Thursday, December 16, 2010






Last week, I finished up my project with Alexandra Hiller. Alex studies porcellanidae crabs. They are soooo cute and tiny--about the size of large peas. The above photos are actually direct scans of these teeny tiny creatures. What an awesome way to capture these guys in detail. She studies everything about them from their behavior to genetics. They are actually not true crabs and their morphology is a unique blend of all different crustaceans making them a super crustacean in my opinion. :)

Alex, along with her colleagues, have put together a program called CAT - computer assisted taxonomy. With this program, you can identify your specimen based on defining characteristics. My job was to re-create the ways the different characters are visualized. She had already done it, but wanted something more clear and aesthetically pleasing. Attached are a select few to show the new one and the old one. The new rendering is on the top and the old is on the bottom.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I was just turned on to this site and it is one of the funniest and true interpretations of typical Panamanian culture.


Thursday, December 9, 2010


Bocas del Toro is a small island on the Caribbean side of Panama near the border of Costa Rica. It's known for surfing, snorkeling and diving. The Smithsonian has a station there and I went on a short weekend visit last month. Juan had to be there to teach a group of environmental and biology undergraduates that had been traveling throughout Panama for 3 1/2 months. They each spent time with a homestay family and traveled from location to location, working with a scientist for 10 days at each location. Their last stop was Bocas del Toro and Juan was the scientist. He taught them about the marine life there. It was a lot of fun sitting in on the lectures and joining the group on some adventures.

The easiest and fastest way to get there is by plane. Lucky for me, I live within a 10 minute walk of the domestic airport in Albrook. There are only two airlines. I flew Air Panama. :)


I was greeted by this sneaking caimen as I walked over a bridge to the Smithsonian Labs. Apparently there are 7 total caimans in the pond. Along with this guy were brilliantly colored birds, butterflies and fish. It really was a small tropical paradise. I even saw a three-toed pygmy sloth endemic to Bocas. I didn't have my camera at the time, but I swear I saw one. :)

Below is a nest that I liked.

This is Juan Mate. I love this picture of him in a full suit. The weather was really crummy when we were there. Lots of rain and lots of wind. This made the water much colder than usual (75 degrees F) and I guess when you're accustomed to the warm tropical water, a slight shift in temperature merits protective gear. :) The rest of us were in bathing suits.

The first day that I arrived, I got to go snorkeling with the group. With all the wind and rain, the visibility was poor, but it was just so much fun to get in the water and look around anyway. I wish I had a waterproof camera.

This is a really gross picture, but I find gross things awesome especially when it involves picking and peeling. This is a picture of one of the students helping along the shedding process of skin after a sunburn. :) I love that you can see the holes from the hair follicles in the skin! EEW!

The purpose of snorkeling was to collect samples of coral. 3 buckets were collected and brought back to the lab to dissect. There were so many living things inside!

In addition to the urchins and brittle stars, they also found a pipefish, worms, crabs, large starfish and much more. After they counted and sorted all the specimens, they got tossed back into the water. That made me happy.

The STRI dorms each have about 6 bunk beds. It was pretty empty and I ended up sharing with only one other girl. She ended up also working at Naos and was in Bocas temporarily. Her name is Anabell and I was so thrilled to meet her. Anabell conducts a pretty neat experiment involving tiny itty bitty adult shrimp and shrimp larvae.

First, she looks at the shrimp that's been place on a mesh disc through a microscope. She counts the squares on the mesh to measure the size of the shrimp.

Then using super glue, she attaches a mono filament to the shrimp as well as to the larvae. It is really tedious work and it's amazing to watch how quickly she can do this.

She does this for 12 adults and 12 larvae.

Then we go to the dock with a bunch of other equipment.

The brick weights are set up in equal intervals around the entire dock.

The shrimp and shrimp larvae then get attached to these acrylic rods. Each rod is then placed in the brick weights. They alternate between adult shrimp and shrimp larvae.

Each rod is submerged for 30 minutes. Then they are pulled out to see if the shrimp were eaten or are still on the line. Other factors are then measured...

This is a mesh bag used for collecting plankton. The bag gets pulled through the water along the dock to see how much plankton is in the water.

This white thing is used to measure the depth of the water. Temperature is also recorded. This experiment is conducted every day during low tides. That means that sometimes she is doing this experiment more than once a day and at horrible hours like 3 or 4am. Yikes!

Later that afternoon, we went out to the main city. I loved it! It has a beach town, bustling feel to it. Not to mention, I ate one of my most favorite typical dishes there. It was a hole in the wall restaurant called Don Chi Cho. It's probably the only remaining place in Bocas that serves typical fare for typical prices - cheap. Everything else in Bocas has become pretty expensive because it is now a huge tourist attraction. That whole plate of food below cost me $3.50. Pretty ridiculous.

When you walk in, it doesn't look like they have much. It's kind of like getting food at a cafeteria, but I love that you can just ask for as much or as little as you want on your plate. I ordered a piece of bass, lentils, rice and two different preparations of plantains. One is called patacones and the other tajadas. Patacones are the flat disc things. They flatten, deep fried pieces of unripe plantain. The other are sliced pieces of mature plaintains that have been sauteed. Patacones are savory while the tajadas are sweet. Oi! Both are soooo good. The table had the flag of Panama under the glass. It was a picture perfect opportunity that I'm happy to say, didn't go to waste.

Below are a couple more pictures of the town.

Monday, December 6, 2010


There are bats in the backyard and they use the palms to make their nests. It's so neat. You can't really see it in this picture, but they perforate the palms so that the leaf bends down forming a little cave-like dwelling. During the day, they just all pile in there.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I found this so inspiring. Oliver Uberti is a designer at National Geographic and talks about the magic in creating something with your hands. I loved it!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010



Recently, I actually had some time to do some work for myself! I definitely took advantage of that and did a couple of graphite drawings. They were both very much inspired by my recent projects.

The water surrounding Coiba National Park is a hotspot for coral reefs. The island, for the most part, has very little human footprint so it is essentially in pristine condition. Juan Mate is a coral expert and I've learned quite a bit from him. I never really understood how coral worked. I knew that it is a living organism, but that was about it. Coral is made up of a huge colony of little polyps. They create a hard skeleton around their vulnerable bodies as protection. Like the sand dollar or urchin, the remaining part that we like to display is the skeleton of the animal. The octopolypus is an invented hybrid of two different coral polyps and an octopus. Although this guy will never exist, there are decorator crabs that will have coral growing on its shell and there is also a type of coral that has eight why not? I mean, jackolopes are real, right?

The other drawing was inspired by the sustainable fishing guidebook I designed. I sort of have become obsessed with fish eyes. These are all the groupers that can be fished around Coiba National Park. All the eyes are to scale. It's crazy. Some groupers can get as big as 5 feet. Crazy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So where exactly do I work? The Naos Marine Lab is located off the Amador Causeway on an island called Isla Naos. The Causeway connects several small islands. From the front of the building, you can see a spectacular view of the city's skyline along with the Bay of Panama and several boats. For some reason, I recently noticed how pretty it is. Maybe it was the color that the rain clouds made over the view. On nice days, the Causeway is filled with people riding their bikes, jogging, fishing or just taking a leisurely stroll. It's pretty cool. It's a nice little drive to have to take to work. You can read more about the Lab here.


Punta Culebra juts out behind the Lab and houses the Punta Culebra Nature Center. It was founded by The Smithsonian. Read more about it here.

I finally ventured out to far places--the Lab's backyard--to a beautiful beach setting. I was actually stunned to see it. I had no idea that such a lovely landscape exists so close to work.

I love exhibits like this. It's so fun to see wildlife to scale. I'm not sure how many people realize how big groupers are. Even when you see these fish in aquariums, it's still really hard to get a sense of their scale unless you're right next to them. Somehow, for me, it makes the animal more real or something.

Silly little sea turtle. I heart them.

I don't think I'll ever grow out of the desire to touch things. I ALWAYS get sooo excited when I get to hold and touch the animals. Again, I think it has something to do with feeling like it's a reality. All of a sudden we are in the same world. I love the expression on this little girl's face.

So funny...when I took these pictures showing the underside of the sea stars, I imagined a human stomach with a mouth and five human arms growin out of it. I think I'll have to draw that.

EEW! Sea cucumbers are so weird. They feel amazing, though. You might think that they're really slimy or something, but they're actually super soft and pillowy.

It was sort of strange to see this next to the lobster exhibit, but it's beautiful none the less. I wonder if they forgot to discard it or if it's actually part of the exhibit. Maybe it's to show the exoskeleton or something. Who knows.

The day that I visited Punta Culebra, my friend Andrew Sellers was giving a talk about lion fish. Lion fish are invasive species that are rapidly growing in population within the Caribbean and western Atlantic. He is studying the effects lion fish have on an ecosystem where they didn't use to exist.

Lion fish eat little crabs and I went out with him to collect some. They're tiny, move really quickly and are difficult to catch. Basically, you upturn a rock and grab as fast as you can. It was really fun. It brings me back to a time when I used to play with my tonka trucks in the mud without a shirt because I wanted to be like my dad working outside in the hot summer days.


FEED ME!!! I like this crazy giant seed. Oh the tropics have such strange things living in it.