Tag Archives: camera trap

A Spectickular Day

Today, May 16th 2019, I had an early morning with 5:00 early morning birding. There was eerie mist surrounding the clearing and it was almost ominous to hear the jungle amongst suddenly come alive with bird calls. It started with the hoots of the Blue Breasted Mot Mots. The grey form of a Plumbious Kite flew into a tall tree and a pair of parrots flew overhead (flapping their wings rapidly and almost screaming) (this is completely normal and it looks like they’re panicking). Some Melodious Blackbirds and yellow breasted Social Flycatchers also made appearances. Perhaps the most surprising site was a Grey Fox slinking back into the forest at the edge of the clearing. The display that took the cake was the Plumbious Kite sweeping down from its perch to catch an insect and feed it to what I assume was its baby that was in a tree right in front of us.

Part of the 50 hectare trail

After, we had breakfast and an orientation and we started our experiment. In short, we’re investigating if the presence of the research station impacts species richness and abundance at different distances from Las Cuevas using images from camera traps (movement sensitive cameras). First, we hiked up a 50-hectare plot, a rectangular plot (50 hectares in area), and after 45 or so minutes we placed our first camera trap. On the way, we saw so much life such as beetles and crickets. Excitingly, we saw a couple instances of mammal scat (feces) and a game trail (a trail created by a large animal running through the forest to find food). A good indicator of a game trail is snapped vegetation with a compressed path through the forest. On the way back along the trail to place some other camera traps we saw a troop of Central American Spider Monkeys dwelling amongst the canopy. They shook trees, a behavior used to intimidate, and used their prehensile tails and great climbing skills to follow us until we exited their territory.


We then hiked up a longer trail called Monkey Tail Trail to place more camera traps and saw many ants (some of which bit people) and attracted the attention of a multitude ticks.


With a long day of hiking behind us, we ate dinner and ended the day with presentations on epiphytes, arachnids, and an overview on life in the rainforest canopy.


Tomorrow we have a project to construct in the morning and may go on to explore a nearby cave which is exciting beyond belief.

Day 7: chant with me: ants! ants! ants!

Today’s general agenda: retrieve camera traps —> finish poster for project mutualism —> check out leafcutter ant colonies —> look at camera trap photos 

Here’s a missed opportunity: Ant-Man should really be Ant-woman instead

Did you know that if you see an ant on the ground, you are most likely observing a female worker ant? These ants are infertile ants that do many important tasks to keep the colony up and running. Male ants only appear during mating season. Today was definitely another fruitful day in the ant department.  In the early afternoon, we got to make a poster and present on our project focused on Azteca ants and their mutualistic relationship with Cecropia tree. We found that, on average, uncolonized trees have tougher leaves, meaning they are less likely to be eaten by herbivores. However, we definitely need more data to validate our results.

In the late afternoon, Dr. Solomon, the actual ant-expert, took us around the research station to compare leafcutter ant colonies of different ages.  We were specifically looking at colonies of A. cephalotes. These colonies can have millions of individuals residing in them, and they can be seen as one of the earliest farmers.These ants collect leaves to grow fungus, and the fungus is then fed to ant larvae. When aggravated, these ants can use their sharp mandibles and actually chew through rubber boots. It was a surreal experience getting to observe what I have been researching in preparation for the trip. 

leafcutter ant soldier!

As our grand finale for the rainforest, we all sat in the classroom to look at the photos the camera traps took over the course of the five days we were in Las Cuevas. We were all on the edge of our seats because we just were not sure what to expect. I think we can all agree that the best picture that was taken was of a tapir walking on the path. On that note, I think we are all ready to further explore Belize and head to the coral reefs. 

camera trap viewing party! It’s a tapir!
unidentified male captured by camera trap

As a mid-trip reflection, I am already amazed by how much we have learnt in such short amount of time. Even though I was initially worried about having minimal internet access, I think the disconnection allowed us to be fully immersed in our environment. I 

Brendan Wong

Las Cuevas, Belize


Day 3: and they came out of nowhere!

Today’s agenda: Las Cuevas research station —> exploring trails and setting up camera trap —> Las Cuevas Research Station 

Part of our trip objective is to conduct a research project around Las Cuevas Research Station. Our group came up with the plan to examine how the research station itself may serve as a disturbance for species diversity around Las Cuevas. To give some context, we are currently in a circular shaped clearing surrounded by the rainforest. We think that as we move farther away from the research station, we will see more diverse animals in numbers and species. 

We are using this technique called camera trapping where we pick certain locations and set up a camera to take pictures of anything that moves in front of it. I am hopeful that we would be able to spot some big cats (jaguar or puma) because on our way to our first camera trap spot, we saw what appeared to be some recent paw print on the floor. 

one of our camera trap locations

Speaking of travels, we hiked a total of 5 hours today, climbing up and down hills. With our field gear on, we were able to explore the rainforest in-depth. We saw spider monkeys, blue morpho butterflies, spiny orb weavers, Xaté fishtail palm, and so much more! In the ant department, we spotted army ants, Pseudomerymex ants, Dolichoderus ants, and fire ants. Somehow, twice today, I had ants all over me. One even bit me under my shirt. These ants are not so forgiving when you come across their nests. Oh, and did I mention that I also ate a termite, but we’ll just have to save that story for another time. 

At the end of the day, after seeing almost something from each taxonomic group that each of us had, we ended up finding ourselves with either a few ticks or maybe 100 of them! They came out of nowhere! Turns out, ticks are hard to kill. To effectively kill them, you have to use your nail on one finger and press it against your other finger so it effectively cuts ticks in half. 


Spotted two upside-down Scarlet Macaws

Brendan Wong

Las Cuevas, Belize


20/05/19 Goodbye Las Cuevas!

Today is sadly our last day in the rainforest, but I am excited for the reef!

This morning the class again made the strenuous 8-mile journey down the trail along the right side of the 50-hectare plot, then the Monkey Tail Trail. We retrieved the 7 camera traps that we had set up along that path on our first day in the rainforest.  The class completed the whole trek before lunch while on the first day we took the whole morning (then lunch) and part of the afternoon. We definitely hiked at a faster pace, which made the journey a little harder. Along the Monkey Tail Trail, the class hiked faster in part because we did not want to give the ticks (hidden in the tall brush) the time to fall onto us and suck our blood.

I observed 3 blue morphos, but felt less compelled to catch them since my task had already been completed. I am at peace now. Out of the 3 blue morphos, 2 were spotted together and 1 alone. It seems strange to me that we have observed the blue morphos in pairs (At least 3 times over the course of our time in the rainforest) as they are supposedly solitary creatures. Either way, I appreciate every opportunity I get to see these iconic rainforest beauties.

That afternoon, the class went out to observe leafcutter ant/fungus obligate mutualism firsthand. First, Scott tried to excavate a younger nest in the clearing and find the fungus chamber, but was unsuccessful. Then, we found a HUMONGOUS ant colony along the Monkey Tail Trail—so large that it was almost the equivalent of a small hill that the entire class could stand upon. Scott managed to find the fungus chamber fairly quickly and grabbed a portion of the fungus for us to examine up close. Soldier ants came pouring out (as to be expected), and they were huge and aggressive. Amanda was bitten by one of these soldier ants and, in the process, it tore a small chunk out of her pants. Scott said that, given enough time, these ants could chew through our rubber boots. I am not going to test this claim out.


Excavation of small leafcutter ant colony

The class ended the night with lectures on the geographical and biogeographic history of Central American and the Caribbean and mammals. After the lectures came the exciting part—looking through camera trap pictures. In total, we captured 2 curssows, 2 unknown birds, 1 possum, 1 skunk, 1 tapir!, and 1 unknown earred animal. The camera that I adopted (its name is Rice 2) caught  a picture of a male curssow and a stunning picture of a tapir (I am so proud!). The picture is so clear that you can see the enormous size of its whole body as it walks along the trail. Probably the best photo of the lot! Another interesting capture was a photo of an unknown earred animal. The animal had gotten too close to the camera, and the flash saturated the facial features of the animal, but we were able to distinguish the shape of the ears and some fur, leading us to believe that the animal was a puma. It is frustrating that we cannot confirm this. Either way, a great and successful ending to an exciting week full of new experiences. Thank you Las Cuevas Research Station!

Tapir caught on Rice 2 camera trap!

Day 7: Upping the Ant-e; Las Cuevas Sends us Off in Style

Today was as crazy of a last day as we could’ve hoped for. I woke up at a luxurious 6:45 since I couldn’t do the bird tower hike with the rest of the gang because of my knee. Once they came back we ate dinner and reconvened to start picking up the camera traps we set out 4 days ago. We went along the Monkey Trail, Saffron Trail, San Pastor and 50 Hecatre plot to pick up our traps. Along the way, we saw a brown anole and a golden turtle beetle, both of which were really cool. I also saw a harvestman of the same round body species that I’ll have to look up and an unidentified species of orb weaver spider.

A Leaf Cutter Ant Queen

We came back, ate lunch, and spent a little time catching up on notebooks and listening to music on the deck. We met up with the group from Southern Mississippi to go on leaf cutter excavations, led by the one and only Scott Solomon. He led us into the Monkey Trail where we spent some time excavating the 1-year old nest. After digging around the hole for a while, we were able to see the fungus chamber and extract the fungus ball and the queen ant, which was enormous. We walked along saffron to the giant leaf cutter nest from before, where we spent a while excavating the side of the hill. The Southern Mississippi group left for dinner, but we continued excavating until we ran into the garbage disposal chamber and felt the heat from the decomposing trash they had left.

We came back, showered, and had dinner before heading to the activity we were the most excited about: checking the camera traps. Everyone tried to have low expectations, but it was obvious that we had high expectations. In the first camera traps alone, we spotted a tapir and a jaguar before coming across herds of peccaries, curassows, a 9-ringed armadillo, a coatimundi, two pumas, another jaguar, a rat, a snake, and a lot of photos of ourselves. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited flipping through photos on a screen. All of us were extremely surprised and really excited about the results that we found, even though our initial hypothesis about off-trail sights being more rich, abundant, and diverse was incorrect. After that, we worked on our blogs and packed up to prepare for saying goodbye to Las Cuevas.

Arachnids found: Orb Weaver of an unidentified species on 50-hectare plot on a web with striped legs and a green back. Large wolf spider in the leaf litter that scurried around, looked like the Allocosa family. Florida Bark Scorpion, under the stairs of the lecture room with babies on her back. Another Florida Bark Scorpion on the deck of the dorms, froze when we got close.

All Bark No Bite

Day 3: We Got a Few Ticks Up Our Sleeves

I woke up bright and early at 5:15 to bird watch, where we saw oropendolas, a flock of Red Lore parrots, and a friendly bee that loved Elena’s hair. All these sightings were pretty expected but were really cool nonetheless. We ate a nice breakfast of eggs, beans, and journey cakes which I didn’t really eat because I’m still feeling a little queasy. We went up to the lecture hall and Scott gave us a briefing on Camera Traps. We had a quick discussion on some ideas for the traps and, after a long deliberation, we decided on testing how the presence of trails affects mammal presence and abundance.

An Orb Weaver Spider Web Chilling in The Trees

We set off on our hike at 9:30ish and headed down the Monkey Trail, up the Saffron Trail and then down the San Pastor road. Along the way, we ran into a boa constrictor chilling on the forest floor and a huge leafcutter nest, which gave all of us a jump. We came back for lunch, ate some rice and plantains, and headed back out on the 50-hectare plot. We set up our last two camera trap pairs and spotted a zombie ant on a fern. We came back, I showered quickly, then Rafael M. director of the FDC gave us a talk on the conservation efforts on the region, which was really fascinating. We ate dinner and headed to the lecture room for talks, which I gave on arachnids, Elena gave on ants, and Claire gave on the Paradox of Tropical Soils. Afterwards, we all headed to the dining room to work on these blogs!

Arachnids spotted: a wolf spider in the leaf litter of the Saffron Tree-unidentified species; Wolf spider mother on San Pastor Road, spotted by Adrienne with eggs on her back; Unidentified red mite on breakfast table; Many many chigger bites on Veronica, Jessica, and Adrienne (RIP); Almost everyone got a tick bite, including me, under my watch – they hurt; Red Rumps in the clearing by the lecture hall that scurried back into their holes after they saw us.

Can you spot the spider?

All of these are expected, unfortunately, but still really cool.


Day 7: Oh my gosh a cat

DSCN1887 DSCN1893

The people from the other school caught two birds in the morning. One was a Slaty Antwren and the other was possibly a Red Throated Ant-Tanager. Both were very pretty birds.

After breakfast we went out and collected our camera traps. We did the whole 13 mile hike again, and like Scott and Adrienne promised, the second time around was much easier. After lectures, we opened up our camera traps and looked at the images they captured. In the beginning, everyone was super hopeful. There was a small bird that appeared on two close locations. And a Great Curassow on another. Other than that we just caught a lot of pictures of the other group that is here. People. Some more people. We were becoming less and less optimistic. But alas, on one of the last few traps we managed to get a picture of Tapir, which is extremely rare and endangered. Scott seemed really happy. On the last trap, which was mine, there were pictures of an Agouti and an Ocelot. That was really awesome. Scott confessed that he didn’t think the spot I picked was going to yield any good pictures. So i was pretty happy to prove him wrong.

Almost forgot. On the way to collect the traps we actually caught a glimpse of a Great Curassow on the Monkey Tail Trail. it was a lot bigger than I was expecting. All in all, pretty awesome day. Saw some cool birds, got an elusive cat picture. And of course, we got a picture of an endangered animal. How great is that?!


Camera Traps

Our 13 mile hike in the rainforest, up and down hills, was the most physically exerting thing I’ve done in a long while, but it left me full of endorphins and with pleasantly sore muscles. We hiked all this way to set up 12 camera traps that will take pictures every time they detect movement over the next 5 days, until we collect them again. Hopefully this will let us see some of the more shy animals of the rainforest. We also found several interesting insects, spiders, and birds over the course of the day.

Amphibian update: we found some tadpoles in the muddy reservoir left by a car tire. Not an ideal spot but the dry season is coming to an end and there aren’t many options left for frogs and toads in the area, who need water to reproduce. More excitingly, I saw my first treefrog of the trip this afternoon. Adrienne masterfully caught it and held onto it long enough for me to snap a picture and identify it. After some consideration we positively identified it as a Common Mexican treefrog. It was large, at least 2.5 inches, and a shade of grey with green tinges. Once we were able to see its back, its species was obvious. It had the telltale darker splotches on a grey-brown body. At first its dark-eye patch threw me off but amphibians can be highly variable in coloration within a population and aren’t always a reliable form of identification.

Map of Las Cuevas

Mexican Treefrog

Sophia Streeter


Day 7: Collecting Camera Traps

Today we spent the day collecting the 12 camera traps that we placed on day 3. We got a much earlier start than we got when we were putting the traps up, which meant that we were able to collect them all before it got dark. We were done at 3:30pm and made it back before dark, unlike last time.

After we got back, we looked through all of the pictures that our cameras had gathered. Unfortunately one of our camera’s battery died soon after we placed it, and seven of our cameras didn’t get any pictures of wildlife (unless you count very tired and dirty humans). As we scrolled through picture after picture of leaves moving and humans crossing the camera, our hopes dwindled. Luckily we were able to catch some animals. Two of our cameras caught what seemed to be the same bird species, and maybe even the same individual. Another camera caught a curassow, which is a very large black bird. But by far our most exciting sights were a tapir, ocelot, and agouti. Knowing that these animals were so close to where we had walked and spent time is almost unreal. It is strange to think about how many animals are roaming the area right by where we are but always just out of sight.

Tree species that I noticed today were the bayleaf palm (Sabal mauritiiformis) and the bay cedar (Guazuma ulmifolia). I also noticed a branch and a seedpod on the ground that were covered in dense brown spines. Each spine was about half an inch long. Based on the resources that I have, my best guess is that the species was Bactris major, but I am not sure that my analysis of the species is correct.