Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blood evidence used to solve marmot mystery

Hi! My name is Emery Valencia and I'm a research assistant for the Blumstein Lab.

I started out working for this awesome lab as a RA over the summer, conducting observations and trapping the marmots in order to take their measurements. Now that I'm back in the lab, my job is to score blood smears by counting the number and type of white blood cells in individual samples. There are five types of white blood cells: lymphocytes, neutrophils, monocytes, basophils, and eosinophils, with the most common types being lymphocytes and neutrophils. 



To view these cells I use a microscope, which is not too different from the scopes I used back in Colorado. As you can imagine, using the microscope for too long can strain your eyes, but eventually you adjust to it and can withstand longer periods of time.


White blood cells are indicators of an individual's immune system and health. Counting up the these cells allows us to analyze just how healthy the animal was and is therefore an important part of studying physiology and animal behavior, because health can influence an animal's behavior.

On my first day on the job, I found a rather interesting looking organism in one of the slides. I was told the parasites have all but disappeared from our study animals for a while now, but upon observation of this mysterious thing, I had thought that it must have been a parasite.

The suspect surrounded by stained white blood cells...

After talking to one of UCLA's head veterinarians, Dr.Lawson (who generously analyzed the sample for us) reported that it was... nothing but a piece of lint. Although we failed to find a parasite, which is good for the animals, this was a good learning experience.

Anywho, here's another marmoteer update!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Another hard winter?

Winters, for a hibernating marmot, can be hard in several ways.  If they're too long, animals may burn too much fat and starve.  If they're too cold, animals may burn too much fat and freeze.  

This winter, coming after one of the longest and most snowy winters on record, is looking quite interesting in that there is very little snow.  Snow is a blanket, for marmots, and insulates their burrows.  While there is some snow, there's not a lot of snow and that blanket may be a bit on the thin side.  

We'll have to wait for May to find out for sure.