Tag Archives: ants

I cANT Belize what we saw today

Daily Blog Entry 7:

Today was a wonderful day.

We woke up at around 4:40 to go on the Bird Tower hike, and at around 5:20 we started our hike. The hike was pretty steep, and the trail was slippery from all the leaf litter that was wet from the night rain. Many of us fell on our butts on the way up and our way down. The view from the bird tower was spectacular because we saw the mist covering the rainforest canopy while the sun was rising.

Later while we were walking to retrieve our camera traps, I got to focus on ants and got to see a lot of them, hence the pun in the title. We saw the leaf cutter ants, soldier ant swarm, and a different ant that I did not know much about. Scott squished the ants to figure out what type of ants they were. I always see Sam squishing the ants and smelling them, so I’m glad I got to smell them today. They smelled very herbal and mint-like.

In the afternoon we went to two different ant nests. In the first ant nest, we got to see the fungal chamber of a leaf cutter ants and got to touch it. It was moist and soft. We also got to touch the queen ant and it was about 4 cm big. I let it crawl on my hand and I couldn’t believe it. It was way bigger than I could have ever imagined, and I was very shocked.

Then we went to the second ant’s next where a couple of us started digging and we found the dump chamber. Scott said digging these chambers are not that common, so I was very excited. The consistency of the fungus was different- it was dryer and more brittle to the touch.

We finally got to see our camera trap photos and I cannot believe what we saw. We all lost our minds. WE SAW A PUMA AND A FEW JAGUARS!!!! I know my taxonomic group is ants but man… after seeing the jaguar, we all just screamed with excitement because we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. We also saw a lot of collared peccaries, a rice rat (peck em’ owls), a coatimundi, an armadillo, a tapir, a few curassows, and a coral snake. Our photos were incredible, and it went beyond my wildest imaginations. We also saw a few photos of Adrienne being goofy, which made all of us miss her even more. We miss you Adrienne and we all hope you are feeling well!

Scott just caught a leaf cutter ant male, and it was so long. The ant was probably about 4 cm long, and its abdomen was incredibly thin and long. Since Scott was holding it by its wing, the ant kept curling its abdomen back and forth- it was pretty wild. Since it was out flying, it was on its mating flight, so it’ll probably die today. RIP unexpectedly large male leaf cutter ant.

Turtles can glide

Daily Blog Entry 5:

The cool interesting ant find of the day was the Cephalotes that Sam found! He said that the Cephalotes ant just glided onto him, which is what the Cephalotes are known for, giving them the common name ‘gliding ant;. Although Cephalotes are supposed to glide onto trees and not to humans, to the ant’s credit, Sam was wearing a green shirt and dark pants. He was basically dressed like a tree. Cephalotes have a very flat head, abdomen, and thorax, which gives them a second common name go ’turtle ant’, so it was pretty easy to identify the ant as a Cephalotes because it too had an incredibly flat, rectangular head. I wanted to see the ant to exhibit their turtle-like behaviour of retracting their legs when they were scared, but it didn’t seem to be scared by people’s presence. Sam wanted to see it glide, so dropped the ant to test if it would glide back onto Sam’s leg. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the ant anymore. I was so excited with finding the Cepahlotes and testing its interesting behaviour that I forgot to take a photo of it. Dang it.

In other news, I walked right into a vine that was right on my eye level, so now I have a cut above my left eyebrow. To be fair, I was on the lookout for ants for I was only looking at the forest floor. Speaking of critters, I am now very paranoid about chiggers. I’ve picked off a few tics from my body and it doesn’t bother me too much because I have the satisfaction of crushing it with my fingernails and killing it. Meanwhile, chiggers can cause so many bites on the body before its death, and you can’t even see it!

To end on a positive note, WE SAW A TOUCAN TODAY! It was smaller than I expected, but I am so happy I got to see one!

The toucans were too small to take a photo of, and I didn’t take a photo of the Cephalotes, so enjoy a photo of a cute baby leaf cutter ant’s nest that we saw:

Between an ant hill and a boa constrictor

Daily Blog Entry 3: 



I am absolutely exhausted and it feels like I’ve been here for a week but I’ve only been here for 3 days. It’s wild that on the third day we already saw so many cool things: several scarlet macaws, dozens of fish tail palms, a boa constrictor, 7 meter long ant hill, an unknown colourful beetle, and many cool ants.

Today was a great day for TFBs! For the ant department, we saw a lot of acacia ants. The acacia trees were usually immature and had a lot of thorns for the ants, so it was alarming at first to see a lot of ants on a small plant. However, after figuring out that the young plant was actually an acacia, I was pretty excited.

We happened to see an almost 10m long leaf cutter ant nest, and it was incredible. The entire nest looked like a hill, and I would not have guessed that it was an ant nest if it weren’t for Adrienne yelling out “LOOK AT THIS NEST”. This nest was a bit overshadowed by the boa constrictor next to it, but it was still amazing.

On the way back to the research centre, we came across a hollow tree trunk with a swarm of ants. Scott described that the swarm of ants were a part of the mating swarm. I learned that winged ants are called alates and that they were being protected by the worker ants because the alates were preparing for the mating season now that the start of the rainy season is approaching.

Finally, we saw an ant with the cordyceps fungus growing out of it! Incredible! Ever since a EBIO319 alumni told me about seeing an ant with the cordyceps fungus, I was really excited to see one, so I am so glad that Kristen saw it. It was incredible that the mandibles of the ants bit onto the leaf so well that the infected ant was on a slanted plant leaf. The cordyceps fungus was growing straight from the head and it was definitely an interesting find.

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).

So Many Reflections I’m Basically Mulan

After spending two weeks in Belize immersed in coral reef and tropical rainforest environments, I’ve gotten much deeper insight into these two ecosystems which have always fascinated me. I was surprised to learn that such biologically diverse ecosystems exist in nutrient-poor conditions. I always imagined that there would need to be a nutrient-rich foundation to sustain the plethora of organisms that live within each ecosystem, but that’s not the case – actually, for the coral reef it can be quite harmful. The stony corals that form the reef thrive in nutrient-poor environments and, as Ellie told us, if too many nutrients enter the system, the reef will undergo a phase shift which means that it will become overrun by algae. In the case of the rainforest, Sarah T. gave us the lowdown about how there is only a very thin layer of soil (the topsoil) which contains most of the available nutrients. The low levels of nutrients are caused in part by rapid nutrient recycling; as nutrients become available, they are quickly used by the many organisms that inhabit the two ecosystems.

Another similarity I noticed between the two ecosystems is how many symbiotic relationships there are. This is likely because the high species density in coral reefs and rainforests brings many organisms into close proximity, resulting in more specialized niches. An example in coral reefs that Sarah G. talked about is the mutualistic relationship between dinoflagellates and corals. The dinoflagellate provides photosynthetic products to the coral, while the coral provides shelter to the dinoflagellates. In the rainforest, a symbiotic relationship Scott and I discussed is when leafcutter ants cultivate fungus gardens. The fungus breaks down the leaves that the ants can’t digest, producing nutritious swellings called gongylidia. In return, the fungus receives shelter and protection.

Ultimately, the two ecosystems are more alike than I realized at first sight. Even though I had been to both a rainforest and coral reef before this course, I had never really connected the dots between the two. I had always separated them in my mind due to the obvious difference that one ecosystem is on land and the other is underwater. It was really interesting to look at them comparatively. Although there are some differences like coral reefs being more sensitive and susceptible to changing environmental factors when compared to rainforests, it’s become obvious to me now how much more they have in common.

This course went above and beyond my expectations which were to learn about field work and to look at coral reefs and rainforests through a more scientific lens than I had while on vacation. While I did come away with a greater knowledge of the ecosystems and a better understanding of being a field biologist, I also created friendships and had the most fun I’ve had in a while. I feel extremely lucky to have been part of such an amazing group. It was so interesting to watch everyone become comfortable with each other to the point where it became non-stop laughing and joking around. That was definitely the best part of the trip for me. Honestly, the only downside I can think of is that the weather didn’t permit for a night dive. With all the snorkeling and scuba diving I’ve done, I have never gone in the water at night which I thought that would be neat, but oh well.

I’ll definitely hold on to a lot of the things I’ve learned throughout the course, especially the experiential learning aspects of how science is done out in the field. It was fascinating to consider how many different directions a project can take, and how one observation can spark years of research. It’s kind of like how Therese’s work on defaunation in Gabon lead to her new project on seed-dispersal in Peru. I’ll also remember how important it is to talk to other people about their work. Scott and Adrienne really encouraged us to take advantage of where we were and to talk to the researchers at the stations. I’m normally not one to approach people I don’t know, but I made it a point to go out of my way to talk to the researchers at Glover’s and the archeology team at Las Cuevas. I’m glad I did because I got so much out of hearing their stories and listening to what they were working on. Lastly, I was completely surprised with how awesome ants are. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled that I got ants as my taxon but I was quickly converted. I always thought it odd that my grandmother never killed the ants that crawled along the windowsills in her house, but now I understand. This trip ruined me –  I’ll never be able to squish an ant again.

Until next time, Belize. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to dive the Blue Hole and swim with whale sharks. Sorry Scott, Team Surf for life.

A Budget for Bulging Bellies and a Goodbye to Belize

5.30.2017

Today began much like any other day, except instead of leaving Las Cuevas on foot to hike through the Chiquibul rainforest, a van pulled up to drive us across Belize back to the airport.

Last goodbye to Las Cuevas

We made two stops on our way: a gift shop called Orange Gallery and a restaurant called Cheers. I bought plenty of Belizean hot sauce to bring home (safe to say I’m hooked), but was kind of disappointed that there weren’t any machetes. As far as lunch goes, I made the most of the $40 Belizean dollar limit we were given, eating three different entrées. Never underestimate the stomach capacity of a small human.

Once we got to the airport, we swiftly made our way through some very lax security. There was wifi at the gate meaning that five days of messages streamed in, which I proceeded to ignore except for the ones from my family and closest friends. I was definitely not ready to reenter reality.

The plane ride was quick and painless, but claiming my bags was quite the opposite. My luggage emerged on the conveyer belt with the zipper broken and articles of clothing tossed about. Thankfully nothing was lost and I made my way to my hotel and then to Target to purchase a new bag.

It’s crazy to think that less than 24 hours ago I was at Las Cuevas and now I’m back in Houston.It’s funny because I feel like I’m going to still have my eyes peeled for ants in my daily life. It feels so odd being at the hotel airport, like it’s some acclimation period between rainforest and city. Although I’m going to miss Belize and the great friends I’ve made on this trip, I’m excited to finally go back home to Miami.

You Better Belize I’m Not Ready to Leave

5.29.2017

The theme of the final day here at Las Cuevas was exactly like the first: hiking and more hiking. Today was surprisingly less exhausting, though, except for the part where I got vine thorns in my head, finger, and knee then felt lightheaded. I drank the rest of my Gatorade and ate a really delicious energy gummy which perked me up soon so I didn’t miss out on much at all.

Goofing off before hitting the trails

While hiking, I didn’t see all that much but I did sight an Acacia tree with ants (Pseudomyrmex sp.). During lunch, I also saw a praying mantis which slightly unnerved me when it tried to attack Ellie’s camera but with some patience I got it to model for me without attacking me too.

Acacia tree housing ants in its thorns
Praying mantis, part 1
Praying mantis, part 2

The seven hours of hiking place to place to collect the camera traps was not in vain, though. We got an amazing shot of an ocelot as well as some peccaries, a brocket deer, and a Great Curassow bird among others.

Ocelot caught on camera trap

It’s sad that tomorrow we are leaving Belize, but tonight I’m going to spend as much time as I can with everyone. I’ll definitely miss this.

Tales of My Abund(ant) Taxon

5.28.2017

The first order of business this morning after breakfast was recovering the vials we placed out yesterday on the trails, and man was it a day for ants… or maybe not so much since they were dead. Anyhow, I sorted through 151 specimens of ants and found 11 different species!

It was rough on my neck to look at so many ants through the microscope, but it was also fascinating to see all the detail distinguishing the various species. Some of the notable specimens were a queen trap jaw ant (Odontomachus sp.) and an ant (Cephalotes sp.) that is known to direct its flight through the air to its home tree when it falls from the rainforest canopy.

Queen trap jaw ant 
Cephalotes ant under microscope

The rest of the afternoon was packed with fun activities and lectures in the oddest locations. We went to the cave right by Las Cuevas but because of the ongoing archaeological study, we could only go as far as the first chamber. That didn’t stop us from taking full advantage, and we decided to do a couple taxon lectures in the cave.

Group picture in hard harts at the mouth of the cave
Interior chamber of the cave
First EBIO 319 cave lecture on amphibians

After that, we hiked to the Bird Tower to watch the sunset and had yet another lecture way above ground with the forest canopy all around.

Lecture in bird tower near Las Cuevas

By the time we wrapped up and hiked back to station, it was nightfall. Slowly walking through the sounds of the rainforest with the stars above was incredibly relaxing. Some fascinating creatures also came out that we didn’t see in the daytime.

Dusk falling over the Chiquibul rainforest
Fluorescent scorpion on log

I’m having such an amazing time being out here in nature with a group of people I’ve become surprisingly close with. It’s hard to accept that tomorrow is our last full day here in Belize. 

Urine for a Treat

5.27.2017

You know you’re going to have a good day when you’re handed two vials at breakfast and told to give a personal donation (aka urine) without revealing the reasoning. We were to find out after lectures that the pee was for our next study about arthropod diversity and nutrient availability in the rainforest. While setting out the vials along a trail leading to the bird tower, I saw plenty of ants – most notably a queen ant of the yet to be identified species of ant.

Ant queen about to take flight

After lunch, I used my free time to check out a specimen of one of the unidentified ants under the microscope. Turns out the species was actually one of the species I had on my taxon ID card which made me super happy. I’ve been seeing these types of ants everywhere and now I can positively say they are Dolichoderus bispinosus!

The rest of the afternoon (besides the time spent catching up on cancelled lectures from yesterday) was dominated by ants. Yay! Never did I think I’d get excited about ants but I’ve been converted. We went out to three different leaf cutter ant (A. cephalotes) colonies and dug around them to see their structure. It’s unbelievable how complex the nests can get, and seeing the fungus gardens and watching the workers cutting leaves was fascinating. I even serendipitously saw a species of Pheidole in the leaf litter by the first nest.

Leaf cutter ant foraging on trail
Fungus garden from a young leaf cutter ant colony
Leaf cutter ant soldier from a mature colony

When the ant fun was over, we headed back to the station for dinner then lectures. A group of us decided to walk around looking for tarantulas once we were dismissed for the night. We saw plenty of red rump tarantulas, which I found slightly creepy but funny enough not as scary as the guys found the moths. Before heading to bed, I decided to talk to the group of archeologists (one of which is Cuban!) heading an expedition into the Chiquibul cave system. They showed me some of the pictures they’d taken and talked to me about their adventures, which included rappelling down steep rocks and jaguars roaming their campsite. It was a great way to end the day and I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to talk to them more before heading home.

Camera Traps in Las Cuevas

5.26.2017

Today marked the first full day here at Las Cuevas and an interesting one at that. The day started bright and early with birdwatching. Although I heard many bird calls, I only saw vultures and a Plumbeous kite (a lot like a rainforest pigeon) which prompted my tired self to go back to sleep before breakfast.

After breakfast, we were given our task for the day: to go out and set camera traps in the area surrounding the research station. We planned for an hour or so and then set out to the 50 hectare path to set out six of our fourteen cameras before lunch.

Hiking on the 50 Hectare trail

On the way, I saw so many ants! I saw leaf cutter ants (A. cephalotes), army ants (E. burcellii), and ants that Scott and I have yet to identify. There were also Acacia ants (Pseudomyrmex spp.) on a small tree with Beltian bodies (nutrient-filled swellings on new leaves).

Young colony of leaf cutter ants
Beltian bodies on Acacia tree sprout

Besides ants, I also saw a blue morpho butterfly, a longhorn beetle, a millipede, a scorpion-eater snake, and a Mexican porcupine. I also saw some beautiful orchids.

Millipede
Orchids

We arrived back at the station late for lunch, ate, then headed right back out onto a different trail – the Monkey Trail – to set out the rest of our camera traps. We decided to set them out a kilometer apart, which kept us out there in the rainforest past sunset for a total of five hours during which I saw more leaf cutter ants (A. cephalotes), noticed scat (poop) and scratches likely from a jaguar, and came face to face with the most dangerous snake in the Chiquibul rainforest – the Fer de Lance .

While setting out our last camera, we got slightly lost trying to find our way back to the trail. Thankfully, we had a GPS and a machete to help us but it was still pretty intense; the staff at the station told us they were about to send rescue in after us. Walking back in the dark was neat, despite the fact that I tripped over a branch and pulled a ligament in my left foot after trying to jump over a fallen tree trunk blocking the way.

The long trek left not only my feet sore but also my stomach grumbling, so I had two full plates of food at dinner. It seems that I’m not the only exhausted one, because evening lectures were cancelled. Now I’m icing my foot which I hope will be better by tomorrow so that I don’t miss out on any other activities. Although today has been tiring and crazy, it definitely makes for a great story to tell once I get back home.

Smiling through the soreness in my feet