Monday, June 13, 2011


Sorry about being a little late on this post. We pulled a double week (7 days in a row in the field) so I didn’t have much time for anything else. But one of the animals we caught looked like this, so it was worth the work!
Nymphal ticks covering this little guy (actually girl), juvenile mouse

All work with living organisms, in the lab, greenhouse, or field, has issues with pests, things that interfere with your work, which you then have to use some problem solving skills to work around. This could mean making sure everything is sterilized when making media or spraying for white flies in the greenhouse. In our case, we have pests of our animal traps and us.

The biggest pests to the animals trapping is raccoons. Baby raccoons can be cute and all, but when they mess with your research enough they definitely lose their cuteness. Raccoons like our traps because we bait them with peanut-butter flavored Bamba. (Everyone loves Bamba!) The reach into the traps to get the Bamba out, and in the process trip it closed so the animals we want aren’t able to get in. Once they trip it closed, they sometimes try to get in again, biting the edges of the trap, throwing them around, or biting and ripping the shields on top of the trap. 

We found the shields like this after our first night at one of the field sites. Almost all the traps had been tampered with by raccoons, and I was really worried about the prospects there. Luckily they seemed to lose interest after we weren’t there for a week, and the amount of damage from raccoons has gone down significantly. One of our solutions was to make trap-sized “staples” out of wire (actually old flags) that are used to attach the trap to the ground. This works reasonably well, but some really determined critters are able to rip out the staple and move the trap. That is basically the only thing we have figured out to do to try and thwart them. It seems like raccoons being attracted to the Bamba is just something we’re going to have to deal with, but luckily it hasn’t been bad enough.
Shields that were ripped beyond use by racoons

Trap bitten up around the edges.

The main pest of people (me and my field assistant, Alisha) are biting gnats/midges. The very wet spring has caused an unseasonably large outbreak of these awful little bugs ( that caused us no end of grief. Bug spray has no effect on them and they go right for your eyes, ears, nose, neck and mouth, all the places that your really don’t want bug bites. Alisha and I both had our eyes and lips swell up a few times. My first day out, I wore a short-sleeved shirt, like I normally do, but I had never had these kinds of bugs to deal with. My neck and arms got so bit up that my lab-mates were asking what happened to me. Later, one said that when she was complaining about her bug bites she stopped to say, “I shouldn’t complain, mine aren’t as bad as Evie’s!” Needless to say, I have been wearing a long-sleeved shirt ever since.

Our first solution was to tie a bandana around our ears and neck to at least block some from getting those areas. But this meant they still got to your face and neck. 
See if you can spot the gnats all over Alisha's bandana.

We looked all over Bloomington for mosquito head nets, but everyone else in town must have been having the same problems because everywhere was sold out. Eventually I just ordered a couple off (thank you, Amazon Student – free two-day shipping!). 

Our lives are much better now. Some still make their way in or try to bite around your neck where the net comes down, but it is so much easier to work without a cloud of mean, biting gnats trying to bite you everywhere. Plus, we look like hard-core field ecologists with this get-up!

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