Thank you for joining Scholastic News Zone's live interview with 15-year-old scientist Eve Nilson on Tuesday, April 23. The following is a transcript from that interview.
Q: What was your inspiration to study animals?
Eve: I have always had a fascination with animals and an interest in tropical rain forests and the tropics. Growing up in Alaska and studying whales with my mother, I spent a lot of time in nature and found them to be extremely interesting.
Q: Is it cool to be a scientist?
Eve: Yes, it has been an amazing experience waking up in the morning when I was in Brazil, waking up and seeing so many animals I've never seen before, and going out into the forest to study the frogs. Also, knowing that I'm making a difference, that's amazing to me. The students of today are interested in biology, and by spreading the word about the danger rain forests are in, I feel I am making a difference, which is a really good feeling.
Q: Did you travel alone?
Eve: Yeah, I traveled for the first two and a half months. I stayed in the forest alone in my hut. The scientists lived about a mile further down the road, so I wasn't completely alone.
Q: Where is the picture for the chat taken?
Eve: That is in front of the research station in Brazil, about 50 feet from my hut.
Q: Do you like snakes, tarantulas, reptiles, and turtles?
Eve: Yeah, I really like snakes. I like all of the animals except for mice. I'm really afraid of mice. Why? I don't know, I guess the way they sneak up on you. That's frightening. I had a bad experience as a kid when I reached into a cracker box and there was a mouse. I've been afraid ever since.
Q: Why did you want to study frogs?
Eve: I was offered a position studying frogs, but I also felt they were extremely important. They are an indicator species; they're extremely sensitive to the environment and its changes. Any rapid disappearance of frogs is a sign there's trouble in the environment. Also because frogs breathe through their skin. You're able to see more clearly the affects that pollution and acid have.
Q: Did you ever get lost? Were you glad to be home? Did you ever get homesick? Were you ever threatened by an animal?
Eve: The first week I was extremely homesick and I called home. It was wonderful talking to my family. After that I was okay. I found it was really peaceful. I was never lost. A few times in the beginning I would be walking out alone at night and I'd hear noises. There's only so much you can see with a small flashlight. I got used to it. I got used to sleeping in the jungle at night. An animal did not threaten me, but I was followed by a jaguar. Its tracks were really fresh. A ranger went up after me and saw that the tracks were following me down. That was really intimidating knowing that a jaguar was just a few minutes behind me.
Q: Did you bring any animals back with you?
Eve: A bots fly bit my mother, and her ankle swelled up. My mom came to visit the last few weeks of my trip and got bit by a bots fly. Bots flies commonly bite cattle. She was a host for the bots fly. When the doctors did an incision in her foot and brought out the larva it was an inch long and ready to hatch. So she brought back an insect with her by accident! We're not allowed to bring back any plant or animal species. It's against Brazilian and U.S. law.
Q: Would the fly have hatched inside of your mother?
Eve: No, when it hatches, it breaks the skin and flies away. It would have hurt when it broke the skin. She got sharp pains in her foot when it moved around. It was in there six weeks. Doctors weren't exactly sure what it was. It was the first bots fly found in California.
Q: Do you plan to go to college? What do you want to study?
Eve: I definitely plan to go to college. Absolutely. That's my number one priority right now since I'm a junior in high school. I plan to major in biology, but I also want to study zoology because I'm so interested in animals in the rain forest.
Q: Why are you so interested in the rain forest over other regions of the world?
Eve: I've always had this fascination for the rain forest because of the high diversity of animals. When you are walking in the forest, you look up in the trees and see things you have never seen before in your life. I'm especially interested in the tropical rain forest. There are so many animals living in such a small region of the world. The rain forest can support such an extreme amount of diversity. I also like how pristine and beautiful the forest is when you are walking through and really appreciating nature.
Q: Why do they call the rain forest a rain forest?
Eve: Rain forests receive large amounts of rain every year. It's very lush and green because of the rain, which makes it a hot spot for biodiversity.
Q: Is it fun in the rain forest?
Eve: It's extremely fun. I love waking up in the morning and after a light breakfast, taking a long hike in the forest and seeing all the animals and going to my favorite waterfall.
Q: What made you move to the rain forest?
Eve: I don't live in the rain forest, I just spent three months studying there. I'm returning this summer for three months. I plan to conduct studies in the rain forest after I graduate from college. The rain forest is so appealing to me. It's so pure and natural. I really like being where there isn't the noise of the city. I love all the animals in the forest. I want more than anything to protect the rain forest because it is undergoing such change and is in such danger.
Q: Are you going to study frogs again next summer?
Eve: No, I'll be studying brown capuchin monkeys. They are extremely intelligent monkeys. I saw some last summer. They are highly endangered. I feel it would be very important to do research of these monkeys. I'll be doing a census of how many monkeys are in certain areas. I'll study the effects hunters will have on these groups.
Q: Did you see any colorful tropical birds?
Eve: I actually saw a toucanettea spot-billed toucanetteand a black-throated trogan. A toucanette is a small toucan with many beautiful colors. A trogan is vibrant green with a long bill, like an anteater. The Atlantic rain forest has a lot of species of birds that are not found anywhere else in the world. For every tree you look at, you will find a number of species of birds you can't see in North America.
Q: How many types of frogs are there in the Brazilian rain forests?
Eve: I have no idea how many. I know some specific ones. Dendrobatids, or poison dart frogs, are there. The poison is used for coating poison darts to tranquilize prey. They have rainbow colors, a large variety of colors. There are 26 known species in that genus. The toxins in their skin are derived from what they eat. That gives them poisonous venom.
Q: Did you see any unusual animals?
Eve: I saw the brown capuchin monkeys. I saw a very unusual frog. It was a Brazilian horned frog. They are very aggressive feeders and will eat almost anything. They are cannibalistic at times, too. We also saw howler monkeys too.
Q: Did you make any animal friends?
Eve: There were many geckos in my tent that I made friends with. They were living in my hut and every now and then they would perch on my walls in front of my bed. There was also a tree frog that lived in my hut with me.
Q: What is your favorite animal or insect?
Eve: The morpho butterfly. The morpho butterfly has beautiful royal blue wings. The underside of the wings is brown. When they close the wings, you can't see the butterfly. It disappears between wing beats. It makes it very hard to catch and photograph. They are absolutely beautiful and breathtaking when you see them.
Q: Can you describe what a morpho butterfly looks like, PLEASE!
Eve: Morpho butterflies can become the size of a person's hand with its wings outstretched. It has iridescent blue wings. The bordering color is black on the wings with white patches. They are very large butterflies and they are absolutely beautiful.
Q: What type of foods did you eat while on your rain-forest trip?
Eve: Dinner was mostly rice and beans. We had a lot of fresh fruits. There was a growth of banana trees around us that we were able to eat on our hike. There was a lot of fresh fruit growing on the reserve, but it's kept for the birds to eat.
Q: Do you think other people would enjoy staying in the rain forest for three months?
Eve: I would absolutely think so. It's extremely beautiful. You're completely immersed in nature. It's such a feeling of unity with the rain forest. I'm absolutely positive other people would enjoy living in the rain forest. The climate is good and the temperature is wonderfully warm.
Q: What are some of the hardships you've experienced being in the rain forest?
Eve: You can be bitten by a lot of mosquitoes. I was bitten a lot of times. Mosquitoes like to bite me. Ants also bite you. Some of the hardships that I faced were becoming very ill for four days. I had to stay in my bed. I couldn't look at light. It hurt my eyes. I was sensitive to light. I couldn't eat for four days. That's when I felt the most homesick. Having a fever in the tropics is not fun.
Q: How would a young person like myself [age 13] become a scientist like you?
Eve: There are many things you can do. If you have a great passion for the rain forest or science in general, just follow your dreams. You can write letters to scientists and biologists. Study a lot in school about the subject. By reading about the rain forest, there's a lot that I learned on my own. It's just important to follow your passion for whatever you want to do.
Q: Can anyone apply to the Explorer's Club like you did to do your research?
Eve: Yes. Student members are welcome if you have a project that you propose to the Explorer's Club. It will be considered for a grant. I'm actually the youngest member of the Explorer's Club. Most are college students. But if you're extremely passionate and you propose a project, they will absolutely consider it. It worked for me!
Q: Are you the only student from your class or school there?
Eve: In Brazil? Yes, but it wasn't through my school. It was an individual project.
Q: Hey, did you get to the rain forest in a helicopter?
Eve: I traveled to the rain forest in an airplane. We landed in Rio de Janeiro [Brazil]. We were picked up by the researchers in a van and we drove to the reserve. It was about a four-hour drive. The roads from Rio to the reserve were concrete, but as you went into the village and into the reserve, they became dirt and were very bumpy.
Q: How long did it take you to travel to the rain forest?
Eve: It was a 16-hour flight to Rio, then a 4-hour drive to the reserve, 20 hours from my home in California.
Q: What do your friends think about your fascination with the rain forest? Do they really like science, too?
Eve: Some of them think I'm a little weird, actually. They really respect that I am so passionate about something that is in such critical condition. It is so important to the world. It affects everything. The depletion of the rain forest is occurring so rapidly. It's important that we do something about it. They have actually asked me about how they can get involved in rain-forest research as well.
Q: What kinds of dangers do rain forests face?
Eve: The effects of global warming and logging, too much logging, and urbanization. Urbanization is when the cities encroach on the land that was original forest to make houses for the people. Six percent of the original forest remains and that's just for the Atlantic rain forest. That's why my study was important. Scientists wanted to determine if they could reforest the areas cut down. I was studying whether there were any new frog species that adapted to the land. The results of my study were that they could reforest without replacing any original species, because all were common to the pond site.
Q: What did your family think about you going to the rain forest?
Eve: My mother was extremely supportive. She actually feels there's more danger in California as a teenager than in the rain forest for me. I was pretty comfortable in nature, because I was raised in Alaska. It seemed really natural for me to be in the jungle. She was sure that I was with safe people. My mother wasn't there, but the scientists were very trustworthy.
Q: When did you first start taking an interest in our environment?
Eve: I've always had an interest, because my mom is a whale biologist, and growing up in Alaska, I've always had an appreciation for nature. I'm just more comfortable in the wilderness. I've had this appreciation for nature ever since I was a young girl.
Q: Did you see anything you did not expect?
Eve: I came into a clearing one day and saw a lot of bullet holes in trees. There was litter everywhere. It really shocked me. It was traumatizing because I was walking through pristine forest, and then to come to this area where trash was thrown about like people didn't care about the forest. It was from the poachers who had been hunting the monkeys that we had been observing earlier that day.
Q: What scientists do you most respect?
Eve: I most respect Jane Goodall for her work. I really appreciate all the work she's done for the environment. I also respect my mother for the work she's done as a whale biologist. She has instilled this appreciation in me for animals and nature that I live by.
Q: Are poachers dangerous? Why do they poach?
Eve: I was actually afraid of poachers when I was walking alone at night, because I was afraid they would mistake me for an animal and shoot me. One of the rangers, who took hikes with me and became my friend, used to be a poacher. I asked him why. He said because he was very poor and he was doing it to feed his family. Some of them kill to eat them and use all the parts. But there are also some that just do it for the sport and that's shocking to me.
Q: Has your brother or any family members ever gone on any of these trips with you?
Eve: My brother grew up in Alaska with me studying whales. We both have this appreciation for nature. My mother came down to the rain forest in Brazil for a month and she also went some other places with me. We went to the Amazon, Pantanal, where there are more species of flora and fauna than anywhere else in the world. Those places are also highly endangered. The area is undergoing great destruction. There's also another area of Brazil that needs focus. My brother is 18. He's a musician, so this summer he's going to be performing in Macedonia. He plays all kinds of music: jazz, flamenco. He's a guitar player. Classical, blues, rock, everything.
Q: How did you deal with the weather?
Eve: It was important that I covered most of my body because of mosquitoes, but it was also very hot. After a long hike, I'd go down to the waterfall and take a quick swim. The water was pretty coldit was icy cold and that cooled me down. The weather was very warm, but I like warm weather, so I liked it, although I was sweating a lot.
Q: What kind of dangers do you face by living in the rain forest?
Eve: There's the danger of poisonous snakes and poisonous spiders and jaguars also, although they seem pretty timid of people. You just have to be cautious that you don't run into them. There can be infections from mosquitoes, and then there are the bots flies also.
Q: Do you go to school, too?
Eve: Yes. I'm working very hard in school right now. I just finished a couple of term papers. My school has really helped me with my writing skills and my way of thinking. In my opinion, it's really important that a person attend school.
Q: Were there any local doctors with you in the rain forest?
Eve: There were no local doctors. You'd have to drive to another town, a very long way to a doctor. So when I was sick I stayed in bed and drank a lot of fluids. There was no doctor with our group either. One of the scientists was a trained paramedic, so he was there as my illness progressed.
Q: Have you ever thought about teaching what have you experienced?
Eve: I'll be speaking at the Explorer's Club, the California chapter. It's so exciting that people want to know so much about the rain forest. I want to promote awareness and educate people about the rain forest.
Q: Was it scary being sick in the rain forest without a doctor or your mom nearby?
Eve: It was scary without a family member there. It was the most severe illness I've ever had and I had to stay in bed and sweat it out.
Q: If you could give kids one piece of advice, what would it be?
Eve: My advice would be to follow your dreams. The most important advice that I've ever gotten from my mother is that you can achieve something if you desire. You are able to achieve whatever you set your mind to. If you have passion, it's important to do something about it.
Q: What are some of your hobbies when you are at home?
Eve: I swim a lot. I'm on the swim team. I also play water polo. I read a lot. Not only for school, but for my own enjoyment. I play piano and I DO NOT watch television. I do not have a TV, so I have time to do other things I enjoy more. I like the beach a lot, and I really enjoy surfing.
Q: Where are you talking to us from right now?
Eve: I'm talking to you from my home in California. I'm in my mom's office right now. Today I'm missing half of my school, but I have to go right after this interview to my physics class.
Q: How can a kid help the rain forest without going there?
Eve: Kids can do a lot in their hometown. You can start or join an environmental club. You can always write to government representatives and encourage them to help. You have an opinion and it's important to voice your opinion. Donate to foundations that help rain forest. Also talk to your friends about how important the rain forest is to you as a person. By talking about how important the rain forest is, you can promote awareness. There are also alternatives to products that are produced from the rain forest and endangered species. It's important to buy products that are environmentally safe.