All posts by kns4

5/19/19 SNEKS!


Today was a long day. We did two research projects, hiked to the Bird Tower, and night hiked (back from the Bird Tower). Most importantly, we saw snakes!

The first research project had to do with the effect that hurricane disturbance has on plant diversity. Hurricanes, which are common in tropical places like Belize, cause treefall and canopy gaps that allow fast-growing/good-dispersing “pioneer species” to grow. We used a method I’ve never done before, the line-intersect transect method, to count individual plants for 22 sample sites across disturbed and undisturbed places along the Bird Tower Shortcut trail, ultimately finding a difference not in diversity but in community composition. The second project has to do with the relationship between Azteca Ants and Cecropia trees, but we haven’t finished that one yet.

It was while sampling the Cecropia trees that we found our first reptiles of the day. Dr. Solomon almost caught a yet-to-be-identified Teiid lizard (I’m pretty sure based on head size/shape) that had a beautiful blue underside. Then we saw a teeny tiny beige snake curled up in the dirt/root tangle of a tree that had been knocked down. Apparently there was also a black snake with yellow stripes earlier on the hike, but I didn’t see it.

Look at this beautiful Teiid Lizard that Dr. Solomon *almost* caught
We almost walked right past this amazing little bean

Late in the day we hiked to a place called the Bird Tower. The hike was pretty long and steep for most of the way, so frankly it wasn’t my favorite. The view from the tower was cool though: high above the canopy you could see mist over the mountains in the distance and the tops of all of the trees mingling together. The walk back from the tower was a night hike, so also steep but now dark and going downhill this time. On the hike back we saw a super small Jumping Viper (Atropoides mexicanus) in the leaf litter that half our group accidentally stepped over without even noticing.

The view just might’ve been worth the excruciating hike up to the Bird Tower
Teeny tiny Jumping Viper (Atropoides mexicanus) that Pierce insists did not want to be his friend, despite my claims otherwise

Get excited! Tomorrow we’re going to collect all of the camera traps from our first day in the rainforest and see what they’ve been capturing while we’ve been adventuring.


UPDATE: Based on the field guides, we’re pretty sure the Teiid lizard we saw was a Middle American Ameiva (Ameiva festiva), based on general description and known range, and the small balled-up beige snake was a False Lancehead (Xenodon rabdocephalus), based on size and color pattern (5/20/19).

5/18/19 Pee-tfall Traps


Today was a pretty chill day. We collected our pitfall traps from yesterday and analyzed the data from them. We had set up the pitfall traps to try and determine whether there is a difference in arthropod diversity between the forest floor and the canopy, and whether a difference is linked to nitrogen limitation. Rainforests are incredibly diverse but nutrient-poor. We ultimately did find a difference: we found way more arthropods in our traps from the forest floor and more arthropods in nitrogen-enriched traps (don’t ask what we used).

While collecting the pitfall traps, we stumbled upon our only reptile sighting of the day: a Lesser Scaly Anole (Anolis uniformis)! We were actually looking down a cave hole for some bats when all of the sudden I looked up and there was a lizard sitting on one of the posts marking the hole. Crazy how we were making so much noise and taking photos with flash and the lizard was just chilling there. It sat incredibly still and nice for pictures and was still sitting there when we passed that spot on the way back to the station after getting all the traps. The second time around I tried to catch it, but it jumped away.

This super chill bean (Lesser Scaly Anole, Anolis uniformis) was the best model ever

Tomorrow we’re apparently doing something mysterious with ants…


5/17/19 Danger Glitter


Today was a very poorly lit day…we set up pitfall traps under the cover of the canopy, explored a cave, and went on a night hike!

The cave was amazing and surprisingly close to the field station. Archeologists believe that this cave was a special ceremonial pilgrimage site for the Maya because of how well its structure coincides with the Maya mythology. The Maya believed that there were 4 levels of the underworld you had to go down when you died, on the fifth one you’d fight demons, and then four levels back up to the living world. The Sun and his brother, Venus, were the first humans and undertook a journey through the levels of the underworld, emerging victoriously and the Sun becoming a jaguar. Interestingly enough, the cave’s structure has narrow points that mimic the passage between levels and has a weird curve that brings you back up to the beginning. It is believed that the Maya may have used this cave for ceremonies reenacting the Sun’s journey through the underworld. The Maya built a temple on top of the cave, the cave being the underworld and the temple reaching to the gods.

We survived the underworld!

After the cave we went to a place called “frog pond”. Unfortunately, there were neither frogs nor a pond there. It was very muddy, but since Belize is still in the dry season the pond hasn’t reformed yet. We were super disappointed, but then just as we were leaving Brendan spotted a tiny turtle! The highlight of my day was getting to hold this little guy…the only thing better would be being able to identify him (I’ve been searching through a field guide, going back and forth between two turtles, for hours already). After frog pond we explored the Maya site sitting above the cave, which is were we found a Greater Scaly Anole (Norops tropidonotus)on a tree.

I think it’s safe to say I was more excited about this picture than my turtle friend was
Look at it’s beautiful face though!

After dinner we went back to frog pond and the Maya site for a night hike…which is where the danger glitter comes in. During a night hike the best ways to spot things are by seeing movement and by seeing eyeshine. Eyeshine is when the light from your headlamp hits the eyes of a creature and reflects back into your eyes…lots of little spiders have eyes that look like little spots of glitter all over the ground shining back at you. At first it’s kind of nice because its sparkly, but then I remember it’s spiders (and other things, but overwhelmingly spiders) and it’s, well, less nice.

Also! On our night hike we saw a Central American Tree Snake (Imantodes gemmistratus) and completed our set of all the reptiles in Belize: a crocodile, some lizards, a turtle, and a snake (don’t worry though I’ll definitely keep looking for more reptiles).

Such a good little bean, Central American Tree Snake (Imantodes gemmistratus)


5/16/19 These Boots Were Made for Hiking


…I was most definitely drowsy for birding. But it was cool! Very foggy but we still managed to see lots of birds like a trogon with a square tail and some flycatchers. A great start to an incredibly long day of hiking and setting out camera traps.

We spent the morning hiking on trail along the 50 Hectare Plot set up outside Las Cuevas. There were hills and jagged rocks, making it very difficult even along the trail (there were some places we had to leave the trail because trees had fallen, other places we just climbed over the trees). It was on this trail though that we saw our reptiles of the day!

We saw an Anolis lizard that I couldn’t identify right away, but I took a picture of his dewlap so we can identify him later using field guides. We also saw what I’m pretty sure was a Middle American Ameiva (Ameiva festiva) because it was about the right size and had a distinct pattern (a dark stripe along the body that crosses the eye, darker zigzags on the back, and alternating dark and light vertical stripes on the side). At the end of the trail (or I guess the beginning because we went down and back) we saw a Green Anole (Anolis biporcatus) eating a cricket!


Anole with his beautiful dewlap…which I asked nicely for
Middle American Ameiva (Ameiva festiva) trying it’s best to hide in the underbrush
Quite possibly the best photo I have ever taken…Green Anole (Anolis biporcatus)

After lunch we hiked the Monkey Tail Trail. It was flatter and easier than the 50 Hectare Plot but resulted in some unfortunate encounters with arthropods. We had to jump over this huge log that was covered in very angry ants (and got very covered in ants in the process) and also had to avoid Acacia Ants protecting a fallen Bullthorn Acacia. We also, due to some very tall grass on the trail, left with ticks all over our bodies that we then spent an hour pulling off. Yay nature.

Now that I’m tired, sore, and sufficiently bitten for one day, time to sleep before another full day: birding and exploring the caves around Las Cuevas!


UPDATE: The Anolis lizard I couldn’t identify right away was a Lesser Scaly Anole (Anolis uniformis), which I was able to tell from his red dewlap with small rings of white spots and blue basal spot (5/17/19)

5/15/19 Caracol Me Maybe


Day two took us to Rio on Pools, Caracol, and Las Cuevas!

Rio on Pools was my favorite part of today. It’s a river that runs over the granite in the Mountain Pine Ridge and pools in calm sections with little waterfalls running between them. The water was nice and cool; some pools were deep enough to swim in, and some were shallower and super slippery from algae growing on rocks (but honestly it was kind of fun to slide around on them). Also! The slippery rocks combined with mini waterfalls made for a surprisingly fun natural waterslide.

My face at Rio on Pools BEFORE we slid down the natural waterslide…so just imagine how big that smile was

It was also at Rio on Pools where we saw most of our reptiles for the day! We saw two Striped Basilisks (Basiliscus basiliscus) and one lizard that we think is a Teiid lizard. The basilisks were easier to identify because of the bright stripes and the distinctive way that basilisks run on their hind legs. We’ve narrowed the other lizard to a Teiid lizard because of the shape of its head/body, but the color pattern didn’t quite look like the Teiid lizard we’re familiar with for the area, so I’ll be consulting some field guides. Later in the day we also saw what’s likely a Morelet’s Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) while crossing over a river into the Chiquibul region.

One of the Striped Basilisks (Basiliscus basiliscus) before it ran away from us

After Rio on Pools we drove for a while, making our way out of the Mountain Pine Ridge and into the Chiquibul, and found our way to Caracol, a site of Mayan ruins. We learned a general timeline of the Mayan civilization and very detailed information about how the city was structured: an epicenter where the royal family lived, then roads out from there to plazas were wealthy elites lived with middle class structures around them, all extending 5 miles in radius. The plazas were set up with four structures around a clearing, usually three houses and a temple, and those structures were continually built upon to make the tiered pyramid type things we’re familiar with (not like building a super tall step pyramid at once). We even got to climb the tallest structure (the tallest in Belize) which was a palace associated with queen Batz Ek (“bright monkey lady”) and her son Lord Kan II.

We climbed this temple…and it’s taller than it looks. It’s one of the tallest structures in Belize
At the top!

Learning about Mayan history was really cool, but my favorite part of visiting Caracol was learning about the Montezuma Oro Pendula birds. Montezuma for the emperor, Oro for the gold tail, and Pendula for the way they build their nests. They’re very loud birds and they build weird hanging nests really high up in trees. We saw a whole flock with there nests in a ceiba tree. The birds mate for life and once paired the male builds the nest for the female; if the female doesn’t like the nest she throws it to the ground and he tries again. Once he gets it right, he then has to build two or three more nests as decoys because the cow blackbird preys on their eggs.

We made it to Las Cuevas (where we’ll be staying for the rest of our rainforest adventure) in the early evening and got to enjoy the cool air that comes with a nice heavy rain. After the rain we saw a scarlet macaw up in a tree too! Then we learned about Trees, Birds, and the Soil Paradox from Amy, Keegan, and Cassia respectively.

Time for bed, don’t want to be drowsy for birding tomorrow!


5/14/19 The Adventure Begins


The adventure has begun! Today was at the same time very eventful and not very eventful? I’m definitely tired, so it was a good day. It started around 4:30am so I could get to campus by 6am (or actually 5:20 because I was nervous about being late). We got all of our gear together and made it to the airport and suddenly it was around 8am, then we boarded around 9:30…then sat on the runway for about an hour because of tray table paperwork issues (??? That’s really what they said). We landed around 12:30pm Belize Time (which is about an hour behind Houston time right now because Belize doesn’t do daylight savings, weird) and then drove for a while, got lunch, drove for another hour, went to the grocery store, drove for another bit and ended up at the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge around 4:45pm. See it doesn’t seem like a lot, mostly travel.

Kaela and I waiting at the gate for the adventure to begin!

At Crystal Paradise there’s a trail (a really rocky, kind of steep trail I might add) that leads to a nice wide river…which we got to go swimming in! Across the river there was a rope swing and we took turns swinging off of it into the water. I think it’s a toss up for which part was the hardest: climbing up the bank of the river, getting the rope to the person, or actually being able to hold on long enough to get a good swing in. The swimming was the best part of the day, and we saw lots of animals while we were there/on the way there. We saw an agouti in the clearing by the Ecolodge at the head of the trail, some leaf-cutter ants carrying blue-purple flowers on the trail, and two tinamous (chicken-looking ground birds that are certainly not chickens) walking around while we were in the water.

We swam in this river!

Unfortunately we didn’t see any reptiles today, which is really surprising….except as I was typing that WE SAW 7 COMMON HOUSE GECKOS IN LIKE TWO MINUTES so just kidding we did see some reptiles today!!!!! They were climbing on poles and walls around the outdoor dining area at the Ecolodge (and it’s about 9:15pm). Kaela suggested that maybe since we got to the Ecolodge in the late afternoon it just wasn’t a good time to see them, but now they’re coming out at night.

Low quality pictures, high quality geckos! (p.s. look at how cute and small they are, this one is next to a lightbulb)


Hope tomorrow brings more reptiles and me not making the same face in every single photo.


5/13/19 We’re Leaving Tomorrow?!


I’ve just about finished the last pre-class assignment, so I suppose it’s as good a time as ever to write my first blog post. I definitely underestimated the amount of work that would go into making taxon cards and presentations and readings and quizzes. On one hand I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but on the other I feel wildly underprepared and that I should be reading a million papers this very moment to become some sort of expert (can one become an expert in under 24 hours???). Needless to say, I’m nervous about how prepared I am (or not prepared I am) academically…then there’s the bugs and sunburns and imminent physical exhaustion and nagging worry that I’ll be too busy worrying instead of having as much fun as I’m supposed to. That aside though, I expect to learn a lot and be very tired (in a good way) for two straight weeks. Generally, I hope to learn new field survey methods (like how to actually effectively use a quadrat) and conquer my fear of bugs. Cautiously optimistic.

In terms of the rainforest, I’m excited to go birding and to see representatives of my assigned taxon: the reptiles. I might actually burst with excitement if Dr. Solomon will let me hold a snake or a lizard or something (the safe-ish ones obviously, not like a fer-de-lance or coral snake or any other of the five venomous guys I highlighted in red every place I could on my pre-class assignments).

On the reef I’m really excited to see some healthy corals. Most of my experience with corals is with sad corals, be it while snorkeling back home in South Florida or in Dr. Correa’s lab at Rice. I also really hope we see some Caribbean Reef Squids doing weird things; from what I learned while studying them for my other assigned taxon (molluscs), they school, change colors, and sometimes jump right out of the water.

I guess now it’s time to repack my suitcase one last time (or let’s be honest, two or three more times) and maybe I’ll feel prepared enough…then adventure!