1. Letter to Students
Welcome to Field Parasitology. I hope your summer will be productive and educational; I know it will be busy. This manual has been put together in order to provide you with the basic information and "tools of the parasitologist" that you will need to complete the course and accomplish the course objectives. There is not much, in this book, in the way of "factual material" that you must learn in order to become a parasitologist. There are, however, many techniques that you will be asked to apply to parasitological problems in the next five weeks. Most of these techniques are not unique to the field of parasitology. Their application to parasitological problems, on the other hand, may present you with some challenges you have not experienced in other courses. You will ultimately be asked to "think parasitologically," and that is one of my major goals for the summer.
Field Parasitology is a field course; it is not a book course. Your time at CPBS will be spent most productively if you concentrate your efforts on original field observations, their interpretation, and their analysis. I find routinely that the most successful students are those who make their own observations and their own interpretations of what they see, not spending too much time on library resources except for help with identification and techniques. Of course there will be "right" and "wrong" answers to the questions you are asked, but most of the time "right" and "wrong" are matters of identification and technique rather than interpretation. Do not be afraid to be creative and original within the context of your basic understanding of biology. Give me the opportunity to do my best job of teaching. That happens when I have a lot of originality to work with, when I am able to decide that the experience is worth more than the results, and when I am able to suggest avenues for exploration from the many choices a student gives me. Your grade will not suffer much from making a "wrong choice" about what to study in the field. It will suffer from not pursuing that choice to the utmost of your ability.
This course requires a fair amount of physical labor. It requires that you actually do things rather than think about them, that you actually make some observations prior to discussing them. In the past, students who have had problems with field work are those who have been reluctant to actually do the physical labor required of the class. Collection, specimen preparation, field notes, research projects, are all physical acts first. The five week session goes by very quickly. If you choose a research project during the first week, then also schedule a time that you will, without fail, do the physical labor required of that project. There will be a surprising amount of time near the end of the session for data analysis and writing. But without the data, the observations, you will have nothing to analyze. The observations come from the field.
Parasitology differs from many other areas in that one cannot really deal only with the parasite. Furthermore, most species of animals are parasitized by something. One animal parasitized by another means you must learn two scientific names instead of one. In order to understand the relationship of parasite to host, you may have to study the ecology, behavior, or other aspects of natural history, of both the parasite and the host. Thus the amount of information you must process is doubled, compared to what would be the case if you were studying only the host. If the parasite is one that uses several intermediate hosts, then those additional hosts must also be learned and the manner in which successive hosts interact must be considered. Usually successive hosts are not taxonomically related. Thus the study of one "subject," parasitology, multiplies the number of kinds of organisms, as well as the number of aspects of their lives, that must be examined. For this reason, the information of parasitology often seems to come in random and unrelated torrents, particularly when that information is in the form of original field observations. Don't be dismayed by all these apparent problems, especially at first. Just try your best to solve them, and be patient with yourself.
The short five week session places some requirements on the instructor. The foremost of these is the requirement to be as efficient as possible, not wasting any opportunity to make an observation. Furthermore, biological conditions will not always allow an instructor to "schedule" a class exercise. For all these reasons I tend to "take it as it comes" when we go to the field. I will not pass up the chance to point out an organism, or phenomenon, because the opportunity may not exist the next hour, day, or week. Class days in Field Parasitology, then, tend to start out with some objective, usually the collection and analysis of data to illustrate some general parasitological principle. We usually accomplish that objective, but along the way we may also accomplish some others, and your notes at the end of the day might cover a multitude of things, only part of which pertain to the "scheduled" exercise. I think that if you know about this approach beforehand, and understand the reasons why we must use it, then things will go more smoothly.
Finally, the study of parasitology requires some killing. I sympathize with those who resist the killing of wild things. For this reason I have spent many years developing a set of class exercises in which (1) killing of vertebrate animals, with the exception of small fish, is kept to a minimum, and (2) large amounts of data can be collected quickly using species whose biology is most appropriate to illustrate some principle and, I hope, using species which tend to not elicit an emotional response from the average human. It will seem like we do a lot of work on small fish, insects, and snails. The use of such material simply means that if I have a choice of several systems to use to illustrate a principle, I'll pick the one that provides the most data quickly with the least emotional response. Along those same lines, there is a section in the "Class Policies" chapter that deals with the treatment of animals in the lab. Please read that section carefully.
Thanks for enrolling in Field Parasitology. Let's have another exciting summer!
John Janovy, Jr.
Varner Professor of Biological Sciences