Jake's Account of the Field 7/4/18

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As an undergraduate biology student in California unique field work involving the trapping and collection of mosquitos is a rare opportunity. The initial experience was even more novel for me having never had field research experience or much of any research experience before. Let alone an active field research project in a developing country involving multiple institutions of research and government appendages. The little expectations I had about the field research I would be conducting completely shatter upon the initial day in the field. Everything was orchestrated and organized well by my brilliant PI (principle investigator)  Avriel Diaz but I soon learned you can’t always predict how things will play out once you are deep in the field.  

So far our field research has been conducted in Bella Vista, a community that is a beautiful coastal walk away from the main city of Bahia de Caraquez. The location of Bella Vista, which means beautiful view, would easily cost $2 million dollars in California for the incredible view alone. It rests above sloping marine bluffs engulf by bountiful tropical dry forests. The community slopes and molds into the geologic and floral features of the area it resides in.

These first couple weeks we have been setting and collecting Ovi traps (mosquito egg traps) and adult mosquito traps in Bella Vista. I didn’t have much expectations for the communities we would be working in which I think allowed me to be open to and adapt to certain unfavorable conditions. The first few days in the field with the whole team went relatively smoothly. There were a few hiccups with verifying the data point locations, with faulty trap wiring, and a local boy commandeering the mesh component of our trap touting them as “chonies”. We were accompanied by a seasoned Ecuadorian MMA fighter who was born and raised in Bella Vista. Juanito was an extremely helpful and comforting presence because I didn’t have a good understanding of the community and it’s intricate foot path systems.

After the first few days of our field research routine our PI felt confident in our abilities for us to brave the field on our own. Which I agreed with, the trap setting protocol was simple enough; find the abandoned house, reference the GPS, describe the house and it’s conditions, and set the traps. The first forty minutes in the field on our first day on our own was a bit rocky, locating the new abandoned houses to set the ovitraps was a bit tricky at first. Our guide Juanito only spoke Spanish, talked rapidly, and seemed to be under the impression that I understood everything he said. But after going over it a few times, referring to the GPS, and clarifying a few things we ended finding all the necessary houses.

In my time working in Bella Vista I’ve grown accustomed to its challenges, curiosity, and charm. It’s always difficult to run active field research in a community with many inhabitants because there are always changes and variables you need to account for. In one of the abandoned houses the owner had started to repair a whole wall of the house, but during the time he was repairing it a large portion of the house was exposed changing the conditions of the traps.

Another challenge, as well as a charm in a sense, was the constant presence of stray, semi-stray semi-owned, and guard dogs. Always curious, some dogs would follow us on end constantly sniffing us and our equipment. One of the houses we frequently set traps in has a white, ferocious, small dog that was known for biting. Everyone was weary of this dog including our guide who was a veteran fighter. The only one who could tame this dog was an eight year boy name Mario. Whenever blanquito would act up Mario would shout “Blanco!” while waving a warning stick the size of his body. When that wouldn’t work he would simply hop on the dog, wrestle with him a little, and lock the dog’s neck between his legs. Mario seemed to enjoy his control over blanquito. When he had blanquito in his leg hold Mario would play blanquito like his own little instrument by playfully tugging on blanquito’s ear forcing him let out a little whelp with each tug. We always felt much safer with Mario’s small but commanding presence.

It was always enjoyable to tend to the resident’s curiosity by explaining what we were doing here, how we where doing it, and why it was necessary. After a few days the people of Bella Vista were very warming and welcoming offering us sincere greetings.

After the initial challenges of the first couple of weeks our team has become very adaptable and resilient to changing conditions and obstacles of our field research. We have been able to collect a significant amount of mosquitoes and have discover promising methods for obtaining the amount we desire. With our functional team and helpfulness of the community the rest of the our field work should go smoothly.