Tag Archives: Ceiba

Day 12: Social Interactions (5/27/2017)

I wake up in the middle of the night and step outside to something I have never felt before. It is the rainforest night. The air is rich with animal sounds. The sky is pitch black but adorned with countless stars, creating the illusion of a deep indigo-gray. Heartbeats of lighting illuminate the sky, but there is no rain. An unmatched sense of awe comes over me, something I could only feel being alone before nature’s grandeur.

Many hours later, my class and I are in the forest. Tall kapok trees (Ceiba pentandra) along the path form islets of intense shade, and yellow prickly trees (Zanthozylum spp.) sporadically flank the path with yellow-brown adornments. Some of the yellow prickly plants were speckled with tiny crawling ants. These leaf-cutter ants chisel and delivery circular sheets of leafs to their colonies, advanced eusocial communities that mature over time.

We say three ant colonies: one year old, four years old, and ten years old. Similar to an individual organism, the colonies aged, growing larger and more advanced with time. Leaf-cutter ants sustain by cultivating fungus on leaf pieces concealed in underground chambers, and thus colonies must have increasing number of chambers to grow enough food to feed their growing numbers. With time, colonies supported more types of workers and had longer, deeper, and wider tunnels.

A leafcutter ant hard at work

Late in the afternoon, I saw five scarlet macaws (Ara macao) fly across the sky in unison. Although macaws lack a complex social structure like leaf-cutter ants, they still cluster for social interaction and increased protection from predators.

It is interesting how human social interactions relate to those of other organisms. Some people have clearly defined senses of duty, like worker ants chiseling leaves for their colonies. Some exhibit altruism, like a scarlet macaw rearing her chicks. Even if there is no evolutionary relationship between the social interactions of humans and other animals, it is interesting to see the common elements.

However, sometimes it’s preferred to forgo my social role and be alone. The sky is much more powerful that way.

Day 5: Null Hypotheses and Spelunking Adventures

Today we started off by summarizing the results from our experiments yesterday about Cecropia and ant interactions. My group ended up with negative results. We didn’t find any evidence of young Cecropia mimicking other plants. We did notice some differences between juvenile and adult trees, such as red petioles (the stems of leaves) and slightly longer trichomes (the tiny hairs on plants). However, we weren’t able to conclusively determine that those differences had an adaptive role. One group tested the toughness of juvenile and adult leaves and found that juvenile leaves were tougher. This could be adaptive because it would make it more difficult for herbivores to eat the leaves. If the project was continued, it would be beneficial to see if herbivores preferred younger or older leaves.

We also were able to visit the cave at Las Cuevas. The cave was a part of Mayan ceremonies, and there is still evidence of their presence. There are pottery shards throughout the cave system and the cave is built up in some areas. Platforms were built near the entrance and some spaces between chambers were made to be narrower. The whole history behind the cave is extremely interesting. The caves also had some wildlife. We saw at least two species of bats, millipedes, and a species of scorpion with long legs and no tail. One of the best aspects about the cave was how undeveloped it was. I’m not used to visiting preserved caves that haven’t been commercialized. It was cool to feel like I was one of the first to visit the cave, even though many, many people have visited it before me.

Entering the cave
Entering (taking pictures of) the cave

My favorite trees today were the big trees that we commonly see around the Chiquibul. The cedar (Cedrela odorata) can be 20-30m tall. Right now it doesn’t have leaves, but it has some wooden seed pods that are still attached to the branches. The seed pods look like 5-petaled flowers – they’re very pretty. Another big tree is the ceiba (Ceiba pentandra). When it is mature, its bark is very smooth and it can reach 60-70m. It has been difficult for me to identify ceiba from their leaves because the trunks reach so high into the canopy.

Ceiba
Cedar seed pod

We only have two more full days at LCRS, so we’ll have to make them count!