Elizabeth Ostrowski graduated from Rutgers with a major in Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources in 2013. She just finished working in the Dominican Republic on a study of Hispanolian solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), a rare and odd insectivorous mammal (photo right). This nocturnal venomous burrowing animal, one of two species limited to the Carribean, was once thought to have become extinct, in part due to the introduction of the small Asian mongoose to the islands in colonial times. Elizabeth recently sent this exciting report to her former advisor, Dr. Lathrop.
"I survived my trip to the Dominican Republic! It was an amazing experience; during the Solenodon feces collection I experienced some of the most intense and rewarding hikes of my life. This included climbing several hundred feet up a dry waterfall, and navigating through a minefield of carst limestone caves with intense drops and rugged terrain. The Solenodon sites were primarily on heavily sloped areas; these animals utilize the natural tunnels formed in limestone rather than digging their own burrows. I experienced exciting things like hiking through an old growth untouched forest, eating honey fresh from the comb in the middle of woods, munching on tons of fruits straight from and in trees, riding motorcycles on dirt roads without a helmet, handling all sorts of wildlife, climbing through caves we discovered moments before, and generally breaking all the rules that travel guides say not to do!
The caving experience was particularly amazing, and I saw all sorts of fascinating fauna: lizards, frogs, and tarantulas to name a few. We found much in the way of bones and fossils, including a megladon tooth and extinct sloth fossils. In one cave, I grabbed a picture (right) of a couple of bats resting above a cave painting of a bat! Later we went to an archaeological site where we found found pottery, arrowheads and other artifacts in a Taino midden.
Overall, this experience was fantastic both culturally and educationally. I've added a number of endemic families to my bird life list, saw unique and exciting herps (blind snakes and skinks, for a start), and got to try lots of local foods and teas while learning a bit of Spanish. If I am able, I will return next winter to continue the same field work, as I have been encouraged to come back by my colleague and the museum. I will be returning to do a television segment about maps; I am mapping out fossil locations of extinct sloths for the Museum of Natural History in Santo Domingo and additionally am illustrating these sloths from fossil records and speculations about their behavior for the museum to put up in an exhibit."