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Elise Withers

It’s still soaking in that we’ve reached the end...

posted August 11, 2017

It’s still soaking in that we’ve reached the end. It was weird to walk into the Hartley conference room again; it was kind of like our very first day.

Working on the projects and posters was a truly valuable experience. It was really exciting to find correlations that nobody has found before, and be able to think about why we see those correlations. Some of our most interesting and strongest findings were of latitude and temperature, and precipitation was pretty interesting as well. Finding such a strong correlation between latitude and body size was particularly exciting because, before we started the project, we read about this previous study which tried to find a correlation between latitude and butterfly size but was inconclusive. Considering this study seemed pretty well established, we weren’t too positive that we’d find anything either. But we did! Also, huge thanks to Noel for retrieving so much data for us.

It was cool seeing our actual poster printed out too; it really legitimizes everything. I’m incredibly thankful that two copies of the posters were made for us. I’m going to get my copy laminated :)

I also enjoyed presenting our poster and hearing what all other interns have been doing. The best parts of presenting are being able to share what you’ve done and hearing other people’s ideas on the findings, especially when those ideas bring great new insights.

Thanks for the wonderful experience and I’ll miss you all! I had a really fun, interesting time. When I come to back to school and everyone asks about my summer, I’ll have a mouthful to talk about. Anyways, keep in touch! Goodbye!

Two interns standing in front of a poster

The past few weeks have definitely gone by really quick!

posted July 25, 2017

The past few weeks have definitely gone by really quick! One of the highlights was the camping trip to Pinnacles. I was really excited when finding a hotspot of those Miocene crab fossils— with every layer of rock I peeled back, I found more and more of them! I’m very glad I was allowed to take all them home. Now there’s a huge pile of rocks on my desk. If anyone wants one, I’d be happy to give one.

Later at the campsite, I enjoyed helping make dinner, although the chicken-hungry wasps were a real nuisance. After eating and as it got dark, Tallulah and I took a stroll to this farm from the 1860’s nearby. It had a lot of history, and some of the building material seemed to be originals. On the way there and back, we saw tons of jack rabbits, deer, ants, and quail, which surprisingly make these loud buzzing noises when they fly together.

Late at night, we were really lucky to catch this one large moth! At first it was sort of attacking us-- it was jumping on us and all-- and eventually it landed on the tarp, so we could catch it with a water bottle. After we let it go, it wouldn’t lift off, probably because it was in shock and hopefully not because it was hurt...

Two interns at night

The beginnings of our research project are also going well. In the brainstorming process, we had a ton of really interesting ideas, but most of them were just not possible to explore primarily because of our limited time or because the databases we’d need don’t exist. But now, the research question we chose to do is working out well, we’re getting used to coding with R, and we’ve already found a correlation between temperature and lepidoptera body size! We’re excited to find more.

One final note: we found out that there are a ton of fruit trees on campus! So far we’ve found an apple tree (unripe), a passion fruit tree (unripe), and a orange tree (ripe, so we picked one).

The first couple weeks of the internship have been really cool!

posted July 05, 2017

I really enjoy listening to all the presentations of the recent research and findings in the paleobiology lab; there’s a lot of cool things I’ve learned
from them that I practically never would have otherwise (like how the selectivity towards large size is unique to the 6th mass extinction, that seeds are
more likely to mature the further they are from the parent tree because of the pathogens specific to the parent, or that some people got to put tiny visors
on dung beetles to see how they navigate).

The Stanford campus is also really nice; like a lot of other schools, the buildings and landscaping is gorgeous. We also had fun catching those frogs by
Lake Languita, so we went back a second time during lunch and found a lot more. I loved finding all the differently colored ones.


Although the butterfly measurements are never ending, it’s always fun to measure the gigantic ones or the uniquely patterned or colored ones. Every time
my partner and I finish a page, we take a moment to hope for the best butterflies on the next. Out of the butterflies we’ve measured so far, one of my top
favorites is the Danaidae family. We were reading some of the author’s notes on them, and apparently they’re crazy strong: they’re really hard to kill, can
be poisonous, and have tough leathery wings. According to the author, D’Abrera, he has “returned from collecting trips to find apparently dead Danaidae taking
off as soon as [his] collecting tins were opened” and "Fruhstorfer saw Danaidae flying with impunity through the sulphurous fumes of a volcano in Java". We
also got a really cool book that had the largest moths (like the atlas moth) in the world! I think our largest measurement (basal-apical) was over 130 mm.
The book also had some unbelievably beautiful moths, like the luna moth and this one with the name Graellsia isabellae. It’s also fun coming across species
named after authority figures that we’ve become familiar with (for example, “rothschildi”, named after Rothschild). And as a side note, it’s so satisfying to
finish a day of measurements and see how many entries we’ve completed.

I also really liked the trip to Capitola. Some of the most obvious highlights of the trip were all the fossils we found in the rocks sitting right on the beach.
Along with the sheer age of everything, I was surprised by how visible most of the fossils were; we could easily see the vertebrae and brain cavities, for example.
We were also really fortunate to have experts in this matter, like Noel, explain everything, because there were a couple fossils that I wouldn’t have ever
noticed (some looked like plain rocks), and also because they identified the body parts and the likely organisms the fossils belonged to. We also found a ton of
cool living (or more recently living) organisms: a few crab remains, sea anemones eating, sand crabs, a small black crab, mussels (I think), this other shell-like
organism I’ve never seen before (it’s white, shaped like a fingernail, and reminds me of a turtle shell), a dead starfish, a dead stingray, (and this other
organism that lives on the rocks that I never knew existed until now but I forget the name of)!