Tag Archives: Camera Traps

Day 7: In Which I Do Not Catch a Blue Morpho

Our last sunset from Las Cuevas

Our last day in the Chiquibul Forest started with a 5 am hike over some extremely steep paths that were still wet from yesterday’s rain. The leaves, tree roots, and mossy rocks were so slick, and I took two nasty spills – I landed on a tree root with my left butt cheek. Despite my searing leg muscles and the blossoming bruises on my butt, the view from the top of Bird Tower was worth the strenuous uphill hike. The sun was still low in the sky, and the forest still seemed to be waking up. Mist rolled in across lush montane forests as far as the eye could see. It was  breathtaking – both literally and figuratively.

View from the top of Bird Tower.

After breakfast, we set out for another long trek to retrieve our camera traps that we set on our first day at Las Cuevas. The hike was long, but the forest here is so inherently beautiful that I didn’t mind the sweat, sore muscles, and countless bug bites. I caught this strange goldenrod-colored butterfly that was bobbing along San Pastor road:

As per usual, every single blue morpho butterfly that we saw flew out of my reach. I’m very, very sad that I haven’t managed to catch Belize’s most iconic butterfly on this trip, but I guess it just means that I have to come back someday to finish my mission!

In the afternoon, we dug up a couple of leaf cutter nests to examine them from the inside. Scott, our resident ant expert, located the queen of a smallish nest for us, as well as the ants’ fungus garden in which they grow their food. The excavation was great exercise, but the ants that we uncovered were definitely not happy with us.

I got bitten by a mosquito right in the middle of my forehead as I was excavating the nest. Here’s Elena helping me put Cortisone on the largest bump in the history of ever.

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for – the checking of the camera traps. I don’t think any of us expected to actually find anything. Maybe a peccary or two if we were lucky. See, as loud, clunky humans that make huge amounts of noise as we travel along the trails, any mammals in the area were aware of our presence before we could even come close to spotting them. By this point in the trip, spotting large mammals in the Chiquibul seemed equivalent to seeing a unicorn.

But.

In the very first trap! A tapir! And a magnificent jaguar, in perfect profile! Right there in the first trap, we captured two of the mammals that we most wanted to see. It only got better and better as we opened the rest of the traps. Of course, not all yielded anything, but most captured at least one or two animals. We saw so many peccaries – nine total.

We also saw a few curassows, two pumas, a coatimundi (kind of like a mix between a raccoon and a red panda), a coral snake, and a 9-banded armadillo. It was truly wild. When the first jaguar appeared on screen, all of us started screaming our heads off – spotting a jaguar is like the mother of all animal sightings in the Chiquibul.

But that wasn’t all! We saw not one, but TWO jaguars in our traps. Practically unheard of!! The big cats were of stocky, muscular build, and had intricate rosette patterning on their hide. I’m still in awe of them and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at these pictures.

What a satisfying end to our stay at Las Cuevas and the Chiquibul Forest. It’s been an amazing, eye-opening experience. I can truly say that I’ve fallen in love with this place – chiggers, ticks, and all. I’m sad to leave tomorrow morning, but look forward to experiencing the reef.

Day 7: 10 Miles and Several Mammals Later…

Blog Post #7

Day 7: 10 Miles and Several Mammals Later…

Written May 22ndat 6:25 pm

This post was meant to be for yesterday (May 21st), but you are about to find out why I haven’t written it until now.

I think we were told to make a scary/confused face

We started the morning at 4:45 am. We wanted to wake up and reach the Bird Tower around early morning light, but the hike up there is extra steep. So we set our around 5:15 am and headed to the trails. Probably one of the steepest (and slipperiest) hikes I’ve ever been on.  I had hoped to see some amphibians since it had rained last night, but unfortunately, none were out. The rest of the day wasn’t successful either, so today’s blog post will just report on my general day.

But the view from the top was gorgeous–the pictures below don’t do it justice. We also climbed into two chambers of a cave along the way 🙂

Then we came back down for breakfast, then went on a 5 mile hike to collect our camera traps. We didn’t view the photos right away because we wanted to wait for nightfall to get the best contrast with the screen.

So in the afternoon, we went to excavate some leaf cutter ant nests (Scott’s favorite) and brought along a few of our new Southern Miss. friends. First, we excavated a one year old nest after much digging on Scott’s and Zach’s (Southern Miss student) behalf. They had a small fungi garden, and we were able to find the queen! (See pic below) She lives for 25 years and all her babies only live for about one, so think of all the millions of eggs she lays in her life (after just one mating flight with stored sperm nonetheless!)

Claire needs to become a hand model 🙂

Then we went to a 15-20 year old nest slightly off trail in the woods. Scott started digging and we all took turns trying to shovel, but the ants just couldn’t seemed bothered. Turns out, we had dug up a dead fungi garden chamber and dumping ground. It was super weird; this was only the second time that Scott dug that up in his entire 17 years of ant experience!

That night, we checked out our camera traps. It was so AMAZING. On the first card that we looked at, there was a tapir taken one night and a jaguar the next night as the immediate next picture!! The shouts and hollers were amazing. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to those pictures right now, otherwise I would include them. For the rest of the pictures, we snapped a coatimundi, a 9-banded armadillo, 2 puma, several peccaries, male curassow, female curassow, and a coral snake. Apparently, this was the best luck in all of TFBs history.

We went to bed pretty late for a 4 am wake up call to leave Las Cuevas… Stay tuned!

Off Roading (Day 11)

Today was the day I was looking forward to the least out of this whole trip, the day where we set up the camera traps. I had read some of the blogs from last year, and they said they hiked thirteen miles. Luckily, we did not go that far

We decided to use the camera traps to test whether there was differences in the abundances of big cats and of big cats’ prey on the trails versus in the forest. We did this by placing three traps on the 50 Hectare Trail and four on the Monkey Tail Trail. Also, for each camera we placed on the trail, we placed another one 300ft into the forest for a total of fourteen camera traps. Scott Solomon did not tell us until we set the last trap that no group had ever used that many before.

One of the fourteen (!!) camera traps we set.

As we were finding our way out of the forest after setting the very last trap we got a little bit turned around, and dusk was just starting to fall. A large portion of the trek back to Las Cuevas was really dark. We saw a small tommygoff snake in the dark, which was a little spooky because I would have not noticed it had Damien not pointed it out, and it is the most dangerous snake in Belize.

Other things we saw on the hike were a Mexican Porcupine, Scorpion Eater Snake, Blue Morpho Butterflies, a mantis molt, a wheel bug, and a mammal skeleton. We also saw some cat scratch marks near where we set the traps, which seemed like a good sign.

A cool Wheel Bug we saw this morning.

I saw a few Orthoptera species today. One was the same Leaf Mimic Katydid that I’d already seen. The other hopped away too fast for me to identify it.

We are all tired and ridden with ticks from walking through the forest, so these traps best capture some really cool pictures. I want to see a tapir the most. Out of the cats, I’d like to see an ocelot the most, probably.

I am Going to Miss Belize an Ocelot (Day 14)

Today, we repeated the long hike we did a few days ago to go and retrieve our camera traps. Since we were all tired after setting them up, we unanimously wanted to walk much more efficiently and get an earlier start this time. Overall, I think everyone felt in much better spirits this hike.

During the hike, I saw four Western Horse Lubber Grasshoppers, which was exciting because that was the Orthoptera species I had wanted to see the most. They were all nymphs, so they lacked their distinctive yellow mesh-like wings. They were still pretty cool though. I also saw a large cluster of really large Orthoptera nymphs which looked like they might have just hatched because there were so many congregated together.

A Western Horse Lubber Grasshopper nymph. Fully grown, it will have cool yellow, mesh-like wings.

Reviewing the camera trap pictures was super exciting. We got two pictures of ocelots, one of a Red Brocket Deer, one of a Great Curassow, one of a group of peccaries, and a couple of pacas. I wanted to see a tapir the most, but an ocelot had been a close second, so it was exciting to get two pictures of them. One turned out really clear.

The ocelot captured on one of our camera traps set along the 50 Hectare trail.

Tomorrow we are leaving to go back to Houston, and the day after that I’ll be back home. It feels like this whole trip went by fast, but I felt like the rainforest section went by especially quick. It’s sad that we’re leaving Belize in less than eighteen hours and that we won’t see each other again until fall semester, but it will be nice to have light after 10pm and more variety in food again.

Orchid bee sighting!

DAY 14 – We are approaching our final hours in Belize. The past two weeks have gone by really fast. Tomorrow night, we will be in Houston.

Starting this morning, we retraced our steps and collected the camera traps set out on Day 11. While we were hiking through the forest, I saw a few Western Lubber Grasshoppers (pictured below) and a bug that looked like cookies and cream ice cream.

A Western Lubber Grasshopper

I saw an orchid bee today!! Just in time. It was hovering around by the classroom at the research station. I’m convinced that it was attracted to my fragranced filter paper. It didn’t land, or stick around for long, so I wasn’t able to identify it beyond the tribe Euglossini. I also saw a couple of stingless bees (possibly Trigona fulviventris) out on the trail, fliting from flower to flower.

We looked through the memory cards of all 14 camera traps. *drumroll* We got stuff! We got TWO ocelots, a bunch of pacas, some peccaries, a curassow, a deer, and a butterfly. We also got some quality shots of ourselves. It was easily worth the sweaty hiking through dense, off-path forest.

My total tick count is now 18, which is kind of horrifying. I’m looking forward to a full body cleanse when I get home.

Stingless bees make Las Cuevas their headquarters

DAY 11 – Today was a full day. I woke up when it was still dark outside, at 4:45 am. I rolled into my field clothes, the ever-stylish zip-off pants tucked into socks, and out onto the deck for bird-watching. We saw a couple of parrots, flying in a pair across the clearing, a Plumose Kite in a tree preening, and a Social Flycatcher on the research station railing. I want to see at least one Scarlet Macaw before we leave here.

After breakfast, Tian-Tian showed me a buzzing group of bees on the corner of the main research station building. They appeared to be stingless bees, in the tribe Meliponini. They might be Trigona fulviventris. I caught one, so if we have a chance I can look at it under a microscope. The bees were all bringing pollen, which you could see attached to their hind tibia, into their nest.

A colony of stingless bees (Tribe Meliponini)

Our task for the day was to design an experiment, using camera traps to answer a question about the Chiquibul forest ecosystem. We chose to look at the presence of large cats and large cat prey in both on-path and off-path locations. We spent the whole day, from 9:45 am to 1:15 pm and again from 2:15 pm to 7:15 pm, hiking around and setting camera traps. As we were placing our last camera trap, the sun was setting so we hurried back, hiking the last 30 minutes in the dark. We will collect the camera traps and analyze the results on the last day here at Las Cuevas.

Isaac and Sarah setting an off-path camera trap

Some other highlights from today: eating a termite (it tasted like a root vegetable), seeing a Tommygoff when we were walking back to the station in the dark (the tommygoff is the most venomous snake in Belize), and taking a cold shower after soaking my shirt in sweat.

My tummy is full and my legs are tired, and I’m so ready to sleep.

Last day in the Chiquibul

We finished out the last day with another 13 mile hike to pick up all our camera traps. It took us about half the time it did on Thursday and I wasn’t nearly as tired. It’s amazing what your body can adjust to after just a few days. Even though I’m running on less sleep I feel great because of all the exercise and activity.

Checking the photos from camera traps was more exciting than you could possibly imagine. Most of it was nothing but when something popped up on screen we were elated. One of our cameras got a picture of a Tapir (!!!!) and another of an Ocelot (!!!!). Even though we only had a little taste of it I think I am starting to understand how difficult field work can be, but also how rewarding. I will miss the rainforest and all of its colors and scents and noises.

Even though we didn’t see many amphibians out here I didn’t feel too disappointed or bored because it meant I got to bounce around and look at everyone else’s taxonomic groups. The end of the dry season can be tough for herpetology but getting to watch birds, ants, mammals (I saw an agouti this morning), reptiles, and insects made up for it. Not to mention the plants! The diversity was incredible and I saw many more organisms than I was expecting.

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Sophia Streeter

5-23

Happy birthday Mom! You too Elena, sorry I missed them.

Camera Trap Pickup + Another Long Hike

Hi everyone! I have some cool news to share about our camera trap results (from the camera traps that we placed our first day here at Las Cuevas)! Captured on film were a couple brown jays, a curassow, a tapir, an agouti, and an ocelot! Though we weren’t able to find a definitive answer to our question of whether there was a difference in species’ composition and richness between man-made or natural sites in the Chiquibul, the fact that we got to see these fascinating species wandering in the same places where we spend our days is amazing.

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Speaking of neat species, I did get to see a couple new beetles today! During the afternoon portion of our trek, I spied a small chestnut brown beetle similar to a june bug (Phyllophaga spp). A large black/brown stag beetle (Lucanus capreolus) was also found flying around seemingly in a slightly distressed manner in the classroom tonight.

The Chiquibul Rainforest: a fascinating place full of undiscovered mysteries
The Chiquibul Rainforest: a fascinating place full of undiscovered mysteries

Sitting here after another 13 mile hike during our last day at Las Cuevas Research Station, it’s hard to believe that our five days here are already at an end. However, I am excited for tomorrow because we are heading to another neat cave as well as to the Belize Zoo! 🙂

Trekking, Trapping, and Tick-biting

Day 3 gave us all a true sense of what hard-core field work is like. The entire day was spent hiking through the forest to set up camera traps. Half of the hike was relatively flat, while the other half was filled with steep ups and downs. Overall, we trekked well over 13 miles.

Before heading out on the trails, we had to decide what we wanted to test using the camera traps. By placing camera traps on both human roads/trails and in naturally open areas, we can explore the differences in species composition and richness along man-made pathways and natural areas. This may demonstrate the effects of human interference on these species measures in the Chiquibul.

We saw no mammals on the hike, which was a bit disappointing but not surprising. As a group of 16 tromping through the forest during the dry season, we make quite a bit of noise, and thus animals can move out of sight long before we arrive. In addition, many mammals are most active at dawn, dusk, or night, and thus spotting mammals during day hikes will be more difficult. I am hoping that we will see at least some mammals during night hikes, in the mornings, or in camera trap images. Some animals that we did see included a plumbeous kite, scarlet macaws, morpho butterflies, and nymphs of an unknown bug species.

I had some crazy mishaps during today’s activities. I must have sat on a congregation of ticks at some point during the hike because I was covered in them. Thankfully, not many had actually bitten me, though the ones that had were relatively difficult to find! Then, once we had returned for the day, I discovered a large red rash going down both my legs. We think it’s just heat rash or something similar, as I feel fine otherwise and it isn’t really painful, but definitely counts as a bit of a mishap!

Day 3

Well we all died physically today. I believe that the final amount of miles hiked was a little bit above 13. My feet are destroyed. The back of my right knee feels like a pulled a muscle in it. I have a bug bite with dried blood on it and a bruise. But I don’t consider today a bad day by any stretch of the imagination. Why? Because I spotted on the orchids on my taxonomic ID sheet. (Oncidium altissimum) It was so so exciting, I can’t even put it elegantly into words. These are the moments when it becomes painfully obvious that I have to be an EBIO. The major is all that I am interested in. Of course, I also saw the large green bromeliad (as well as a couple other structurally similar bromeliads), further reminding me to look for a book in LCRS. I think what my new strategy is going to be is to try to assess my findings via my pictures after the day is done. Especially on today’s hike, we were moving so quickly that I couldn’t figure out my epiphytes in time.

As for our project, we decided to look at how man-made clearings and natural clearings compare. We picked quite the variety of sites, which is why we ended up walking so far during the day. It took us so long that when we got back the station, it had been dark for hours, (I think we all thanked the EBIO gods when Scott said that tomorrow wouldn’t be nearly as much walking.)

Tomorrow we focus on ants, having just listened to the taxonomic briefing on the topic. We don’t yet know what the two projects will be but they will be great. I have no doubt that this will get me even more excited to take insect biology in the fall with Dr. Solomon.