Monthly Archives: April 2016

Getting sappy about the sapitos

This is my last week of doing research with the sapitos (froggies). I have had an incredible experience working with frogs and I am a little sad that my research project is coming to an end. I decided to write a thank-you letter of sorts to the sapitos, thanking them for the last couple weeks.


Dear sapitos,

Thank you for teaching me to be patient. I do not like walking slow. I prefer to walk and hike at a brisk pace so that I can enjoy the views and get to my destination in a timely manner. However, when researching the sapitos, walking fast was not an option. I had to slow down and really look at my surroundings in order to find frogs. Sometimes, I would stare at the same mossy rock for a minute before I was able to spot a frog. Frog research has tested my patience, but I have learned that if I walk slowly and quietly, I will get to find sapitos.


Thank you for showing me the forest at night. The cloud forest at night is so COOL. You showed me so many amazing spiders, scary scorpions, nocturnal monkeys, loud birds, bizarre stick bugs, and so much more. I would have missed out on experiencing the forest at night if it wasn’t for you.

Thank you for bringing me to El Placer. El Placer has become my favorite place in Ecuador. The community here is incredibly warm, kind, hardworking, and welcoming. Everybody seems to know that I am researching frogs and they will stop and ask me how last night’s frog search went. Life is beautiful here, the views are incredible and there is plenty of blue sky and rain.


Thank you for teaching me to like coffee. I didn’t like coffee until my first weekend in El Placer. I soon realized that a morning person doing research at night needed some help from caffeine in order to stay awake and focus on finding frogs. This acquired taste will come in handy during my senior year of college!

Thank you for reminding me that I can do hard things. I didn’t expect it, but the last couple weeks have been full of hard things. I’ve done difficult, muddy hikes in which every time I take a step up the hill I slide back done. Euthanizing frogs in order to prepare specimens has emotionally difficult and exhausting for me. However, everyday I am reminded that I can do hard things and come out the other side as a stronger person.


Thank you for inspiring my curiosity. You have taught me that when I slow down, I get a closer look at everything around me. I can see the intricate details on a beautiful beetle and the specific color patterns on a frog, which makes me want to get out my hand lens and look even closer. When I examine a sapito for five minutes I can see the individual tubercles on the elbow joints and the subtle differences in coloration of individuals of the same species.

Possible new species of Pristimantis.

With much gratitude,



A house full of love (and good food)

I want to start this blog post by asking people to send good vibes and positive thoughts down to Ecuador. On Saturday, there was a 7.4 magnitude earthquake of the coast of Northern Ecuador. The death toll is currently around 400 and there’s over 1500 people injured. People are hurting on the coast right now and there’s a long road ahead to getting things back to normal.

I am currently doing fieldwork near Baños, a couple hundred miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. At dinner on Saturday night we felt several minutes of shaking. I had never been in an earthquake before and it was a little disconcerting but there was no damage or injuries in our area. All of the students on my program are safe and we are continuing our ISP research as planned.

Last night was my host sister’s 23rd birthday. The whole family piled in the kitchen, sang happy birthday, and ate cake together. This past week I have been thinking a lot about family and the importance of family structure here in El Placer. In all honesty, it seems like families all run together and everybody is related somehow. If not by blood, than by very close friendships.

Members of the community call our host mom “Mamí Piedad” and she seems to be a mother to the whole community. She is always making extra lunch plates for people who stop by to chat. Children, people, and dogs are always coming in and out of the house to see Mamí Piedad.

Our host dad, Jesus, is a leader in the community and demonstrates so much love to all those around him. I enjoy watching him interact with his grandchildren; I see his eyes light up every time he holds a sweet baby.

The love that Mamí Piedad and Jesus show to their grandchildren and the community has generously been extended to my friends and me. We are only temporary residents in their home, but I have felt more “at home” here than any other place in Ecuador. Mamí Piedad makes sure that we have a plethora of delicious food to enjoy. At least once a day she tells us that she doesn’t serve bread in her house because it’s “unhealthy and full of chemicals.” Instead, she feeds us deep fried dough for at least one meal a day. Healthier? Doubtful, but definitely yummy!

When we first arrived in El Placer, Mamí Piedad asked us what foods we like to eat. I always find this an awkward question because I don’t want to ask for foods that the family doesn’t normally eat. My friends and I said that we LOVE vegetables, which seemed like a safe answer. Now we get salads and veggies three times a day, including breakfast.

One of my favorite things about living in Mamí Piedad and Jesus’s house are the sobremesas. Sobremesa is the time that a family spends chatting after a meal has been finished. Our sobremesa topics have ranged from serious to silly and I love getting to chat with Mamí Piedad and Jesus. The other day we had a more serious sobremesa about the lives that teenage girls have here in El Placer. Mamí Piedad told us that girls usually get married around 15 or 16 and start having babies soon after.

After that particular sobremesa I reflected on my own life. I feel so incredibly lucky and fortunate that at age 15 I was completely focused on school and sports and getting married and starting a family never crossed my mind. I am just starting to realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to go to college, the opportunity to move away from my parents’ home as a single young woman, and the opportunity to travel.

Babies, dogs, frogs, and friends

Eight of my classmates and me piled into a very small van early on Saturday morning to travel to Baños. All of our bags didn’t fit in the van, so the driver tied them on the roof. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture because it was a comical sight! We all made it safe and sound to Baños, and so did our bags.

We had a quick orientation at the EcoMinga office with our advisors. Many of us are working on ISPs in EcoMinga reserves, and their staff has been incredibly helpful. After a quick (but delicious) lunch in Baños, one of our advisors drove us to our town for the next several weeks: El Placer.

El Placer is a pueblito, a tiny town. There are approximately 100 people who live here, and I’m convinced that everybody is somehow related to our home-stay dad. Two of my friends who are also doing research in the Candelaria Reserve and I are all staying in the same home-stay, which feels like a never-ending slumber party. Our host parents are incredibly kind, warm, and welcoming. Our host dad works as a park guard for EcoMinga, so he will go out in the field with us almost every day with a delicious packed lunch from our host mom. Our host parents have several grandkids that seem to spend a lot of time at their house, so there are always babies and young kids around. I LOVE babies and kids and it is a lot easier for me to interact with kids than adults in Spanish. They are an absolute blast to be around. Additionally, I think there are as many canine residents in El Placer as human residents. The other night I could see five dogs on the street without turning my head… Awesome!

On Sunday, we rested from a day of travel and then explored a waterfall close to El Placer. It was incredible! We got to walk under the waterfall, which was an exhilarating and soaking wet experience.

El Pailon del Diablo

Monday was our first day in the field. Since I’m studying frogs, most of my fieldwork is done at night. I didn’t want to sit in the house all day yesterday by myself, so I hiked up to the reserve research cabin with my friends. I helped one of my friends do a forestry transect and enjoyed the gorgeous view.

View from the EcoMinga cabin, “El Soledad”

Monday night I did my first transect. Due to safety concerns, I will always do transects with a park guard. I like to think that I have a good sense of direction, but I probably would have gotten lost in the dark if the park guard hadn’t been with me last night. It turns out that searching for frogs takes a lot of patience. We spent three hours out in the field and found seven frogs. Every time I encounter a frog, I take many pictures, weight it, and measure the head to cloaca.



Last night was my first night in the field and I’m realizing that I have a lot to learn in the next couple weeks. I met with my advisor and it turns out that the photos I took to ID the frogs weren’t sufficient. In addition, identifying frogs in the field is really hard! Most of the frogs that I’m going to work with are in the Pristimantis genus and they all look pretty similar. I’m hoping to quickly learn visual differences between species so that I can quickly identify to species.

Here’s to learning loads in the next few weeks!