Samantha in Taos

Samantha is a senior majoring in biology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. A member of the University Honors Program, she received a Richter Fellowship for summer 2012 to conduct research at SMU-in-Taos. She is investigating the frequency of ectoparasites in specific habitats by collecting them off deer mice. She expects to find ticks, mites, fleas, botflies and more, and will document which parasites are near rivers, woodlands and deserts. With this information she plans to inform residents and visitors of Taos how to stay parasite free and avoid possible transmission of diseases.

The great outdoors

Hello, everyone!

As of today, we have caught 77 mice!  I cannot believe how far we have come on this journey that just began a few weeks ago. Our class has put a lot of hard work into studying these mice. We have to be thorough, dedicated and commit most of our day to this class, and thankfully my classmates make it very enjoyable! We have become such a great team and learned many things from one another. Tomorrow is our last day to collect traps, which means the end is almost near.

The last time I updated you, we were finishing up collecting mice in the river. Afterward, we moved to the woods. We had a very large area to work with so  for the past 6 days we spread our 60 traps 20 feet apart and walked up the mountainside.

Surprisingly the woods brought more than mice to our traps – seven, almost eight, chipmunks were caught! I say almost eight because the moment you open that trap, it is anyone’s game. They are fast, and if you open it ever so slightly they will jump out at your face; trust me, I know from experience!

We have found very interesting and fascinating things on this trip, more than I would have ever imagined. Even as a biology major, I have learned to appreciate nature even more.

When our 7-hour workdays are over, and we have had our mid-day nap, we always find time to adventure out and do more. This past weekend we went horseback riding! I have never been near a horse, let alone ON one. I will admit, I was pretty nervous and almost chickened out, but with my class supporting me I did it and I am so glad I did. Not only was I riding a horse, but I also got to enjoy the 4-hour trail ride up the mountain! It was breathtaking.

We also celebrated the June birthdays last weekend with a big buffalo pinata and a chocolate cake. Everyone really had a great time and enjoyed being youthful for once!

Oh, and I proudly say that my biology class is in the finals for the volleyball tournament. Which reminds me … maybe we should be practicing!

Talk to you soon!

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They call it field ‘work’ for a reason

In the lab

An overview of my week:

We did five days of collecting mice in the sagebrush and found predominantly fleas. A few days, because of the rain, we caught few to no mice, but a total of 18 contributed to our data.

We moved on to the mice near the river. This was definitely the most challenging place to set traps. Boots that were knee-high had to be worn to walk in the river; crawling under branches and climbing a few hills did not make it easy! We did get a great number of mice to examine and found mostly ticks.

When work was over we had a lot of fun during free time. One night we played Monopoly and went to the plaza for a concert. We also have been playing a volleyball tournament, and our biology class is in the semifinals! Wish us luck 🙂


At Taos Plaza

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Found: fleas

Today was the first “official” day of research! At 8 a.m. the traps were collected from the sagebrush and casitas and were brought to the lab. A total of 15 traps caught mice. It was a very tedious process handling the mice and took about 5 hours.

First, the ectoparasites needed to be removed in water so as not to transfer them to myself and classmates. The only ectoparasites found on these 15 mice were fleas, which made it much more crucial that they were removed carefully from the mice for they could transmit diseases easily by jumping onto us. After the fleas were removed it was important to take measurements and give each mouse a tag.

Then the traps were cleaned and reset out in the sagebrush field. It was raining by this time, so we gathered our boots and rain jackets and headed out. Stay tuned to see what mice are found tomorrow!

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My research begins

On Day 2 my class took a hike up Pedernal Mountain, which is a famous geological spot in New Mexico. It was challenging but well worth it when we made it to the top to admire the view!

On the way down we collected very interesting-looking rocks, which added a few pounds to our backpacks. At the end of the night we gathered around a fire and I enjoyed delicious s’mores with my classmates.

On Day 3 I took a trip to Santa Fe and shopped around the flea market. I purchased a beautiful handmade ring made by a local Native American.

When I arrived back to campus I began putting my research together. The first step was to label the traps, 1 to 30. I then went to a sagebrush area and disbursed the traps 20 feet apart across the field in consecutive order. I will update you tomorrow with my findings!

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Hello, nature!

First thing in the morning, we biology students were hard at work. My classmates and I had to clean and organize the Parasitology lab. Scrubbing, rinsing, rearranging all the equipment to collect the mice on Sunday night.

A few students last night saw a mouse in their casitas so we know they are roaming the area! We had to wash 60 traps to set out and will be putting peanut butter in them tomorrow for bait, but more on that later. After a few hours the lab looked completely renovated!

After class I took a nature trail walk and spotted a beaver making his dam, and later I sat on Dr. Ubelaker’s porch to watch the hummingbirds. It is really fascinating how many hummingbirds gather in the evening; I noted over 40 while I was there.

Lastly, classmates gathered around for our very first casita fire! It was the perfect way to end the night.

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