Panama, here I come!

Panama City, or La Ciudad de Panamá... or just Panamá for locals.
Panama City, or La Ciudad de Panamá… or just Panamá for locals.

I served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Panama from January of 1999 to March of 2001, married a Panamanian national, and now have two children with joint U.S./ Panamanian citizenship. Though I haven’t been back since 2006 or 2007 (I can’t remember the exact year), my dream has always been to work with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, or STRI.

A juvenile spider snacks on its favorite plant-based food. Image credit: Robert L. Curry.
A juvenile spider snacks on its favorite plant-based food. Image credit: Robert L. Curry.

In pursuit of my master’s degree in biology from Villanova University, I’ve finally found my chance. I’ll be studying the jumping spider Bagheera kiplingi, a little arthropod with a great name and a fascinating personality. Unlike the other 40,000 types of spider, all of which are carnivorous, Bagheera kiplingi thrives on a diet that is somewhere between 60% and 90% plant material. STRI will be funding my research in Panama, so I’ll be heading there for six weeks. My aim will be to record spider behavior, generate microscopic images of Bagheera kiplingi inside and out, and search for the presence of symbiotic bacteria that may have helped this little spider make the dietary transition. Stay tuned for more; I get started next Saturday!

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