Weird Science! (feat. Urine)

Today was a lab day primarily. We collected the traps from an experiment we set up yesterday that involved urine and insect death traps. I know it sounds odd, but it was totally normal for a tropical field biologist. The experimental design we used involved placing two pitfalls on tree trunks, one filled with plain soapy water and one filled with urine (common name: pee-pee). We also placed another pair of traps in the leaf litter to catch floor dwelling insects. All the arthropods (common name: creepy crawlies) that made the unfortunate choice of exploring these traps fell to their deaths.

Our aim was to compare the community composition and the species richness (how many unique species) and abundance (how many individual organisms) of both forest canopy and forest floor species. The urine component was put into our design to collect relevant data on the affinity to nitrogen (found in ammonia in urine) of arthropods in each habitat. Here’s a photo of all the morphospecies I identified!


There are plenty of crickets and their nymphs in this photo, all of which I have not identified to a species level, but rather characterized as unique by certain morphological characters. This process can be difficult because size can vary with age and color/markings with sex. This method of ID is inherently an estimate of true species richness/abundance.


While it may seem esoteric and boring, the data set we compiled after sixteen hours of sampling was truly enlightening. No single way of looking at this data was 100% correct or incorrect, but depending on the statistical methods our group drew radically different conclusions—just another confounding and thought provoking aspect of scientific methods. Complicated, but never boring, the “telling” of the story completely affects the “message” or “moral” of what you are saying. Even in after just under a day of collection we had a TON of information on our hands and it was up to us entirely to make sense of it. Truly exciting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *