Tag Archives: 2017

Day 11: Trade-offs (5/26/2017)

Today we set up camera traps throughout the forest neighboring Las Cuevas. The entire process took all day, from 10 am until 1:30 and then 2:30 to 7:30. Needless to say, the process exhausted me. Hiking on and off trail in a humid tropical environment for hours on end is certainly different from the comparatively cushy lifestyle of an American college student.

About a third of the way through the endeavor, another student proposed that we shorten the distance between camera traps so that we can set up more in a given amount of time and head back earlier. I supported the motion but the class did not. So we marched onward.

By the time we were halfway through, my boots felt so heavy that I wasn’t even walking, I was just swinging them over the ground with each step, hoping that I did not hit anything. I was panting and completely drenched in sweat. “Damn, I am out of shape,” I thought as my classmates marched onward. Despite my desperation to stop, I marched onward too. I didn’t really have a choice.

Hours later, we made it back to the station. Although I stayed well hydrated in the field, I had a splitting headache and could barely stabilize myself when I was standing upright. I had reached my limit.

As an economics major, every moment I had to think on the trail, I spent trying to calculate the expected value of moving onward. I tried to compare the benefit and probability of seeing an interesting animal with the benefit of calling it quits. I never thought it all the way through, though. I was too damn exhausted.

Despite causing me so much physical despair, the hike granted me many gifts – yellow prickly trees (Zanthozylum spp.), monstrously large strangling figs (Ficus aurea), Mexican porcupine, green tree anole, tommygoff snake, a Mexican tree frog, abundant lianas reaching up to the canopy. The yellow prickly were numerous and had sharp spines, an adaptation to keep away herbivorous arboreal megafauna. The largest strangling fig I saw completely overtook its host tree and was hollow on the inside. The Mexican porcupine I saw was climbing the tree through this hollow interior. The most vivid encounters were with blue morpho butterflies (Morpho spp.), whose radiant sapphire blue wings contrasted greatly with the browns and greens of the understory.

Lianas often stretch from the forest floor to the canopy.

Today pushed me to my limits, but it also awarded me with many of the rainforest’s treasures.

The first principle of economics is that there are trade-offs. Despite my incomparable exhaustion, I am satisfied with trading off comfort for adventure. That’s why I came to Belize.

Day 10: Flow (5/25/2016)

Our morning was spent at Rio-On, a cluster of pools, creeks, and waterfalls within the Coastal Pine forests. The water trickled, funneled, or whirlpooled – navigating around, over, or under well-established rocks. Rio-On was beautiful, like an interactive postcard.

The water at Rio-On

My class and I left Rio-On for Las Cuevas Research Station. En route, our van’s passenger side window rolled all the way down and would no longer roll up. To avoid insects flying in, our driver secured the window closed by jamming a stick in between the window and where it attaches to the car. The window stayed close, and we were off.

Later, I was disheartened to hear that the cave we were going to explore later this week was closed for archeological research. Exploring that cave, which is only open to educational groups and researchers, was one of the major attractants that compelled me to sign up for this trip.

Obstacles and changes of plan are inevitable. Even with a an issue with the van and some bad news, my class and I made it to Las Cuevas and were soon hiking the Maya Trail, which meanders through high-rising trees and unrecognizably overgrown Mayan religious sites. Was this experienced diminished by unexpected incidents and news earlier today?

Absolutely not.

The Chiquibul Forest was breathtaking, like a fantasy land; it didn’t even seem real. My ears were entertained my bird chirping and singing, and eyes by the endless emerald-green only found in a lush tropical forest.

We encountered numerous give and take palms (Chrysophila argentea), easily recognizable by the sharp obsidian-colored spikes adorning their trunks, commonly interspersed between taller trees. There was also a kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra), which had a thick trunk and stretched vertically through and beyond the rainforest canopy. Some palm leaves were four feet in diameter… simply unreal.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice but to flow onward. Like the Rio-On, life can trickle, funnel, or whirlpool, and it is our attitudes that determine whether we navigate around, over, or under any obstacles we face.

I do not know what tomorrow holds, but even with my seemingly rigid expectations, I will readjust and immerse myself in the experiences before me. I have to go with the flow; it’s my only option.


Day 15: last day :( and JUMBO JUICES

Just like the flight into Belize, I don’t think it hit me that I was going back home until we got to the airport! I think it was the AC and wifi that did it.

We spent the first half of the day driving to the airport, with a stop at Cheers! With a Tropical Twist for lunch. We had an INSANE lunch budget of 20 USD. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but for reference, my cheeseburger was about 3.50 USD. So we went kind of nuts and got on average 4 items each (may be skewed because of outlier Alessi, who ordered multiple entrees, appetizers, and sides). I personally got a burger, 1 fruit punch, and 1 jumbo watermelon juice, which equalled at least a liter of juice total. IT WAS THE HAPPIEST LUNCH OF MY LIFE. I even took some watermelon juice to go in my Nalgene.

We boarded the plane at around 5, and arrived around 8:30 Houston time. I had to say goodbye to most of the class at the airport, and then Jordan, Mikey, Damien and I (along with Turiez and Scott) took a shuttle back to Rice.

Now that I’m back home, reeking of citronella, sweat, and super old seawater, Houston feels so surreal. Where’s the endless tea and hot water jug, and Clivus, and the squeaking of the mouse in our wall? 🙁 I’m going to miss everyone on this trip, and I am eagerly awaiting our coral reef/rainforest themed crawls!

Day 14: return of the camera traps

We made the treacherous journey again to retrieve our camera traps today, and it was surprisingly not as horrible as the first time-Scott was right! That may have been because we strategized our route better, so that we didn’t have to walk back and forth over the same trail. Also we didn’t get lost in the jungle at night.

Annnd the fruits of our labor are:

2 ocelots!!!

1 great curacao

several pacas and peccaries

1 red brocket deer

literally thousands of pictures of grass and our legs

Still, the ocelot pictures were worth it!!

The Daily Moth

Same diversity of moths as always; I’m noticing more and more green eggs, and still the window screens are dominated by Sphingidae! I’m tempted to bring one of those eggs home to see what kind of moth it is.

Note from future self: Don’t worry Belize customs and TSA, I’m completely egg-free

A new lepidoptera that I thought was kind of cool because of the asymmetrical, ruffly wings!

Day 13: lectures in high and low places

We had an interesting time this morning collecting all our pee traps, and then emptying them into a tub, and smelling each other’s day-old pee. It was a real bonding experience. We tallied up the arthropods we caught, and couldn’t draw a solid conclusion because of one outlier: we got 100+ of 1 ant species, while we only got 1 of most other species! However, we could conclude that on both the canopy and forest floor, there was a clear preference for the pee vial over the water.

In the afternoon, we hiked down to the entrance of a cave- we couldn’t go much further because it was closed for archaeological excavation.

But our guides Ronan and John kindly let us do lectures in the cave on Scott’s laptop! Ellie and Isaac’s lectures on amphibians and reptiles were pretty amazing in the pitch black echoey-ness of the cave.



To top that off, we hiked to the (terrifying) bird tower after dinner to listen to Therese’s lecture from 40 feet off the ground at sunset.

Needless to say, those were the coolest lecture settings I’ve ever been in.

After the lecture it was perfect timing for a night hike back to the station. We saw a few big arthropods including a fluorescent scorpions, glue-butt cockroaches (that’s the scientific name I think), and a millipede.

And now for the daily moth report! Whoa! Are you excited yet?!

I feel like this one has been hanging around in the same spot for days.
This one has gained the status of second-favorite moth.

Some pics of the red and white lappet moth in daylight!

I’ve been noticing more and more of these green eggs lately, starting last night. I think they might be Sphingidae eggs, because those are also becoming more and more common on the window screens?

Day 12: presentations, pee, and pelvic exercises

We had a bright start to the day when Scott asked us to pee into 50-mL vials for unknown reasons… it was eventually revealed that we were going to use out nitrogen-rich pee to study nutrient availability in the forest floor vs. canopy.

So we hiked out to set out vials of water and our pee at arthropod traps- we reasoned that if arthropods were more attracted to the pee than the water, that would be a sign that nutrient availability is low in a particular area. We hypothesized that nutrient availability would be higher in the canopy since tropical soils are usually low in nutrients. 24 hours until we find out the results!

Since we got lost yesterday and hiked for 5 hours, yesterday’s presentations have been postponed to today, for a total of 8 lectures after lunch (2 for me). It’s gonna be a long afternoon…

Moth update after dinner: there were plenty of moths again attacking everyone during lectures, and my good friend Ceratomia undulosa is still the most common.

Day 11

Omg. My feet are dying right now. We set up camera traps scattered around Las Cuevas today, in order to compare the amount of prey vs big cat activity on paths vs off paths. (Our hypothesis is that big cats will be more active on paths, and prey will be more active off paths.) So, we hiked 3 hours before lunch, then had lunch, then headed back out… and got lost in the rainforest just as it was getting dark. Finally we made it back to the station at 7:30 pm, for a total of 8 hours of hiking for the day.

I drank a gallon of water and I think I lost it all via sweat.

Thankfully, Scott has taken pity on us and presentations are delayed until tomorrow!

Taxon sightings in the rainforest include a small venomous snake, several blue morphos, and a coati. And I saw so many cool moths at the station again!

This guy is everywhere. (Sphingidae, Ceratomia undulosa?)
My absolute favorite lepidoptera on the trip, a red and white lappet moth? Look at his little face!

I’m actually wondering if maybe I should study Belizean moths… there’s so little information on them, and I think I would be happy staying here staring at moths for a few more years!

Day 6: show and tell

The wind is too strong so we did minimal snorkeling today, but I am really loving all the free time we’re getting! First we collected specimens from the reef to identify at the wet lab. I got 7 identified species of brown and red algae, which was quite exicting: Dictyopteris deliculata, Turbinaria sp., Sargassum fluitans, Jania capillacea, crustose coralline algae, Amphiroa sp. and Hincksia mitchelliae. I also had 3 or 4 WTF? (unidentified).

Several of my brown/red algae, plus other taxons.

And, it was great to finally see everyone’s taxons laid out neatly and identified.

The green algae tub.
A mix of taxons living in harmony: 2 mollusks, 1 echinoderm, 1 herbivorous fish, 1 green algae.
An anemone turning itself inside-out in its death throes. Yikes.

The 2 celebrities of the day were Squishy the baby octopus and Trash Crab (formerly known as Hermy)!

Squishy, slightly off center in the picture. He’s kind of transparent. I LOVE HIM

Trash Crab was a tragic example of the effects of marine debris…

He wasn’t able to properly curl into his plastic shell, so he dessicated and died soon after we found him. RIP Trash Crab, you will be missed.

Just before dinner, we had a speedy 30-minute snorkel, which was honestly above my skill (fitness) level. The current was incredibly intense and when I finally reached land, I’m pretty sure I flopped onto the dock gasping for air like a dying fish. Team Turf! But I’m proud that I at least tried that snorkel and made it out alive!

Day 5: Mangroves of Averageness

In the so-called Mangroves of Death, I wasn’t attacked by a single mosquito! What a disappointment. I took two trips through the mangroves today; first we hiked through to count Christmas tree worm populations on different species of coral on the back reef. Ellie and I found zero on our section of the reef, as did most of the other groups, so we couldn’t really draw conclusions about Christmas tree worm host preference.

However, we did find a huge donkey dung (sea cucumber).

Then a small group of us did a trash pickup in the mangroves… even after 30 minutes of 4 of us working we barely made a dent in the amount of trash in one small area. 🙁 The totals that the class picked up around the island turned out to be 2460 pieces (18.46 kg) of plastic, 488 pieces (3.98 kg) of foam, 36 pieces (5.80 kg) of glass, and a few more kilograms of rubber, fabric, metal and wood. It was really impactful to actually go out and try to clean up all the litter on this environmentally protected island– imagine the total amount of trash in the oceans if 11 of us were able to pick up 25+ kg within 30 minutes on Glover’s. And it shows how much sanitation depends on a country’s wealth and infrastructure, because clearly Americans produce much more trash per person than the inhabitants of Glover’s.  It makes me wonder where all of our trash goes in the US?

After dinner, We had several hours of free time (whaaat) and played beach volleyball, caught up on journals and blogs, and at around 8, we hung lights off the dock into the water to watch the ocean nightlife. It was the most relaxed night I’ve had in a long time, watching the glow of the light through the water and swarms of silver fish, while being cooled off by the strong breeze.

As for my brown and red algae, I unfortunately didn’t notice any in the back reef as I was too focused on not bashing against the corals; sorry corals!!

Day 4: rustic math

I seriously can’t believe how much we get done in 1 day by getting up 3 hours early! We went to a non-MPA patch reef today to do transects the same way we did yesterday. Snorkeling has gotten much easier; I feel like I can kind of navigate gracefully and not flail around kicking things. I saw tons more algae in the non-MPA reef, mostly crunchy red coralline algae with short knobby branches covering the ground (not sure of species). We decided that might be because of increased human activity putting excess nutrients into the reef, or overfishing.

Branching coralline red algae.
A clump of Jania capillaceae.

We then swam to a more reefy area to collect non-MPA urchins, which were much harder to find than yesterday’s. I may have seen the red algae Pterocladiella capillacea here (?):

Please enjoy some Finding Nemo-esque shots of the reef!

On the boat back to Glover’s we played with several stragglers in our urchin bucket, including this brittle star.

After lunch we quickly whipped up a poster using our amazing rustic math skills, complete with slides…

Then we had lectures including a talk on Belizean culture and history by Javi—this was really interesting, it makes me wish we had more time to explore the cities and ancient ruins in Belize. He explained why there are so many Chinese people here—they were brought as servants in the 1830’s and also immigrated in the 1980’s, but didn’t really integrate into creole Belizean culture. But now the younger generation of Chinese are starting to mix with other ethnic groups by going to school with them, eg having creole boyfriends. That was crazy to me, imagining growing up in a Chinese community within Belize and integrating into the surrounding culture. Hopefully I can find a Chinese person and ask them before we leave.