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lunes, 25 de agosto de 2014

There and Back Again: A Toad's Tale

My name is Bridget Gladden, you probably do not know me. I am a student at the Ohio State University studying zoology, conservation science, and Spanish, and this is my story. The snow outside still sat stubbornly on the ground. The wind blew fiercely, mocking all who tried to step outside. It was November. The first snow storm in a wave of cold had settled on Ohio State University. While staring at the slightly ominous sky, I allowed my mind to drift to another place, one filled with warmth and sunlight. My plans for the summer had not yet been solidified, but I know that I was going somewhere that did not know snow. South America was my destination, and research was my plan. It was simply every other detail that still had to be worked out. In the midst of deciding my next action, I recalled a gentleman who had spoken to my ecology class earlier that year. His name was Joseph Sarvary. He talked of a place in Paraguay called Laguna Blanca where the sun touches the lake every morning and the birds sing after the rain. That was where I wanted to go. I riffled through my papers to find the information. Before I had formulated another thought, I was contacting the head of the organization, Karina Atkinson. What began as thoughts of escape quickly turned into the opportunity of a life time. Arriving at Laguna Blanca was no easy feat with delayed flights, unusual transportation methods in Asuncion, and a lack of any sort of fluency in Spanish, but travel never is simple. It was only moments after my arrival that I felt at ease, even at home. There were certainly aspects that I was unaccustomed to like the necessity to throw away toilet paper instead of flush it, the chickens that wander everywhere or the hanging of laundry on lines. Over the next month though, I began to make some of the best friends of my life. I learned unique customs that set Paraguay apart from other countries, and of course, I advanced in both knowledge and ability through my research. My plan before I arrived was to continue my interest of malformations in amphibians that had developed through research at school. However, due to the lack of time at the field site and limited equipment, I began to focus my attention towards other options. At first, I was disappointed with my inability to settle on one idea. I wanted to change the world, one frog at a time. My uncertainty did afford me one thing: time. I had time to see the reserve from several points of view, time to survey areas that had not yet been surveyed, time to gather intellect on other possible projects, and time to enjoy my temporary life here. As time wore on, my idea sharpened and began to take shape. It was certainly not without guidance. I was going to research the homing abilities of a rather comical animal, the Rococo Toad. Past researchers have done numerous studies on homing abilities. Burmese Pythons had been discovered to travel forty kilometers to find their home again. Salmon travel thousands of miles back to their place of birth to lay their eggs. Rococo Toads, to this point, have not had this ability researched. So, each night I search for toads, collecting them in buckets and placing them around the reserve to see if they will come home. My hypothesis was that the home is where the light is for the toads. Those that cannot see it will not return. So far, the data seems to support that hypothesis. Whether my data is publishable or not, the experience has changed me as a person, for the better. I cannot yet say how this change will translate upon my return, but I know now that my thought of the people and places around me will have been altered. Living in a new culture, a new life, has caused me to newly appreciate my life at home. I do not think it is possible to thank the people who have supported me and pushed me forward on this trip enough. Each day here is truly a new one. It may have started as a dream from a frosty land far away, as clear as I am standing on this soil, that dream has turned into a reality. So, thank you all for the trip of a lifetime. Bridget Gladden, USA PLT Intern May-August 2014