Sunday, January 30, 2011

Panama Expedition: Pencils.... Down!

Taking a test is not typically a fun experience. Stress. Anxiety. GRADES.

But in any class experience, test-taking is a necessary assessment of knowledge and here in Bocas del Toro, we have a different approach. A FUN approach! We feel that the best way to test fish knowledge is... to go where the fish are. Have you ever taken an underwater exam before?

For us, the easiest way to learn our fish identification is to take our pencils... down! Equipped with clean dive slates, a pencil, and all of their fishy knowledge amassed to-date, the Three Seas students snorkeled a transect with a fish placed every 2 m along the line. Asked to identify family, genus, and species, students went face-to-face with each question. They also had to answer questions about life stage, feeding mode, sleeping habitat, propulsion, anatomy, etc.

I'm happy to report that the class did extremely well. You might even give them a star for their efforts; in this case, an Oreaster! :-)

So, your turn. Can you identify the following two species? For a bonus point, what do they eat?

Fish photos by Christopher Marks

Happy studying,


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Panama Expedition: A man, a plan, a canal....Panama!

Palindromes aside, it's GREAT to be back in the field, and back on the Explorers Blog.

As the below freezing temperatures descend upon Boston, my heart goes out to my colleagues at 1 Central Wharf. On the other hand, it's hot here. H-O-T. But, the flowers are beautiful, the sun is shining, and there is science to be done. So, I invite you all to join me virtually on this tropical adventure!

Hibiscus flower. Photo by Bailey Clear

What am I doing in Panama, you ask? Well, I have the privilege of being the Professor for a course as part of the Three Seas Program, run by Northeastern University. The program takes students to three different locations (Nahant, MA - Bocas del Toro, Panama - Friday Harbor, WA) to learn about marine science. I am co-teaching the Fishes course with Dr. Clare Wormald (Cal State Northridge) here at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Bocas.

A group of leaf-cutter ants; a staple of the Central American rainforest and very common here at STRI.
Photo by Bobby Murphy

Our lucky students have thus far had the honor of waking up at 4:00 a.m. to watch the nocturnal-diurnal changeover in fish species (yes, different species are visible on the reef at night versus the day!). They have been given lectures on the internal and external anatomy of fishes (complete with dissections), how fish swim, feed, grow, behave, and reproduce, and how fish fit into the overall evolutionary trajectory of life on Earth. You know, the basic stuff that any good fish course should teach. :-) Oh, and did I mention that they need to learn the taxonomic family, genus and species of most fish on the reef? Needless to say, our students have been busy (as have we...).

Amidst the fishy madness, some photos have been taken. Here are a few favorites. Take the course with us - can you identify these? Family, genus, and species please!! :-)

Photos by Maggie Hawruk (click to enlarge)

At any rate, we'll be posting more here soon. But if you're looking for more madness and mayhem in the meantime (mmm!), check out the Three Seas Blog here.

Later gator (or around here, Cayman....),


Cayman photo by Bailey Clear