Field Notes from a Mouse Lemur

Field biologists often times spend an exorbitant amount of time staring at animals, taking tedious notes in their waterproof “Rite in the Rain” notebooks, recording animal behavior in a naturalistic setting. I’ve often wondered if these animals notice us watching them (surely they must as animals are way smarter than we give them credit for) and if they do, what they are thinking as they are watching us watching them. What would they record regarding “human behavior” in their field notes? The following is my interpretation of what “Dave”, the Goodman’s mouse lemur might be writing in his field notes as he is staked out in his guava patch watching events at camp unfold from July 11-August 2, 2013. Although you may think this is crazy, I assure you it is entirely possible. Dave is a primate after all and therefore has the opposable thumbs necessary to hold a writing utensil. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction…

Meet Dave

Meet Dave

11 July 2013
15:04–A new troop of humans have arrived at the encampment, descending from the mountain in a neat, single file line with a seemingly excessive amount of personal gear. The group in question appears to have 12 members, both male and female, widely ranging in age. Closer inspection is needed to determine exact ages and reproductive status of study animals. This also appears to be the same group that camped out at this plot for four weeks in July of 2012, although samples will need to be collected with subsequent genetic analysis to confirm this. The humans spent 124 minutes setting up their nylon roosts in neat, meticulous rows before retiring to the feeding area for a feeding frenzy at 17:33. They retired to their nests shortly after.

15 July 2013
13:11–Study animals have acclimated to their new surroundings rather quickly and have settled into a routine. However, I have noticed that they display some strange behavioral acts that are previously undocumented for this species. For example, after the mid-day feeding ritual, they congregate around what they refer to as a “magical field gadget”, but what appears to my potentially misinformed eye as a hand-held espresso maker. Espresso? In the forest? This is surely a cultured bunch of humans as I have never tracked before!

16:00–The humans expend excessive amounts of energy traipsing back and forth from the forest carrying laptop computer bags loaded with what appears to be expensive computer equipment, cords, and AA batteries. I’ve documented that this behavior occurs at all hours of the day and night, and happens multiple times a day, every day, like clockwork.

17:02–As the sun is setting to the west bathing the hills in an orange glow, nearing feeding time for the humans, they enjoy watching the local population of humans kick around the soccer ball and discussing the day’s events. I notice that the word “hibernation” comes up quite a bit and I can only assume that they are discussing my strange cousin, the dwarf lemur, who spends up to 6 months of the year in deep hibernation during this time.

This local population of humans excels at soccer!

The native population of humans excel at soccer!

20 July 2013
04:45–The humans roused unusually early today. From what I gather, they are venturing into the forest to “hook up an animal for EEG recordings”. It’s a chilly morning, but they appear to be prepared, dressed in many layers, buffered against the cold. I bet they wish they had a nice fur coat, like myself.

10:23–I’ve noticed a lot of strange noises being emitted camp this AM. For example, two of the females do an awful lot of singing and repeat the same words over and over. “Mr. Sun. Sun. Mr. Golden Sun. Please shine down on me.” I wonder if this is a strange mating call of some sort? In addition, they enjoy giving the domestic chickens running around strange names as if they are naming a previously unnamed species. Two of the chickens especially stand out: Lord “Bald”ermort and Sir “Vulture”mort. I wonder if the human brains are big enough to realize that these chickens are, in fact, female…

14:31–Two of the humans are obsessed with three big silver boxes they call the “OxBoxes”. They can’t seem to make up their minds about where to stash their cache of silver in the forest. After a decision is finally reached, they continually return to their cache, depositing motorcycle batteries. This behavior occurs quite often, as with the computer equipment previously documented, and happens multiple times per day, every day.

19:01–After an impressive display of feeding, the humans have gathered around the dinner table with the native population for what they refer to as “movie night”. After the movie commenced, some humans sauntered off into the forest, while the others lumbered to their nylon night roosts.

23 July 2013
09:03–I’ve noticed more strange behavior from two of the young females in the group. Every day they complete a series of push-ups and keep talking about “rehabilitating a busted shoulder”. From what I can tell, they add one push-up onto their count each day. By my calculations, that would account to 31 push-ups by the end of their time here. In contrast, some of the young males can often be seen playing with a thin, saucer-shaped disc that flies through the air when thrown.

14:10–The majority of the group consistently assembles on sunny days for what looks to me like art class with watercolor paints. Each class time they’ve chosen a different subject (as I’ve noticed from previous gatherings) ranging from a calf grazing near the rice paddies, to a sprig of a peach blossom. The artistic talent in my focal group is unbelievable.

What a cultured bunch of humans!

What a cultured bunch of humans!

16:23–I’ve tracked the humans into the forest today and watched as they located a hibernating dwarf lemur, dug her up, and completed routine animal health checks and re-collaring before carefully placing her back in her underground hibernacula to finish out the winter season.

18:47–Some of the humans dispersed from the group after feeding time to go “chameleon hunting” in the forest. Upon their return, they talked excitedly about an up-close encounter with a Scops owl, who apparently “scared the bejeezes” out of one of them. They then assembled with the others in an apparent celebratory event including a large drink they shared amongst themselves called the “Tsinjoarivo Stinger”, which they made out of rum, water, honey, and fresh lemon and lime juices. This was accompanied by a rousing game of cards with seemingly made-up and thoroughly confusing rules.

I know, scary, right?

I know, scary, right?

28 July 2013
14:51–There is a flurry of excitement today as the humans are excitedly running around chattering about an “Art Exhibition”. It seems as though they’ve gathered all their work from their art classes and put it on display in a strange fashion. Is this behavior normal for Homo sapiens? They’ve even created “hors d’oeuvres” of tiny little banana slices topped with Nutella and a giant platter of dense rice cake. Classical music was even playing in the background. There seems to be a judging of the paintings by the dominant male in the group.

The fancy hors d'oeuvres

The fancy hors d’oeuvres. Nutella bananas and rice cake!

The 2013 graduating class

The 2013 Graduating Class

Tsinjoarivo Art Exhibition 2013

Tsinjoarivo Art Exhibition 2013

17:03–One of the young females appears to obsessively carry around a journal, frequently writes in it, and talks non-stop about something called “blogging”. The others in the group often times exhibit risk-taking behavior, placing 100 ariary bets (the equivalent of about 5 cents, USD) on things like who can find the largest stone in their rice, or what type of animal “Scrat” from the movie Ice Age was. This topic is still highly debated. It is very clear from my studies of this focal group of humans that I’ve stumbled upon a very rare and unique bunch. Maybe they are a new species? Their obsession with hibernation is particularly odd. However, they seem to be good-natured and cooperative with each other, an apparent lack of hierarchy among the ranks noted. I’ll continue to monitor this troop in order to tease apart the genetic and environmental factors driving human behavior in this focal group.

It’s a jungle out there!


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