When I played soccer so many moons ago, I always told myself I never played a good game if I came home with a clean jersey and no mud on my face. Fast forward to 10+ years later and my mentality is- I didn’t have a good night of croc research if I come home with NO mud, poop, or vomit on my clothes. This last month has been quite busy as I hustled to end my research on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, in addition to assisting Master’s student, Miriam Boucher with her crocodile behavior and acoustics research. We were out in the field multiple times a week catching crocodiles for my research and hers- and we had quite the success, with the mud, poop and vomit to prove it!
Now when I talk about poop and vomit, I am not talking about myself. I am talking about the crocodile. There are times after a capture the crocodile is in stress and will just “let it go, let it go!” (please note that last phrase needs to be sung to the tune from Frozen). There are other times that you get poop on your finger while sexing the crocodile. For those wondering how you know whether its a female or male: 1) role the crocodile on its side or back, 2) spit on your finger, 3) stick your finger in the cloaca of the crocodile, and 4) fill for a large shaft. No shaft, you have yourself a female! Sometimes the penis of larger males will reveal itself through the cloaca, thus no need to use your finger as a tool. As for vomit… I have been making crocs and alligators puke since 2009 to analyze their parasites. Crocodiles, such as the American crocodile and Morelet’s crocodile, as in a need of protection and because of their status with the IUCN and CITES, sacrificing animals for the name of science is not in the best interest of the species. Thus, if I am to understand their internal parasites and examine the health of the animal and environment, stomach flushing crocodiles for their parasites is the best thing that I can do. As I’ve described stomach flushing in previous blogs, I won’t reiterate the process here. But I will say that I am
always at the tail-end of the process which means I’m trying to catch vomit to later examine the contents for parasites. Parasites are a fantastic indicator of the health of the environment and the host, as well as the diet of the crocodile, so finding parasites OR not finding parasites is extremely important data. So what does the vomit or process of vomiting look like? Mostly its a “clean” process, with the contents coming out of the tube itself. However, 2% of the time it’s similar to the scene of the Exorcist where the vomit is spewing everywhere. The worse so far has been stomach flushing a 10ft Morelet’s crocodile in Guatemala during a training I was giving at a zoo. My body was covered in vomit, and instead of having my assistant pick parasites off of a cheesecloth from what she caught, she had to pick off parasites from me! Long story….
My line of work is not glamorous, and in about a month TV viewers of the show Terra X will get to witness the mud and bodily excrement that revolves around my research- all in the name of science! Terra X is a German-based wildlife TV show that has been on aire since 1982. Last week the host of Terra X joined me and my croc crew (aka, Karl Kohlman and Miriam Boucher) as we ventured around Caye Caulker to catch crocodiles for my parasite
research. This was by far one of the best TV crews I ever worked with- yes, they wanted the show to be exciting but never asked me to do anything to compromise the purpose of my research or to put any stress on the animal for the “cool factor.” It wasn’t about the host- it was about my research and how my research contributes to science and the conservation of the crocodiles in Belize. Very cool! And you gotta love the host- after capturing a 7ft crocodile (I should mention this was after Miriam went for quite a long swim chasing after a 4footer), going through the stomach flushing process, and flushing out parasites, without any hesitation he sifted through the contents to pull out a parasite to show the TV viewers. I don’t know too many people that would shift through croc vomit and hold a live nematode! Impressive!!!!
Among various crocodile or herpetological scientists, I am known as Parasite or Poop girl. Well, it now seems I will be the Parasite Woman, who plays in mud, poop and vomit for science. I guess it could be worse…