Marietta College offers a number of off-campus opportunities for its students.  From unparalleled access to China to trips to other parts of the world, Marietta College students have the opportunity to travel and learn.  Trips are offered in the summer and over our extended winter break during the J-term.  Some trips are simple study trips, others offer a service component as well.  

The Department of Biology and Environmental Science at Marietta College offers a number of these trips, usually 1 or 2 a year.  Currently our offerings are split between offering a continental US trip alternating with a trip to Costa Rica every other year. Our criteria for planning trips include answering these questions:  Is the trip to a place of biological or environmental interest?  Is the destination safe for travel?  Can the trip be made affordable?  We know that  many of our students are on tight budgets and that  the travel time would otherwise be used for employment.  Within these constraints, these two trips have become our models.

The Utah trip, building on a long-established journey to the Utah desert by the Geology Department to a dinosaur fossil site, also allows biology students to study the desert and the many adaptations that organisms living there have.  It's inexpensive, since we camp and travel by college van.  Biological "enhancements" to the trips include stops at national parks, wildlife refuges, and other places of biological interest.  Future trips may include more time spent at other sites in the American West.  Dr. Steve Spilatro has coordinated these trips and has been educating himself (and the students) on the botany of the American west.

The trip to Costa Rica is the brainchild of Dr. David Brown.  He previewed the trip in 2004, and we made the first trip in 2005, with another in 2007.  Although trained in molecular and cellular techniques, David has extensive experience in field biology and outdoor education, and brings that experience to these trips.  David is able to put together a trip to Costa Rica that lasts 3 weeks and costs the students less than $2,000. The food is great, the hotels decent, and we always have a great time.

In addition to his organizational skills, David is an excellent educator in the field.  He is very knowledgeable about tropical ecology, and particularly good with marine and seashore species, plants in general, and orchids in particular.

I've been along on the trips both to Utah and Costa Rica.  My background is in ecology and entomology; I'm usually able to identify an insect down to family, even in Costa Rica.  I've also traveled a lot in the west and am generally familiar with the landscape and fauna of the west, and I'm trying to learn the flora.  I can usually relate what we are seeing in the field to examples the students have read about or are familiar with already.  My Spanish is rusty, but between us David and I can usually get things done in Costa Rica. I also try to document the trip in photographs and video, and make up the web pages when we get back.


What's next?  If past patterns hold we will be off to the west again in the spring of 2008.  Dr. Brown will be heading to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam (he has been to Thailand and Vietnam a number of times) to lead a McDonough Leadership Center course there in the J-term 2008.  We offered a J-term trip to the Bahamas in 2007 but didn't get enough students to make it go; we might try again in 2009, and we are on schedule to go back to Costa Rica in 2009. Dr. Fitch has been working on an Environmental Science trip to Australia as well.


Many of our trips are in conjunction with our Biomes of the World web site.  Check it out here.


Where does this website come from?  Well, as you might imagine, it's a good bit of work.  On our trips to Costa Rica I take thousands of photos - about 12,000 from the two trips, which comes out to 2,000 a week or about 670 images a day (thank God for digital photography).  These photos are saved initially on to memory cards; at the end of the day I save the images to the hard drive on a laptop, and when I have about 4Gb of images I burn a DVD.  This all comes back to Ohio, and then it has to be processed.  First, I sort the images and add keywords so I know where I was taking the photographs.  Then, I go through them site by site and identify as many of the organisms as I can.  In order to do this, I use a number of field guides and websites.  It's often frustrating, and often impossible to get a solid ID from a photograph - or even a series of photos.  I've often been helped in my ID's by the experts (including some of the field guide authors such as Dr. Jay Savage).  If I've messed up anywhere, let me know: 

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Photo and Video Permissions

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Here are some of the books we've found useful - I've photographed the covers so you can see the titles and authors; normally I'd put in links to publishers but these change and I'm lazy.  You can look them up yourselves.  I try to buy as many of the books as I can in Costa Rica (and then at places like field stations that I'd like to support), but you can get most of them on the web or perhaps even at your local independent bookseller.
   I carry these two books with me in Costa Rica.  Both are from Lonely Planet and both are particularly useful  The guidebook (left) has information on the whole country, from exchange rates to how to use the public transportation down to what restaurants are best in each town.  It also has info on wildlife, culture and history.  It has maps, but a good map of Costa Rica is hard to find, and you won't find it here.  Very useful for planning a trip.

The phrasebook is tiny and easily slipped into a pocket.  It has a small but useful two-way dictionary, and a set of phrases organized by situation (travel, restaurant, hotel,  meeting people, etc.  If you know a little Spanish already, this book will get you through - fortunately enough Ticans speak enough English to make this work.  It doesn't include the very useful phrase "Necessito una toldas" - "I need a mosquito net".

I didn't carry this book, but I use it all the time.  This is not a synoptic guidebook to the flora and fauna, but rather a useful introduction to the geology, topography, climate and ecology of Costa Rica, with a series of articles on an eclectic assortment of wildlife and plants.  If your organism is included in the book, there is a wealth of information here.
This book focuses more on the wildlife, although there is a decent introduction to the country and the habitats up front.  Using decent pictures, it covers a good number of animal species from insects to mammals, primarily the ones you are most likely to encounter (or would like to encounter!).  There are also distribution maps and text-based accounts for each of the species covered.  A bit too large to pack along.
We used this text for the class in 2007.  It examines the phenomenon of rainforest destruction and uses Costa Rica in many of the examples.  It's a good book in that it would have you unlearn a lot of what is "known" and taught about rainforest destruction, and it helps remove a lot of the simplifications that obscure a good understanding of the subject.  I found something substantial to disagree with the authors on in just about every chapter, but that just made for good discussion.  
This book is a lot of fun and easy to read.  One comes away with a much better understanding of the rainforest after having read it.
This is the gold standard for faunal guides in Costa Rica.  It has them all, illustrated with color photos and line drawings, plus expert taxonomic descriptions, keys, life history accounts, and distribution maps.  It doesn't have much in the way of common names, but that's not really very important, is it.  Way too big and beautiful to lug around, this one stays at home.  Note that the keys won't work unless you have the specimens in hand.
If I had to carry a field guide to Costa Rica for the reptiles and amphibians, this would be the one.  It covers both coasts, but a number of species are not included (unlike Jay Savage's book) - that's the price of portability.  If you have a specimen that for some reason doesn't match up with any of the excellent pictures you are left wondering if it is morph of something in the book or a species not included there.  A lack of distribution maps also limits its use.
My main gripe with this book is the limited coverage; it doesn't cover the Pacific Slope and we spend a lot of time there.  On the other hand, if you go to La Selva, this is the book for you.  Most of the pictures are good (there are a few stinkers) and there are distribution maps.  The keys are written to be used in conjunction with good notes and/or photographs.  It's also the smallest of the herp field guides.
     I'm    not a bird guy (I have people that do that stuff for me) but I find both of these books useful for when I think a bird is just too damn obvious and that mailing it off to one of my friends for an ID would just be embarrassing ("now your third picture, we call that a robin....").

The book to the left is a large, stay-at-home but comprehensive book with similar bird species grouped together on plates of color illustrations.  The species accounts are good; there are no maps.

The field guide is smaller, with the modern layout of color illustrations of related birds on the right and short species accounts and maps on the left.  The accounts are brief, but you could carry this book along.

It's really tough to ID insects in the tropics - there are so many of them. For most of the groups, I just have to ID them by sight to family and then do a Google image search on the web for that family with the qualifier "Costa Rica" and hope for the best.  Sometimes it works.  Fortunately, many of the butterflies are represented in these two volumes (most of the ones I've encountered are actually in the first).  There are color plates with lots of pinned specimens arrayed on each page and species descriptions in the text.  Ton's of information, and in many groups if you have some good photos you will be able to make an ID. 


I just bought this book in Costa Rica on our 2007 trip and didn't open it until I got home.  What a beauty!  I know nothing about plants but this book has many of the plants I saw and photographed in Costa Rica, and has been invaluable in helping me explain the animal-plant interactions that make up so much of the interesting side of biology.  It will certainly be a staple reference.  It has an unusual organization - partly by taxa, partly by habitat, but all I can say is that it works - if what I am looking for is in the book, I can always find it easily.  It even explains what chan is!

The Rainforest publications series of laminated field guides is great.  Easy to carry and tough in the field, they are just the thing to cue your memory or even help you identify something new.  The illustrations are well-done (if a bit small), but most of the common species for each group are there.  More recently, they've taken to putting these products into a folded format, which is easier to carry and still toughly laminated.  The wildlife guide has a little of everything (birds, mammals, herps); the medicinal plants and tropical fruits guides are both very useful as well.  In the flat format the bird guides are split up by habitat; while there are a number of repeats across that series the cards really do work well in identifying the most common or obvious birds in each habitat.  These guides are available throughout Costa Rica and on the web from the publishers as well.