Tag Archives: caracol

Free-range Dogs and other unexpected animals

Today was definitely a day of travel, from Crystal Paradise, to Caracol (a Mayan ruins) and then to Las Cuevas.

On the road we kept seeing animals we weren’t exactly experts on. Our guide described the animals we saw on the road side as we drove through urban and rural Belize: free-range dogs, free-range chickens, horses, dairy and beef cattle. There were trails on the side of the road for horse riders, and also cattle just hanging out. Dogs in Belize are kept as kept as pets, but not usually as indoor pets. Most owners feed their dogs in the day and at night, but either keep them on a leash in the yard or let them freely roam if they’re in a rural area.

At Rio on Pools (which translates to River on Pool) we encountered leeches that none of us expected to. When we found them on our skins and inside our swimwear. If left undisturbed, they would chew an opening into our bloodstream and feed on our blood until they expand and grow circular. Because of the pain-killers they release when they chew into human skin, they can be undetectable to us. Also, amidst natural water slides formed by granite and water,

At Caracol, we walked through the ruins that were the housing, playing grounds, and political meeting places for the Mayans. Before they abandoned this site, a whole kingdom met periodically in a rectangular plaza to hear the announcement of a king. The construction of the plaza reflected this purpose, where a hushed whisper from one of the pyramids can be heard in the plaza hundreds of feet away clearly and loudly.

Now in the abandoned plaza, a species of Stingless bee live in 30+ mounds that are evidence of underground nests and tunnels. These bees do not have a different castes, whereby one’s job may be to reproduce or to collect nectar, and live in small colonies no larger than 10-20.

 

 

 

Day 2: Welcome to the Jungle

To say that today has been eventful would be the understatement of understatements. It’s now 11pm as I write this, and I’ve been up since 4:50 am. Places we visited this morning seem like days ago, and I barely even remember what we ate for breakfast. (That’s a lie – we had a great breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese and watermelon etc. and I do remember it.) But my tiredness and the humidity in the air are quickly emptying memories out from my head, so I’m going to jot them down and pass out until 4:30am!! yEET

The goal for today was to travel from the very edge of the Maya Forest to Las Cuevas Research Station in Chiquibul National Park. We left bright and early (like, 7am early. Who even am I?). Along the way, we stopped at some absolutely beautiful pools that were part of a river and aptly named Rio On Pools.

Rio On Pools!

The water was cool and refreshing, a welcome respite from the oppressive humidity. It would have been perfect if not for the 10495783 LEECHES THAT ATTACHED THEMSELVES TO MY BUTT AS I WAS BUTT-SCOOTING THROUGH THE RAPIDS. UM, EXCUSE ME??! They were small and painless though, so they were more gross than harmful.

After picking off the leeches, we dried off and headed along the exceedingly bumpy road to Caracol, a magnificent ancient Mayan city that was deserted by 1000 AD. Our tour guide, Leo, was extremely knowledgeable and seemed to have an answer to every question. We climbed over dilapidated gray remnants of homes and temples as we listened to Leo’s insight, although I was pretty distracted by the many butterflies flitting about. I think I spotted a red postman butterfly hovering near some white flowers and countless swallowtails dipsy-doodling in the fields of Caracol. #TFB.

We even managed to haul ourselves to the top of a temple, the tallest building in Belize, for an incredible view of the rainforests of both Belize and Guatemala. Unfortunately, a haze of smoke from Guatemala’s deforestation projects shrouded the area.

View from the top of the highest building in Belize. 

As someone who lives in suburban Plano, TX and goes to school in a large city, seeing anything other than manicured lawns, squirrels, and rabbits counts as exciting.But today we hiked through some wild jungle, witnessed howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, tree frogs, parrots, and more. And at least 15 Blue Morphos, Belize’s most famous butterfly, flitted by the path in their characteristically erractic flight. I tried swiping at the them with my net but failed miserably. NEXT TIME I SHALL SUCCEED.

It didn’t end there – after dinner and the student lectures, I saw upwards of 20 species of moths hanging around the lamps at the station at around 9 pm. They were inexplicably drawn to the light sources and sat docilely on the walls as if hypnotized. Naturally, I ran around like a woman possessed snapping pictures and jotting descriptions. Here first is an imperial moth, but the second I couldn’t identify. They both had at least a 9 cm wingspan.

Good night, friends!

Day 2: Being Rio On Fleek

We woke up bright and early at 5:30 AM, even though it definitely didn’t feel that early at all. We got ready, had breakfast, and packed up to drive to our next destination.

First, we stopped at the Rio On pools,

The Rio On Pools

where we had a lot of fun tumbling down the waterfall slides and swimming in the small pools at the base of each waterfall. That is, until we found out that there were leeches in the pools (I was bitten 4 times). We still had fun in the pools though, even doing a train down one of the waterfalls. We got out, changed, and went back into the bus for the next leg of our journey.

Wolf Spider Hiding in the Leaf Litter of Caracol

We arrived at Caracol at about 11 and our tour guide Leo gave us a tour of the Mayan ruins. Along the way, we ran into some cool organisms, including black Howler Monkeys, Oropendola birds, wild avocado, and more. We ate a quick lunch and hopped into the van to go to Las Cuevas

We arrived at Las Cuevas around 4 and met the station manager Rafael, his wife Angelica (in charge of kitchens) and Pedro (the assistant manager) After a quick orientation and some scarlet macaws, we put our stuff up and took a quick hike around the station. Along the way, we saw leaf cutter ants, give-and-take palms, parrots, and a few others. We headed back to the station, ate dinner, and listened to Claire give a talk on birds, Ceyda give a talk on trees, and Chloe give a talk on the canopy. After that, I showered and got ready for tomorrow!

Arachnids: This morning I saw a small garden spider in the bushed of the ecolodge along with his web. I wasn’t able to identify it but it was 5mm and a transparent green in color, with a long ovular. We saw many Mexican Red tarantula webs at the bases on trees near the Mayan plaza though we didn’t get to see the actual organisms and that wold spider above in the leaf litter. Leo gave us information about the mating dances of the males which was fascinating. At Las Cuevas, we saw two Mexican red rumps in the grass outside our lodgings after dinner as they scurried into their burrow. We expected to see a few here so it was unsurprising to find them.

Day 2: Three Days Packed into One!

Blog Post #2

Day 2: 3 days packed into 1!

Written at 9:43 pm on May 16th

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest are posted after the fact!

Today felt like 3 days packed into 1… We started at the Rio on Pools excursion, which is halfway to Caracol from our ecolodge. There, we swam, “showered,” and identified wildlife. I spotted several little puddles of tadpoles! Also, Claire helped me pick up one of the bigger ones for a picture.

When we left Rio on Pools, I fell asleep in the van, so waking up felt like a whole new day. We arrived at Caracol to observe the Mayan ruins and learn more about the culture. We also talked about forest reclamation over these structures, and we discussed the pros and cons of excavation. No amphibians were spotted on this trip, but it was great to see the birds, howler monkeys, lizards, and countless plants along the way.

Again, I fell asleep during the ride to Las Cuevas Research Station and woke up to an oscillated turkey in the road. Once settled in, we readied ourselves for our calibration hike, figuring out all our gear, hiking ability, and sharpening our eagle eyes. Kirsten spotted a Mexican Tree Frog (identified thanks to my Taxon ID card!) that was blowing up his air sacs doing a mating call, resting in the center of a palm frond. Scott lowered the leaf appendage so we could see it better and the frog promptly projectile urinated behind him and jumped forward onto Scott. He said the frog was slippery, so he couldn’t catch it.

We came back to a lovely dinner, and then we did our first night of lectures, it is now 10:18 pm and I am ready to go to sleep! 5 am birding calls my name tomorrow.

Caracol & Las Cuevas

Today we completed our journey south-west through Cayo and into the Chiquibul rainforest. On our way to our home camp at Las Cuevas Research Station we took an anthropological detour through Mayan ruins. We were guided through the Caracol Archeological site and climbed up and in and down the ruins and tombs. Even though it was mostly overgrown and covered by years of sediment the pyramidal structures still stood and it was easy to image the bustling metropolis it was 2000 years ago. Hearing about the (hypothesized) reasons for its decline was ominous; overpopulation, agricultural collapse, drought… sound familiar?
Even though its citizens are long gone the city is still full of life. Almost everyone found an animal from their taxonomic group—bromeliads, philodendrons, birds, mammals, and a plethora of plants. The highlights included an edible red fruit (you suck on the seeds but don’t eat them, looks like gunk, tastes like papaya), toucans, a coati and a blue crowned mot-mot.
Sadly there were not any amphibians around for me to identify. The area was much too dry to be a suitable habitat. Amphibians require a damp habitat because they experience high evaporative water loss through their skin. Most also require water for reproduction. Caracal was in the forest but it was not dense enough to retain the moisture necessary for most amphibians. Here in the forest surrounding Las Cuevas should be a much more habitable medium and we can expect to see a variety of species in the next few days.

Caracol

Sophia Streeter

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Day 2: Pickup Truck Adventures!

This morning we headed to Caracol, a Mayan civilization that flourished from 300 BC to 1100 AD.  The metropolis itself housed over 150,00 people, which is over half the population of the entire country today.  We climbed to the top of the highest pyramid, the tallest structure in all of Belize.  The view from the pyramid was amazing, and we could see for miles in every direction.  To the West, the mountains in the distance were brown instead of green.  This was the Belize-Guatemala border.  The Guatemalan population is many times that of Belize, and they have much higher rates of deforestation as they stretch their limited resources.

 

Although we didn’t see any termites today, we did see several termite nests.  On our way to Caracol we drove past an arboreal nest, but weren’t able to identify it.  A few of the beams in the pyramid were from 70 AD.  They were impressively intact for being 2,000 years old, but they did have termite tunnels burrowing through them.  As we were leaving the station, we found an abandoned carton nest that had fallen from a tree.  It was cracked open, so we could look at the tunnels within.  We didn’t see the termites living inside, but Microcerotermes crassus do make arboreal tree nests, so this could be one of their nests.

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As we were heading back from Caracol, our transmission started struggling and making strange noises.  Luckily, we were close to a Belizian army camp, and we pulled in there.  When they checked the engine, the transmission fluid was completely dry.  We couldn’t drive the van anymore, so we piled into pickup trucks.  On the way, we saw a tree full of oropendola nests and a group of toucans! Las Cuevas Research Station is beautiful.  All of the buildings are on stilts, so you are eye-level with the trees and can see lots of wildlife.  I can’t wait to see more of the station and the surrounding forest! I can already tell these two weeks are going to fly by. DSCN4008

A Visit to the Maya (by Maya)

Though we’ve finally settled in the heart of the Chiquibul Forest, I may have been too hasty in my previous assessment of our luck on this trip.

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Silky anole (Anolis sericeus).

The morning began with little sleep, some unidentifiable (but delicious) fried bread, a blue-crowned motmot sighting, and our departure from the Crystal Paradise and San Ignacio. Just as we set off, I caught this silky anole (Anolis sericeus).

Our first stop was a step 2000 years back in history, to the ancient Mayan city of Ozhuitza at the Caracol Archaeological Site. The great city now stands in ruins, with only the largest structures of the ancient city center excavated today. I became a momentary archaeologist, traipsing through the remains of a metropolis that once housed 150,000 people. We climbed 43 meters with many, many steps to the top of Caracol’s “Sky Palace,” the tallest structure in Belize.

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Caracol Archaeological Site.

The day’s reptile sightings remained sparse compared to yesterday’s excitement; Caracol only yielded a few stray skinks, darting among the ruins. The morning’s greatest surprise was the sight of the odd hanging nests characteristic of the Montezuma’s oropendola. As we entered what can best be described as the suburbs of Ozhuitza, I caught a glimpse of the birds’ bright yellow tails. We watched the intricately woven nests swing like pendulums in the breeze to the tune of the oropendula’s strange mating call.

However, as soon as we left Caracol, the Mayan gods appear to have left our side. Our journey to the Chiquibul was cut short by an unanticipated lack of oil. In true field biologist fashion, we halted our journey outside a military checkpoint and seated ourselves on the dirt road for a lecture on the termite species of Belize. But in just a few short hours, two pickup trucks with a bed full of TFBs finally found their way to Las Cuevas Research Station. For the next five days, we’ll make our home here in the forest—hopefully, with a little more luck this time.

Day 2: Getting to Las Cuevas

Today we left San Ignacio and made our way to Las Cuevas Research Station, visiting Caracol on our way. As we were driving to Caracol, we saw a coati and a great black hawk along the road. The roads were pretty bumpy, but the drive was really pretty. As we started our drive we saw Cecropia trees and also saw some gumbo-limbos. The gumbo-limbos are also called ‘tourist trees’ because they are red and flaky, like sunburnt skin. So far none of us have begun to look like the tourist trees, which is good. Hopefully it’ll stay that way.

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A gumbo limbo tree with bark resembling a tourist’s sunburnt skin

On our way to Caracol we drove through Mountain Pine Ridge, an area that was different from other places we’ve seen because of the large number of pine trees. The region was more open and seemed drier, with more grasses and fewer vines.

Once we arrived in Caracol, we walked around the archaeological site to observe the ruins and the flora and fauna of the area. The site is absolutely amazing, with towering pyramids and dense forests. It’s amazing to think that more than a million people used to live in the region, when closer to 250,000 live in all of Belize today. At Caracol the guide pointed out a number of trees, including breadnuts, allspice, and avocado. There also were a lot of Chamedorea plants around Caracol. Chamedorea is sold as an ornamental leaf. The large security presence at Caracol was in part to protect the Chamedorea leaves from poachers.

Chamedorea plant at Caracol
Chamedorea plant at Caracol
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Avocado tree at Caracol

Tomorrow we venture into the forest around Las Cuevas. I’m looking forward to the start of our field work!

Into the Maya Forest

Today the remoteness of the trip has begun to feel amazingly real. We’ve seen Mayan temples in the jungle and animals abound, despite the fact that we haven’t even really gone looking for them yet. Some fantastic non-mammal sightings included a blue-crowned motmot, a great black hawk, oropendola, and a slender brown scorpion (in a bathroom, unfortunately).

Today’s main activity was a visit to the Mayan ruins at Caracol. Caracol was once assumed to be a smaller city dominated by other Mayan powers such as Tikal. However, it is now known that Caracol was actually a large metropolis supporting somewhere around 150,000 people. Caracol was designed like a wagon wheel, with a main center and road “spokes” leading to the more rural agricultural areas. Most of the pyramids were used for religious rituals, as was the case with Caana, the sky palace that we climbed. After 1100 AD Caracol had collapsed, but the Maya people still live in Mesoamerica. It is amazing to me how many different kinds of people live in this part of the world. Mayans and other natives share the land with people of European or African ancestry, and further divides are made as people are sorted into nationalities (Guatemalan, Belizean, Mexican). It is perhaps no wonder that tensions between peoples at times run high.

Today also marked the first wild mammal sightings of the trip! During breakfast (6am…), we spotted a Yucatan squirrel in a nearby tree. Some other students may also have seen an agouti, though I was not able to see or identify it reliably. Later, on the road to Caracol, a coatimundi was spotted travelling on the side of the road. Although I had to jump over some seats in the van to get a glimpse of the coati, it was well worth the effort. The coati was a brown-red with characteristic white rings on its erect tail. At Caracol, some other tourists reported a Mexican black howler monkey sighting, though we did not see any signs of the primates.

Yucatan Squirrel seen at Crystal Paradise Resort
Yucatan Squirrel seen at Crystal Paradise Resort

Some of the mishaps of the day included lunch drinks breaking in the cooler and a van break down. After Caracol, the plan was to visit some pools and waterfalls for a refreshing swim. However, it was not to be as our van was forced to quit due to lack of transmission fuel and oil. Luckily, we were not too far from Las Cuevas Research Station (where we will be staying until we leave for the coral reef) and we were able to improvise with some pick-up trucks. In true TFB (Tropical Field Biologist) fashion, a bunch of us piled into the bed of a truck and had a fun ride into the beautiful wilderness!

Caracol City Exploration + (Another Bumpy) Journey to Las Cuevas

Hi everyone! I’m checking in today from the porch of Las Cuevas research station after another busy and fun day. It began with an early morning open air breakfast at 6 am filled with cool bird sightings (we saw a blue-crowned motmot and a brown jay among other things) followed by travels to Caracol and an exploration of the ruins of the Mayan city.

It was really neat to climb to the top of the different ruins and learn a lot about the history of the area from our awesome tour guide. He told us about balsa bark and how it cleanses blood, about how the Mayans climbed up the ruins on their hands and knees to humble themselves before the Gods, and the structure of the old city and how it resembled the spokes of a wheel with the elite living in the capital at the middle of the spoke and the agricultural peasants living around the edges as well as many other topics.

After our picnic lunch, our plans to swim in the waterfalls at Rio On got deterred due to the lack of transmission fluid in the van, so we took a break in the middle of the dirt road and learned about termites as one of the taxa presentations for the day. Eventually we made it here to Las Cuevas research station, where we will be spending the next week. Sitting here sweaty and satisfied with the day’s activities thus far, I have to say I am equally excited for the shower tonight and for the next week ahead! 🙂

A quick note about any taxa sightings before I end today’s post: Other than a small click beetle (family Elateridae) I spied among the dead leaf litter at the base of a large tree in the ruins, observations of my taxa were not prevalent today, but I am sure there will be more to identify during this upcoming week in the rainforest. Species sightings did abound today in other taxa. We saw are a coati (small mammal), a gumbo limbo tree (nicknamed tourist tree because of its red peeling bark), and an anole (a small brown lizard) on the way to Caracol, many lichens, birds, and a philodendra fruit (which we sampled) while in the ruins, and toucans and butterflies on the road to Las Cuevas.

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Caracol was beautiful.
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We made it to the top!