Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

It's Been A Long, Strange Road.

Today is my last day at Duke Lemur Center. It's been a long, strange road. I had initially thought this would be a 2 month project but ended up taking 5 months (and more). Although I am leaving , this project is still ongoing. My research assistant Isabel Avery, along with Meg Dye (DLC lemur trainer) will be training my lemurs until they are ready to do the color vision tests. Out of 9 individuals that I am working with, only 2 are ready and is currently participating in the tests. The other 7 individuals are still being trained to do these tests. When the other 7 individuals are ready to start their tests, I will fly back to North Carolina to conduct these tests.

This has been a long journey. I remember hating the fact that I have to be in North Carolina for two months but this place grew on me and even though I have been here for five months, I am enjoying every day of it ... except the fact that I miss my husband and my cats. My first few weeks in North Carolina was hard as I had to adjust to living in my hotel room and not spending time with my husband and cats. I wasn't use to being by myself.

But I had fun. I did a lot in the area. I went to the flea markets, the farmers' markets, museums, antique stores, cafes, restaurant, shopping, and oh yes, SHOPPING. I thought being in Durham would be boring but it turns out that it wasn't that bad. I kept getting asked by Uber drivers whether Durham was a big change for me. It wasn't. Actually, I really like Durham.

And then I adopted my dog, Luna. She had been my companion and pretty much became my unofficial emotional support dog. Adjusting to being a dog parent is definitely challenging and comical at times. Dogs are much more demanding and needed much more work and attention compared to cats. I have raised both kitten and puppy now, and I must say ... cats definitely have evolved to be much more self sufficient than dogs. But Luna is a sweetheart. She's the impossible girl.

I am looking forward to return to Duke Lemur Center to finish up my research later this year. But for now, I am grateful for having spending time with my friends here in North Carolina as well as looking forward to spending time with my family back in NYC. Till then ...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Duke Lemur Center Fall Lemurpalooza 2015: Saturday, Sept 26th 2015

Lemurpalooza is back again for yet another exciting palooza for Fall 2015. Hosted by Duke Lemur Center, Fall Lemurpalooza 2015 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.

I will be at the Fall Lemurpalooza, so hope to see some of you there! You will be able to see all the ruffed lemurs that I mentioned in my blog posts during Fall Lemurpalooza, especially Halley & Kizzy. You will also be able to "adopt" some of them 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.


Tickets are $50 per car and are fully tax deductible. 

WHEN: 5 – 8 p.m., Saturday, September 26th, 2015. 

WHERE: Duke Lemur Center, 3705 Erwin Rd in Durham, NC.
For directions please visit

HOW: To reserve your spot, please call 919-401-7252 
See more at:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

[UPDATED] The Ring-Tailed Lemurs at Oakland Zoo Need You: Help Fund The Smart Feeders Project

Ring-tailed lemurs using smart feeder. Photo from Oakland Zoo.
Enrichments are important facet of everyday life in captive animals. Enrichment not only help modify detrimental behaviors but can also provide a lot of fun and exploration for these animals. You can provide enrichment to "bored" animals or animals that exhibit stereotypy to occupy their time by exploring or working to get a food reward. Because captive animals have their food provisioned to them, they lost a critical behavioral repertoire --- foraging. Enrichments are also good for humans. Zoo visitors always lament about animals not being visible or animals always sleeping. While it is very natural for animal to seek hiding spots or sleep during the day, enrichment objects will provide these animals with "things to do" during zoo visiting hours and zoo visitors get to see these animals exhibiting natural foraging behaviors.

I recently met Dr. Karin Jaffe at the American Society of Primatologists (ASP) 2015 in Bend, Oregon. We talked about our work in lemurs and enrichment. She had mentioned about an enrichment prototype that her and her husband invented. You see, the ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) at Oakland Zoo lives in a large enclosure. However, these lemurs like to hang out in places that are usually out of sight from visitors. The lemurs need the large space but I bet zoo visitors also want to see these lemurs.

Dr. Jaffe came up with an ingenious idea --- build a smart feeder that dispenses food (in random intervals) in view of zoo visitors. The lemurs would want to hang out near the feeder and wait for food while zoo visitors get to see these lemurs. Brilliant, right?

Which brings me to the reason why I am writing this post. I'm so happy to see her project had taken off but she needs help building a few more of these enrichments for Oakland Zoo. Dr. Jaffe and her team had launched an page for people to help back her smart feeder project: Using smart feeders to increase lemur activity and stimulate human interest. The project is currently at 62% funded and they need about $1000.00 more for the project to get the go ahead (as of Sept 9th, 2015). There's only 7 days left and I REALLY REALLY WANT TO SEE THIS PROJECT TAKE OFF.

This project is now 100% funded. Congrats lemurs!

Ring-tailed lemur using smart feeder. Photo by Dr. Karin Jaffe
Would you please help back this project by donating? Watch the video below and then follow this link to donate.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The End Is In Sight

As I am typing this, I have already booked my flight home to NYC. I had planned on going to Duke Lemur Center to do my project for two month but ended up spending the whole summer here. The end is in sight, sorta. I am leaving at the end of this month to go back to my family who I missed dearly.

However, most of my lemurs are still not trained and cannot start their testing. Instead, Meg Dye, a trainer at Duke Lemur Center, will be training my lemurs until they are ready to start their tests. I will then fly back to Duke Lemur Center to collect data and finish this project. I have grown to love Durham and the Research Triangle in general. My leaving is bittersweet as I have a few friends here that I won't be able to see for a long time. However, I am sure my husband and cats are waiting for me to come home eagerly.

Nothing much to update about the lemurs. Halley is doing great with her tests and I am done collecting data with her. I will let her use SMARTA once or twice after I train Ravo so she gets to "play". Specifically, she gets to use SMARTA as a form of enrichment as I've designed SMARTA to not only be used as a testing apparatus but can also be used as a form of tactile and visual enrichment.

The rest of the lemurs are learning to sit correctly in front of SMARTA (stationing). Once that is done, we will train them to appropriate the correct behavior when using SMARTA. For example, we will train them to sit in front of SMARTA and not do anything until the screen turns on. Once the screen turns on, we will train them to only use one hand when making a choice during the discrimination task. We will also make sure that the lemurs understand that they always have to deliberately touch the red square for a food reward.

I will try to share more photos and videos of the research in the coming week. Meanwhile, I am still adjusting to being a dog daddy and raising a puppy by yourself in a hotel room is an exhausting task. But it is worth it :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Orange Is The New Black: Every Varecia Has A Story

Welcome to Prancing Papio's Correctional Facility. The individuals mentioned here had their names changed to protect their privacy. These ruffed lemurs were sent in for behavioral modifications and will not be released until they are in their best behaviors.

Say goodbye to your loved ones, Varecia. Just like Teresa Giudice (Jew-dee-cheh)

Ladoo, DeeJay, Bees & Ferdinand: Male Black and white ruffed lemurs

  • Known to drag their hands on the SMARTA touchscreen without paying attention to the task. 
  • Known to mindlessly mash their hands all over the SMARTA touchscreen without paying attention to the task. 

Have been assigned to learn how to station properly and then targeting the correct stimulus before being released.

Lizzie: Female black and white ruffed lemur

  • Known to touch any squares without discrimination.
  • Known to use the touchscreen as support, thus activating the touchscreen.

Has been assigned to learn how to station properly and then targeting the correct stimulus before being released.

Tuck & Mitten: Male red ruffed lemurs

  • Known to drag their hands on the SMARTA touchscreen without paying attention to the task. 
  • Known to mindlessly mash their hands all over the SMARTA touchscreen without paying attention to the task. 

Have been assigned to learn how to station properly and then targeting the correct stimulus before being released.

Karma: Female red ruffed lemur

  • Known to drag her hands on the SMARTA touchscreen without paying attention to the task. 
  • Known to mindlessly mash her hands all over the SMARTA touchscreen without paying attention to the task. 

Has been assigned to learn how to station properly and then targeting the correct stimulus before being released.

DISCLAIMER: Not an actual picture of the correctional facility 

Their behaviors will be positively reinforced by using a whistle as a bridge. Every positive behavior will be rewarded with food. All else will be ignored. Frustrations will be abound. Extinction will be imminent. But will they make it out a changed Varecia? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cheating The System

OK this is too good not to share. It turns out that some of my lemurs have learned that the payout for paying attention and complete a task correctly for a food reward is too much of a hassle. Instead, using their primate ingenuity, they have devised a fail safe plan. What are they doing?

They have started putting their hands on the middle of the screen or on one side of the screen and just stares at the chute. You see, the trials run automatically, and when they just leave their hands in that position, they either hit the correct or incorrect stimulus. As the trials cycle through, food reward will drop down at about 50% chance (at random). So, instead of paying attention to the task, the lemurs are just hoping they would by chance touch the correct stimulus. There is also one lemur that would continuously smash its hand all over the tablet non stop, hoping by chance it would hit the correct stimulus. Picture someone smashing all the buttons in an arcade machine ...

Well, one more UI update on SMARTA coming up this weekend so I can train them to correctly do the discrimination task.

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's That Story You've Been Waiting For ...

Inexplicably, every single student that went out to collect data has a "I was collecting data and I got sick" story. Well here you go. This is that story you have been waiting for from me. I got sick this weekend.

I felt a bit lethargic and immediately knew that something is wrong. As the day progresses, my temperature started to shoot up and I felt feverish. I was afraid those nasty skeeter (mosquito) bites had given me whatever disease they carried. I was also wondering if I got a sunburn and that's why my body is heating up. Blah blah blah I felt feverish over the weekend and OH MY GOD NORTH CAROLINA YOUR SUMMER IS HOTTER THAN THE SUN!

Finally my fever had subsided today after 3 days. I didn't go in to the lemur center because I was so lethargic that I couldn't wake up. Good thing my puppy was crate trained and I had mustered whatever energy I had to walk her for a few minutes in the morning before I go back to sleep. I also didn't want to pass out from the heat and humidity so I took a day off to recuperate.

I still didn't know what caused the fever. I'd like to think that I got something from these nasty skeeters but it's probably a sunburn ...

P/S - I did went out on Sunday for brunch with my friend Tara and our dog's play date. I figured if I passed out, someone is around. LOL

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

No Posts This Week; Spending Time With My Daughter Instead

Sorry, no posts this week ... sorta. I'm spending quality time with my daughter, Luna Bella Princess Vagell Cupcake. I'll be back next week when Luna goes back to her foster mama's home. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of hers ...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Day 5 & The Weekend

On Friday, I had a relatively short session and worked with only 3 individuals. At the end of the session, I made a conscious decision to omit one of the group in the study. This has been cumulatively about 3 months working with this group and there was no improvements. Individuals continue to ignore or growl at SMARTA, and not have the initiative to interact with the apparatus.

Over the weekend, my friend Jen brought my puppy back to me so she can spend a week with her Papa. Luna, or as she's called in her foster home, Luna Bella Princess Vagell Cupcake is about 4 months old and is a Pomeranian Chihuahua (Pomchi) mix. I have written about her a few months back on this blog and I am very grateful that my friend Jen is fostering her while I ping pong between states.

We went shopping. ALL THE DOG TREATS!!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Day 4: Moving Right Along

Because some of my lemurs needed to be indoors around 10 AM today, I was able to worked with 3 groups. Generally, when I am done with 2 groups, it is almost noon and that's when I have to end my research. Today however, I worked with individuals that had progressed the furthest in that 3 groups. I was able to run testing sessions with 4 individuals today and trained 2 to target. The other 3 individuals were omitted from my study today because their progress is the slowest. Admittedly, most of these individuals that are on the testing session have not learned to target the red stimulus for a food reward. Instead, they have only learned that they need to touch the screen (or any square) for a food reward. This is the phase when the lemurs will eventually have an AHA! moment and realized that they will only get a food reward for touching the red stimulus. This study is progressing in a good pace. I expect most, if not all of my lemurs will be moving on testing phase by the end of this month and I should wrap up my data collection either mid or end of September.

Also, have I mentioned it's HOT HOT HOT!!!

Black church ladies be like ...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Day 3: On Wednesdays We Wear Pink

The lemurs are definitely progressing with the training sessions but now the difference is how advanced they are (when are they ready to do testing) as opposed to whether they are engaging SMARTA. Almost all individuals are engaging SMARTA in various degrees. There are, however, some individuals that want absolutely nothing to do with SMARTA. I might have to take them out from the study.

Also, some of these lemurs are craftier than others; some individuals have figured out to just leave one hand on the target during the whole duration of the training session while having the other hand on the chute eagerly awaiting the dispensing sweet morsel. Ha!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Day 2: Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

Yes, I know I'm not supposed to hold my camera like this but that's the best I can do to show you everything. Don't judge.

It is extremely hot and humid right now in North Carolina, I mean like ... REALLY hot and humid today. I'm not sure if I am having hot flashes (I don't think I have those) but I was sweating profusely and before it was 10 AM, I was already soaking wet. Ugh. And to think that I was wearing short shorts and loose fitting shirt to stop myself from sweating so much. By the end of the day, I was completely soaked in sweat and I looked like I feel into a lake.

Obligatory sweaty selfie.

After my research session today, I went to Southern Season to replenish my food rewards for the lemurs. Right now, I have moved from using dried cranberries into raisins because the store kept not stocking them. Or if they do, in small containers instead of the large ones that I need (I usually buy 3 large containers that would last me about a month).  

Monkey enjoying an American mini scone.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Duke Lemur Center: Day 1 (This Feels Like DĂ©jĂ  vu)

Monkey enjoyed himself at Duke Lemur Center today and is glad he can be my research assistant for awhile.

Started my first day at the Duke Lemur Center early but halfway through my sessions I got a very nasty headache (I think it's a migraine) so had to leave early. Got to work with only 3 lemurs but excited to noticed that one of the female, Kizzy, is now targeting the red stimulus. I think she is ready for testing sessions.

Got news that two of the lemurs that I briefly worked with are being transferred to another facility but there will be new individuals coming to DLC in place of them. I guess it's good that I didn't spend weeks training them only to have them go away.

Hopefully tomorrow is a bit more productive and I hope to start running testing sessions by the end of the week with the two females!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Raymond's Back, Alright!

I flew back to Durham yesterday and spent the weekend orientating myself and getting ready to go back to Duke Lemur Center on Monday. My research assistant, Stephanie, finished her term with me last week. I will be working alone once again, but I hope to find another research assistant soon.

My trip back to NYC was fun and I needed some time to spend with my husband and cats. During my stay in NYC, I also went to London with my friends and had a wonderful time.

More to write about when I go back to Duke Lemur Center but in the meantime, say hi to my new friend, Monkey.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Photos and Videos From Duke Lemur Center Instagram "Meet The Scientist"

Earlier last week I was asked by Chris Smith, Education Specialist at Duke Lemur Center to talk about my research on their Instagram page. I was very excited to be able to engage the readers and Instagram followers, and talk about my color vision research as well as sharing interesting photos and videos of the ruffed lemurs. I have consolidated all the photos and videos I posted on Instagram below for posterity as well as those that cannot access Instagram. Click on the link below the photos to get to the original Instagram post.

I will also embed the original Instagram photos with captions and comments in separate posts. [June 30th] [July 1st] [July 2nd] [July 3rd].Thanks to those that participated!

Instagram Photo #1
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Instagram Photo #3
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Instagram Photo #11

Friday, July 3, 2015

Last Week At Duke Lemur Center, For Now.

Halley, a black-and-white ruffed lemur at Duke Lemur Center.
Today is my last day at Duke Lemur Center (actually it was yesterday, the Duke Lemur Center is closed for July 4th this week). I've been here for about 2 months and I am very happy with my research progress. Although, I was naively expecting this to progress my faster. At first I thought I only needed a month to train the lemurs and another month for data collection (testing trials). Boy, was I wrong. I'm not, however, griping the fact that I have to stay in Durham, North Carolina longer than I expected to. I am actually enjoying working with the lemurs.

I am flying home this week and will stay in NYC for the rest of July. I will be back to Durham, North Carolina in August to continue working with the lemurs. Meanwhile my research assistant, Stephanie Tepper, will be helping me train the lemurs in my absence.

I am excited for this break because I cannot wait to spend time with my husband, and more importantly my cats. Also, I am not gonna front and tell you I won't miss the lemurs. Special shoutout to my puppy, Princess Luna Vagell, who is currently with her foster mama Jen. Love you all!!!

Raymond Vagell - Ruffed Lemurs Color Vision Instagram: July 3rd, 2015

Today I am posting short clip of Halley doing a two-choice discrimination task. I posted a video earlier this week of her doing a two-choice discrimination task with red and gray stimuli. This time, Halley will try to solve the task with red and green stimuli. Watch her solve the task! Anyone know why I'm testing her with red and green? Please Like and Comment. Tag your friends if you think they like lemurs! Video by @prancingpapio #dukelemurcenter #lemurs #lemur #lemuria #lemurian #animaltraining #positivereinforcement #primate #primateofinstagram #primates #ruffedlemur #blackandwhiteruffedlemur #varecia #variegata #colsci #color #colorvision #colorscience #animals #animal #animalcognition #cognition #cognitive #psychophysics #psychophysiology #psychology #anthropology #primatology #SMARTA #prancingpapio
A video posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

Group picture! My research assistant, Stephanie Tepper, and I in front of SMARTA. #SMARTA or Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus is the apparatus we use to test color vision in ruffed lemurs. Thank you Stephanie for helping me trained these lemurs and continuing to do so while I fly back to #NYC for the rest of July! A quick shout out to my adviser Dr. Andrea Baden and our lab, Primate Molecular Ecology Lab (#PMEL) at #HunterCollege #CUNY @huntercollege Thank you all for sticking around and your interest in my research, as well as the lemurs at #DukeLemurCenter. We will be at Duke Lemur Center this summer to continue working on our color vision study. Hopefully we will be able to share our findings with y'all soon! I hope everyone here in the #USA has a Happy Fourth of July and a happy weekend for those around the world. Thank you @dukelemurcenter for giving me this opportunity to spread my science. Unfortunately this will be my last post as the week is wrapping up. If you have any questions or comments, please stick around and continue the conversation. Gratefully yours, #RaymondVagell. đŸ˜đŸ‘đŸ‘‹đŸ’—đŸ” Photo by @prancingpapio
A photo posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Raymond Vagell - Ruffed Lemurs Color Vision Instagram: July 2nd, 2015

Color vision is very important in primates. Presumably, the ability to perceive red is advantageous for finding ripe fruits in ruffed lemurs as they are frugivores. But do you know that all male ruffed lemurs cannot perceive red? The gene to perceive red is a sex-linked trait in ruffed lemurs and only females can inherit this gene to perceive red. The inability to perceive red is commonly known as "color blind" or dichromat while being a trichromat generally means an individual can perceive red. Most color blind humans are also males because in humans, trichromacy is also a sex linked gene. My work here in Duke Lemur Center is to investigate how ruffed lemurs perceive their world. Specifically, who can perceive red and who can't. Please Like and Comment. Tag your friends if you think they like lemurs! Photo by @prancingpapio #dukelemurcenter #lemurs #lemur #lemuria #lemurian #animaltraining #positivereinforcement #primate #primateofinstagram #primates #ruffedlemur #blackandwhiteruffedlemur #varecia #variegata #colsci #color #colorvision #colorscience #psychophysics #psychophysiology #psychology #anthropology #primatology #SMARTA #prancingpapio
A photo posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

A photo posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

Here's one of the black-and-white lemurs being trained to target a red square on SMARTA. Most of the time, the ruffed lemurs like to sit on their legs with their body erect when working on the apparatus. Imagine a human watching TV, sitting upright on the floor. Sometimes the lemurs would put one of their hand on top of SMARTA. In some rare cases, they do some really cute postures just like this one. Please Like and Comment. Tag your friends if you think they like lemurs! Photo by @prancingpapio #dukelemurcenter #lemurs #lemur #lemuria #lemurian #animaltraining #positivereinforcement #primate #primateofinstagram #primates #ruffedlemur #blackandwhiteruffedlemur #varecia #variegata #colsci #color #colorvision #colorscience #animals #animal #animalcognition #cognition #cognitive #psychophysics #psychophysiology #psychology #anthropology #primatology #SMARTA #prancingpapio
A photo posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Raymond Vagell - Ruffed Lemurs Color Vision Instagram: July 1st, 2015

Decisions. Decisions. These ruffed lemurs are trained to target a red square and then given two-choice discrimination tasks. Aptly named, the lemurs have two choices (stimuli) and they have to discriminate one over another (one gives food reward, and the other doesn't). Here, you see Halley doing her two-choice discrimination task and has to make a decision. What do you think? Do you think Halley "gets it"? Do you think she will touch the red square over the gray square? Will there be craisins in the horizon ...? Photo by @prancingpapio #dukelemurcenter #lemurs #lemur #lemuria #lemurian #animaltraining #positivereinforcement #primate #primateofinstagram #primates #ruffedlemur #blackandwhiteruffedlemur #varecia #variegata #colsci #color #colorvision #colorscience #psychophysics #psychophysiology #psychology #anthropology #primatology #SMARTA #prancingpapio
A photo posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Meet the Scientist: Follow my ruffed lemur color vision study on #DukeLemurCenter Instagram. #SummerPrimate

I have been very fortunate to be granted access to post and talk about my research with the ruffed lemurs on Duke Lemur Center's Instagram page as part of their Meet the Scientist program. I will be posting pictures about my color vision research this whole week so head on to Duke Lemur Center's Instagram page to like, comment, and share my pictures. Have any questions about my research? Ask me on Instagram through Duke Lemur Center's page!

Please follow Duke Lemur Center on Facebook and Twitter as well. Keep the conversation going by following me on Twitter (@PrancingPapio). Let's talk lemur!

How do you tell a lemur to touch the red square? Similar to how you would train a dog, lemurs can be positively reinforced to exhibit the behavior you want by giving them a food reward when they did the correct behavior. Here I'm training AJ, one of the black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata), to touch the red square. We do something call chaining, where I chain a sequence of behaviors until the desired behavior is exhibited. Along the way, I give him dried cranberries as a food reward for a job well done! Are you wondering why I am training them to touch a red square? Stay tuned for more posts! Photo by @prancingpapio #dukelemurcenter #lemurs #lemur #lemuria #lemurian #animaltraining #positivereinforcement #primate #primateofinstagram #primates #ruffedlemur #blackandwhiteruffedlemur #varecia #variegata #colsci #color #colorvision #colorscience #psychophysics #psychophysiology #psychology #anthropology #primatology #SMARTA #prancingpapio
A photo posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

A photo posted by Duke Lemur Center (@dukelemurcenter) on

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Love Wins: SCOTUS Marriage decision; My husband came to visit!

My husband came to visit for the weekend and I got to show him Duke Lemur Center, as well as the ruffed lemurs I have been working with over the past month. I am excited he got to see how SMARTA worked and how the lemurs respond to the tasks I gave them. After all, he wrote and built the apparatus.

It was opportune that he was with me on Friday (June 26, 2015 for posterity!) when SCOTUS finally declared same sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. We have been together for 13 years and we've been married for 3 years. This is great news for us, but also overwhelmingly exciting news for those that can finally get married in states where same sex marriage was previously not legal.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This Is Not The Sausage Fest I'm Hoping For ...

Much disappoint
I am approaching week 6 with my lemur training. So far, I have worked with 14 individuals; 8 black-and-white ruffed lemurs and 6 red ruffed lemurs. There are still a few more individuals that I haven't been able to work with but I should have access to them soon.

Of the 14 individuals, 4 of them were excluded from training because they are currently in outdoor enclosures. The glare from sunlight made it hard for both the lemurs and I to look at the screen (picture yourself trying to use a tablet or your phone on a bright summer day). This makes it hard for me to train them to touch the screen. 2 of the red ruffed were hard to work with because they are not really paying attention to training, although, it seems like their performance spike when I train them only once a week instead of daily. Unfortunately, these 2 had just been placed in an outdoor enclosure. I did, however, found a shady spot where I could potentially train them without being hindered by the glare. There's also 2 red ruffed that exhibited some behavioral problems that I had to exclude from the study as well. This brings me to only 6 individuals, and they are all black-and-white ruffed lemurs. Out of the 6 individuals, 2 are females and 4 are males.

If you remember what my study is, you'll know that I really need to work with more females. With the current sample size, I really hope at least one of the female is a trichromat. This is not the sausage fest I'm hoping for ...

Friday, June 19, 2015

SMARTA: Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus For Color Vision Discrimination Tasks [Poster PDF] #ASP15OR

SMARTA: Subject-Mediated Automatic Remote Testing Apparatus For Color Vision Discrimination Tasks
Raymond Vagell1, Vance J. Vagell2 and Andrea L. Baden3,4

1Animal Behavior & Conservation Program, Dept. of Psychology, Hunter College of City University of New York, New York , NY, 10065, USA.

2Queens, New York.
3Dept. Anthropology, Hunter College of City University of New York, New York, NY 10065.
4New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, The Graduate Center of City University of New York, New York, NY 10065.

Primate behavioral studies often rely on human observation for data collection. This is especially true in captive and laboratory settings. However, human error and imperfect inter-rater reliability can contribute to erroneous data collection and entry. Furthermore, the physical presence of a researcher can influence research outcomes. The subject-mediated automatic remote testing apparatus (SMARTA) was developed in an effort to avoid human error, inter-rater disagreement, the observer effect, to control for visual stimuli, and to automatically log all observational data to the cloud. SMARTA is an innovative novel apparatus that integrates motorized food delivery (food reinforcement), remote control, and cloud-based data logging. SMARTA is a color-calibrated tablet-based testing platform, controlled remotely via smartphone app, which automatically dispenses food rewards and logs data online. With SMARTA, a researcher can remotely control an experiment without influencing subjects under test using Android apps for smartphone and tablet that interconnect using Bluetooth. Further, it automatically records data and uploads it to a Google spreadsheet for later analysis. Recent color vision studies have used naturalistic settings to assess and determine whether primates are either dichromats or trichromats. SMARTA can be used for touch screen discrimination tasks, especially color vision studies where hues and brightness are carefully controlled. Since it utilizes a consumer Android tablet and smartphone rather than specialized hardware, SMARTA can be built inexpensively.

You can download a copy of my poster from or

ASP 2015: Bend, Oregon

Whoever came up with the ribbon idea. You are the ASP 2015 MVP
I'm having a lot of fun in Bend, Oregon for ASP 2015. I will be presenting my poster tonight and will have a PDF of the poster up online later. My poster is about SMARTA, the apparatus I use to study color vision in ruffed lemurs (Varecia sp.).

Yup. That's me over there
I am also very excited to be the proud owner of a red ruffed lemur painting by Van Hoang Dao, a Vietnamese artist who paints in such exquisite detail. I hope he has a black-and-white ruffed lemur next time!

Red ruffed lemur painting by Van Hoang Dao

Monday, June 15, 2015

But Of Course: My Tablet Broke The Day Before I Fly To ASP!

I noticed a hairline crack on my tablet yesterday but thought nothing of the crack. As the day progresses, I noticed that the crack starts getting larger and larger, and towards the end of my research day today, it already took over one third of the screen and the tablet is not responding to touch anymore. Obviously this is no good because if a touch screen is not responding to touch then what good is it? By the time I got back to my hotel, my whole tablet screen had cracked!


After scouring the whole Research Triangle Park (RTP) area to replace a tablet, I  finally found one at a Verizon store. It was their very last tablet of that model. Of course it is more than $100 more expensive than the one I bought from Best Buy (or online) but I'm running short on time and I really needed it ASAP.

This isn't the first time my apparatus parts malfunctioned, but this one is more pressing and there isn't anything I can do to fix it except to replace it. However, I feel validated with the decision to use only Android products because SMARTA (my apparatus) is meant to be built relatively cheap. The Android tablet I'm using costs about $200 to $300ish whereas an iPad would cost about $600 (the total of how much you would pay to build SMARTA).

As if I'm not having a shitty Monday yet, the AC in my hotel room crapped out and I had to move to a different room. There were only 2 rooms available in the whole hotel and they are both "smoking room". Normally I'd bitch about having to sleep in a "smoking room" but I think being able to be in room with AC when the temperature outside is at around 90 degrees trumps all.

Someone or something is really testing me today ...

I got this fortune inside a fortune cookie from dinner today. I think it's apropos.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

ASP 2015: Bend, Oregon #ASP15OR

This year, American Society of Primatologists (ASP) annual academic conference will be held in Bend, Oregon from June 17th to 20th. I will be presenting a poster on the apparatus (SMARTA) I use to train my ruffed lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center.

ASP 2015 Poster Abstract

My poster session will be on Friday, June 19th from 6 PM to 8 PM. As per tradition, I will have the link for a PDF version of my poster on that day so keep your eyes peeled if you are interested in my poster presentation and can't be at the conference.

See you all at ASP!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Extinction Burst: Throwing Tantrums When There Are No More Free Handouts

Extinction and extinction burst graph from
In psychology, an "extinction" is the gradual decrease of a behavior. When an animal is operantly conditioned (for example, given a food reward to reinforce behavior), reinforced behavior will gradually decrease when that behavior is no longer reinforced with a reward. At the onset of "extinction", an animal will exhibit something call "extinction burst". An extinction burst is when an animal frantically and erratically exhibit reinforced behavior with increased frequency and eventually that behavior decreases and becomes "extinct". I assume it's called "extinction burst" due to a burst of reinforced behavior prior to extinction. Extinction burst is evolutionarily beneficial as animals that exhibit extinction burst is increasing the reinforced behavior for a positive outcome as opposed to those that gives up (extinction without extinction burst). These are important concepts to remember when you train animals. But obviously, these are text book definitions.

Textbook definitions be like ...
I'm writing about this because I am currently experiencing extinction burst with my lemurs. It has been about 4 weeks since I have started training them. Aside from my one star student (Good job, Halley!) all my other lemurs are either starting to associate touching the screen or approaching the apparatus for a food reward. Those that are reinforced to touch the screen for a food reward are currently being shaped (refining their behavior) to touch the red square on the screen for a food reward. However, this requires the lemur to understand that by merely touching the screen will no longer be reinforced and that only touching the red square will a food reward be given.

This new development in cognitive test has given these lemurs much anguish and despair. If you know ruffed lemurs, you know how dramatic they can become. Have you seen those sad face? When their arms and legs are outstretched as if they are saying "FML......". Yea, I've seen it.

Imagine this is a ruffed lemur instead of a sloth
Some of these lemurs are currently exhibiting extinction burst. They are swiping or tapping frantically at the screen while staring at the apparatus chute expecting a food reward. We know that, based on this series of behavior, these lemurs are operantly conditioned by food reward to touch the screen. Shaping them to target the red box instead of any surface of the screen is resulting in some lemurs exhibiting extinction burst. They look like they are throwing tantrums because there are no more free handouts. Compared to previous weeks where they get a food reward for just staring at the apparatus or approaching it.

A black-and-white ruffed lemur. He's just over it.
And to be quite honest, only half of these lemurs are exhibiting extinction burst while the other half are slowly getting shaped to target the red box. Although it is interesting to note that all the lemurs that I am currently training are black-and-white ruffed lemurs. What I would do for these red ruffed lemurs to be exhibiting extinction burst but instead they are herp derping their way into realizing that approaching my apparatus gives them a food reward.