Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Personality 101

It is still early spring for us on the marmot crew- the snow has finally melted and we are gearing up our trapping efforts. It is also time to start collecting data for my PhD work. Like I stated in my research interests, I study animal personality. To do this, I have to figure out the personality of individual marmots by putting them in certain situations. One such situation is called an open-field test. An open-field test essentially consists of placing an individual in an arena and recording how they explore the space. I have just finished building my arena, a solid 3’x3’x3’ “box” made from pvc sheeting. I made the arena sturdy. Each of the sides is reinforced by 1” pvc bars. I naively thought it could withstand anything a marmot had to give. Dan, my advisor, and I are ready to begin. The arena is in place; it is time for my first trial. The video-recorder is set and ready to record every behavior. Dan and I take individual “line over circle”, a year-old male, from his trapping bag and place him in the arena. We quickly duck out of the way. We don’t want to affect the marmot’s behavior in any way. The trial has begun. I hear the pitter-patter of its feet as it walks around, exploring each corner. Suddenly a large thump comes from the ‘box’. The marmot jumped and made an unsuccessful attempt at escaping. I think, “my arena is tall enough- it can easily handle this tiny marmot’s leap”. I am still secure in my plan; everything is working perfectly. What a fleeting moment! I see Line Over Circle’s head peak over the siding. It has grabbed onto the top of the arena and lifted itself out.

I can only laugh at my false sense of superiority as the marmot is running towards its burrow. Line Over Circle makes a final blow to my initial experimental design. It trill calls as if to say, “you aren’t going to best me today”. It is time to go back to the drawing board. I have to come up with an answer to the marmot’s incredible jumping ability.

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