Tag Archives: Anna

Wrap-up blog

It has been an amazing two weeks exploring the tropical rainforest and the reef. One similarity between these two ecosystems are they both have low nutrient conditions, but are able to be so biologically diverse because of efficient cycling loops. For example, the rainforest has nutrient poor soil, but has rapid decomposition, so the nutrients don’t spend much time in the soil. This efficient cycling of nutrients allows many different organisms to survive in the ecosystem. Another similarity between these ecosystems is the many mutualistic relationships that allow organisms to survive in their environment. In the reef, we learned about the microorganisms that live in coral. In the rainforest, we learned about the Acacia ants that live with the Bullhorn Acacia and there are so many more examples.

At this point I can barely remember what I expected from the course. I know I expected to see and learn a lot of new things and I definitely did. I don’t think I expected or realized that I would be able to see so many different and amazing plants and animals. I was so focused on Orthoptera, and non-reef building Anthozoans that I didn’t have many expectations about different organisms I would see. I was blown away by the birds, fungi, frogs, coral, fish, sea urchins, and many others that I got to observe in real life.

My favorite parts of the course were when someone in the group found something cool and everyone would rush other to see. A few examples of this were the reef shark, the octopus from the touch tank, the Morelet’s tree frog, and when Liz caught the Blue morpho. It was fun to be around people who were so excited to see these amazing things and learn from others. It was cool when someone would get excited about something from their taxonomic group like when Kelsey saw the Flamingo Tongue snail because it made me appreciate what I was seeing more. My least favorite parts were picking off ticks and being attacked by sandflies, but it was worth it.

Flamingo Tongue snail

It was  interesting to learn about the mutualistic relationships between organisms and see them in action. The most memorable relationship is the Cecropia tree and Azteca ants because my hand was surrounded by the ants when trying to measure leaf toughness. These ants protect the Cecropia tree and in return the ants get a carbohydrate source and a home from the tree.

Learning about marine debris and the basins in the ocean was very important to me. I knew a lot of it already, but actually picking up the trash gave me a concrete experience that changed the way I thought about the negative impact debris can have. It’s just hard to care as much about something when it feels very far away and this experience brought it a lot closer. I saw the fish, hermit crabs, and other organisms that could be directly affected and I saw how such a remote island could still be covered in trash.

The view from a Maya structure.

Lastly, it was interesting to learn about the Maya by looking at their structures, pottery, and even skeletons. It is hard to believe that archaeologists can learn about their religion, social structure, economy, and a lot more from these artifacts. One thing that sticks with me is how they built structures on top of existing structures until it was too small to live on because of their religious beliefs. I love being able to see things in person that I have heard about for years in school which I got to do a lot on this trip.

Orthoptera species list

Taeniopoda eques

Tropidacris cristata

Orophus tesselatus


Non-reef-building anthozoan species list

Condylactis Gigantea

Palythoa caribaeorum

Stichodactyla helianthus

Day 15: Traveling home

It’s hard to believe that I started today on a small island off Belize and am now in my house in Austin. Today was a long day of traveling by boat, van, plane, and car. I was a little worried about making my connecting flight home, but ended up having plenty of time especially since one of the armrests needed repair on the plane.

View of Belize City on the boat ride back from Glover’s

It is nice being home and I’m excited to tell my family about my trip. I am still extremely itchy, but at least I’m not getting any new bites!

Day 14: Dissecting lionfish

Today was the itchiest day of my life. I have never been so covered in bug bites, so I am ready to leave this island. Today we collected trash in different areas of the island and analyzed its composition which was mostly plastic and Styrofoam.

In the afternoon, we dissected a lionfish and it was used to make ceviche. I normally don’t like seafood, but I thought it was pretty good because it didn’t taste like fish.

The small fish was found inside the stomach of Liz and Cassia’s lionfish.

I didn’t see any sea anemones, zoanthids, or corallimorphs because we didn’t spend any time in the water today.

Day 13: Collecting Sea Urchins

Today, we returned to the two patch reefs we went to for our previous research project, one inside the marine protected area and one outside. In both patches, we collected sea urchins for thirty minutes and then measured their size to compare the sea urchin community structure between the reefs. We ended up collecting Long-spined, Reef, West Indian Sea Egg, and Red Heart sea urchins.

Bucket of sea urchins

In the evening we went on a night snorkel. We got lost and swam around the sea grass a while because we couldn’t find the patch reef. By the time we found it I was pretty tired. I did see a Spotted Eagle Ray swim right by me which was amazing.

I saw more Giant Sea Anemones (Condylactis Gigantea) today which I am finding to be the most common anemone in these patch reefs. Some of the time they have had green tips and other times light pink tips. There is a lot of color variation in many anemones, corallimorphs, and zoanthids. Bella saw a Mat Zoanthid (Palythoa caribaeorum) on some coral which has green tones and forms polygons when packed tightly in colonies.

Day 12: Fire Coral Everywhere

Today was full of snorkeling. In the morning, we went to two different patch reefs in a marine protected area and marine unprotected area again to finish collecting data. The first patch reef had so much fire coral that it was almost impossible to avoid. I brushed my leg against it at least once, but it hasn’t been so bad.

Using a quadrant to collect data

In the afternoon, we got to go to the fore reef. It was very deep and amazing to look down and see such large coral colonies. Because the water is deeper, there is the opportunity to see bigger animals which for us included a nurse shark, a Southern Sting Ray, and a Caribbean reef squid.

In the patch reef, I saw some more Giant Sea Anemones (Condylactic Gigantea). Most of them were behind a crevice between two corals or rocks. They had yellowish green tentacles and some had pink tips. The tentacles of all non-reef building Anthozoans contain nematocysts which contain capsules with a coiled-up barb inside them. When stimulated, the capsule is open and the barb releases to hit and inject the prey. I am hoping to find some Zoanthids or Corallimorphs tomorrow which I am a little less familiar with, so might be harder to spot.

Giant Caribbean Sea Anemone

Day 11: Anemones!

Today was the first day we got to ride the boat to a patch reef. We went to one reef in a marine protected area and one reef outside of a reef protected area to compare the live coral cover between them.

Later, we got to spend around an hour wading next to the island to collect any organisms we saw. From my taxon, we saw two Sun Anemones (Stichodactyla helianthus) and a few Giant Caribbean Sea Anemones (Condylactic Gigantea).

Giant Caribbean Sea Anemone and Damselfish


Sun Anemone found in seagrass

There were two Damselfish that were swimming within the Giant Sea Anemone which is a common occurrence in Sea Anemones. Fish, shrimp, and crab sometimes live in association with this species by providing nutrients and protection for the anemone in return for protection from predators.

Day 10: Exploring Sea Grass

We spent the day working on a small research project comparing the community ecology structure of a mixed sea grass and algae region to a mostly seagrass region. It was a very tiring and at times frustrating experience because of different problems with equipment and getting used to swimming to the bottom to collect data.

At the end of collecting data I got to snorkel around a patch reef where I saw so many different fish, and coral. There are so many different organisms in the reef that I have no idea how to identify even into a broad group like I could often do in the rainforest because it is such a different environment to be in.

Giant Sea Anemone in the seagrass

I spent most of the day in a seagrass bed, so I did not see any anemones, zoanthids, or corallimorphs. Kaela showed me a picture of what looked like a greenish or yellowish sea anemone which was probably a Giant Caribbean Sea Anemone (Condylactis gigantea).

Day 9: First day snorkeling

After a three-hour boat ride from Belize City, we made it to Glover’s Reef Research Station. The ocean is beautiful and blue. There are hermit crabs all along the trails. It is definitely much hotter than the rainforest.

We spent the rest of the day getting used to snorkeling by practicing in shallow waters. It was windy which made it hard to control myself and my mask kept getting fogged up. We also had to go through mangroves to get to a different part of the island and got swarmed by mosquitoes which was miserable.

Giant Caribbean Sea Anemone

I did not see any anemones, zoanthids, or corallimorphs, but Bella saw one in the seagrass and took a picture for me. It was hard to see in the picture, but the shape looked just like the Giant Caribbean Sea Anemone (Condylactis gigantea), and it had green tentacles with swollen tips.

Day 8: Climbing Through a Cave

We left Las Cuevas Station this morning. It was sad to leave, but all our feet hurt so much that we felt it was time to go to the reef. Our first stop of the day was the ATM caves which is a Maya archaeological site. After swimming and climbing through the cave we made it to a larger chamber where there was pottery and human skeletons.

In the evening, we got a tour of the Belize Zoo at night which is a good time to come because many of the animals are active during the night. My family is not going to believe that I held a Boa Constrictor, but I did hold one for around ten seconds. I also got to see a Tapir, Jaguar, Barn Owls, Pigmy Owls, Morelet’s Crocodile, Ocelot, and many others.

Tapir at the Belize zoo

I didn’t see any Orthoptera because we mostly spent the day in a dark cave, traveling, and at the Belize Zoo. Tomorrow I will start looking for my reef taxon which is the non-reef building anthozoans which includes anemones, corallimorphs, and zoanthids!

Day 7 in Belize: Last day at Las Cuevas

Today was our last day at Las Cuevas Research Station and we had a full day. We collected all the camera traps that we set up the first day. Later in the evening, we looked through the camera trap photos and the most exciting photo was of a Tapir!

We also excavated a young and old leafcutter ant nest and saw the chamber where they keep their fungi garden in the older nest. The ants bring the leaves to the fungi for it to digest to a form that the ants can eat. It was a little scary when the army ants came out of the nest and started surrounding our boots because they can cut through pants and draw blood.

It was a great day for spotting Orthoptera. I saw at least two katydids. Both mimicked brown leaves to avoid predation. I think one of them was the Dead leaf katydid (Orophus tesselatus) because it has a very similar shape and pattern of the wings to the picture on my ID card.

Leaf mimic katydid


Dead leaf katydid (Orophus tesselatus)

The last Orthoptera I saw was dead and had its antennae and legs eaten off which makes it harder to identify. The hind wings were like a bright red fan which made me think it was the Giant Red Winged Grasshopper (Tropidacris cristata) and not a katydid. It was also very large and had bumps on the pronotum which are characteristics of this grasshopper.

Dead Giant Red Winged Grasshopper


Hind wings of dead grasshopper