All posts by erd5

Post-Belize Reflection

Wow! What an amazing experience! Our class of 11 was constantly at work hiking, setting up pit fall traps, collecting data with transects, snorkeling, collecting data with quadrads, interpreting data, putting together poster presentations among other activities. In total, we accomplished 6 research projects with poster presentations for each of them. For each research project, we learned something new and interesting about the unique environment that we were living in for half a month. The experience involved a lot of hard work both physically and mentally, but it rewarded me with knowledge, fun, friends, and a lasting appreciation for the beauty of this world. It is nice to be home, where there’s air conditioning, WiFi, warm showers, less mosquitoes, no sandflies, but I will be thinking about Belize and my experience there for a long time to come. Thank you Dr. Solomon, Dr. Shore, Las Cuevas Research Station, and Glover’s Reef Research Station—for this one-of-a-kind opportunity!


  • Eurytides marcellus, Zebra Swallowtail
  • Morpho peleides, Blue Morpho
  • Ascalapha odorata, Black Witch Moth
  • Sphingidae genus, Sphinx Moth
  • Heliconius hecale, Tiger Longwing
  • Eacles imperialis, Imperial Moth
  • Papilio polyxenes, Black Swallowtail

Piscivorous Fish

  • Ocyurus chrysurus, Yellowtail Snapper
  • Pterois volitans, Red Lionfish
  • Sphyraena genusBarracuda
  • Halichoeres bivittatus, Slippery Dick Wrasse
  • Hemiramphus brasiliensis, Ballyhoo
  • Ginglymostoma cirratum, Nurse Shark

Above is a list of the different species I saw from my taxons while on the trip. Below is a picture of a different species that I see at home. Glad to be reunited with my house cat (Felis catus) pictured below in his natural habitat!

28/05/19 Bye Bye Belize!

Today’s blog will be relatively brief as I have spent the whole day unconscious (sleeping—sleeping on the boat, sleeping in the van, sleeping on the airplane). We woke up at 5:00am just in time to watch the sun rise over the ocean. It was a beautiful way to end our time at Glover’s Reef—then we jetted off the island in a boat to escape the bugs once and for all.

The boat ride was relatively smoother returning to the mainland as we were not fighting the current, but there were still some rough patches that woke me up from my nap. Dolphins were spotted at some point?, but I missed them unfortunately. After a short van ride, we were at the Belize Airport, ready to head home. I bought some Belizean hot sauce for my friends and family. On the plane ride home, Aquaman was playing, and I’m pretty sure that (in that one scene where kid Aquaman is at the aquarium and controls a shark) there’s a Nassau grouper in the background—so exciting to see my taxon! Finally, in Houston, we parted ways with part of the group, and, at Rice, we said our goodbyes to the whole group. I’m staying at my cousin’s place for one more night, then heading home to Memphis tomorrow. I hope everyone has safe travels wherever you may be going! Thank you for a fantastic trip!

27/05/19 I’m not lion…I had fun.

Today is our last full day of class since tomorrow is just traveling! We began the morning with a fun activity—cleaning up the island! We took trash bags out, geared up with long pants tucked in socks, shirts tucked in pants, jackets tucked in rubber gloves, and picked up garbage at four different sites around Middle Caye—the mangroves of death, the coral graveyard,  the Glover’s Reef dock, and the touch tank. I, along with Pierce and Keegan, picked up trash at the coral graveyard for 30 minutes. My hands pruned up with sweat, but the coverage was worth the mosquito protection.


Some interesting garbage found:

-lots of plastic bottles, lots of plastic bottle caps

-plastic utensils

-many sole-mate less sandals (ha!)


-baby doll leg

-stuffed animal




-2 hyperdermic needles

-a crab using a round bottle as a shell! Trash Crab!

Then, we had some coconut water, coconut meat, and lionfish ceviche—just doing our part to remove invasive species. The lionfish that I dissected was a 79.1g virgin male, and we found a whole, un-digested juvenile slippery dick wrasse in his stomach! The wrasse itself was at least 3 centimeters, maybe even 4. What a cool find!

Lionfish of genus Pterois beside the slippery dick wrasse (Halichoeres bivittatus) found in its stomach

We had our last lectures for the course on annelids and the history and culture of Belize given by our wonderful guides Herby and Javier—they were excellent and they will be missed so much!

Thank you Glover’s Reef Research Station for a fantastic week! Now, I’m prepared to head on home.

26/05/19 Urchin Searchin’

We began the morning with a survey of sea urchins in patch reefs (in and out of marine-protected areas). We collected urchins in a bucket, then identified them by species and determined the diameters of their tests (in centimeters). We found long-spined urchins (Diadema antillarum) (don’t touch!), slate-pencil urchins (Eucidaris tribuloides), reef urchins (Echinometra viridis), and a few West Indian sea eggs (Tripneustes ventricosus). Although I was hesitant to jam my hand into small crevices in the coral to retrieve these spiny creatures, I had fun catching the urchins while simultaneously discovering how stubborn they can be. Some of those sea urchins were really wedged into their crevices and would not budge.

Bucket o’ urchins!

We collated our data into a poster, then transitioned into lectures on  crustaceans, hydrozoa, cubozoa, scyphozoa, ctenophores, and climate change and its effect on coral reefs.

We ended the night with a night snorkeling session from the dock to a patch reef nearby (which we got lost on the way to). It was a surreal experience. In the brief time that we were out in the water, I did not get to see much, but the creatures that I saw —including some tasty-looking lobsters—were vastly different from the ones that I normally see during the day. Our limited field of vision under water made for an invigorating experience, like when sting rays appeared and disappeared from darkness.

25/05/19 The Chummiest of Friends

This morning we completed (you guessed it) more transects! Again, we went out to two patch reefs, one in an MPA, one not. The first patch reef (within an MPA, nicknamed ‘the Aquarium’) contained lots of fire coral hidden in the coral we were attempting to survey. Weaving the transect tape and manipulating the quadrad was especially hard with the stinging fire coral around, especially since the water was so shallow—there was a limited amount of space above the reef through which we could float. At one point, I was floating directly on top of fire coral—a precarious situation. At (what was intended to be) the second site, there were moon jellies floating around, so we decided not to complete our transects there and opted to move to a different non-MPA site for our final transects. The final area that we decided on to be our non-MPA site was full of lionfish (yum! that’s my taxon!) and squid! After completing my transects, I watched Herby spear a lionfish that was hiding deep within the coral. I am excited to eat these lionfish at a later time.

In the afternoon, the class took the boat out to the fore reef, where we saw the reef drop off, sponges, and bigger animals in general, however, many of us (myself included) fell ill and could not properly appreciate the majesty of the reef in our conditions.


We ended the night with lectures on Anthozoa (non-reef building zoanthids, corallimorphs, and anemones), marine mollusks, and threats to coral reefs (of which there are a lot).

24/05/19 Piscivorous fish are more metal than herbivorous fish. Periodt.

We took the boat out for the first time to survey two patch reefs. The first one, Marisol, was within a marine-protected area (MPA). The second was not within a marine-protected area (non-MPA). There were some grey clouds in the sky as we drove out to the first patch reef, but I did not feel the sprinkling as I was snorkeling in the cold water. I saw snappers as usual, and what I thought to be a foot-long grouper that quickly swam away before I could fully process its presence.

In the afternoon, the class geared up to wade into sea-grass off of the island. We were looking for creatures to capture and keep in a ‘touch tank’ briefly for our observation. As a class, we caught many queen conchs (and one conch shell occupied by a crab), two donkey-dung sea cucumbers, a sea egg urchin, a pencil slate urchin, a red heart urchin, an octopus!, two fire worms, a damselfish, several brittle stars, two sun anemones, several types of coral and algae, and many hermit crabs—no piscivorous fish though! The water is too shallow for these big boys. It was interesting to feel and observe the organisms from other taxons though. The donkey dung sea cucumber was particularly interesting as it molded into your hand as you squeezed it.

Me touching a West Indian Sea Egg (Tripneustes ventricosus), a type of urchin

We ended the night with lectures on herbivorous fish, piscivorous fish (given by yours truly), and how competition, predation, and environment shape coral reefs.

23/05/19 Urine the Sea Now

(Never thought I’d say this but…) it was nice to sleep in today now that breakfast is at 7:00am! Today is our first day working on the reef!  The class went out to the coral graveyard to practice the point-intercept and quadrad methods of conducting surveys, then examined coral skeletons taken from the coral graveyard. We attempted to identify the coral skeletons species or at least genus; we identified a range of corals including Pseudodiploria, Colpophyllia nattans, Agaricia, Pendrogyra cylindris, Acropora palmata, Gorgonia ventalina, Siderastrea, and Fabullata. There is so much variety in corals and coral structure on the macro and micro levels, yet corals are deceptively hard to tell apart, especially when it comes down to specific species. 

Later in the day, we utilized the quadrad method on sea-grass and algae. Cassia and I developed a set of hand-signals to communicate data under water that enabled us to complete the transects relatively quickly. Using tools under water was a surreal experience! First, we had to swim over to the sand bar within the sea-grass/algae area carrying our bulky PVC quadrads, transect tapes, and clipboards for recording data. Writing under the water with water-proof paper and pencil was a novel experience for me, and its a technique that we will be utilizing a lot in the coming days. At the patch reef, I saw several yellowtail snappers, and a nurse shark (the couch potato of the ocean)! Hopefully, we will see more piscivorous fish in the coming days.

We ended the night with lectures on echinoderms (go sea cucumbers!), green and red algae, and mangroves and seagrass beds (their relevance and importance to coral reefs).

22/05/19 I’m not popular with boys, but I’m popular with mosquitoes!

After 6:00am breakfast at the Tropical Education Center, the class drove an hour and half to the marina, then three hours (in a boat) to Middle Caye in Glover’s Reef. The three-hour boat ride was quite exciting because of the high winds and choppy waves—it felt like a roller coaster. Every time the boat ascended a wave, my body would fly out of my seat; then, when the boat crashed back down into the water, my body would smack against the seat. Arriving at the research station was exciting! The view is beautiful up above and all around, and on the ground there are adorable hermit crabs scuttling about everywhere. One of the more interesting hermit crabs that I observed had a snake-like pattern on its shell with banding and scale-like coloration.

Hermit crab with snake-like shell

We tried our gear out in the ocean for the first time. While circling the patch reef, I saw several yellowtail snappers (piscivorous fish!) I also saw an upside down jellyfish and a sting ray hidden in the sea grass. The class migrated to the leeward side of the island in the hopes that the wind and currents wouldn’t be as overwhelming. To reach the leeward side, we had to run through the ‘mangroves of death’. Today, we truly experienced what the ‘mangroves of death’ mean. As soon as we reached the area, Scott took off running with little warning. We were confused, then we started feeling the bites. At one point, I had 7 mosquitoes attached to my body. These pests were swarming all over and biting through the dive skin. I have bumps all over my legs, arms, and face, and my skin feels like Braille. I don’t know Braille very well, but I believe that my right arm spells O U C H. My skin is red, blotchy, and very, very angry at the mangroves of death. We made it to the other side of the island though, and I saw fire coral, Christmas tree worms, what I believe are young grunts, and a slippery dick (Halichoeres bivittatus).

Unfortunately the only path back to the research station was through the mangroves of death. We were aware of the danger this time, but it turns out that not even speed, mad flailing, and slapping can save us from the mosquitoes. Back in my room, I saw a common house gecko crawling on the ceiling above my bed. He was unusually large—at least 15cm in length and 3cm in width (very, very fat). I spooked him and he fell from above the top bunk to the floor with a thud.
The class ended the night with lectures on corals, sponges, and reef microbes.

21/05/19 Close Encounters of the Animal kind

Bye Las Cuevas Research Station! Thank you for your hospitality—I will miss you and the food dearly!

Class imitating our favorite animals—mine is a butterfly, not an owl.

We took the morning and afternoon to explore the ATM (Another Tourist Missing) cave, where we were able to see the remains of human Mayan sacrifices, Mayan pottery, and stunning rock formations while swimming with fish in the caves. To reach the cave, we crossed three rivers/streams in gear. The entrance to the cave was a pool which we also had to swim through. Water within the cave was cool and refreshing in contrast to the heat outside. The cave constricted at certain points, and we were forced to crouch or turn sideways. We also climbed rock formations to reach certain chambers. Throughout the tour, the guide told us about the history of the caves and the Mayan culture associated with the caves. Mayans sacrificed blood (from the Mayan king) and—in times of desperation—human males of all ages in a bid to ensure rain and good harvest. I participated in the blood-letting ritual when I scraped my shin on a rock. If it rains tomorrow, that means that the Mayan gods must enjoy my blood. The tour of the cave took in total about 4 hours, and, by the time we were out, I was famished.

We drove another hour and a half to the Tropical Education Center (where we are staying the night), then had a nighttime tour of the Belize Zoo.

Some cool things that I observed/experienced during the tour:

-was ‘hugged’ by a boa constrictor

-fed and pet a tapir

-stood less than two feet away from a jaguar and a puma

– pet a kinkajou


Me holding a boa constrictor

Today was full of amazing experiences and I am excited for tomorrow—the reef!

20/05/19 Goodbye Las Cuevas!

Today is sadly our last day in the rainforest, but I am excited for the reef!

This morning the class again made the strenuous 8-mile journey down the trail along the right side of the 50-hectare plot, then the Monkey Tail Trail. We retrieved the 7 camera traps that we had set up along that path on our first day in the rainforest.  The class completed the whole trek before lunch while on the first day we took the whole morning (then lunch) and part of the afternoon. We definitely hiked at a faster pace, which made the journey a little harder. Along the Monkey Tail Trail, the class hiked faster in part because we did not want to give the ticks (hidden in the tall brush) the time to fall onto us and suck our blood.

I observed 3 blue morphos, but felt less compelled to catch them since my task had already been completed. I am at peace now. Out of the 3 blue morphos, 2 were spotted together and 1 alone. It seems strange to me that we have observed the blue morphos in pairs (At least 3 times over the course of our time in the rainforest) as they are supposedly solitary creatures. Either way, I appreciate every opportunity I get to see these iconic rainforest beauties.

That afternoon, the class went out to observe leafcutter ant/fungus obligate mutualism firsthand. First, Scott tried to excavate a younger nest in the clearing and find the fungus chamber, but was unsuccessful. Then, we found a HUMONGOUS ant colony along the Monkey Tail Trail—so large that it was almost the equivalent of a small hill that the entire class could stand upon. Scott managed to find the fungus chamber fairly quickly and grabbed a portion of the fungus for us to examine up close. Soldier ants came pouring out (as to be expected), and they were huge and aggressive. Amanda was bitten by one of these soldier ants and, in the process, it tore a small chunk out of her pants. Scott said that, given enough time, these ants could chew through our rubber boots. I am not going to test this claim out.


Excavation of small leafcutter ant colony

The class ended the night with lectures on the geographical and biogeographic history of Central American and the Caribbean and mammals. After the lectures came the exciting part—looking through camera trap pictures. In total, we captured 2 curssows, 2 unknown birds, 1 possum, 1 skunk, 1 tapir!, and 1 unknown earred animal. The camera that I adopted (its name is Rice 2) caught  a picture of a male curssow and a stunning picture of a tapir (I am so proud!). The picture is so clear that you can see the enormous size of its whole body as it walks along the trail. Probably the best photo of the lot! Another interesting capture was a photo of an unknown earred animal. The animal had gotten too close to the camera, and the flash saturated the facial features of the animal, but we were able to distinguish the shape of the ears and some fur, leading us to believe that the animal was a puma. It is frustrating that we cannot confirm this. Either way, a great and successful ending to an exciting week full of new experiences. Thank you Las Cuevas Research Station!

Tapir caught on Rice 2 camera trap!