Tag Archives: Boa constrictor

21/05/19 Close Encounters of the Animal kind

Bye Las Cuevas Research Station! Thank you for your hospitality—I will miss you and the food dearly!

Class imitating our favorite animals—mine is a butterfly, not an owl.

We took the morning and afternoon to explore the ATM (Another Tourist Missing) cave, where we were able to see the remains of human Mayan sacrifices, Mayan pottery, and stunning rock formations while swimming with fish in the caves. To reach the cave, we crossed three rivers/streams in gear. The entrance to the cave was a pool which we also had to swim through. Water within the cave was cool and refreshing in contrast to the heat outside. The cave constricted at certain points, and we were forced to crouch or turn sideways. We also climbed rock formations to reach certain chambers. Throughout the tour, the guide told us about the history of the caves and the Mayan culture associated with the caves. Mayans sacrificed blood (from the Mayan king) and—in times of desperation—human males of all ages in a bid to ensure rain and good harvest. I participated in the blood-letting ritual when I scraped my shin on a rock. If it rains tomorrow, that means that the Mayan gods must enjoy my blood. The tour of the cave took in total about 4 hours, and, by the time we were out, I was famished.

We drove another hour and a half to the Tropical Education Center (where we are staying the night), then had a nighttime tour of the Belize Zoo.

Some cool things that I observed/experienced during the tour:

-was ‘hugged’ by a boa constrictor

-fed and pet a tapir

-stood less than two feet away from a jaguar and a puma

– pet a kinkajou


Me holding a boa constrictor

Today was full of amazing experiences and I am excited for tomorrow—the reef!

Day 3: Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

I honestly don’t know how I hauled my bug bite-riddled butt out of bed to go bird watching this morning at 4:45am, but it happened. We spotted so many parrots and kites perching in the tops of trees. Breakfast was at 6am, and then we headed to the classroom for a meeting to discuss out first project of the trip: camera traps! After a long and intense discussion detailing the methodology of our first experiment, we headed out into the jungle recesses for the second time.

Our goal of the day was to set up our camera traps at strategic locations to hopefully catch some cool shots of rainforest mammals. We tramped through the dense foliage on a path covered with leaf litter and all forms of creepy crawlies that make the forest floor their home.

I was torn between keeping my eyes on the ground so I wouldn’t take even more spills, scanning the area for cool terrestrial animals like snakes or frogs, or watching the skies for butterflies flitting by. I failed miserably on the “not taking a spill” front – I pretty much have a map of bruises.

Today was my first day with the butterfly net! (Peep Elena smoldering in the back.)

I was just a “little* too excited about the butterfly net. The impulse to swing my new toy stick at every flying insect won out over the survival instinct telling me to keep my eyes to the ground. Blue morphos kept flitting tantalizingly near but flying away before I could even get within swinging distance. I’m determined, however! I’m sure that with the amount of shouting I get from the group every time someone spots a blue morpho, I’ll manage to snag one. Maybe. Hopefully.

Despite my lack of success with the blue morphos, I did catch seven butterflies, a pink katydid, and a moth today in my net. I spent a solid half hour in the hot sun of a forest pathway swinging at passing butterflies, perfecting my technique and sweating profusely.

Wouldn’t say I perfected it – not by a long shot – but I did make some pretty neat catches, some of which I’ve inserted here! The brown striped one is a Many-banded Daggerwing, and the other I believe is a species of Swallowtail. They were both zooming down the sides of an open forest path, which is where butterflies tend to be found.

Swallowtail butterfly Many-banded daggerwing

But the star of today’s show was not a Lepidopteran. As we were hacking through the brush to place a camera trap, we came across a magnificent iridescent boa constrictor!! It was coiled in the leaf litter, regarding us with clear annoyance and suspicion. It was a truly beautiful creature. Its scales were brown with darker brown and black splotches, and its entire body gave off an iridescent sheen that reminded me of the surface of soap bubbles. It was probably 5 or 6 feet long. Here it is:


Dinner tasted so, so good after a long day of meetings, lectures, and hiking. Tomorrow, there will be more. My body is protesting and my brain hurts a little from the sleep deprivation, but I’m ready to tackle the Chiquibul Forest once again.

But first, some sleep.





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.


Everything Goes Wrong (pt. 2)

Mishaps and miscommunication have become somewhat regular on this trip, and today’s adventure was no exception. We were supposed to say our forlorn goodbyes to Las Cuevas and the Chiquibul at 7am this morning and set off for a day of archaeological exploration at the ATM Cave near San Ignacio. But in true TFB fashion, absolutely nothing went according to plan.

After several hours of suspense, it became evident that our van was nowhere near Las Cuevas. Instead of wasting away the morning though, we learned about the fascinating conservation issues surrounding endangered scarlet macaws in the Chiquibul and enjoyed a surprisingly tasty lunch of peanut butter and cheese sandwiches (see me for more details on said sandwich). Our trustworthy van and driver arrived only 5 hours after its scheduled arrival, and so we set off by noon for our next caving experience.

Alas, my hopes of spelunking were dashed; we skipped the ATM cave and instead enjoyed an afternoon of wifi, souvenirs, and fresh fruit juices of the Orange Gallery. Despite our misadventures, our day ended with an incredible nocturnal tour of the Belize Zoo.

Morelet’s crocodile.

Among reptiles, we were shown both a Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) and an American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). The American crocodile was substantially larger and had a much longer snout, although both were definitely creatures to avoid in the dead of night. We were also able to see a boa constrictor (Boa constrictor), which paled in comparison to the boa we saw on day 1, as well as a Central American rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus) and a yellow-jawed tommygoff (Bothrops asper). Given that we didn’t find many of these species in the forest, this was a great opportunity to see them up close.

Ocelot jumping to catch meat.

And in case the reptiles weren’t charismatic enough, we also had the chance to see the different cat species found in Belize and a Baird’s tapir. If you were wondering, a hungry ocelot sounds a bit like an angry housecat, jaguars can be trained to do somersaults, and tapirs enjoy being fed carrots.

Day 1: Broken water lines, disappearing laptops, and projectors with minds of their own


We are in Belize! We met at Rice and headed to Hobby airport. While we were in security, a waterline broke, and they had to shut off water to the entire airport. The airport was filled with swarms of people waiting for the few places that were still serving food. We had a fairly uneventful flight, and were picked up by a driver who took us to the Crystal Palace Resort. When we arrived, we were greeted by these adorable towel swans!DSCN1210

We are staying at a lovely little place nestled within the forest. It was dark when we arrived, but it looks beautiful and I can’t wait to see the grounds in the morning! They served us an amazing dinner of chips and salsa, fried rice, salad, plantains, and cake (Happy birthday Claire!). We were all pretty amazed by the salsa-it had carrots and cucumbers in it and was delicious!

Belize was impressively green from the sky, but the habitat destruction is clear from the ground. Much of the area we drove through had been cleared for agriculture, and we passed a hillside covered in massive trees being burned to the ground. The soil in many fields was black, and many trees had scorch marks from previous fires.


Although we spent the day in the car, we still saw a fair bit of wildlife. We saw a few arboreal termite nests in the trees off the highway, but they were too far away to identify the species. We also saw a house gecko and a snowy egret at a convenience store we stopped at on the way to the resort. However, my favorite sightings were after the sun had set. As I was walking back to my cabin, I stumbled across a leafcutter ant trail. We followed them back to their nest, and then tracked down the tree from which they were harvesting. There must have been thousands of ants, and they had worn a smooth path through the tire tracks on the road. As I’m writing this blog post, a boa constrictor is sitting in a tree only a few feet away!DSCN1242

“Inauspicious Beginnings”

In the words of Dr. Scott Solomon, our group has reached Belize with “inauspicious beginnings.” Our journey began with a mix-up in buses, but eventual transportation brought us to Hobby airport for our departure. Alas, a water main break in the airport terminal proved unfortunate for the growling stomachs of biologists, but by mid-afternoon, our group of 16 had safely arrived in Belize City, Belize.

Our travels continued by van to the town of San Ignacio in the Cayo

Body of boa constrictor.

District. The two-hour drive proved to be a great opportunity for “deer” sightings and views of the limestone karst of the Maya Mountains. A pit stop for snacks even yielded my first reptile sighting: a common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus), an invasive species from Asia.

Our final destination was the tropical Crystal Paradise Resort in San Ignacio where we enjoyed a much-needed meal and birthday celebration. Misadventure followed with lost laptops and a dysfunctional projector, but even as I write this, the forest reveals even more of its wonders.

On a tip from a local, we uncovered a 7+ foot long boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) that has made its home here at the Crystal Paradise. The enormous snake slowly made its way down a tree just off the hotel’s balcony, amidst a chorus of chirping crickets and croaking frogs.

Head of boa constrictor.

Maybe our beginnings weren’t so inauspicious after all.