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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy birthday Mom! You too Elena, sorry I missed them.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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!
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.
Today was our first day in the field. The project of the day was to set up 12 camera traps around Las Cuevas that will record information about the animals that are active in the area. The traps will take pictures of animals for 5 days, until our last day at LCRS. This information will allow us to make inferences about the number of species in the area and where they are most likely to be found. We’re hoping that we placed the traps in such a way so they’ll capture lots of small animals and maybe some big cats, like jaguars or ocelots.
One of the best parts of the day today was seeing a group of scarlet macaws fly right by where we were. Scarlet macaws are really rare in Belize, and are threatened by poachers that take them from their nests. Hopefully increased awareness about the problem will help to decrease poaching. Tourists should avoid taking pictures with macaws that aren’t in zoos or otherwise obtained legally in order to decrease demand for macaws.
We also saw a lot of tree species along the paths today including bastard mahogany, cedar, cecropia, fiddlewood, gumbo-limbo, give-and-take palm, mahogany, chicle, and strangling fig. Some of the chicle trees were extremely tall, and it was interesting to see the marks from the chicleros go up the tree as far as we could see.
Over the course of the day we walked almost 14 miles (and in rainboots no less!) so it’s safe to say I’ll sleep well tonight. Tomorrow we’re going to learn a lot about ants. Turns out they have a pretty advanced societal structure!