Day 12 (5/27): Tarantula!!!

Today was catch-up day. We’ve been falling behind on lecture presentations the past few days, so we decided to grind out 7 presentations. After a morning presentation, we started a new project: the nitrogen project. All 11 of us had to urinate into 22 tubes which we attach to trees and bury in the ground- hopefully, arthropods are attracted to the nitrogen in our urine and fall into our tubes. It’s a 24-hour ordeal, so we will go back to the rainforest tomorrow to collect our critters and analyze the species diversity in the tubes.

We had lunch after the nitrogen project and knocked out another 3 presentations. Then came an activity I know Scott has been waiting for since last year’s course: the ant colony investigation. 3 differently aged ant colonies were investigated for their fungal chunks and any queens, ranging from 1-20 years of age. The oldest colony was estimated to be 10-15 years old and was MASSIVE. I’m talking at least 100-150 square feet of area with multiple entrance areas and a depth of at least 15 feet. Scott and a guide named Apache spent 45 minutes digging but could not find any fungal chunks- to put this in context, we found a fungal chunk in the first colony (1-year-old) in the first 10 minutes of digging about 8-12 inches.

Fungus grown in leaf-cutter ant colonies

The soldier ants in the oldest colony were also straight savage- they were about 1-1.5 inches long with mandibles that can bite through rubber. Damien had a soldier ant biting his pant legs and when Apache pulled the ant off Damien’s pants, the body detached and the head stayed attached to his pants- it was freaky.

I presented on arachnids after dinner, 2 other people presented, and then a group of us went tarantula hunting! We did not have much luck at first, but we were soon joined by Dr. Aimee (a spider expert), who easily showed us 3 huge red-rump tarantulas (Brachypelma vagans) and one Livingston tarantula (C. livingstoni). As a bonus, we saw two pauraque birds!

Red Rump Tarantula we found

There are 2 full days left in Las Cuevas. It seemed like forever ago we landed in the Belize City airport, but suddenly forever does not seem too long ago.

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