Tag Archives: Ebio 319

Day 3: Camera traps and hiking

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.

Give-and-take palm – note the sharp spines!
All of the mahogany was small due to logging in the past
Chicle tree featuring scars from chicleros and Randy for scale

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!

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.

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
Avocado tree at Caracol

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

Day 1: Houston to Belize

At 10:30 this morning our adventure began. We met up at Rice before going to Hobby Airport and then flying to Belize City. As we descended into the city, it was already clear that we were entering a different country. The houses here are painted every bright shade imaginable, which makes everything seem more festive and exciting.

The number of trees is amazing. Wherever wasn’t developed was being lost to the forest. We noticed lots of small fires as we traveled from Belize City to San Ignacio. The current theories are that they are for burning trash and for slash-and-burn agriculture. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a better idea of these fires when it is light out in the future.

A stand of bamboo at Crystal Paradise
A stand of bamboo at Crystal Paradise

We saw many species of trees. The most common were palms, which seem to be able to rise above other trees to take full advantage of the light, and Cecropia species, which have large palmate leaves. The leaves look somewhat like hands, with multiple lobes originating from the center. I haven’t seen any algae yet because we haven’t been by water, and I’ll give an update on more trees that we find tomorrow!

Day 1: A Bumpy Ride(literally)

Well we made it to Belize! And we made it to the resort we are staying at for the night. After landing in Belize City we had to a drive for a few hours. The van was bouncing like it was on a dirt road…but the road was paved…and got rather hilly. I did find a Lepidoptera today- I almost stepped on it. On a porch at the resort,I found a dead Carolina Satyr butterfly(Hermeuptychia sosbius). With the angle the wings had settled, initially I thought it was a moth. When I looked closer(it’s wingspan is about 2 cm) I saw the eyespots on the bottom side of the hindwing. I flipped the butterfly over to examine the upper and saw the solid brown. Definitely a Carolina Satyr- one I had added to the Lepidoptera identification sheet. With the lighting the camera was having trouble focusing on the tiny butterfly.DSCN0012

It’s finally here!

When I was a sophomore in high school, a friend told me about a summer course at Rice University. Students had the chance to spend two weeks in Belize, hiking, snorkeling, and learning about the tropics. I couldn’t imagine anything that sounded more amazing. At that moment, I knew I needed to go to Rice.

Tomorrow, we will be in Belize. I can’t believe it. This will be my first field research experience, and I am so excited to learn more about tropical ecology! I am doing research in a lab that studies tropical ecology, and my work is currently all data analysis on the computer. I’m looking forward to seeing the other side of my project learning about how all the data I’ve been working with was collected!

I have visited several tropical countries, and I drag my parents hiking wherever we go, so I’m not too nervous about the animals we’ll encounter. I do hope to avoid getting sick, and I’ve gotten quite a few immunizations in the last couple of months. In preparation for the trip, I’ve been doing lots of reading, and I have learned a lot about the incredible diversity of plants and animals that call Belize home. It will be awesome to put faces to all of the names I’ve been reading about. I recently realized how little I know about individual bird species, and on this trip I hope to learn more about the birds of Belize and be able to identify some of them. I know I will learn a lot about the ecology of Belize from this course. Even more than that, however, I hope to learn about ecology research and get a tiny glimpse into the life of a field ecologist.

The Calm Before the Storm: <24 Hours Until Departure!

Hi everyone! Welcome to my very first blog post (disclaimer: I’ve never written a blog before but I’ll do my best) about my soon-to-be tropical field biology adventures in Belize! I, along with thirteen other students and two professors from Rice University, fly out tomorrow (!!!), and I am both excited and nervous.

Oddly enough, a part of both of those emotions come from not quite knowing what to expect. Though I have been speaking with other students who went on the trip last year to try to prepare myself and gain insight on what might be useful to bring/do, I feel like there is no way to completely know what is going to happen these next couple of weeks.

That aside, most of my excitement stems from being able to explore new ecosystems and learning firsthand about a variety of organisms that live in those ecosystems. I hope to learn a lot about the different aspects of the rainforest and the coral reef and be able to identify some species that live in each of them. On the other hand, I am slightly nervous because some of those organisms are definitely not things I would normally prefer to interact with (i.e. spiders and snakes) and because I have no previous experience conducting research in the tropics.

In an attempt to prepare myself for such an adventure, I have been doing some research on my assigned topic (marine debris!) and taxa (echinoderms and beetles!) to prepare for the presentations we will be giving, but I am sure that the actual experience of finding and identifying these species will be quite the learning experience in itself. I have also purchased all of the required equipment (and lots of other things we may or may not need) and practiced with the snorkel gear. Still, I know that despite any and all preparations I could make, there will undoubtedly be surprises once we arrive and are actually immersed in both the rainforest and coral reef.

For right now, my bags are packed, my presentation PowerPoints are finished, and by the time I make my next post, I will be in Belize amongst the rainforest creatures! See you all on the other side! 🙂


^Everything is clean at the airport on day 1. 🙂

Two Days!

As someone who came into Rice knowing exactly what she wanted her major to be, I have been looking for ways to work this course into my curriculum since the beginning. While my certainty in EBIO has never wavered, I am not a place to definitively say what kind of research I want to go into. That’s where EBIO 319 comes in. I expect that this course’s broad nature will give me a more comprehensive view of the field that I will eventually be going into. Do I want to focus on terrestrial or marine systems? Ecology or evolution? What specific system? These are questions that I hope to at least make some progress on. I also expect that I will be underprepared for the trip in some large way. On similar trips, I have found this to be true. I’m not too worried about this; everything works out in the end (and you get great stories!) I love going on trips like this not only because of their educational value, but because of how they bring the participants together. I fully expect that we will find the trials and tribulations of the rainforest and coral atoll material for bonding. I cannot wait to get to know these people better.

The last couple of days have been very hectic for me, as I’m sure they have been for all of my classmates. I think we are all feeling increasing pressure to have everything perfectly in order. Getting proper fins has been a particular struggle for me. I think that I might end up carrying them in my lap on the plane! While there have been many logistical hurdles to clear, I have also been preparing my knowledge of the country.  The book, while definitely long, has been a valuable resource in explaining the important biotic and abiotic factors in the region. At the same time, I don’t want to remain too reliant on the book to prepare me. Words can only do so much. I’m prepared to have many of my assumptions be proven wrong upon arrival.

In addition to hopefully providing some clarity on what I want to focus on in my EBIO curriculum, I hope that this course give me a immersive view into an ecosystem. After spending two years learning about ecosystems interactions from afar, I am excited to be right in it for two weeks. I think that this will greatly flesh out my current EBIO knowledge.

On the other hand, I am worried that I’ll get all of the way out there and be completely lost in the myriad of topics that we will be covering. It is possible that the breadth of the course will further my confusion on my specific interests. On the logistical side of things, it is very possible that I will forget something crucial (deodorant? pants?). Ah well, neither of these worries overshadows my overall excitement for the course!

I know that I am going to enjoy this trip. Travel is one of my favorite things to do and when combined with the subject that I love, I know that this will be an experience that will remember even when I have left Rice. A couple of years ago, I went on a scientific/tourist expedition to the Galapagos Island with National Geographic. While I was probably too young to fully appreciate the impact, it definitely peaked my interest in the biological sciences. Later on, I traveled with my high school to Peru for a more service oriented trip. Both trips to Latin America were great experiences. I am looking to continue this trend. In the end, I am most excited to simply be in Belize. I can picture myself waking up for breakfast, not in Martel College but in the rainforest/coral reef. The calmer moments before we leave for the day’s research will likely be what I remember most. Well that and the academic clarity I hope to find. I can’t believe it’s only two days away!