December 30, 2008

Clean water

Mauricio, Jesus and I scouted a few new field sites today in the Serrania de Perija- the mountainous border region that forms the western boarder with Colombia. Just a few hours from the relatively affluent oil city that is Maracaibo, the roads gradually narrow into small dirt paths winding around large rural haciendas (ranches) and indigenous communities. Cars give way to burrows and horses as the primary (and functional) means of transport.

Curious children often observe scientists such as my collaborator, Mauricio Garcia, whenever we're collecting insects


I often think we (gringos) often forget the importance of clean water in our everyday lives because it is almost an assumed right. We forget that many folks don’t have fancy plumbing, municipal water, or wells. In many places, rivers are synonymous with the words shower, drinking fountain, and irrigation source. So, when some strange-looking folks come by and start splashing around, the residents are both suspicious and curious. We stopped to make our first collections and water quality tests of the trip at a river by some sheet metal houses. A group of kids and a few adults stopped by and asked what we were doing, which will happen many, many times on the trip. In the best Spanish I could muster, I explain we are collecting insects and how they can tell us about the quality of their water. That is enough more most folks. The kids want to see the bugs and of course I am happy to oblige; sometimes, they will observe us for hours. Occasionally, folks are concerned we are prospecting for natural resources, but when they see that we are indeed collecting bugs, they generally understand and leave us to our work. As we leave a mother is bathing her infant along the banks and another group of kids are having fun swimming around in a stream pool. The good news for them is that their water is pristine. And we got some awesome beetles.

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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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