Smile for the Camera

Today’s task seemed simple: form a hypothesis and set up 12 camera traps in the forest surrounding LCRS. 

Twelve hours later, our work is finally complete, but it was much easier said than done. After a 5:30am birdwatching session and a hot cup of tea, we set off to develop our experiment. We opted to test the impact of human pathways on local species richness and composition in the Chiquibul by setting up camera traps along roads and trails, as well as in natural clearings. In five days, we’ll collect these traps and see what diverse organisms they’ve managed to catch on film.

The morning’s hike seemed manageable on a map, but many hours and some (incredible) scarlet macaw sightings later, we had set up only half of our traps. By our 3pm lunch break, I had walked 7.8 miles or 16, 652 steps. Talk about a morning workout. 

View from Bird Tower near LCRS.

Right before lunch, we ended our work at the Las Cuevas Bird Tower. The rickety tower stands at over 600 m of elevation, and the view is almost worth the steep hike up. (Note to entrepreneurs: the Bird Tower would be an ideal location for opening an ice cream stand).

Sumichrast’s skink (Eumeces sumichrasti).

Despite sweat and blisters, we loaded up on lunch and set off on the Monkey Tail Trail to install the remaining traps in clearings and a natural stream. The main reptile for today was the Sumichrast’s skink (Eumeces sumichrasti), an orange and black lizard with a bright blue tail. I saw evolution in action when we caught a blue-tailed skink; the lizard quickly shed its skin and darted off, leaving the wriggling blue tail in our palms (and the rest of the animal out of sight). 

With our twelfth and final camera trap set in a mud wallow for a prospective tapir sighting, we finally trudged our way home. Though we were all exhausted and covered in sweat (and ticks, in some cases), I found some  peace in the pitch black of the forest. The trees of the canopy arched over the trail to form a tunnel, just like the trees at home on University Boulevard. And just as the blinking lights of the city lead me home at Rice, the twinkling eyes of spiders lit up the trail with pinpricks of yellow light, finally leading us back to Las Cuevas.

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