Category Archives: Uncategorized

Day 1: All the Traveling

Written at 9:01 pm Belize time on May 15th

How excited am I to be in Belize? As excited as this dog was to take their picture!

This pup is the resident at the Crystal Paradise Lodge, our first place we call home on this lovely trip. It’s been a long day, but it was a great introduction to Belize. (We aren’t supposed to pet the dogs, but at least we can take cute pictures!)

We started at 10:30 am in Anderson Bio Labs on campus—we took a cute group pic for the Biosciences Facebook page/press release (not sure where to find that). Then we hopped on the bus and headed for the airport. Upon arrival, we found out that Claire’s dad would be our pilot! We ate Chick-fil-A and Pilot Jeff bought us all cookies.  Then we turned our phones to airplane mode (not before my last game of HQ for a while), boarded our plane, and left for Belize.

After going through customs, we met Edward, our van driver for the day. He took us to the local convenience store to get some snacks and whatnot—I bought shampoo and conditioner because, oops, mine spilled in my toiletry bag…  During our 2.5-hour ride, we talked to each other, looked through the savannah plains, identified recent burn areas, and learned about each other’s lives. It was a great time. I also really enjoyed talking to Edward and learning about Belize as a country. The highway we took was called the Western Highway, but it is now called the George Price Highway in honor of his role in helping achieve Belizean independence in 1981. We took turns looking out for our taxonomic groups, but I didn’t see any of mine (Amphibians or Sponges). Claire did see one frog in our bathroom, but I didn’t get a chance to look. From her description, it seems like an Hourglass Tree Frog, but who knows…

We arrived at the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, where we were guided to our “cabanas” and then served a delicious dinner with really good cake for dessert. There are lots of cool bugs and animal sounds, and we are really into trying to identify them all. We are quickly learning that we haven’t even scraped the surface of the insects we don’t know… And now, I’m working on my blog and my field notebook journal.

This trip is off to a really high note! Scott and Adrienne have warned us that this first location is a ton nicer than the research stations and we should enjoy it while we can. Also, on a similar vein, blog posts will be posted only when internet is accessible. Las Cuevas has an ethernet cable, but my computer doesn’t have an ethernet port… So, we shall see what happens. No idea about Glover’s Reef yet.

I hope that we will have ok enough internet to post every day, but I apologize in advance if we won’t be able to!

Day 1

Today was a day of travel, enjoyable conversations, and relative luxury at our tourist hotel.

 

Jeff Boschert, the father of one of the students on this trip, made a shout out to our class on the intercom before he performed take-off on the Southwest flight taking us from Houston to Belize City. Upon arrival, we went through the typical process of entering another country: declaration of goods, going through immigration, and packing and loading up on a bus. Edward, a local driver, takes us and our baggages (in an attached trailer) on the Western Highway, outside of Belize City, to the place we are staying at tonight, Crystal Paradise Hotel. Upon arrival and settling in to our rooms, we had delicious dinners of tostada, vegetable curry, rice, cooked plantain and chocolate cake.

 

As far as scientific endeavors go, we spotted cicadas, ants, moths, palm trees, a cartoon bee, cactus, and too much life to describe. As I am sitting inside right now, to avoid bug bites, I hear the sound of crickets, cicadas, and other animals I know not the name of. Still, I found a very obvious vinegery-smell in the pheromon of a large ant I saw working on devouring a beetle. I also learned that a cicada is a true bug because it is an arthropod with sharp sucking mouthparts.The next few days’ blog post, I can predict, will be heavier with species identification especially since that was not our focus today.

 

As I enter and exit from recollections of today, I am struck by the images of fires we saw, both from the airplane and in our van. Large clouds of smoke eminated from the distance, and sometimes they were up close. As far as I can tell, they all occured in the savanah ecosystem, some leaving blackened trunks on palm trees. I wonder what are the uses of these fires, whether they are wild or controlled, sparked by lightning, cigarettes, or a torch. Claire said that some people practice the slash and burn farming strategy, whereby plants are reduced to ashes so they may enter the soil as useful nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, quicker than they would if they had decomposed naturally. Whereas the rainforest can flourish on soils that are not rich in nutrients, human crops usually rely on rich soil for their growth.

 

 

Day 1: Arrival

I knew for sure that I had arrived in Belize before I even exited the plane or looked out the windows. As soon as the airplane doors opened, the warm air seeped in, smelling like forest, as much as forest can be said to have a smell.

My first impression upon stepping out of the plane was that Belize is hot and humid enough to make Houston seem positively air-conditioned. After the group passed through security and customs, we met our driver, Edward. He drove us about three hours across the country to an eco-lodge called Crystal Paradise Resort, where we would be staying the night. Along the way, we passed through fascinating savannah landscapes that were dotted with trees. Apparently, we’re arriving at the very end of the dry season, so wild fires are still a common sight. We even passed a section that had been recently burned – the blackened skeletons for the trees were still smoking.

We reached the beginning of the mountainous, hilly region of Belize just as the sun began to sink in the sky. Tall, dark swathes of trees stood against a salmon sky hazy with smoke. As the pavement transitioned to a dirt road, the 12 of us rattled around in the van with every bump. By the time we reached the resort, it was clearly nightfall, with lighting occasionally spreading across the sky.

Our rooms are super cute, and there was even a folded towel-swan decorated with hibiscus flowers waiting for us! There is, of course, no air conditioning, which we’ll all have to get used to. Dinner was fantastic as well, with some truly delicious veggie curry and chocolate cake! Like the sea urchins I will study on this trip, I’m an opportunistic feeder (HAHAHAHA sorry I had to) and stuffed myself while I still had access to this delicious food.

Lepidoptera count for today:

-1 unidentified, erratically flying large white moth

-2 unidentifiable micro-moths

-1 orange, fuzzy moth that got eaten by a gecko a few minutes after I found it :'(

-1 large green sphinx moth

I’ve inserted photos of these two specimens here!

It’s an early morning tomorrow (breakfast at 6am!!) so I’m calling it for today. Good night!

 

Day 1: tropicality

Flying into Belize was similar to flying into Brazil, given the palm trees and rustic architecture and wide open blue skies. The airport felt familiar, the streets felt familiar, the people looked familiar, despite having never been to Belize. I breathed in the lack of American polish, the charm of the narrow, broken roads and the beauty of the uncropped environment. Somehow it felt like home, and I was quickly reminded of why I love the tropics more than any other place on earth.

We flew in, landed smoothly, got in the van, and started our three hour trip to Crystal Paradise ecolodge. It’s a beautiful and well-run place, clearly meant for tourism, that feels and looks very similar to Anavilhanas, the ecolodge I stayed in when I went into the Amazon rainforest five years ago.

Crickets were bountiful in volume. We arrived at night, and immediately I could hear crickets chirping, crafting the hum of the rainforest. I got lucky and heard one on a  very nearby bush. Upon further investigation, it was indeed a cricket, with long antennae and a well-camouflaged torso and head, but a red abdomen. Though I couldn’t identify the exact species, I assume it to be either in the superfamily Gryllidae or Gryllacrididae. I’m honestly quite nervous about being able to properly identify any cricket at all, and hope I get better as time passes. Attached is the best picture of the cricket I could obtain.

Day 1: No Mahogany Here

A lot of the readings and research I have done prior to our departure have discussed the importance and prevalence of Mahogany in Belize. I expected to see a lot of this tree on our drive from the airport in Belize City to Crystal Paradise Ecolodge near a region called San Antonio. Alas, I have seen none (so far).

However, I was able to recognize some species on our drive. One of them was Cecropia obtusifolia, also known as a Trumpet tree or locally known as a Guarumo.  It has a very interestingly shaped leaf that kind of looks like a baseball mitt. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to take and post a picture of one up close.

Another tree I saw was the Zapote or Pouteria sapota.  I didn’t see as many of these as I did of the Trumpet tree, which at some points were clustered together. These however, were pretty wide spread and not close to each other.

From the moment we got off the airplane in Belize City, I saw palm trees everywhere, but I wasn’t able to identify what species they were. On our trip, Dr. Solomon pointed out a whole field of Attalea cohune, or Cohune palm. So at least now I know for certain what that looks like (from a distance).

Day 1: Journey to Belize

Day 1: I woke up at my sister’s house in Houston and began those last minute checks for all of my gear. We grabbed smoothies from Juiceland and headed down to Rice. I brought all of my bags from the car into ABL and grabbed our extra gear to pack. We all loaded into the Rice bus and headed to Hobby.

We met Claire’s dad, who happened to be our pilot, went through security and ate lunch (I ate at Yia Yia Mary’s). We waited in the terminal and then finally boarded! The flight wasn’t too long, especially since I slept for half of it. My first impression of Belize was that it was very similar in look and development to other Central American countries that I’ve visited, like Costa Rice. We went pretty quickly through customs, got our bags, and met our driver Edward as we loaded up into our van.  We stopped by a store to grab extra supplies and I picked up gummy bears and a towel.

We started our drive to Crystal Paradise Ecolodge. Along the way, we drove through a lot of small villages, saw a few forest fires, and talked about the trip. We drove for about 2.5 hours and finally arrived at the Lodge. We put all of our bags in our rooms and ate a great dinner.

I haven’t seen any arachnids yet but I expect to run into a few soon. We’ve been in fairly populated areas so I’m not terribly surprised that we haven’t seen any but we will probably run into some tomorrow

image1.jpeg

Day 1: Lots of Travel

My dad and I left Dallas this morning, landed in Houston to meet up with the rest of the class, and then we flew to Belize. Well, I suppose only my dad really flew to Belize, the rest of us just sat in the back of the plane. (Having an airline pilot dad is cool.)

When we landed in Belize it was already pretty hot and humid. As we drove out here to Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, we saw lots of mostly savannah and grasslands. The coolest part was definitely the wildfires. It’s the end of the dry season here in Belize and natural forest fires are common. Some of the plants were obviously blackened and there were giant streaks of reddish-black smoke in the sky.

As far as animals go we saw lots of dogs and horses on the drive. We also saw some cats, sheep, and goats. I saw a few chickens and some cattle egrets and lots of small black birds flying through the sky. The cattle egrets were chilling around some cattle waiting for them to disturb some bugs. As far as the blackbirds go, it turns out that riding in a van with heavily tinted windows looking up at birds against a bright sky is not the best way to identify them. I think they were probably melodious blackbirds,  but they also could have been grackles.

We’re not expecting to have wifi regularly for the next few days. I’ll be writing blog posts, but whether they go up is another matter entirely.

turns out that I don’t know anything about ants

Daily Blog Entry 1:

We are finally here in Belize! I have already had three encounters with ants and I do not really know what they are. I spent quite a while working on my taxon ID card and researching ants, so it is humbling to know that in my first hour in the Belizian nature, I have had three encounters with ants and I was unable to identify all of them. But before we get to the ants, quick debrief of what we did today: We left Hobby at 1:40 and landed a few hours later at Belize City. Claire’s father was the pilot, which was very nifty. Edward, the friendly driver, drove us to a convenient store and then Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, which took around 4-5 hours. We then moved our belongings into the lodge (which is where I saw the first two ants) and had dinner at the lodge (which is where I saw the last group of ants).

All three ants that I encountered were probably of the same genus. They were all about 1-1.5 cm in length, thinner thorax than head and abdomen, no visibly large mandibles but a very noticeable elbowed antennae. I took a picture of the first ant and that had a white/shiny/yellow band around its abdomen. Scott said that those were Ponerine ants that can give very painful stings. Thankfully, I did not touch it. The second type was very large and did not have the band around its abdomen. I think Scott also said they were Ponerine ants as well. The third type was in a group were feeding on a beetle, and I think they are Ponerine ants because they look very similar to the second ones. 

I think the last two ants were of the same species. I never realised how omnipresent ants are and how little I know about them – this will be a very difficult week trying to identify them. I took pictures of the first and the third ant type I saw. Unfortunately, my MacBook does not have any portals to insert an SD card, so uploading photos will be a hassle.

I hope to be able to identify those ants later and get a better understanding of how to identify ants. (Also quick shout out to Scott for being the Ant man and for helping me to loosely identify the ants).

Day 1 in Belize!

(Crystal Paradise Ecolodge)

Today, we arrived at the airport in Belize City around mid-afternoon Belize time. Ironically, our pilot was the father of one of the attending students and greeted us both before we entered the plane and as we exited. Soon into driving, we stopped at a little market shop to stock up on snacks, water, and anything else we might have forgotten.

I wasn’t personally expecting to see much of anything besides Belizean scenery on the way to the ecolodge, where we’d be staying for the night; however, I was pleasantly surprised. I had prepared myself to identify several types of wild Belizean mammals, but what I hadn’t prepared myself for was the domesticated ones. We drove through the outskirts of Belize city and several small towns on the way to the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, each of them with a variety of domesticated mammals. I sited several horses standing outside fences with riding collars on. One was even being ridden. We saw a variety of dogs, both what appeared to be strays and pets ranging from large pitbull-like dogs to a nursing female and puppies. I spotted a small white cat lurking outside of a house, but it was hard to tell if it was domesticated. Several farms with cattle were spotted, including one near the Mayan Mountain range with what was anywhere between 30 and 50 cattle.

I don’t think I’d be surprised to see any of these mammals if I were driving through the Texas countryside on a normal day; however, I was today. While preparing for the trip, I was so caught up in preparing to identify all of the wildlife, I almost forgot that people live here too and all of the things that come with that including domesticated animals. It sounds silly, to forget that people actually live in Belize, but when you are preparing for a trip like this, other people are the last thing on your mind. Instead you’re thinking ‘did I pack enough clothes?’, ‘did I forget anything?’, and ‘am I prepared for the work I’m about to do?’. Rather, I got so caught up in everything, that I was surprised to see so many familiar species.

After the drive, we arrived at the Ecolodge around 7, ate dinner, and got an introductory run down of the trip. It’s all quiet after that… except for the chorus of insects in the background.

1 of 2 Blogs from Houston

Belize is going to be fantastic, if I have learned one thing from the readings from the class. New words have entered my vocabulary, like karst and lagoon, but they are things I have not personally experienced. I am excited to be in these places that I have only heard of and emerge from Belize as some sort of a tropical field biologist, perhaps as a TFB that Surf and Turf has warned us of becoming.

Not having been there is what makes it exciting, but it also makes it more difficult to predict what type of life I will see there, and what it will look like when I see hundreds of species of life right in front of face. Although the readings have been good about providing descriptions, I am a visual learner and I expect that I have a lot more to learn through trial and error when it comes to identifying species, or even families.

One thing I have learned about identification of species from looking at images online is that there are tons of variation. Take a species of red algae for example, one image may be pink, another greenish-purple. A brown alga often looks yellow or green. Although I don’t usually have trouble identifying colors, the types of coloration in these algae has overwhelmed my ability to describe them. I hope with experience in the water I will be able to become sensitive to all the subtle differences in the color of algae, as it can be helpful in identifying them.

In addition to learning to identify species, I hope to be comfortable in the rain forest, the cave, and the ocean. With enough practice, I am sure these blog posts will become more interesting and I hope you will follow my journey to a fascinating place!