DAY 13 – Today we set the bar high for future EBIO 319 classes by having two lectures in the twilight/dark zone of a cave and another at the top of a bird observation tower overlooking the Chiquibul forest.
This morning we collected our pee traps and spent our time until lunch sorting and categorizing by morpho-species the arthropods that had fallen into our pitfall traps. Our data suggests that there is greater nutrient availability on the forest floor and greater arthropod diversity in the canopy.
In the early afternoon we were able to explore the cave near the station clearing. You could clearly see the modifications the Maya made to the cave, including alter-like structures covered in plaster and constrictions of openings. We saw a cave cricket, and a helmeted iguana at the entrance to the cave. On our way out, we saw a snake slithering up the wall. I’m becoming a big fan of caves.
In terms of bees, today was a pretty empty day. I checked in on the colony on the corner of the research station, which is some sort of stingless bee. Tomorrow, when we retrieve the camera traps, I’m planning on carrying the filter paper for the entire hike. It’s my last chance to see an orchid bee!
To finish off a good day, we hiked up a steep hill to a bird observation tower. The view was incredible. Therese talked to us about her research and her experiences as a graduate student which was really cool, especially because the sun was setting over the mountains behind her.
To get back to LCRS, we took a short night hike through the forest. We saw some gnarly bugs, like a huge cockroach with a sticky rear end and a longhorn beetle. We also saw a scorpion that was phosphorescent underneath a purple light.
I’m glad we packed a lot into today, time is running short!
DAY 12 – We got a couple of extra hours of sleep last night, which felt really good. I started the day with a little bit of bird watching. We saw a Red-Lored Parrot, with a green body and red markings on its crown. After breakfast, Scott handed each of us two unexplained vials and told us to hydrate. Little did we know, we would be asked to pee in the vials for our next experiment.
In an effort to compare the arthropod diversity and nutrient availability in the canopy of the rainforest and the forest floor, we set out some pitfall traps. Basically, we are trying to see how many arthropods total we count in our canopy traps (both water and urine) and the floor traps (both water and urine) for a comparison of arthropod diversity. We can also infer nutrient availability by the difference between arthropods who go into the urine traps (which have high nutrients, including nitrogen) and the water traps. More arthropods in urine traps indicates lower nutrient availability.
We had some free time before lunch and presentations before we began our afternoon activity. Scott took us to a young leaf-cutter ant colony (about 1 year old), a slightly older colony (between 3 and 6 years old), and a huge, mature colony (anywhere from 10 to 25 years old). He bravely cut into all three with a shovel and exposed the channels under the soil as well as the fungi that the ants cultivate.
I didn’t see any bees today (except for the nests of stingless bees that are scattered around the research station). I’m going to double down on my efforts to attract a male orchid bee by carrying my fragranced filter paper.
We saw seven Scarlet Macaws total today around the clearing! They are incredibly bright and have kind of a silly squawk. It’s easy to see why they are targets of poaching, given their majestic, colorful plumage.
Tomorrow is our second to last day at Las Cuevas. It’s all happening so fast!