Thursday, December 1, 2016

My Research Is Featured On "50 Years of Lemurs at Duke" Exhibit In Duke University Perkins Library #Duke50

The "50 Years of Lemurs at Duke" exhibit at Duke Perkins Library opened on October 27th, 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Duke Lemur Center. This exhibit, curated by Duke Lemur Center staff, features 50 years of Duke Lemur Center research and conservation. The different facets research and conservation are represented in media, research artifacts, and educational models. My ruffed lemur color vision research is featured in one of the exhibit case as well as an interactive video.

Communication & Behavior Exhibit Case
Close up of my color vision study write up
The exhibit case features two of my lemurs using the two modes of SMARTA (my research apparatus). On the left, a lemur is interacting with SMARTA as he is being trained while on the right, a lemur is interacting with the testing phase of SMARTA. My research asks a very simple question: Can ruffed lemurs perceive and differentiate red from green?

Look for the Lemur Center Videos kiosk
I talk about how positive reinforcement and training help my research
Over at the interactive video, my research is featured on the "Research Video" segment. It highlights how training is beneficial for research and one of the example is using positive reinforcement to train my ruffed lemurs. In this video, I talk about how my lemurs are positively reinforced with food reward to approach SMARTA as well as when they participate in their trials. Training is essential to teach and guide the lemurs on what they need to do, especially for cognitive tasks. You can't ask a lemur if they can see red directly, but with some ingenuity, you can use positive reinforcement to ask them this question.

Checking out the "50 Years of Lemurs at Duke" exhibit with my friend and colleague, Dr. Tara Clark

Please come check out this exhibit and let me know what you think. The exhibit is open to the public and is free. "50 Years of Lemurs at Duke" runs from October 20, 2016 to February 19th, 2017.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I've Been Busy: NEEP and Departmental Talk

I gave a poster presentation at Northeastern Evolutionary Primatologists (NEEP) earlier this month, held at Hunter College. It's my first time at NEEP and it's nice to see my regional colleagues. And yes, that's a "floating tablet". Command Strips are great to affix your tablet during poster presentation. They come off easily after you are done!

Northeastern Evolutionary Primatologists (NEEP) is the northeast "chapter" of primatologists that focus on evolution, ecology, and behavior. You can read more about this organization on their website, as well as on their Facebook group.

I also gave a short talk on my ruffed lemur color vision research for my department's Pre-Graduation event. This is the first time I actually presented with my preliminary data. I'm right on track for graduation next Spring. 

[Please don't jinx myself. Please don't jinx myself. Please don't jinx myself.]

The Animal Behavior and Conservation Program at Hunter College is offered as a Master's Program for those that are interested in behavior, evolution, conservation, welfare, and cognition.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bon Voyage, Magellan!

We said goodbye to Magellan this week as he transitioned into the next chapter of his life at Dickerson Park Zoo --- fatherhood (hopefully!). I can't wait to see him in his new environment so hopefully one of these days, I'll plan a trip out to Springfield, MO. Bon voyage, Magellan!


According to the Duke Lemur Center, Magellan's mother and brothers were acting aggressively towards him.

This is actually a natural phenomenon. Lemurs are "kicked out" of their natal group at a certain point of their life, and this is induced by aggressive behavior towards the lemur individual. This is a common mechanism for animals that dispersal. Literally getting the boot from the group. There are no helicopter parents in the lemur world. Ruffed lemurs live in a fission fusion group, so generally both sexes are kicked out of the group.


Magellan was one of my research subject at the Duke Lemur Center. Along with his brothers (AJ and Rees) and mother (Kizzy), they participated in my color vision study last summer and fall.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I Presented A Poster On SMARTA And Ruffed Lemur Color Vision At #DLC50

When you show up and your outfit and hair matches your poster and table. #OnFleek
My poster for Duke Lemur Center 50th Anniversary Scientific Symposium is now available online. Please click here. Thank you Duke Lemur Center for inviting me to present my research, especially Dr. Erin Ehmke.

My credentials ;)
SMARTA: Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus for Color Vision Discrimination Tasks in Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia spp.) 


Polymorphic color vision in ruffed lemurs (Varecia spp.) occurs due to an allelic variation of a single x-linked opsin gene that results in individuals being either dichromatic (red-green colorblind) or trichromatic depending on their opsin genotypes. The link between genotype and phenotype is well-established in haplorhines but not well-studied in lemurs. To investigate the color vision genotype-phenotype link in Varecia spp., the subject-mediated automatic remote testing apparatus (SMARTA) was developed. It aims to reduce biases and to accurately test the color discrimination abilities of inferred dichromatic and trichromatic individuals. SMARTA is an innovative novel apparatus for behavioral touchscreen discrimination tasks. It is controlled remotely via a smartphone app, has a motorized conveyer that automatically dispenses food rewards, automatically logs data online, and is relatively inexpensive to build.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Duke Lemur Center Celebrates 50 Years Of Awesomesauce and Totes Amazeballs Research #DLC50

Early last week, Duke Lemur Center celebrated its 50 year anniversary with a Scientific Symposium and Gala. Originally called Duke University Primate Center, it was renamed to Duke Lemur Center to reflect its scientific mission and, well, the fact that most of the residents in this facility are lemurs. Some slow loris and bush baby do call Duke Lemur Center their home.

I was fortunate and humbled to be invited to present my research at the poster session as well as doing demonstrations of my research. It's exciting to see that SMARTA and my ruffed lemur color vision study continue to engage and excite many people. Who says you can't do fun science that's engaging to BOTH the public and the lemurs? Speaking of, Halley was very excited to show off her SMARTA skills!

Loving lemurs with Lemur Love Co-Directors, Dr. Tara Clarke and Dr. Marni LaFleur
I enjoyed the scientific symposium tremendously. What a great gathering of lemur scientists and lemur lovers. Great job Duke Lemur Center staff for organizing and working this event!

I'm also very excited to have won the "Duke Lemur Center Mystery Bag" from the raffle as well as winning two auction bids: A personalized animal portrait from Julie Byrne (talented artist and Duke Lemur Center volunteer) and TWELVE(!!!) bottles of Loire Valley Wines from Rabelais Wines.

Content of the Duke Lemur Center Mystery Bag. There's a ruffed lemur inside!!!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Good News: I Got The Grant!

You guys! I got some exciting news to share. I'm elated to share with you, my readers, that I am the recipient of Duke Lemur Center's Director's Fund for Fall 2016!

OMG!!! I feel like an adult right now (don't laugh!). 

I submitted a proposal to fund the remainder of the cost of my research project as well as money to build more of my testing apparatus. As some of you might know, this research project has been going on for unexpectedly long. Though, I am not complaining because I am having fun working with the lemurs and the staff at Duke Lemur Center. Special shout out to my team of research assistants. Without them, this project would not be possible.

If you are interested in my ruffed lemur color vision research project and the novel apparatus (SMARTA) that I built for this research, you can read about it on:

Duke Lemur Center Spring 2016 Newsletter: Do You See What I See?

Lemur Conservation Network: On The Ground with Raymond Vagell

Or my academic posters:

SMARTA: Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus For Color Vision Discrimination Tasks (Vagell, Vagell, & Baden, 2015)

Novel Skill Acquisition in Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia spp.): Preliminary Data from SMARTA Color Vision Study at Duke Lemur Center (Vagell et al., 2016)

Now off the celebrate!

Monday, August 29, 2016

#IPSASP16 Poster Session

Novel skill acquisition in ruffed lemurs (Varecia spp.): Preliminary Data from SMARTA Color Vision Study at Duke Lemur Center

Raymond Vagell, Vance J. Vagell, Stephanie J. Tepper, Isabel M. Avery, Rachel L. Jacobs, James Gordon, & Andrea L. Baden.

Psychophysical studies are necessary for many questions related to the evolution of primate sensory systems, particularly in primate color vision, but such studies remain limited, especially in many lemur species. This may be in part because lemurs require extensive training to novel procedures. We trained ruffed lemurs (Varecia spp.) on the Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus (SMARTA) for a color vision pilot study at Duke Lemur Center from May to November, 2015. 18 animals were initially used but only 5 were trained. We selected animals based on their initial interest in participating and their continued interest across the first 20 sessions. Training time ranged from 42 to 265 minutes, across 32 to 172 sessions. We found no correlation between total training time and age, r(4) = 0.088, p = 0.888, or between number of training sessions and age, r(4) = 0.048, p = 0.940.Furthermore, we found no significant difference between sexes in mean total training time (t(3) = 0.29, p = 0.605) or total number of training sessions (t(3) = 0.243, p = 0.824). While acknowledging our sample size, we found no evidence that training is influenced by age and sex. Although training requires an initial time investment that varies across individual study subjects, the SMARTA helps to eliminate user bias and error, which outweighs the time investment.

A copy of my IPS/ASP 2016 poster (Vagell et al., 2016) can be downloaded here.

If you are interested in SMARTA, a copy of that poster (Vagell, Vagell, & Baden, 2015) can be downloaded here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I'm at The Joint International Primatological Society & American Society of Primatologists Conference in Chicago this week! #IPSASP16

I'm at IPS/ASP 2016 in Chicago this week! So excited to hear all these talks and to network with everyone.

I will be presenting a poster on training my ruffed lemurs to use SMARTA. The poster will be on Thursday, and I will have a PDF version of it online tomorrow.

If you are interested in SMARTA and my color vision study, you can read about it on:

Duke Lemur Center Spring 2016 Newsletter

Lemur Conservation Network

My ASP poster from last year! (Vagell et al., 2015)

I'm also currently looking for research assistants and am hoping I can find potential candidates at the conference. Know someone that like working with lemurs and are great with technology? Send them my way! Here's the Job Listing.

Please come talk to me at the conference! :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Time Sadness

I'm still training and collecting data with the ruffed lemurs, more accurately, my assistants are still training and collecting data with the ruffed lemurs. After a minor hiccup with data collection (which I rather not discuss), I am back to square one collecting my color vision data. Unfortunately, all of the lemurs that had previous did testing trials seemed to had forgotten how to use SMARTA so we had to re-train them again. Well, everyone except Halley.

Yes, Halley, the black and white ruffed lemur. My pride and joy Halley. She had last used the SMARTA over 6 months ago and when I set that apparatus right in front of her, she remembered where she had left off. At the moment, Halley and Pandora are currently taking a break from my study because ... THEY GAVE BIRTH OVER A MONTH AGO! Halley gave birth to 2 boys (Cosmo and Astro) while Pandora gave birth to a boy (Kalani) and a girl (Sally).

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Lemurpalooza: Thanks For Coming Out!

Lemurpalooza was a huge success. Despite the fact that it was hot and muggy out, many showed up to the event. Thanks to those that came and stopped by my table to chat with me about ruffed lemurs and color vision.

Here's a link to Duke Lemur Center's Facebook page Live Video if you have missed the event and would like to watch.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lemurpalooza 2016: Saturday, June 4th 2016 at Duke Lemur Center

MRW someone said Lemurpalooza is BACK!

Lemurpalooza is back again for yet another exciting palooza for Summer 2016. Hosted by Duke Lemur Center, Lemurpalooza 2016 will have food trucks, live music, and lemurtastic activities for kids and kids at heart. You can also walk around and view the lemurs at your own pace (usually you'll need to be escorted by a tour guide) as well as being able to "adopt" the lemurs. Money from these sponsorship goes to maintaining the lemurs at Duke Lemur Center as well as to fund conservation work.

 As usual, I will be at Lemurpalooza this year. Hear me talk about my color vision research and learn more about my ruffed lemurs! You will be able to see all the ruffed lemurs that I mentioned in my blog posts, especially Halley & Pandora. Come find me at Lemurpalooza!

You will also be able to "adopt" some of the lemurs as well and I do encourage you to do so, not only for the animals but also for all the necessary conservation work in Madagascar.


From Duke Lemur Center's website:
Bring a blanket, join us for a picnic, and meet the lemurs in the Adopt-a-Lemur Program at the Duke Lemur Center (DLC), from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 4th. Your sponsorship will help us care for the lemurs at DLC and support the conservation work we do around the world.

NOSH, a wonderful supporter of the Duke Lemur Center, will be selling picnic style dinner at Lemurpalooza. They will be offering burgers, their famous brisket and portabella mushroom burgers for vegetarians or bring your own picnic basket.

Come meet unique primates you can’t see anywhere else in the U.S. This will be a special evening experience that allows families to stroll and view the animals at their own pace (Usually a visit to the center must be a guided tour.) Keepers and education staff will be on hand to answer all questions about each animal up for adoption. Engaging educational activities will be provided for kids and kids at heart. Community fun, gorgeous lemurs, and an opportunity to conserve the environment and endangered animals all add up to a perfect summer evening.
How your donation helps lemurs
In 2012, lemurs were named the most endangered mammals on the planet. The Duke Lemur Center has been caring and learning from lemurs for nearly 50 years. It is the world’s largest sanctuary for these animals outside of their native Madagascar. When you adopt a lemur, you not only help cover the $7,400 per year cost it takes to care for each animal, but also support our work in the U.S., Madagascar and around the world to study and save these endangered animals.
With your tax-deductible donation, you’ll receive regular updates and photos on the animals of your choice, and you won’t have to scoop the poop! These animals stay at the Duke Lemur Center, and we do the dirty work. In addition to adopting a lemur, you can help save lemurs by entering our silent auction and featuring great DLC experiences and swag along with other community goodies!
Animals up for adoption 
  • Raven, our ‘movie star,’ had her big screen moment in the recently released IMAX documentary, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar.
  • Tasherit is a busy crowned lemur mother, managing the demands of two young boys!
  • Teres is our super-star ring-tailed researcher who can find food in a puzzle box faster than you can blink an eye.
  • Presley is a blue-eyed black lemur named after the blue-eyed ‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ Blue-eyed black lemurs are one of two non-human primates to have truly blue eyes.
  • Pompeia is a six-year-old Coquerel’s Sifaka and recent mother who is one of less than 60 individuals of her species living in captivity.
  • Grendel is a male aye-aye. The Duke Lemur Center has had more success at breeding aye-ayes than any other institution in the world.
  • Thistle is a teacup-sized female mouse lemur. Because mouse lemurs develop Alzheimer’s-like symptoms as they age, researchers at the Duke Lemur Center hope their non-invasive mouse lemur research will help us better understand the aging brain.
Reservations are required. Call 919-401-7252 to reserve your spot and mark your calendar to meet the new adoptees at the Duke Lemur Center. 
Tickets are $50 per car and are fully tax deductible.

WHAT: Lemurpalooza
WHEN: 5 – 8 p.m., Saturday, June 4th, 2016.
WHERE: Duke Lemur Center, 3705 Erwin Rd in Durham. For directions please visit
HOW: To reserve your spot, please call 919-401-7252

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Read About My Ruffed Lemur Color Vision Research in Duke Lemur Center's Spring 2016 Newsletter

My ruffed lemur color vision research at Duke Lemur Center was recently highlighted in their 2016 Spring Newsletter! Here's a link to the PDF version of this newsletter which I have uploaded on Research Gate.

A preview of my article in the Duke Lemur Center 2016 Spring Newsletter

To sign up for Duke Lemur Center newsletter please click here.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Talked About SMARTA and Ruffed Lemur Color Vision A Lot This Week

Duke Lemur Center presentation cover page

I gave a 30 minute presentation on Tuesday at Duke Lemur Center this week for their "Lemurs, Science, and Beer" seminar. The title of the talk is "Do You See What I See? Studying Ruffed Lemur (Varecia spp.) Color Vision using SMARTA".  In this presentation, I did a brief talk about how color vision came to be and what the world might look like for ruffed lemurs if they cannot see red or if they can see red. Then, I talked about my research questions and how I try to answer them by using SMARTA.

Hey, I know this Raymond Vagell guy! 

The event had a great turn out. It even attracted a few public attendees as I had advertised the talk on Facebook and Twitter. I'm glad that I was able to talk about what SMARTA is and how it is used to study ruffed lemur color vision to the DLC staff because they've seen me conducting my research but probably doesn't really know what I'm doing. Thanks to all my friends who came to support me. 

That's Carme using SMARTA

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to talk about SMARTA and ruffed lemur color vision to Scaling Stem participants who came to visit DLC. I talked about how SMARTA came to be and how it was built. Then, I showed the participants how SMARTA works. Because this is a women in STEM group, it was apropos to have Halley demonstrate how SMARTA works. Without skipping a beat, Halley did her color vision trials perfectly and her enthusiasm wow-ed the crowd.

Giving a talk to Scaling Stem participants. Helping me demonstrate SMARTA is my lemur assistant, Halley

On Thursday, I gave a brief talk to a group of college freshmen that are interested in animal cognition studies. Though the talk was brief, I was able to share some tips on designing animal studies and things to expect when working with animals. This time, Carme helped demonstrate SMARTA. She also wow-ed the crowd with her cognitive skills in discrimination tasks.

Giving a brief talk about my color vision project 

This has been a long week! But, I am glad that I was given the opportunity to talk about my research and sharing my stories not only to the DLC staff, but also to educators and students. This week is also my last week at DLC for awhile. I am flying back to NYC and will be back to DLC periodically until the study is done around August. My assistant will be continuing this study while I am away. Thanks to Dr. Erin Ehmke for giving me the opportunities to share my work with the DLC family, educators and students.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lemur, Science, and Beer Talk: April 5th, 4PM at Duke Lemur Center

Come join me on Tuesday, April 5th at 4PM where I will be presenting a talk on my ruffed lemur color vision study titled "Do You See What I See? Studying Ruffed Lemur Color Vision using SMARTA. I will talk about the ruffed lemurs and their color vision, what SMARTA is, as well as how this study is conducted.

This event is open to the public and will be held at Duke Lemur Center in Lemur Landing (where the gift store is). I've started a Facebook event for this talk. Hope to see you all there!

Duke Lemur Center 
3705 Erwin Rd, Durham, NC 27705
Phone: (919) 489-3364
Lemur Landing is directly right in front of the parking lot.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready

It's been a few weeks since my previous post. We are still working with Carme, Pyxis, Celeste, and Pandora. Next week, we will be working with a new female. Great progress with Carme. Pyxis ... not so much. Celeste and Pandora are both starting to touch the screen so it's heading to the right direction.

Carme had improved tremendously since my last post. We have been training her daily to reinforce her to correctly station in front of SMARTA and to touch the squares deliberately instead of nonchalantly putting her hands between the squares or just touching the sides of the square. We also turn off the screen for a few seconds when she touches the incorrect stimuli or when we want to extinguish a certain behavior. It seem to have helped and by early this week, Carme is less frantic when using SMARTA and very rarely is swiping her hands all around the screen. When she make an incorrect choice, sometimes she gets a bit frantic but generally a major improvement than what she used to be a few weeks back. We thought that turning the screen off and turning it back on when she's paying attention to the screen helps to teach her that when she makes a mistake, it will take a few seconds before she can try to get a craisin. Of course, you don't want to turn off the screen for too long or it would stress the animal out. We generally turn it off for less than 5 seconds unless the animal is not paying attention to the screen (eg. looking at another animal, listening to alarm calls, etc).

By the end of next week, Carme will be done with the study as she would have done enough sessions for my data collection. I have enjoyed working with her. While she was a bit challenging to work with earlier on, and that she had a lot of behaviors that we had to extinguished, she was such a fun participant.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Week 4: Girls Just Want To Have Fun

Girls, they want to have fun.
Oh girls just want to have fun.
They want to have fun!
- Cyndi Lauper

YES! The girls just want to have fun. I'd say SMARTA is pretty fun for Celeste, Pandora, Pyxis, and Carme! And for some reason, Cyndi reminded me of the red ruffed lemurs.

This week I got to work with 2 new red ruffed lemurs. Pandora and her one-year old daughter Celeste joins the rotation to be part of my SMARTA color vision study. Celeste was very excited on her first day and her enthusiasm continues to the second day. She is currently my youngest participant. Celeste's mother, Pandora, was equally enthusiastic to participate in the study. Both had participated for two days and will continue their sessions next week.

Caught Celeste mid chewing craisins. Looks like she's very excited.

Pandora in her red (green? dum dum dum) perch.

Pyxis continues to be cautious around SMARTA and gets easily distracted by her mate and son. Pyxis is a stark contrast from Pandora (and Celeste) where they are not distracted by the males and instead focus intently on SMARTA. Though at the end of the week,  Pyxis started to approach SMARTA immediately when the sessions start. Currently, we are only reinforcing her to sit in front of SMARTA so she'll station perfectly in front of SMARTA before we start reinforcing her to look at the screen. Towards the end of the week, Pyxis has started to pay attention to the SMARTA screen. These are crucial small details that we have to pay attention to so that we are not reinforcing bad or superstitious behavior when using SMARTA. This is Pyxis's second week and even though she doesn't share the same enthusiasm as Pandora and Celeste, it is very common for animals to be apprehensive to novel objects (especially a towering object that makes noise). Luckily, Pyxis is whistle trained (meaning she know what a whistle cue means) so it is very easy to reinforce her and that she probably knows she is doing something right when she hears the whistle. Craisins help a lot too ;)

Pyxis starting to pay attention to the tablet on SMARTA

Carme continues to have at least 2 sessions per week since I came back to Duke Lemur Center. We addressed her left hand preference and her tendency to touch the left square at the beginning of each trial regardless of what color the square is. We don't know if she is has trouble using her left hand to reach to right square or if it's a superstitious behavior. Over the past few weeks, she had progressed tremendously and we feel like she finally "got it" this week. We ran a few testing trials with her and I think we are comfortable enough to say that she had graduated from training to fully automated testing. She should be on testing sessions next week.

Carme looking intently at the red square

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Whistle Training with Carme

I talked about bridging here, where a bridge is a stimulus that "bridges" a correct response to a reinforcement (usually a food reward) and is almost often an auditory stimulus such as the sound of a whistle, clicker or praises (Good girl!). A bridge is usually an anticipation of something positive going to happen and bridging tells an animal that they did the desired behavior and a reward is on its way.

Carme touching the red square on SMARTA

At the beginning of this study, we thought that the sound of the conveyer belt inside SMARTA is a good bridge for the ruffed lemurs. We soon learn that it wasn't the case, and that they are probably not paying attention to the sound of the conveyer belt or that they might need to be trained to recognize that the sound of the conveyer belt is a bridge.

As most ruffed lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center are whistle-trained, we have incorporated the whistle as a bridge when we train them to use SMARTA. Here's a short video of Carme doing a red and gray discrimination task. Notice that the moment she touches the red square, a whistle is used to bridge her correct behavior to a craisin that falls off the chute a few seconds later.

Imagine without the whistle. Carme touches the red square and looks to the left. A craisin falls off the chute. The duration between touching the red box and looking to the left only takes a few seconds but that is also how long it takes for SMARTA to dispense a food reward. Carme might then associate looking to the left with a food reward, or any other behaviors she did after touching the red square.

Another positive aspect of using a whistle as a bridge is that we can tell the lemur almost instantaneously that they did a desired behavior as opposed to just giving them a food reward. Without a bridge, it might take more time for a lemur to learn the correct behavior or worse, associating an incorrect behavior with a food reward.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Week 2: MORE Pyxis and Carme

This week I worked with Pyxis and Carme again. Currently they are the only two red ruffed lemurs that I am working with but once Carme has been trained, we will train more female lemurs. I hope that this birth cycle brings more female babies. Would be nice to have a large sample to continue as my PhD project.

Pyxis being reinforced to pay attention to the touch screen.

Pyxis is starting to learn that the big black box with a red screen is giving her treats but she hasn't quite associate the apparatus with food reward just yet. We have to rapidly reinforce her (giving her a lot of treats) when she is in front of SMARTA so she learns that the black box is giving her food rewards but it is imperative that she stays in front of SMARTA for that to happen. It may take well over a few weeks for her to make that connection, but in due time she will learn to associate SMARTA with food reward and mentally stimulating activities (think video games!).

Carme continues to be trained that she needs to touch the red square to get a food reward. She associates touching a square for food reward but still hasn't make the connection of touching the red square for food reward. She is close though as most of the time, her "incorrect" choices are just her trying to lean on the screen (her initial touch) and then touching the red square. Usually when she lean on the screen, she is touching the side of the screen with the incorrect choice. Because SMARTA is programmed to react to the initial touch, it will register as her "choice" thus resulting in a lot of incorrect choices should we run the test trials with her right now.

We are also training her that she can lean on SMARTA but she'll have to touch the acrylic part (shell) of SMARTA. Most of our sessions now are slowly approximating her from touching the middle of the screen to moving towards the middle of the square so that she knows she has to deliberately touch a square to make a choice and not just wily nilly touching the screen for food reward. We think it'll take another week or so before she is ready for testing.

Carme touching the center of the touchscreen but
some part of her hand is in the red square.

Carme touching the center of the red square. We are slowly trying to approximate
her from touching the middle of touchscreen (pictured above) to touching the center of the square.

I will be working with Pyxis and Carme again next week. On Monday, we will have a routine animal welfare observation. I think this is an annual routine, which I had one last year. It's good to know that Duke cares about the welfare of animals used in research.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Week 1: Carme & Pyxis

I worked with Carme on Tuesday and Thursday. She definitely understands that she needs to touch the screen, nay, she needs to touch a square for a reward to dispense. We don't know if she fully understands that she needs to touch the red square though. We will continue to train her so that she understands that needs to touch the red square for a food reward. We are also training her that her initial touch on the screen is her discrimination task "choice". Actually, let me back up a little. Carme usually stations in front of SMARTA and would put one of her hand on SMARTA as support and then the other to make her discrimination task "choice". As you can imagine, this pose a problem when her hand is on the screen; she would immediately get a trial correct or incorrect because her hand is on where the stimulus will appear. We wrapped up with her on Thursday and are quite confident that it'll take a few more sessions with her before she finally understands her task.

Carme using her hand to support herself on the SMARTA when doing discrimination tasks.

I only got to work with Pyxis on Wednesday. This is her first session with SMARTA so what we did was reinforced her when she gets close to SMARTA to investigate or when she looks at the screen. We interspersedly alternate a blank screen and a screen that is fully red to elicit attention from her. We do this to all the lemurs we train because we want them to know that this black box has a screen that will display stimuli. How easy this information is processed by the lemurs is debatable but one thing is for sure, using a well timed positive reinforcement to guide them through a task is imperative.

Oh I have a new part time research assistant and my full time research assistant will be here in March. Happy days!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

North Carolina State Of Mind

I'm baaaaaaaack!! I took a long vacation from Duke Lemur Center to go back to NYC while my assistant continued my study until December last year. I'm back to continue my study with my last 3 lemurs. Carme, the red ruffed lemur is almost done. She just needs to finish her Phase 2 testing trials, which I think will be done before March.

I have a new research assistant that will be joining me early in March and we will be training Pandora and Pyxis to use SMARTA before running the trials. I am hopefully that these 2 lemurs will cooperate because they have done cognitive research before. Although, if experience had taught me anything, I probably shouldn't expect anything. Ha!

Today is my first day back at DLC but I didn't get to work with any animals. Instead, I spent most of my time fixing and servicing my apparatus. Unfortunately, I found out that one of my electronics for my apparatus broke! I had to order the part ASAP but chances are, I probably won't be able to work with the lemurs tomorrow. It's supposed to snow tomorrow and Monday as well, and from what I heard, usually roads are pretty treacherous this part of the country after it snowed. So, I probably won't be able to work with the lemurs at least until next Tuesday. Bummer! Oh well, at least I am all settled and comfortable at my hotel. More time to spend with my friends and my lil girl Luna.

Special shout out to JetBlue and their Jet Paws program. I brought Luna with me and she had a very pleasant flight out of JFK to RDU. If you are flying with a small dog, I'd suggest flying with JetBlue.

Friday, January 22, 2016

I Am Looking For Research Assistants: Ruffed Lemur Color Vision

Interested in an independent and rewarding research experience? Want to learn how to train animals? Be involved in a fun research? Love working with lemurs? I am looking for 2 research assistants to help me with my ruffed lemur color vision study at Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Position Description:
We are seeking 2 highly motivated research assistants to help train ruffed lemur (genus Varecia) to use the Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus (SMARTA) for a color vision study at the Duke Lemur Center. This is an ideal opportunity for undergraduate students planning to apply to graduate programs in anthropology, psychology, and animal behavior. You will learn methods in behavioral training using positive reinforcement, and will have the opportunity to use a fully automated, novel apparatus we have developed specifically for color vision testing. The research assistants will work closely with the principal investigator, as well as the Duke Lemur Center staff, who will provide necessary training. Assistants can expect to work three hours each day on weekdays (Monday to Friday; Generally between 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM).

Applicants should have a background in animal behavior or related field. Because we will be using a novel apparatus, the ideal applicant will be someone who is quick thinking and is willing to troubleshoot. Experience training animals (even dogs) is ideal but not necessary. This position is not physically demanding, however, the research assistants will need to move the training apparatus around enclosures (about 20 lbs).

Please go to this listing for more info about the positions: Volunteer Research Assistants For Ruffed Lemurs Color Vision Master’s Project at Duke Lemur Center.

You can read more about my ruffed lemur color vision research here.

You can see photos of my research, which was featured in Duke Lemur Center's Instagram page here.

You can read about apparatus, Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus (SMARTA) here.