This morning the interns headed out for a brief time in the field, in an area close to Newberry, FL. Roger Portell, Invertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager, and Cristina Robins, PCP PIRE Project Assistant, accompanied the interns to Haile Quarry, where they examined sinkhole stratigraphy and looked for fossils among the many spoil piles of Ocala Limestone (Eocene age). Molds of numerous bivalves and gastropods, echinoid tests, sea fans, and a few fragmentary carapaces of crabs were found. One stop at the infill of a former sinkhole yielded several bone fragments – portions of a tortoise and a horse tibia (likely Pleistocene). Luckily the heat was not too oppressive. This afternoon the interns headed off to view the exhibits at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Powell Hall, including displays of Thomas Farm (a locality in Florida of similar age to many Panamanian localities) and a special Panama exhibit from the Panama Canal Centennial celebration.
Monday, Aug. 25, four new interns began their hands-on pre-Panama training. This training, orchestrated by Aaron Wood, was started in January (detailed here). Before their departure to Panama on Sept. 7, they will have spent 8 days in the Florida Museum of Natural History learning about the identification and curation of fossils, and one day in the field in the Gainesville-area Haile Quarry, excavating fossil crabs, moldic invertebrates and a few vertebrate fossils. The heat of the Florida summer will be a preview of what they will encounter in Panama. Interspersed between these activities will be short, informal paper discussion sessions and presentations by some of the PCP PIRE regulars, such as Bruce MacFadden, Doug Jones, Catalina Pimiento, Austin Hendy, Aldo Rincon, and Claudia Grant.
Here are a few photos from their second day on the job:
PCP PIRE just wrapped up the 2014 All Hands Meeting in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Why Nebraska? That’s in the center of the USA, not really close to Panama.
The fossils deposited in the badlands of northwest Nebraska, however, are the same age as those in the Centernario Fauna of Panama. They are also the same age as the Thomas Farm site in Florida. Nebraska holds the type sections of 5 of the North American Land Mammal Ages (NALMA). Bringing a group of researchers to view (and collect from) type localities allows both students and professionals to develop a context for the Cenozoic fauna they encounter in Panama. More about the All Hands meeting is in the PCP PIRE August eNewsletter (sign up here to receive our eNews monthly).
In the meantime, here are a few photos, showcasing what we did:
Tomorrow morning we leave Panama to travel back home to the United States (specifically to Ft. Robinson, Nebraska for the PCP PIRE All-Hands Meeting). This summer has been a very interesting experience, living and working in Panama. There are many things that I will miss about it once the wheels lift off from the tarmac at Tocumen Airport early tomorrow morning and our summer 2014 Panama adventure comes to an end. Here’s my laundry list:
The Fossils: We experienced a great diversity of fossil collecting locations and situations, from the Panama Canal to the beaches and rivers of the Azuero Peninsula. Many of the fossils we’ve collected may end up becoming important for research purposes, so there is great research potential that has been generated via our collecting efforts in various regions and geologic formations in Panama.
The People: We met and befriended a staggering amount of wonderful people from multiple countries (most notably Panama and Colombia) throughout our internship, from the students and faculty of UniAndes who we joined in the Azuero Peninsula to the interns and research fellows at STRI. We hope to maintain contact with many of these people in the future.
The Culture: Learning and practicing Spanish (be it with a taxi driver, STRI security guard, UniAndes student, or average Panamanian passerby) in a Latin American country has been a great learning experience. There really is no better way to learn a new language and culture than to become fully immersed in it by living and working abroad.
The Environment: Aside from the sometimes debilitating heat and humidity, Panama is an incredibly beautiful place. From the rainforest-covered mountains shrouded in clouds to the coconut tree-studded beaches of the Caribbean, we’ve had the privilege to visit some truly amazing places this summer. Living and working in the tropics has made us stronger mentally and physically, and given us a better appreciation for how easy fieldwork in temperate climates really is compared to fieldwork in the hot, humid, and heavily forested tropics.
The Wildlife: Being the sole zoologist of this intern cohort, I was completely overwhelmed by the striking biodiversity of Panama, especially the birds. Weekend excursions to Pipeline Road and other prime wildlife-viewing sites were experiences that I won’t soon forget. I saw some fantastic birds, lizards, snakes, butterflies, and even had a run-in with a group of peccaries in the dark. These great experiences have made me decide that this will not be my last visit to Panama; when the next opportunity to return presents itself, I will definitely take it so that I can continue to explore the country and see more of its astonishing wildlife.
Ancon Hill: Our home in Panama, this iconic high point on the southern fringe of Panama City will always be special to us. There’s nothing like living in a place where you can hike 30 minutes up winding switchbacks to incredible views of both Panama City and the Panama Canal…
…and now it’s on to Ft. Robinson, Nebraska for the PCP PIRE All-Hands Meeting, from which us 4 interns will each go our separate ways (be it to graduate school, back to finish undergraduate degrees, or to travel abroad). To our followers, we thank you for reading the blog and hope that you enjoyed it. We enjoyed sharing our summer internship experiences with you. Farewell!
Ever wonder what an average morning of fieldwork along the Panama Canal is like for a PCP PIRE intern? Well, here’s a photo-documented account of just that…
Between 4:30 and 5:00 AM (Wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed in field clothes)
5:45 AM (Walk up to STRI-CTPA and load field gear into STRI truck)
6:00 AM (Depart for the Panama Canal in STRI truck)
6:45(ish) AM (Arrive at first field site along the Panama Canal and start working)
10:00(ish) AM (Pack up and head to another locality along the canal)
12:00 PM (Pack up and head home in STRI truck)
12:30(ish) PM (Arrive back at apartment; eat lunch, take a cold shower, and change into clean clothes before heading back up to STRI-CTPA to prepare and catalog fossils, work on research projects, etc. for the rest of the work day)
Last night I tried my hand at making a Latin American dinner for myself consisting of cooked fish filet (corvina, a type of saltwater drum) and fried plantains (patacones). Here’s how it went…
First, I soaked my corvina filet in lemon juice with pepper and garlic for about 10 minutes. While I waited for this, I cut up my (still green and not quite ripe) plantains and started heating up a small pot filled with vegetable oil with which to cook them in.
Next, I started to slowly cook my seasoned corvina filet on a skillet and put the plantain slices into the just barely boiling pot of vegetable oil. You want to let them cook until they are a light brown color before carefully removing them. If you want to add spices or seasoning (I like just a tiny hint of cinnamon and garlic) to your cooking plantains, now is a good time to do it.
While my corvina continued to cook, I used my Pataconera (2 pieces of flat wood connected by a hinge) to smash the fried plantain slices flat. Then, I put the flattened slices back in the vegetable oil to cook again. This time, you want to leave them in the oil until they are slightly darker brown in color and no longer soft (crispy is what we’re going for). When you finally remove the doubly cooked and flattened plantain slices, add just a little bit of salt while they’re still slightly moist from the oil bath. Let them sit to cool and soak in the flavor.
Once the patacones and corvina are done cooking, plate and enjoy!
Above is the front and back of a tooth of Carcharocles chubutensis, UF262182. This fossil was found in the Culebra Formation in Panama (Miocene). Although this shark was not as large as the famous C. megalodon, it could reach large sizes—at 12.2 m (40 feet), it was about the length of a city bus! The tooth featured above is about half the length of the largest C. chubutensis that has been found. A paper detailing this (and other fossil shark teeth found in Panama) can be accessed here.