Two of my labmates study chipmunks. Recently they have been working with an engineer to develop a small tag that they can attach to a chipmunk to record the chipmunk’s movements. This, if it works, will let them “see” what the chipmunk is doing without actually watching–and bothering–the chipmunk, which would be great: one of the difficulties of behavioral ecology is that, for animals as for subatomic particles, observing the thing often affects the very nature of that thing.
Part of developing this tag is being able to check how well it works. Unfortunately, our lab doesn’t have any chipmunks just hanging around on which to test the tag. So instead, for an unofficial, exploratory test run, we recruited one of my domestic mice.
Oreo the freelance science mouse
Ritual is everywhere in the natural world. From braving flight over expansive, stormy seas, to the tenuous, exhausting work of rearing chicks, to squabbling for social rank on the wintering grounds, birds tread and hop and fly recognizable annual patterns.
And so do field biology graduate students.
Our most obvious ritual is the field season. Our study subjects follow an annual pattern and so must we: the ornithologists out May through August, give-or-take; my labmates the high-elevation chipmunk researchers waiting impatiently in June for the snow on Tioga Pass to melt; those studying South American fauna gone in our winter for the Southern Hemisphere summer. Only the tropical biologists are unpredictable.