Wednesday, November 17, 2010

UCLA undergraduates have personality

Hello, my name is Noelle Watanabe (above on the right). I am a 4th year undergraduate studying biology and Spanish at UCLA. I just started working in the Blumstein lab at the beginning of the Fall 2010 quarter with Matt Petelle as my mentor. I am currently working on a project which involves watching 6 minute videos of marmots and documenting their behaviors to help Matt in his study about marmot personality. Before beginning this project, I knew that marmots existed but I had never seen one and I didn’t know much about them. After just a few weeks of watching the videos that were recorded during the field season, I have seen and observed marmots of all sizes, ages, and personalities.

As I watch each video, I use a program called JWatcher to score actions like sniffing, walking, and rear looking, simply by pressing a key. I enjoy watching the videos because I love looking at the cute marmots and seeing how each individual behaves quite differently in the same situation.

For example, in the open field portion, some marmots are adventurous and actively explore the enclosure, sniffing all over, but others are more timid and sit peacefully in corners, cautiously observing in all directions. Each new marmot video I watch is full of surprises. I remember the first time I heard a marmot alarm call I almost screamed myself because the quick, high pitched cry took me by surprise. My favorite part of each video is the marmot’s reaction to seeing itself in the mirror. It might jump all over, scratch and paw at the mirror, or alarm call thinking it is a strange marmot.

I am excited to be contributing to this study knowing that a mechanism for maintaining personality in marmots could be determined using the data that I have recorded. I am so honored to be helping out in this lab. Working with the Team Marmot members has been amazing and I am having a lot of fun with my project.

--Noelle Watanabe

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