Monday, February 13, 2012


    I’ve been mostly on my own for the last week, as my boss has been taking a course in a new molecular genetics technique at Naos, the STRI laboratory facilities.  As such, my week hasn’t been too exciting, filled mostly with collecting butterflies and feeding caterpillars. Here are some highlights.

    I had Feb. 4 off, so I slept in, made a nice breakfast, and then went into Panama City with another researcher for the afternoon.  We got a ride to the main terminal, then took a taxi to casco viejo, the older and more touristically desirable part of the city.  Taxi rides in Panama City can be interesting.  Most taxis are meterless and privately operated: fares are determined by negotiation before the ride begins.  My obvious gringo-ness and woeful Spanish skills make me an easy target, so I’ve been quickly learning what fair prices are for various trips around the city so that I don’t get ripped off.  On this day we found an agreeable cab driver who immediately put in a “Musica en Ingles” CD (included "Total Eclipse of the Heart") once we got in the cab, told us about the differences between male and female cops, and spoke appreciatively of the muchachas in Panama.
    After our arrival in casco we got some fancy gelato, then wandered around and took in the views.  Casco viejo (and I suppose Panama City in general) is an interesting mix of the developed and undeveloped.  One block might be developed, with nice restaurants and clubs, and the next street over will be full of semi-collapsed houses and trash.
    On Thursday the 9th I went to Barro Colorado Island (BCI), an island in Lake Gatun/the Panama Canal.  Once a hilltop in the forest, BCI became an island upon the flooding of the forest when the canal was constructed, and the Smithsonian has maintained a base there for almost 100 years.  I went  to see a talk there on Thursday night, and then stayed until Friday morning.  It was a great place to visit: the forest is more pristine than the area around Gamboa, and the trails are far less invasive.  I saw an anteater, howler monkeys, and capuchins.  The ride to and from the island was also noteworthy.  Our small boat shared the waterway with the massive Panamax cargo ships that are constantly traversing the canal.  It was incredible to see them (fairly) up close. 

    Overall, the last few days have been going well: the weather has been extremely nice, I’ve become quite confident driving around Gamboa in a manual transmission truck, and I even saw two common basilisks (perhaps better known as the Jesus Christ lizard) run across water.

Hazy day, but a view of fishing boats, with Panama City in the background.

The Titan floating crane, one of the largest in the world.  The only surviving model of three such cranes built by Nazi Germany, it was captured by the US and used in California before going to Panama in 1999.

When we catch butterflies, we store them in glassine envelopes until we get them back to the insectaries.

One of our study species: Heliconius melpomene rosina. Notice how the yellow band on the lower wing doesn’t extend all the way to the edge of the wing.

A Jesus Christ Lizard, not currently running miraculously.
Heliconius erato, a mimic of our study species.  It has very few visible differences, the major one being that the yellow band on the lower wing extends all the way to the wing edge.

A crane (or possibly an egret).

BCI research base.

A cargo ship on the canal.


  1. What an adventure! I am loving the pictures! happy Valentine's Day! Love, Mom

  2. I love all the pictures too! How interesting that the butterflies are so similar, yet are different. I also didn't realize what a big city Panama City is - there are so many big skyscrapers! Practica tu español!!