The Jane Goodall Philosophy
So....another dead roach. It is my second week working with Gromphadorhina portentosa...yes the hissing Madagascar roaches...and I have managed to somehow exterminate two and lose one out of twelve that I needed to use for the experiment. Now, if these had been my frogs I would have been devasted but for some reason I have no attachment to these animals. Maybe if I gave them names....
When I first began working on tree frogs I used H. regilla to determine whether frogs had the ability to "taste". We dehydrated frogs to a certain level in order to ensure that re-hydration behaviors would be induced and then we offered the animal different types of solutes. It turns out that not only could the frogs discriminate between different concentrations of salts (therefore avoiding those substrates containing a high solute concentration and causing further dehydration) but also that they were able to discriminate between different types of salts (therefore avoding solutions containing low levels of solutes depending on the types of salts used). Without Limey, Oreo and Godzilla these results would not have been obtained. For my thesis project I had planned to continue naming my animals but it was suggested that it was not a good idea. I mean its not very scientific to say "Snoopy was very thirsty and showed water absorption response at 10% dehydration". And secondly, we don't want to give our experimental animals any human qualities.....but why not?
I was a field assistant one summer on a project focused on the response of translocation in black tailed prairie dogs. The week before I got there 200 animals were killed in the town which was built by the biologists due to a storm which caused a sudden flood. I was told that the individuals really did not matter in this type of field but only what happens to the overall population. So don't dwell on the 200 that died but on the ones that you might be able to save if your project is a success. I don't want to become that. If we are responsible for collecting animals for our experiments we are responsible for making sure that their lives are respected. Maybe we need to make them more human so that we remember that they are not just another test subject and that their bitting, fighting, hiding and running away are not just another inconvenience for us but instead a great deal of stress for them.
So I will individualize my roaches. I will give them each a name. I will observe them and determine each of their personalities so that when I do find another one dead, buried underneath the others, I will know who I have lost and what will be missing. Each individual does matter. Whether you're a physiologist or a conservation biologist.