April 15, 2009
Here the three of us are in the Northwest part of the Dominican Republic. Alec has been working in the Binford lab the whole year completing his thesis. I joined the lab this semester. This picture was taken after a long day of collecting spiders in the field. The bag Alec is holding is full of the spiders we were looking for. The Dominican Republic was amazing. Very vibrant, beautiful culture. Everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful. The poverty was staggering, however, and a very eye-ope
This is a picture of loxosceles, the spiders we went down for. They have beautiful long legs and are very photogenic. We captured some individuals that were much bigger than this; this one is a medium sized individual. Alec and I are both studying the molecular evolution of spider venom. This research should aid in understanding the evolution of functional specificity, and possibly what makes these particular spiders toxic to humans.
I was looking for loxosceles which are very shy spiders and are typically found under rocks. They are known to be very toxic to humans and cause lesions on the skin when they bite. We all wore gloves to protect our hands from flipping over rocks all day and from the spiders we were collecting. This cave shot was from our first day of looking for spiders. Loxosceles are typically found in dry habitats, and so caves are sometimes a good spot to look. We did not find any loxosceles in these caves,
At times I would have to get on my stomach and crawl through the thick brush flipping over rocks. Every once in a while, you’d flip over a rock and a giant tarantula or scorpion would pop out. Every time that happened, it gave me a pretty good jolt. Collecting spiders is very intensive work. The vest I’m wearing contains many vials so that when I do find spiders I can capture them. I also have a tool called a pooter which is a tube that I can use to suck up spiders and capture them in vials.
Working with Greta has been a dream come true for me. Working in her lab, I get a chance to work one on one with a brilliant professor who really pushes me to learn new things. Her passion for science has pushed me to pursue biology.
It is not unusual for students at Lewis & Clark to participate in challenging, graduate-level scientific research. And it is not unusual for students to participate in study abroad programs and humanitarian aid projects; half of all students take advantage of opportunities to learn outside of the United States.
In March, senior Brendan Larsen and senior Alec Kerins spent their spring break fusing these types of Lewis & Clark experiences. Larsen and Kerins brought lab research and global engagement together in Puerto Plata, a region in the Dominican Republic. Along with Assistant Professor of Biology Greta Binford, Larsen and Kerins gathered spiders and worked with children at the Laguna Salada Orphanage. There, they enlisted the help of the children to look for spiders while talking with them about scientific research. The goal was to help the children see education, and science in particular, as a part of their future.
With the help of a SAAB grant, Larsen was able to afford this opportunity. In the following photo slideshow, Larsen documents the trip and explains the group’s work.
“While in the Dominican Republic Alec and I got a chance to participate in actual fieldwork with Greta and learn so many new things,” Larsen said. “How many undergraduates get a paid trip to go to the Dominican Republic over spring break to collect toxic spiders with their professor? It was a beautiful experience.”
Learn more about Binford’s research online, including a New Yorker profile, NPR interview, and video of Binford extracting spider venom.