Tag Archives: amphibians

Reflection

Final Blog Post

Reflection

Written at 5:32 pm on May 31st

 

We’ve been home a little over a day now, but my brain is still reeling from this incredible experience. We may have been bitten by bugs or burned by the sun, but this trip is one I’ll always remember. I relished the opportunity to learn about field work and to do science experiments in new environments with people who are just as passionate as I am (if not even more!).

 

I had never really visited a rainforest in its pristine quality such as the Chiquibul area around Las Cuevas. There were just so many hymenopterans, insects, and plant diversity. My expectations were high due to the Planet Earth’s wonderful episodes, but wow, I was still floored.

 

Similarities wise, when comparing the rainforest to a reef, there is an equal amount of diversity—there are plants and coral that are common or rare (for their respective ecosystems), and the same seems to apply to animals/fish in both places! It’s just wild to me how such brilliant ecosystems can support as much life as they do. I was also shocked at just how much rain affected the rainforest. The first heavy rain ignited the nuptial flight for some termite and ant species! I know that rain affecting the rainforest seems obvious, but this nuptial flight and predictability of some fauna presence made the whole phenomenon magical.

 

Despite the obvious difference of salt water vs. freshwater and marine vs. terrestrial, I felt that there wasn’t much that differed. Of course, the biological diversity and make-up of the ecosystems are totally different. But if one were to equate a tree to a coral, and a reptile to a fish, one might find similar compositions and proportions of those species. However, now that I think about it a little more, there are SO MANY undiscovered arthropods in the rainforest, and probably just as many microscopic organisms in the coral reef. If I had to guess which ecosystem has greater biological richness, my money would be on the rainforest.

 

This course was everything I hoped it would be and more. I surely expected more mosquitos in the rainforest and less on the island, but the opposite was true. On a more serious note, I am really pleased with how our group got along, how we approached each poster/project, and just hung out in the downtime. Academics wise, I really felt like I learned a lot about ecology, which as a BioSciences major, I don’t have to study in total depth. If I had to pick three things that will stick with me forever… humm

  • Scarlet macaws are endangered due to poachers who steal their babies to sell as pets. This was surprising to me because finding their nests must be pretty hard already!
  • Frogs are really hard to find in the rainforest, especially during the dry season. Also, their sounds can deceive the human ear, and it sounds like they go in all different directions. I was actually shocked by the chorus of the rainforest at night, and I couldn’t really distinguish which animals were making what sounds.
  • Corals can form viable hybrids that could help increase genetic diversity and resilience of global warming effects in the ocean. This is just incredibly crucial to the future of coral reefs.

 

If I really had to pick a favorite part, I would say that snorkeling in the forereef and in the backreef, with such still water, was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There was just such a range of fish—in age, size, color, and species. And the coral/sponges were also spectacular. And the water was so blue. And the list could go on.

 

My “technically” least favorite part was the humidity in the rainforest. So dense and thick, I almost found it harder to breathe. Now, this also could have to do with my being out of shape from the semester, but either way I was surprised.

 

And truly, if that is the worst thing I can say about this trip, then amen—this was truly an incredible trip. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go to Belize.

Day 8: Our Mini Weekend

Blog Post #8

Day 8: Our Mini Weekend

Written May 23rd at 7:06 am

 

Yesterday (May 22nd) was a super start to our mini weekend. We spent it in transition from Turf to Surf, and did a few fun things along the way. No amphibians (or sponges) were spotted today because we were mostly in the cave or in the sun–two environments where neither of those are found.

After a bittersweet goodbye to Las Cuevas and the staff, we hopped on a plane and headed east for 3 hours. Then we reached the ATM Cave–its English translation is “The Cave of the Stone Tomb.” There was a 45 minute swim/wade in to the cave then we climbed barefoot.

The most interesting thing we saw was a nearly intact skeleton of a 16-18 year old–the namesake for the cave. Likely, this person was a human sacrifice for when the Maya civilization was in trouble, and they were desperate to please their gods.

Then we made our way to the Tropical Education Center, our home for the night. They put us in the adorable forest cabanas and fed us a lovely meal.

That night, we got the opportunity to get a night tour of The Belize Zoo! Of course, I LOVED it. There were so many species and wonderful nocturnal life. The highlight for me: Meeting Indy the Tapir.

We fed him carrots and watched his little nose trunk. He was SO CUTE!!!! What a great end to our night.

Day 7: 10 Miles and Several Mammals Later…

Blog Post #7

Day 7: 10 Miles and Several Mammals Later…

Written May 22ndat 6:25 pm

This post was meant to be for yesterday (May 21st), but you are about to find out why I haven’t written it until now.

I think we were told to make a scary/confused face

We started the morning at 4:45 am. We wanted to wake up and reach the Bird Tower around early morning light, but the hike up there is extra steep. So we set our around 5:15 am and headed to the trails. Probably one of the steepest (and slipperiest) hikes I’ve ever been on.  I had hoped to see some amphibians since it had rained last night, but unfortunately, none were out. The rest of the day wasn’t successful either, so today’s blog post will just report on my general day.

But the view from the top was gorgeous–the pictures below don’t do it justice. We also climbed into two chambers of a cave along the way 🙂

Then we came back down for breakfast, then went on a 5 mile hike to collect our camera traps. We didn’t view the photos right away because we wanted to wait for nightfall to get the best contrast with the screen.

So in the afternoon, we went to excavate some leaf cutter ant nests (Scott’s favorite) and brought along a few of our new Southern Miss. friends. First, we excavated a one year old nest after much digging on Scott’s and Zach’s (Southern Miss student) behalf. They had a small fungi garden, and we were able to find the queen! (See pic below) She lives for 25 years and all her babies only live for about one, so think of all the millions of eggs she lays in her life (after just one mating flight with stored sperm nonetheless!)

Claire needs to become a hand model 🙂

Then we went to a 15-20 year old nest slightly off trail in the woods. Scott started digging and we all took turns trying to shovel, but the ants just couldn’t seemed bothered. Turns out, we had dug up a dead fungi garden chamber and dumping ground. It was super weird; this was only the second time that Scott dug that up in his entire 17 years of ant experience!

That night, we checked out our camera traps. It was so AMAZING. On the first card that we looked at, there was a tapir taken one night and a jaguar the next night as the immediate next picture!! The shouts and hollers were amazing. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to those pictures right now, otherwise I would include them. For the rest of the pictures, we snapped a coatimundi, a 9-banded armadillo, 2 puma, several peccaries, male curassow, female curassow, and a coral snake. Apparently, this was the best luck in all of TFBs history.

We went to bed pretty late for a 4 am wake up call to leave Las Cuevas… Stay tuned!

Day 6: The Day the Insects, Rain, and Southern Mississippi Took Over

Blog Post #6

Day 6: The Day the Insects, Rain, and Southern Mississippi Took Over

Written 12:30 pm May 21st

 

This post was supposed to be written last night (May 20th), but then I took a Benadryl (#thankschiggers) and fell asleep while typing.

Shoutout to Mom and Jems for a happy birthday!

 

Yesterday, we spent half of the morning collecting our urine and water samples. Veronica netted another Mexican Tree Frog, but this one had varying shades of brown and green to help it camouflage in the leaf litter. When we returnred, we started analyzing our catches. (Check out Day 4 for the background on this project.) So basically, for the next 5 hours, I looked at insects of all different kinds. Standing over a bunch of springtails, flies, etc and helping our experts (other students who looked at those insects closely) was frustrating but rewarding. Also, everything smelled like urine.

While we were analyzing data, a huge thunderstorm cracked through the sky and we had the chance to get rained on in the rainforest! Scott was especially excited because the first big rain of the season triggers social insects’ nuptial (mating) flights. A few hours later, there were termites EVERYWHERE, and their wings shed very easily.

After the thunderstorm, a group of 25 from Southern Mississippi University arrived. The instructor for their course was intrigued with our insect project, and so he asked if we could present to his group on our urine insects. After much convincing, the group unanimously decided to go for it—and along the way we made all the “pee” puns. We were sad that our personal research station was no longer just ours, but we also had a great icebreaker to meet some new people.

 

Day 5: Our First Poster Day

Blog Post #5

Day 5: Our First Poster Day

Written on May 20that 6:17 am

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

 

Well May 19thwas a day for the books! We were tasked with our first project that we were to start and finish in one day. We were attempting to look at new pioneer plant biodiversity in hurricane gaps with tree regrowth vs not.  However, the hurricane gaps (tree fall areas induced by hurricanes) were so dense that we couldn’t enter the forest with the methodology we had created. So, we just ended up looking at plant biodiversity in hurricane gaps vs. forest.

We collected leaf samples from 10 different plots and then sorted them into morphospecies (categories of leaves that we think looked like the same species, not rooted in actual knowledge). It appeared to us that there was no significant difference between the two—had 30 morphospecies in gaps vs 28 in forest. We made a very lovely poster, and Scott thoroughly enjoyed our presentation.

After that, I gave my presentation on Amphibians! Everyone really liked my Frog and Toad slide especially. We had hoped it would rain so that there would be frogs out during our night hike, but unfortunately, it did not. We could hear frogs but unfortuantely couldn’t see them. I don’t think my eagle eye spotting was the best, and I was still somewhat confused by the calls of amphibians vs. insects, so the sound was hard to follow.

However, we did see lots of nocturnal reptiles including mud turtles, a red backed coffee snake, and a banded gecko! I also really enjoyed listening to the insect chorus of communication throughout the night. And I even had a chance to feel like Newt Scamander when I held a stick bug that looked a lot like a Bowtruckle! 🙂

Day 4: Pee in Vials; Not in Caves!

Blog Post #4

Day 4: Pee in Vials, Not in Caves!

Written on May 19that 7:13 am

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

I didn’t write this blog post last night because I was just so, so tired! I fell asleep with the lights on (3rdnight in a row) with lots of people chattering around me.

Anyways, we started the day with birding—we tracked the beautiful scarlet macaw mated pair as they chattered away. During this time, Scott handed us 2 50 mL vials and told us to fill each with 25 mL of urine. It was a very odd way to start the day, but turns out, our second project had to do with nitrogen scarcity and insect diversity in the canopy vs the forest floor.

Once we developed our question, hypotheses, null hypotheses, and methods, we set out to bury and hang out samples along with water vial controls. We picked two different sections of the same trail and placed them roughly 100 ft apart. We’ll collect them after two days to analyze what kinds of bugs fell into our pitfall traps! During our hike, Sam did spot a red-banded coral snake under a log and we got to watch it slither away.

In the afternoon, we had the special opportunity to spelunk into the Las Cuevas Cave, just a mere 100 yards away from our clearing. It was beautiful!! The stalactites and stalagmites glistened, glittered, and shined with all kinds of minerals. Since the cave has technically been closed for archaeological excavation research, it was relatively untouched and purely natural. Biologically speaking, we saw a bunch (literally) of baby bats (see pic), adult bats, crabs, isopods, mites, and an amblypygid (a glorified spider), and a peccary skeleton. Mayan wise, there was a nearly intact bowl, a metate (grinding stone), faces carved into the rock (rudimentary, but very noticeable), bone fragments from human sacrifices, and lots of shattered pieces of pottery. It was really incredible to walk the same walk and see the same sights as the kings or high priests of the Maya culture did when they worshipped in this cave to their rain god Chaac.

In the evening, we had our lectures, and a somewhat rare amphibian sighting! There was a frog in the window, and I caught/held it (see pic). I’m unsure of what kind of frog this was, but when we reach internet, I’ll for sure look it up! (UPDATE: It was a Mexican Tree Frog without its coloring since it was night time)

(Hey Mom and Dad, do I look happy? :D)

Day 3: Surrounded by Green

Blog Post #3

Day 3: Surrounded by Green

Written on May 17that 9:31 pm

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

On our first full day at LCRS, we started our first project! We were given a method (camera trapping) and were tasked with creating a question, testable hypothesis, and a full methodology. After much discussion, tweaking, and organizing, we decided to ask about human impact on mammal traffic. We measured this by setting camera traps in pairs—one on the trail facing the trail, the other off trail facing away from the trail. We hope to catch some great cat (like jaguar) shots!

With all the details figured out, we left for to set up the first three pairs. We went from the station, down Monkey Tail Trail, and turned onto Saffron Trail. This broad daylight hiking was different than yesterday—the sun rays glowed through the trees lighting up the forest canopy with all shades of green. Most notable canopy spotting today was a large termite nest in the Y of some branches; it had to be at least 5 ft in diameter!

I sadly did not spot any amphibians today—I think this is because it is the end of the dry season, and not that many rains have come yet. Also, most of the Belizean frogs are nocturnal and we’ve just been hiking in daylight or dusk thus far. The tree frog from yesterday was really a treat!

Somewhat related to amphibians are boa constrictors! We actually had the incredible opportunity to spot one in the wild while hiking off trail to set the camera trap. The boa was directly in front of a 30 ft wide leaf cutter ant pile, so we were all having a field day with this nature sightings. The snake, on the other hand, was very nervous but never lunged—it just followed any moving person with its eyes.

When we returned from our hike, we had a chance to shower then hear from the Director of Friends of Conservation and Development Raphael. He explained to us that (in a nutshell) his NGO is responsible for patrolling the border with Guatemala and other high-risk areas to protect the wildlife. All in all, today I learned to appreciate the rainforest, and even more, the colors and battles of the rainforest of today really made me appreciate being in the rainforest.

 

Day 2: Three Days Packed into One!

Blog Post #2

Day 2: 3 days packed into 1!

Written at 9:43 pm on May 16th

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest are posted after the fact!

Today felt like 3 days packed into 1… We started at the Rio on Pools excursion, which is halfway to Caracol from our ecolodge. There, we swam, “showered,” and identified wildlife. I spotted several little puddles of tadpoles! Also, Claire helped me pick up one of the bigger ones for a picture.

When we left Rio on Pools, I fell asleep in the van, so waking up felt like a whole new day. We arrived at Caracol to observe the Mayan ruins and learn more about the culture. We also talked about forest reclamation over these structures, and we discussed the pros and cons of excavation. No amphibians were spotted on this trip, but it was great to see the birds, howler monkeys, lizards, and countless plants along the way.

Again, I fell asleep during the ride to Las Cuevas Research Station and woke up to an oscillated turkey in the road. Once settled in, we readied ourselves for our calibration hike, figuring out all our gear, hiking ability, and sharpening our eagle eyes. Kirsten spotted a Mexican Tree Frog (identified thanks to my Taxon ID card!) that was blowing up his air sacs doing a mating call, resting in the center of a palm frond. Scott lowered the leaf appendage so we could see it better and the frog promptly projectile urinated behind him and jumped forward onto Scott. He said the frog was slippery, so he couldn’t catch it.

We came back to a lovely dinner, and then we did our first night of lectures, it is now 10:18 pm and I am ready to go to sleep! 5 am birding calls my name tomorrow.

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!

Let’s Go to Belize!

As I sit in my childhood backyard in Atlanta, GA, I think about all the bugs that seem to be nipping and milling about. I can only help but wonder what the bugs and critters will be like in Belize… I imagine that the mosquitoes will be much worse!

I’ve traveled to Belize before, but that was on a live-aboard sailboat! So, I’ve never been to the rainforest, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the rich fauna–even if they are hard to find. I’ve been researching amphibians, and though there are lots of them, every site says they are nearly impossible to spot unless you have a watchful eye. I am a little concerned I won’t be able to spot them as well as others because I am so short, but maybe they’ll be more on the ground!

I am most looking forward to spending time on the reef. I love being in the ocean, swimming about, seeing the fish, corals, and everything in between… I’ve always had an interest in marine biology, and I had an internship 3 summers ago at the Georgia Aquarium with the animal husbandry specialists. I’m excited to see how my research on sponges (which I also looked at back in sophomore year of high school) compares to real reef life.

All in all, as soon as I can pack, I am ready to hop on that plane and get there! I am ecstatic I get to share this experience with other equally invested and dedicated Rice students plus Surf+Turf. 🙂

EBIO 319 2018 woot woot!