Last week, our mentor, Andy challenged us to discover our inner Darwin. In short, this exercise required each of us to 1) select a 4m^2 plot of ground and 2) spend 4 careful hours observing this plot for insect life, all while documenting and collecting our findings.
Undoubtedly, most people would think 4 hours is an absurd amount of time to be sitting on a rock and staring at a small square of dirt. What could I possibly stare at for 4 hours? Don’t worry — I was thinking the same thing until I read Roberts’, The Power of Patience. In her article, Roberts ran a simulation of the same exercise with her students and unveiled that “access is not synonymous with learning.” In other words, just because something is available to you does not necessarily mean you fully understand how the underlying components function beyond their role in a system. Plots are complex communities that fall under systems. Hence, these areas have a lot to offer and are exhilarating to explore if approached correctly.
With this in mind, my team traveled to Whipple Dam State Park to conduct our 4-hour individual observational studies. Upon arrival, we all separated ourselves into different habitats in search for plots. In particular, I primarily sought secluded areas for a distraction-free environment and areas containing a variety of soils for its species-rich content.
Once I found my desired plot, I immediately set down 4 yellow pan traps in order to collect specimens so I could dedicate my focus to being an active observer of nature.
Being an active observer of nature meant I would set aside all external factors that are not part of the environment (i.e. field notebook, pencil, phone, etc.) and allow my eyes and curiosity to take the wheel. Sure enough, as all external factors were eliminated, I immediately found myself interacting with the environment and questioning aspects of ecology I have never questioned before. For example, as I tipped over a log I noticed a scattered colony of Odontotaenius disjunctus (Illiger, 1800) larvae and a couple of adults. I noticed all larvae had 3 pairs of legs but only utilized 2 pairs for locomotion. It was fascinating to discover vestigial structures also exist in premature organisms! However, what intrigued me even more was, why would a pre developed organism with 3 pairs of legs only utilize 2 pairs when its adult phase utilizes all 3?
All in all, I was truly impressed by how rapid I generated questions in my distraction-free and insect-rich zone. I was thrilled that my first attempt at this exercise was a success. With that being said, I would like to encourage you all to discover YOUR inner Darwin! Even if you can’t complete the full 4-hours, I would still encourage you to try it because there really is no substitute for going out in the field and experiencing something yourself.