Tag Archives: Cave

Lectures in unconventional places

DAY 13 – Today we set the bar high for future EBIO 319 classes by having two lectures in the twilight/dark zone of a cave and another at the top of a bird observation tower overlooking the Chiquibul forest.

This morning we collected our pee traps and spent our time until lunch sorting and categorizing by morpho-species the arthropods that had fallen into our pitfall traps. Our data suggests that there is greater nutrient availability on the forest floor and greater arthropod diversity in the canopy. 

Type species for our collected ant, beetle, fly, arachnid, wasp, and cricket specimens

In the early afternoon we were able to explore the cave near the station clearing. You could clearly see the modifications the Maya made to the cave, including alter-like structures covered in plaster and constrictions of openings. We saw a cave cricket, and a helmeted iguana at the entrance to the cave. On our way out, we saw a snake slithering up the wall. I’m becoming a big fan of caves.

In terms of bees, today was a pretty empty day. I checked in on the colony on the corner of the research station, which is some sort of stingless bee. Tomorrow, when we retrieve the camera traps, I’m planning on carrying the filter paper for the entire hike. It’s my last chance to see an orchid bee!

To finish off a good day, we hiked up a steep hill to a bird observation tower. The view was incredible. Therese talked to us about her research and her experiences as a graduate student which was really cool, especially because the sun was setting over the mountains behind her.

The view from the bird observation tower just before sunset

To get back to LCRS, we took a short night hike through the forest. We saw some gnarly bugs, like a huge cockroach with a sticky rear end and a longhorn beetle. We also saw a scorpion that was phosphorescent underneath a purple light.

I’m glad we packed a lot into today, time is running short!

Cold and Fruity (Day 9)

Dear Adrienne,

Today we went to Actun Tunichil Muknal archeological reserve. Here we hiked into a cave that was used for Mayan sacrifices and has lots of well-preserved artifacts and human remains. I did not see any Orthoptera.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of the cave, but here’s a picture of the sign!

To get to where the artifacts and remains were, we had to swim and scramble our way through the cave. The guide said I had to wear the top I had been carrying out of respect to the ancient Mayans, so it was real frigid being in the cave because the rivers were so cold and my clothes were so wet.

Nevertheless, it was crazy to be inside of such a sacred place, especially since we could see the vessels and victims of sacrifices all around us and knew that only the most elite Mayans would ever enter the cave. As neat and memorable as it was, I kind of felt like it was inappropriate for us tourists to be climbing around in there, given the religious significance the cave has.

Maneuvering through the cave was pretty complicated because it involved a lot of climbing up tall structures and fitting our heads through small cracks. At some point when we were climbing, Deepu scraped his leg and bled some. When we were in the cave, our guide taught us about bloodletting, a process in which people would slit themselves with obsidian blades or stingray barbs and offer their own blood to the Gods, so we were joking about how Deepu was partaking in bloodletting. It was really eerie when we emerged from the cave to see that it had just started to pour as if Deepu’s sacrifice to Chaac, the rain God, had worked.

After we left the cave, we drove to Crystal Paradise Resort where we are spending tonight before going on to Las Cuevas. On the way we stopped in the town of San Ignacio. There I bought a bag of grapes and tried a baby banana. Also, I made Therese go ask a man with a produce stand if we could have some of the oranges that had fallen out of his truck. I think he took pity on us because he just gave her two fresh ones. These are some of the advantages of having a TA.

The towel swan at Crystal Paradise: They really treated us well!

Day 9: Immersion (05/24/2017)

Today’s primary endeavor was exploring Actun Tunichil Muknal, a cave hidden within the Belize rainforest. With its seemingly endless rock formations, the cave was spectacular. Rocks were rounded and smoothed over from the flow of groundwater, coarse and jagged from sparsely dripping water droplets, or even organic-looking like coral or knotted roots. Spaces ranged from the expansive to the claustrophobic, and colors ranged from sparkling green-brown to beige with patches of jet-black to mahogany swirled with gray to stark white. Paradoxically, these robust colors only existed because of the illumination gleaming our headlamps.

The cave was all encompassing. Once you entered, you were in the cave, and you were not leaving until you completely turn around and head back. We had to swim through pools of groundwater, navigate through jutting rock formations, and climb up several stories-worth of rocks to reach the cave’s heart – an ancient Mayan sacrifice site.

The entire experience was a journey. I left the realm of sunlight for a darker, almost sinister, yet breathtakingly beautiful one.

Immediately upon leaving the cave, rain began to pour down. Logically, it makes sense that it would rain in the rainforest, but a sudden downpour was something I did not expect. My class and I hiked through the rainforest, entirely drenched. Concurrently, trees towered above and filled the horizon. In front of me, behind me, to the sides, above, and below, I was fully immersed in the quintessence of the rainforest.

Rainforest canopy surrounding the ATM Cave

“Immersion makes the trip worth it,” I thought to myself as I was wringing out my soaked clothes in the park bathroom after the torrential hike.

And I was right; looking back on my day, I have gotten to see cohune palms (Attalea cohune) and a trumpet tree (Cecropia obtusifolia). The cohune palms were scattered and were abundant with cohune nuts. The trumpet tree, which I noticed on the horizon, had thin light-colored trunks that led up to thin branches abundant with large, hanging leaves. I also saw multiple species of anura in the rainforest, as well as an unknown species of bat (Order Chiroptera), a massive unknown spider (Order Araneae), and an assortment of human remains (Homo sapiens) within the cave.

Immersing myself has enriched my day, and I am excited to continue to experience this immersion throughout my next week of travel.

Caves and Pitfalls

Life in the canopy is very different from life on the forest floor. There are differences in water, sunlight, vegetation, other organisms, the affects of gravity and access to food and nutrition. Nitrogen is an important nutrient and decomposers on the forest floor are essential parts of the nitrogen cycle. With this in mind we hypothesized that the forest floor would be more nitrogen rich than the canopy. Specifically, that arthropods in the canopy are more nitrogen limited. We tested this using pitfall traps both in the trees and in the ground. We used control traps filled with water and traps full of nitrogen-rich liquid (our own urine). Tomorrow when we collect the traps we expect to find more arthropods in the urine filled traps, and more arthropods in the tree traps than the ground traps.

This afternoon we went spelunking in a cave at Las Cuevas that was used as a ceremonial chamber by the ancient Mayans. The Mayans believed that caves were entrances to the underworld and that at the end of the day the sun turned into a jaguar and entered hell through a cave to battle demons all night until it reached the other side. This cave had nine bottlenecks that represented the nine layers of a hell a Mayan hero fought through in their mythology. We belly-crawled through the mud-guano cave floor to several hard to reach spots. There are many Mayan artifacts in the cave and areas are still being excavated by archaeologists. We found a lot of pottery, but also a human femur and an animal skeleton. Most excitingly, we saw wrinkle-faced bats roosting. Other animal sightings included glow worms and whip scorpions. Of course the formations are almost alive themselves, with huge chambers swallowing you up.

I have been searching for amphibians in damp areas like the cave entrance and inside bromeliads but I haven’t had any luck today. The leaf litter can also shelter cryptic amphibians, like toads, but I haven’t found any so far.

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Sophia Streeter

5/21

Day 5

Caving was just as exciting (and tiring) as I thought it would be. The first half was not that bad in terms of the amount of mud that I got on myself. Prematurely, I thought that I would come out unscathed. But no, it was the last part of the cave walk that really got me. After going through the main chambers in the system, there was an optional offshoot where they had previously found a peccary skeleton. The first crawl through was narrow, but the second was so narrow that you absolutely had to get down on the ground (flat on your belly) and army crawl through. My clothing was obliterated. But completely and totally worth it. I hope that I get to continue caving after this trip.

Otherwise, the day consisted of us finishing up the analysis of our Cecropia hypotheses and making posters. Our data, though it seemed to indicate higher investment in leaves and juveniles (consistent with the herbivore satiation hypothesis) was limited by our small samples size and estimation techniques. In the end, none of the groups has conclusive evidence, keeping the question of how young Cecropia defend themselves against herbivory prior to Azteca ant colonization open for future study.

Lastly, we set up our pitfall traps (using our own urine and water) to compare biodiversity in the canopy and forest floor settings. Specifically, we hope to learn about the differing needs in nitrogen in both. Tomorrow, one of the things that we will be doing is collecting the traps and analyzing the subsequent data.

 

 

Day 4

The tiredness continues. Today’s two tasks were to test our four hypotheses related to Cecropia herbivory defense and explore ant nests of different ages.

The Cecropia tree is normally in symbiosis with several species of ant. Their function is to be a defense mechanism against any threat to the integrity of the tree. This mostly means herbivory from various types of organism. However, there is a period when the tree is young prior to the colonization event of the ant population. We explored different ways in which the tree could potentially protect itself in this vulnerable period. After discussing the issue as a group for a while, covering many different possible solutions, we settled on four distinct hypotheses. Briefly, they focused on mimicry, chemical defense, leaf quality, and the predator/herbivore satiation hypothesis.

In long form these were our ideas. Maybe the young Cecropia trees are in some way similar to another species that has it’s own process for herbivory deterrence. Through mimicry, young Cecropia may benefit from the association made by herbivores. Secondly, there could be a chemical defense mechanism that is then replaced by the ants later in life. Thirdly, leaves on juveniles could be of poorer quality so as to deter herbivores, who would be better off selecting other species. Lastly (and the hypothesis I worked on), was herbivore satiation hypothesis. Under this assumption, we would expect to see high numbers of seed and juveniles, with the high number of individuals “flooding the market” and ensuring both sufficient herbivory and a proportion of individuals surviving into maturity (and therefore protection via ants).

After collecting and analyzing our data, we moved on to the ant colony structure. Scott showed us the different stages of nest. We spent the rest of the day looking for the fungus chamber and evading the (amazingly strong) bites of soldier ants.

Tomorrow, we go caving. I’m excited, as I have never done anything of the sort before.

Beetles, Beetles Everywhere + Pitfall Traps + Cave Explorations

Hi everyone! First things first, today was a great day for beetle spotting! We went on a small hike before lunch down the Monkey Tail Trail and found some great beetles. The first was a patent leather beetle (of the species Odontotaenius disjunctus) of about 3.5 cm long among the leaf litter, the second was a small chestnut brown colored scarab beetle (identified by its segmented antennae and fairly round body among other things) of the family Scarabaeidae. We also found a 3 cm long grub of a beetle on a log on the side of the Monkey Tail Trail and an empty black elytra abandoned in the middle of the trail. The elytra was a little difficult to identify, but it was about 3.5 cm long, had one flat edge and gently curved to the middle. Perhaps it could have come from something similar to a flower beetle or another firefly (family Lampyridae).

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A scarab beetle, family Scarabaeidae

On our second trek along the Maya trail we also found a black beetle with reddish spots on its elytra about 1 cm that could possibly be of the genus Mycetina. Last, but definitely not least, I just identified another black ground beetle that appeared to be of the same species as yesterday’s (family Carabidae) crawling along the floor below my chair.

A look back at the cave entrance before we ventured further into the dark zones
A look back at the cave entrance before we ventured further into the twilight and dark zones

Other exciting things we did today was explore the Las Cuevas Cave. We went down into the different zones of the cave (entrance zone, twilight zone, and dark zone) and explored the creatures and geological structures of the cave. Some interesting things we observed there were a peccary skeleton, some wrinkle-nosed bats, and pieces of ancient Mayan pottery. Afterward we set up some pitfall traps of urine and water along the Maya trail to investigate if canopy dwelling species (particularly arthropods) were more limited to nitrogen than forest floor dwelling species and looked at what might have been some Mayan plazas. We then climbed to the top of what appears to be a hill but is suspected to be an ancient Mayan ceremonial temple. That’s all for now everybody! Thanks for reading! 🙂

The pecory skeleton inside the cave
The pecory skeleton inside the cave

(Nakian) May 21: Cave x Urine x Ruin

Today afternoon we travelled down to the nine stages of Mayan underworld. First the cave birds greeted us and ancient stairs made by the Mayans themselves led our way down. The muddy caught on our boots and the cave wall sparkled every time our headlight swept the embedded minerals. As the mud accumulated on our boots the great halls and tight entrances into another alternated. Bats glanced at our light from the holes dug over generations of their presence. We could see the cave entrance after overcoming the ninth chamber. On the journey back we entered a very tight opening where we ended up at where an unfortunate and lost peccary skeleton sneered at us. The poor animal must have been wandering in darkest dark until it died of starvation. The humidity generated from our own breath and apparently lowering oxygen level simulated the peccary’s death.

After returning from the underworld, we went to install our pitfall traps of our own urine. We set traps of urine set on the trunk of trees and on the ground, comparing the amount of bugs searching for sources of nitrogen. If the fraction of number of bugs in the urine trap over that in the control water trap in the canopy is higher than that of floor, it will count toward the hypothesis that nitrogen availability in the canopy is lower than that of forest floor.
In the process I caught some ant species. I am going to identify them tomorrow. One seemed like a species of Camponatus while the other was unsure. Judging by how I caught them so easily in the evening, these species seem active in that time. Also my ant catching skill seems to have improved.

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