Vacationing with birds, bears, and bumbling researchers

THE Globewatch expedition catalog arrived at our house the other day. Its usual enticing vacation adventures beckoned: squatting under a hot sun, scratching in the soil for the refuse of the ancients (archaeology), or squatting in a humid, buggy jungle observing apes carry on. But there were some new research opportunities that promise to be real conversation stoppers at the office water cooler. Among the most popular: Dancing bears

What kind of music do bears dance to? Do they need lessons? Gustave Flaubert once lamented that his prose was nothing more than ``music for bears to dance to.'' Dr. A.B. Foote and her staff at the Arthur Murray Research Studios would like to know if that is so. Volunteers will read Flaubert to the polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba. Both French and English versions will be used, as well as selections from Flaubert's early works, masterpieces, and letters. Dress is formal and knowledge of the jitterbug helpful. Weekend evenings only; $1,400.

Retired debts

Since the first financial institution was founded on this continent, banks have been retiring debts. But where do retired debts go? Is there a secret burial ground, as many have theorized? No one knew until the recent discovery of an early retired-debt community near Titusville, Fla. Researchers will help excavate the seaside site, looking carefully at how the debts have been amortized by the sea air. Volunteers compounded quarterly. FDIC insured. Not a formal offering. One-week fee depends on prime rate.

Migration studies

The monarch butterfly is one of the world's great migrators, flying up to 2,500 miles each year. But until recently the routes could only be guessed at. This year volunteers are invited to spend the year with a monarch. Each volunteer will be assigned a single butterfly up north in the fall. As the butterfly heads south over mountains, through canyons, across Interstate highways, they follow it. Running and climbing required. Eight weeks, $3,000. Volunteers should arrange transportation back from Mexico, and are advised that crossing certain border spots may prove troublesome.

More lovely than a metaphor?

Our perceptions of animals are largely formed by clich'es and old wives' tales: Bull in a china shop, eat like a bird, play pinochle like a platypus, and so on. In the interest of science, students will look in the horse's mouth and test these sayings at the Metaphor Labs. How much wood can a woodchuck chuck? We'll see. Does the early bird get the worm? Last year's tests on the craftiness of foxes were a great success. (One team of foxes was given ice cream sticks and told they had 30 minutes to make ashtrays. The control team of foxes was given stretchy strings and told they had an hour to make 40 potholders. They performed admirably). This year volunteers will put loons through a battery of psychological tests to see just how crazy they are. A second group will answer the question once and for all: Does curiosity kill the cat? Not for the squeamish. Six days, $1,300.

Monkey underarms

New this year. Expedition members will join Wally Willsome of Procter & Gamble as he traps and applies underarm deodorant to the monkeys of Bora-Bora. Perspiration stain measurements will also be taken. Dr. Willsome pioneered this idea in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo when he observed: ``All monkeys stink!'' Two weeks, $800.

Pin the tail on the donkey

A party of 30 will play this children's game round the clock in a marathon performance for two weeks, to answer the question Why has this game persisted? Why not pin the tail on the ostrich? Euglena? Or dolphin? Tolerance of a straight diet of chocolate ice cream and cake is advised; $35. A second group will be sent out into the field to interview donkeys.

Howard Mansfield is a free-lance writer in Hancock, N.H.

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