Thursday, June 28, 2012

Introducing Cody McCoy!

My name is Dakota (Cody) McCoy, and I am a rising senior at Yale studying animal cognition and the evolution of intelligence. I am so excited to be joining the elite ranks of the Marmoteers this summer at RMBL! With the guidance of Matt “The Mentor” Petelle and Dan “Marmot-Whisperer” Blumstein, I am studying whether a phenotypic correlation exists between the personality traits of aggression and boldness, which would define a behavioral syndrome. Eventually, I would like to determine whether these individual personality traits affect an individual’s cognitive style.

So far, the highlight of my time marmoteering has been discovering a highly unexpected connection between marmotology and another interest of mine: Egyptian Hieroglyphics. I am near fluent in Middle Kingdom Hieroglyphics, a skill for which I had never found a practical application… until now!
Several days after I arrived, Adriana “Ever-Cheerful” Maldonado Chaparro said to me, “Cody, we should soon be seeing marmot pups! To be able to tell who we are looking at in the field, we need to think of new symbols to paint on their backs.”

Symbols? But wherever would I find an extensive set of pictoral symbols? A choir of angels sang in my head; I felt almost dizzy with anticipation. I glanced over at Vanessa “Indefatigable” Alejandro, my good friend and a fellow undergraduate marmoteer, and tried (unsuccessfully) to suppress a broad, gleeful smile. Then I blurted out, “I HAVE AN IDEA,” whipped out a blue ballpoint pen with exaggerated flourish, and drew a list of 40 hieroglyphics.

Adriana had to explain to me that eagles and seated pharaohs were, regrettably, slightly too detailed to paint on 4 square inches of fluffy, squirmy, adorable marmot pup. However, we have been able to use several of the simpler hieroglyphics so far, including the symbol I painted on the first pup I caught.
I sat in a field of wildflowers, a pup in one hand and a toothbrush dripping with dark dye in the other, trying to choose an appropriate symbol. The face of Gothic Mountain loomed overhead, a benevolent giant whose snow-spots turned to glistening rainbow in the sun. Mule deer picked their way delicately through the spruce trees, and a hummingbird zoomed up to inspect my bright purple hat, hovering for an eternity of seconds before disappearing with a flash of iridescence.

Suddenly, I knew exactly which symbol to choose.

A few decisive strokes of the toothbrush, and then I carried the newly named marmot back to her burrow and to her mother’s watchful care. Shouldering my backpack, I strolled down the slope, listening to the buoyant calls of white-crowned sparrows; the East River sparkled in the distance, merging at the horizon with the cerulean sky.

 What did I name the marmot? “Nefer,” the hieroglyphic symbol for “beauty.”  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dan's blog on marmots and music for the Huffington Post

Read Dan's blog for the Huffington Post about how the study of marmots informs our understanding of why and how music can be emotionally charged.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pups are here!

Cody saw the first pup of the year today at Avalanche Cabin this morning.  Later Matt and Cody caught our first pup!

What's really interesting is that the mother that was seen moving pups last week is probably not the mother of these pups.  Matt told me today that Cherries (whom we captured last night) was not lactating.  This suggests that Cherries is helping her mother, aunt, or sister raise the pups.  Such alloparenting behavior happens, but it's rarely so obvious.  The downside of discovering that Cherries is not a mom this year is that this means there will be only one litter at Avalanche Cabin.  We're hoping on a good pup year to help recover the population. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mountain Lion in Gothic

My neighbor Alison Brody, a biology Professor from the University of Vermont and long-time RMBL researcher, took this photo the other day from her cabin window.  The lion was less than 75 m from our cabin!

We've always known that mountain lions were potential marmot predators and in some years we find a deer-killed mountain lion, or a fresh track around Gothic.  But we've never seen them.  This is the best sighting of a lion in Gothic in recent history!

Friday, June 15, 2012

pups are coming soon!

This is an exceptionally early year!  A RMBL neighbor just sent me this photo of a marmot mom moving her rather large pups between burrows.  Hopefully, the population will recover a bit more this year (she saw 5-7 pups being moved!).

Stay tuned!