Science for the Summer: a Service Intern Gathers Field Experience in Washington

By Ari Espinosa, MANNRS Intern, Washington Fish & Wildlife Office

Ari Espinosa, a student at Washington State University gives us a few fast facts about her summer internship with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Washington state.

Photo courtesy of A. Espinosa

What are you studying?

Currently, I’m working towards my bachelor’s at Washington State University. I’m studying Biology with a specialized track in Entomology.

What were your duties and tasks during the summer?

I was assigned many different projects during the summer, but I was mostly utilized as an extra hand out in the field. I helped with animal captures, data writing, plant identification, and tons more!

What was your favorite moment of fieldwork?

Working with Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits was one of the highlights of my internship. The rabbits themselves are adorable, and the point of this work was to specifically vaccinate the young ones (known as kits), so we were dealing with the cutest of an already cute species.

The pygmy rabbits are raised in a fenced enclosure in order to safely grow the population and let them get stronger before being released in the wild. This species is already endangered and with a deadly rabbit virus crawling up North America (RDHV2, or “Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus serotype 2”), we were there to ensure the rabbits were bright and healthy.

The method of the capture was quite unconventional. All of us had to stand in a line formation, armed with pillowcases. As we marched through the rabbit enclosure, we would smack the bushes in front of us, hoping to scare out a kit into the open. Once a rabbit was spotted, the team would herd it into a corner with a net, then relocate it to a smaller enclosure to eventually be vaccinated and marked. Multiple times, we were all outsmarted by rabbits that would run between our legs, jump straight over the netting, or seemingly disappear as we moved closer.

Like any other, this project had its frustrating moments. But it was hard to feel too upset, especially when the day ends with a group of biologists gently holding baby bunnies, watching their noses twitch throughout the health checks.

See a video about this work with Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits.

Intern Ari Espinosa working with Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits (USFWS/A. Espinosa)

What are your career goals after school?

After University, I hope to work a permanent position in insect conservation. I’m also interested in getting involved with mosquito research- the rise of disease and vector studies really inspires me to be more active in the health side of entomology. This internship has inspired interest in other forms of biology- I’ve found a new love for plants, and would love to experiment with that some more!

Any advice for people considering a similar internship or training experience?

You aren’t supposed to know what you’re doing- that’s the point of an internship! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to look a little silly. Now’s your opportunity to try everything you can in an environment where mistakes are expected, and almost encouraged. A good team will be lifting you up the entire way, and the value of facing things head-on will stick with you for your entire career. Apply for everything you can, try everything offered to you… I promise something worthwhile will come out of it.

A survey for bats and the fungus that causes white nose syndrome (USFWS/A. Espinosa)

Ok, a fun one. If you could be any plant or animal, what would you be and why?

If I could be any animal, I think I’d be a millipede. I feel that millipedes are the perfect species- a gentle, unassuming decomposer. They have high contributions to the ecosystem but don’t cause too much of a ruckus, spending most days curled up under natural litter. They’re nature’s clean-up crew, nourishing the soil by simply eating and relaxing on the forest floor. Maybe another version of myself would like to be an animal more fast-paced than that, but I’m partial to the quiet life of a millipede.

USFWS staff in the Pacific Northwest region are piloting a first and second year undergraduate internship for students in the region’s chapters of the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) organization. The goal is to expose students to different conservation projects, partners, and skillsets used by Service staff, and provide experiential ‘stepping stones’ to later internships like Pathways (Seasonal and Career), the Directorate Fellows Program (DFP), and more.

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USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Region

USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Region

Conservation stories from one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.