In the department of Friedrich Barth in Frankfurt, Germany (now Vienna, Austria), I then had an intermezzo with large wandering spiders and their nervous systems. In Vienna, I investigated the central processing of vibratory information for 3 years. These spiders are impressive and very interesting creatures, unless they mistake you for a cricket and jump at you. And as a postdoc who needs to get papers published, you better look for creatures that co-operate with neurophysiologists instead of just bleeding to death.
Therefore, I left Germany in 1988 to go to the Arch Enemy, torturing cooperative flies in the desert (this was actually my second visit to the Evil Empire; I have met the first 'real' Americans during a summer course in Woods Hole MBL in 1980. Before that, the only Americans I knew were the GIs stationed in Berlin that would drive their huge tanks through our neighbourhood when I was little). In the lab of Nick Strausfeld, from 1988 to 1991 I worked on neurons descending from the fly's brain and involved in flight control (that was when the bright red star shone over Tian An Men Square). I was almost convinced that life in the desert was possible, but not quite. So I went back to the Olde World.
Bert Hölldobler, Harvardian Ant Master Extraordinaire, had just moved to Würzburg, Germany, to become chair of a well-known zoology department with a long-standing tradition in behavioral research. He was looking for a neurobiologist to round out his Department of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology. So I moved to Würzburg and started to round out, his department and myself (thanks to the Bavarian cuisine). For the last seven years, I had a very productive and pleasant time there, and Bert got me excited about ants. In Würzburg, my interest has broadened to include ecological and evolutionary aspects of neuroethology as well as movement control, muscle function and biomechanics. I have been working on the control of ant jaw movements and on a particularly fast, trap-like reflex. My interest has then extended from the periphery to the central brain regions where more complex behavior is generated and controlled. But then, the Evil Empire has been stretching out its tentacles again, and again I have fallen prey to the temptations of the desert. Back at the ARLDN http://www.neurobio.arizona.edu/arldn/ since 1999, it looks like this time it will be for good. Unless the bright and shining red star starts rising over Tucson. Which does not seem too likely, though. According to the present US president, the axis of evil has shifted. It is now more likely that some other fanatics of the Osama-bin-Laden flavour interfere with the everyday life in the desert, but so far only pigeons have attacked Gould Simpson Building, resulting in 40 cm (15.75 inches) annual increase in thickness of the guano layer covering the building's window sills. And yes, even after 4 years, feet, pints, Farenheits, ounces, drams and footcandles are still a problem for the metric-minded resident alien
While I never thought of becoming a professional insect tormenter [I first wanted to become a chef (age 3), then a fireman (age 6), than a physician (age 12) and a chemist (age 18)], I did the first pioneering experiments when I was still quite young. For hours I would entertain myself feeding funnel web spiders with insects or teasing them by vibrating their webs with a leaf of grass. I found out that these spiders don't know what to do with earthworms (no, even in Germany earthworms don't usually drop into spiders' webs), hate bees and wasps and don't like ants (too skinny). And during the warm summer days (yes, even in Germany they have some kind of summer) I learned that it is almost impossible to kill an ant with a burning glass because they are too fast. Of course, you could always cheat, but I won't go into this. No wonder I ended up working on ants in the desert.