Critters and cramps: musings from a newbie field biologist

This is our first post from the 2018 IRES field season! This year, we’ll be peppering our blog with posts from each of our 6 wonderful undergraduate students as they navigate their journey in Australia. Our first up is from Nathalie Clarke, a junior from Tulane University:

I’ve dreamed about doing field work for what seems like an eternity. Like all idealistic young biologists, I imagined life in the field as a walk in the park, complete with magical creatures and fun-filled research. Fieldwork IS a walk in the park—if you remember to watch out for spiders as you traipse through prickly lantana bushes towering over your mere 5’3” stature until your legs cramp up. When I first learned about orb-weavers in EBio 1010 at Tulane University, I never imagined that I’d get used to seeing them (yes, friends and family, the huge spiders that I’ve been sending you pictures of 24/7). The first time I saw one in the field, I almost jumped with excitement.

“OH MY GOD! Sexual cannibalism at our field site! THIS IS AMAZING!” I thought to myself.

By day 5, I’d probably swallowed a whole pond of spider web while attempting to follow the elusive red-backed fairywrens, which oddly made the “magical” spiders lose some of their appeal. On day 9, the fateful day I will remember all my life, a group of three tiny birds led me through what seemed like an endless stretch of lantana until suddenly I found myself surrounded: in front, behind, to the right, to the left. The beautiful, lovely, dazzling orb-weavers were on every side of me. Not wanting to plow through their beautiful webs, I decided to edge around them carefully, climbing over the lantana. BAM! I landed on my butt, with 3 enormous spiders falling onto my rain jacket.

I’m rather ashamed to say that I screamed and ran away as fast as I could. My point: there are many, many, many things about the field you can’t imagine from the lab. But, luckily, the best parts of field work are also a surprise. I never realized I’d make amazing friends in the field, Tim-Tam slam (an Australian delicacy that involves turning a mere biscuit into a gooey, delicious straw), laugh until I cried about limes and lemons, become a part of weird, wacky inside jokes, and fall in love with chasing elusive birds.

-Nathalie Clarke


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