made a sizable donation to the Smithsonian.  The talks are fairly popular, as STRI provides a free shuttle from Gamboa, so it’s an easy way to escape from Gamboa for a bit.
      The Tupper talks are also popular in Gamboa because the return shuttle stops and picks people up from El Rey, the grocery store.  So, after the talk, fifteen or so of us went and got dinner near El Rey, bought supplies, and then went back to Gamboa.


I wrote this entry on the 23rd, my third full day in Panama, but couldn’t post it immediately.  Whenever you’re reading this, here’s a (in the end not very) brief summary of my first days in Panama.

    My flight got in around 10 pm (Panama is in eastern time) on Friday the 20th, and I had little trouble getting through security, clearing customs, and meeting up with Richard, the post-doc from Cambridge who is my boss on the project. On our way to Gamboa we stopped at El Rey, a grocery store that is open late and has a surprising amount of American brands and products (Shasta soda, Milwaukee’s Best beer, and, thank God, Jiff Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter).  I picked up enough food to last a few days, then settled into my new apartment in Gamboa, which I’ll write more about later.

    Saturday morning I woke up at 7:30, ate breakfast (I found Malt-o-Meal bagged frosted flakes at El Rey!), and went into the rainforest with Richard to try and catch some butterflies, as our research stocks had been depleted and we needed more.  We hiked ~6-7 miles, and though we found many butterflies, we didn’t see any of the species we study.  We did, however, see agoutis, two toucans, and heard some howler monkeys. 

    When I got back to the apartment I had pizza with my flatmate and a couple other research assistants who live in the building.  That night a large contingent of Gamboites rode the bus into Panama City for a free concert.  The stage was at one end of the Plaza Cattedral in casco viejo, the old part of the city, and the main event was, I’m pretty sure, Tito Puente Jr, though I couldn’t really understand his banter with the crowd. The music was fun, especially the obligatory rendition of “Oye como va.”  After the concert there was a massive gathering of Smithsonian researchers at an apartment in the city, and I had some delicious tequenos from a grubby little restaurant nearby before catching a ride back to Gamboa.

    Sunday brought another early start, more hiking, and more unsuccessful attempts at catching butterflies (although I did make my first captures, they weren’t the right species).  Once again, the wildlife made the hiking worth it, as we saw some interesting vultures and a rather large caiman.  That afternoon I took a very long nap, made dinner, and then watched a movie with a few other researchers.

    That brings us to today.  In the morning I learned how to feed the caterpillars, then Richard and I headed to the main administration campus of the Smithsonian in Panama City.  The goal was to get registered and get my ID card, but the bureaucracy at STRI is legendary and we were foiled by secretarial apathy and an extensive lunch break.  Instead, we went to a mall to buy various supplies.  I’m sure I’ll write more about the mall later, as it’s adjacent to the bus terminal and I’ll be spending a lot of time there. For now, I’ll just say that it is the largest mall I’ve ever been to in my life, and it has a Cinnabon but no Auntie Anne’s.

    We rode the bus back to Gamboa, and I went back to my apartment to cook some dinner, as it was already late afternoon and I was starving.  After eating, I walked back into my kitchen and there on the floor was a cockroach so gigantic that at first I thought it was a small mouse.  He escaped, but I’ll be ready next time. 

    Tomorrow I’ll be waking up very early so we can drive to some new collection spots before it gets too hot.  Fortunately, I bought coffee-making supplies at the mall, so I no longer have to go through mornings un-caffeinated.  Hopefully we’ll have good luck with the butterflies.

    On a brief blog administration note:  I’m not sure how often I’ll be updating things, and I doubt that I’ll always have the time or energy to go to this post’s level of detail, but I hope you enjoy the blog.  Leaving comments might make me more likely to update.  And, if you have questions about certain things, ask me in the comments and I can try to answer. 


    For everyone who hasn’t yet heard about my new job in Panama, here’s the pertinent information, grade-school-reporter style.

    If you don’t know, leave my blog, stranger.

    Research assistant at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

    Gamboa, Panama, about an hour outside of Panama City.

    To study speciation in butterflies.

How (long)?
    I’ll be in Panama for about a year, until next December 2012 or January 2013.