Tag Archives: Echinoderms

Morelet Me See the Frog!- Day 5

This morning I woke up again for birding and we saw some familiar birds such as parrots and another Plumbeous Kite. I can now recognize the parrots’ calls which is fun. After breakfast and as we were about to head out into the jungle, two Scarlet Macaws flew near the research station! They landed in a tree close by and we were able to get some really good photos of them. They seemed to be playing at certain points and they even landed on the research station. We see them basically every day now which is crazy.

A potential Parrot feather we found

 

Today was all about our research project. We spent the morning out in the jungle retrieving the pitfall traps we placed yesterday and then we spent the afternoon quantifying and classifying our data. We caught a ton of ants, so Brendan (the ant expert) spent a long time sorting them. We found that our data supported our hypotheses- that the canopy was both more nitrogen limited and less species diverse. We compiled our data onto a poster and presented it for Amanda and Scott. It was a great experience!

While we were out in the jungle, we saw a bunch of really cool animal species. Soon after we set out, we spotted a Keel-Billed Toucan ridiculously close to us. We stopped and watched it for a while. Later, we even saw a MORELET’S TREE FROG!! They are a critically endangered species of treefrog and we spotted it on a Fishtail Palm while we could hear Scarlet Macaws in the background. It was overall an incredible moment. Kaela was really excited about it because she’s all about amphibians.

The Morelet’s Tree Frog

 

We haven’t been told what we’re doing tomorrow but I’m sure it’ll be interesting. Also, we only have two more days at Las Cuevas so we’re going to have to make the most of them!

One Man’s Waste is Another Man’s Limiting Nutrient!- Day 4

This morning I woke up early enough to go bird watching, and it was definitely worth it. It was really peaceful and a great way to start the day.  We saw a couple interesting species such as a Plumbeous Kite, and multiple parrots (which both act and sound like they are in a constant state of panic); however, the most fascinating bird we saw by far was the keel-billed toucan. It has a characteristically long beak and is fantastically colored. We spotted it eating some kind of fruit from a tree on the edge of the clearing.

During breakfast, we were surprised with an interesting request- to fill two 50mL conical tubes with 25mL of urine each. We thought we were being messed with at first but we soon realized it was for real. The tubes were used for the research project we set up today. We are trying to determine whether the canopy or forest floor has a greater abundance and richness of arthropods as well as which level is more nitrogen limited (our urine acts as a nitrogen source). Again, I was surprised by our lack of bird sightings within the jungle, although we could hear their calls.

 

A sign along a trail near LCRS

After we finished setting up our project and ate lunch, we got to explore the cave near the research station. The whole experience was surreal. The cave was massive and if it wasn’t for our headlamps it would’ve been completely dark. There were a lot of really cool rock formations and the cave was at one time a Mayan pilgrimage site (also the cave was covered in bat guano but no biggie). Liz, Anna, and Pierce even gave their presentations in the cave!

 

We ended the day with a night hike. It was nice because it wasn’t as hot and we were also able to see a lot of species which are most active at night. We didn’t see any birds, but we saw a lot of spiders, a scorpion, a snake, and a ton of other interesting organisms. Outside of collecting the tubes that we set up earlier, I have no idea what we’ll be doing tomorrow, but that’s why it’s exciting.

A Glue Beetle we found on the night hike

 

Macawing Me Crazy! – Day 3

View from LCRS

Today I was able to catch up on some much-needed sleep, but we still woke up relatively early. Our day was centered around setting up camera traps in order for us to attain data which will later help us with our research question. We set them up along two paths which branch out from the research station and we set up seven cameras in total. Our first hike was difficult, but it was nice knowing that we won’t have to make it again for quite some time.

While in the jungle, I was surprised by the fact that we saw virtually no birds. This may partly be due to my looking at the ground for the majority of the hike in order to ensure I wouldn’t face plant. I definitely heard calls, but I was unable to spot the birds making them.

Soon after we got back to the station, guess what we saw… If you said THREE SCARLET MACAWS then you’d be right. We initially saw two of them perched on a tree on the edge of the clearing surrounding the research station. They were rubbing against each other at first, but they soon began to engage in what appeared to be fighting. The two flew off and were joined by a third. The trio continuously circled the station and it felt like they were showing off for us. The whole display was amazing and I can’t believe that we were lucky enough to see it. We also saw a Montezuma Oropendola soon after and I heard their distinctive call a couple times today.

Two Scarlet Macaws

 

We’re not 100% sure what we’ll be up to tomorrow, but we will definitely start another research project. We also might get to venture into a cave close to the research station, so hopefully, that works out. I’m planning on waking up for birding early tomorrow morning and I’m hoping to see a lot of interesting species. Wish me luck!

TFB’s: A Rainforest Story – Day 2

Rio on Pools

We had a very long day today, and we were able to see and do some pretty incredible things. We started out by going to Rio on the Pools where we cooled off for a while, and then we headed to Caracol, an abandoned Mayan ruin which once held a prominent position in Mayan society. There we climbed Mayan ruins and learned a lot about Mayan history and culture. After Caracol, we headed to Las Cuevas and we’re now in the Chiquibul Forest!

Caracol

 

We saw some incredibly interesting birds today such as the Montezuma Oropendola and even a Scarlet Macaw!! (Except I didn’t actually see the Scarlet Macaw as I may have been trying to take a nap so now I know that sleep is for the weak) We spotted the Montezuma Oropendola at Caracol. The Oropendola create woven nests which hang from the branches of trees like pendulums, hence the name. They also have an especially unique call which I won’t soon forget. The Oropendolas seemed to be trying to ward off blackbirds which were getting too close to their nests, and our guide Leo told us that the blackbirds will eat the Oropendolas’ eggs.

Montezuma Oropendola nests

 

While at Caracol we also spotted a few Howler Monkeys, which was incredibly cool. Our guide Leo told us not to get too close or they would “bless” us and luckily no one did.

Once we arrived at Las Cuevas and after we were settled in, we began to discuss what our first research question/project would be. We decided that we would explore how species diversity and richness changes as the distance from the field station increases, and our hypothesis is that as distance increases, diversity and richness should increase as well. Tomorrow we are going to put up camera traps in numerous places to facilitate our project. Hopefully, everything goes well!

 

Swinging into the Jungle!- Day 1

 

The Belize International Airport

Well, we made it! We’re officially in Belize! Today was mostly traveling, but we made it to the Ecolodge where we’ll spend the night. We’ve only been here for a couple of hours, yet we have already spotted some interesting species. These include the agouti, the leafcutter ant, and (drum roll please) a blue-crowned motmot! Scott pointed out the motmot to me soon after we arrived at the Ecolodge.

Blue-Crowned Motmot

In addition to the motmot,  we also spotted numerous vultures hanging out by a local prison while on our drive and I saw some kind of hawk soon after we departed from the airport. We also spotted two tinamous while we were cooling off in a river near the ecolodge (P.S. they’re not chickens). Also, it seems that Dr. Shore is an expert in all things water seeing as she schooled all of us when it came to using the rope swing next to the river.

Tomorrow we leave for Las Cuevas, the research station where we will spend the majority of our time in the jungle. I’m excited to finally visit the Chiquibul Forest, the place we’ve been hearing and learning so much about. Hopefully, we’ll all get to see some pretty interesting species (maybe even a Scarlet Macaw… or a Jaguar).

Tonight is the last night we’ll get to enjoy anything reminiscent of civilization for quite some time. This time tomorrow we will be deep within the rainforest, and I can’t wait. We have an early morning and a long day, but i’m sure we’ll see and learn a lot.

I can’t Belize we leave tomorrow- (Pre-Departure)

It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in on the information session covering what prospective students could expect from EBIO 319. I remember thinking, “This seems like a really interesting class, but there is no way I am going to end up going” – little did I know. We leave for Belize early tomorrow morning and it doesn’t feel real!

The reality of the trip will likely set in when we all arrive at Valhalla and set off to the airport. At that point, there will be no going back, which is slightly unnerving but incredibly exciting. I have never been to Belize, or anywhere in Central America in fact, except for a brief stop in Mexico, so I am excited to get to travel somewhere new while at the same time learning and experiencing all that I can. I hope to learn as much as I can about what conducting field research is all about as well the fauna of Belize.

I can’t wait to discover all that both Las Cuevas and Glover’s Reef have to offer, and I can’t wait to get to point out species from my chosen taxon! What I am most uneasy about is the fact that I’ve never lived in research stations for two weeks in a foreign country; however, I feel that through our readings and by gaining a deeper understanding of Belize, both about its history and its fauna, everything will turn out great.

I think that I am most excited for the Reef aspect of our trip, as ocean life is something I am particularly interested in and I have always loved the ocean. I can’t wait to get into the water! Overall, I am incredibly excited about our trip and all the adventures that lie ahead. In less than 24 hours I’ll be in Belize and I can’t believe it!

 

 

Basically Steve Irwin

Hi friends, I’m Veronica! Tomorrow, we go to Belize. Here are some thoughts.

I was an interesting sort of kid – I was quite socially awkward, listened only to classical music (my  favorite composer was Bach. Who’s Rihanna anyway?), and I didn’t watch any of the classic Disney Channel TV shows. Most importantly, I was absolutely obsessed with Animal Planet’s show The Crocodile Hunter. The show’s host, Steve Irwin, was my childhood hero. I remember sitting in front of the TV with my little brother, both of us riveted, as Steve fearlessly wrangled wild creatures or snagged the tiniest critters for the camera to see.

My younger brother and I were more interested in tiny shore critters on Daytona Beach than we were in Disney World. 

I think that my devotion to Mr. Irwin and his show planted in my brain a fascination with wild places and their inhabitants. This is why I’ve been all but vibrating with excitement for this trip for the last month or so.  I’ve never had any experience with field research, in the tropics or elsewhere, so I’m not sure what to expect. But I’m guessing it’s going to involve equal amounts of sweat and labor as rewarding finds and learning. I’m ready for it! (I think? I’m pretty out of shape, so I’m not sure how well I’ll handle the physical activity…but my mind is ready so BRING IT ON.)  This trip is probably going to involve a lot of physical discomfort and wistful thoughts of air conditioning. But I do expect to put in some sweat to learn things that I could never learn from a textbook! I’m tired of classrooms. I am incomprehensibly excited to learn how to locate different organisms in the field, or how to decipher forest sounds. I can’t wait to learn hands-on how ecologists gather their hard-earned data.

My preparation for the trip has been rather frantic. I’ve been scurrying all over town in the past couple of months to collect all the required equipment. I even bought a prescription snorkel mask so I can see underwater, which I’m SUPER pumped about! I’ve also pored over the required reading materials, spent hours upon hours researching microbial processes of coral reefs, and researched all I can about echinoderms (think starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers) and lepidopterans (butterflies and moths). And, of course, I’ve hyped myself up for the trip by watching nature documentaries. My only apprehensions lie in my complete inexperience. I can be clumsy. Combined with my utter un-fit-ness, I’m afraid that in my physically exhausted state, I’ll be a drag on the group. I hope that I can keep up with the pace of the trip. And, of course, I hope we don’t run into any grumpy peccaries (like wild pigs) or fer-de-lances (species of venomous snake).

What  I want to accomplish most during this trip is to scratch that itch I’ve always had in the back of my mind to go venturing out into the wild, if only for a little bit. I also hope to learn about what field ecology entails and to gain intimate understanding of tropical and neotropical ecosystems. I want to find specimens of the echinoderms  and lepidopterans I’ve researched. But I think my core excitement for this course stems from a simple place: the little kid inside me really, really wants to get out there and explore, just like Steve Irwin.

On that note, WE LEAVE TOMORROW?! Amazing.

Catch you all in Belize!

Post-Trip: Reflection

One day in Belize, my class and I noticed a distinct commonality between the two most biodiverse ecosystems – coral reefs and tropical rainforests. Both function in nutrient poor conditions. The two differ greatly in the causations of their low-nutrient conditions. Coral reefs demand low nutrients to hinder algae growth and allow high water clarity, a condition demanded for photosynthetic coral synergists. The trees of the tropical rainforest, however, quickly deplete the soil of nutrients as they grow. While both systems exist in low-nutrient environments, low nutrient levels can lead to coral reef formation while the high nutrient demands of tropical rainforest tree leads to poor soil nutrients.

Regardless, the two ecosystems are able to support such biodiverse systems through their creation of physical spaces. Reefs for nooks and crannies for marine organisms to reside, as well has having great surface areas to accommodate sessile organisms like anemones and sponges. Tropical trees have many layering branches and alcoves within trunks and limbs. Similarly, these create spaces to accommodate more living things. Epiphytes, commensalist plants that grow on taller trees, demand the sunlit canopy trees provide. Structurally, the two have many parallels, which likely explains their comparable biodiversity.

Rainforests and coral reefs both accommodate animals smaller than their open ocean or open grassland counterparts. Not only are these ecosystem’s spaces unable to accommodate larger animals, but also larger animals have the potential to wreak havoc on these systems by overgrazing on or causing mechanical damage to coral or trees.

Glover’s Reef

With their elaborate physical structures and densely-packed biodiverse inhabitants, the coral reef and tropical rainforest I visited in Belize filled me with similar senses of awe. There was activity or an interesting organic structure just about everywhere I would look. While I knew in advance that these ecosystems have great biodiversity, there is something about being physically present that makes these facts feel real.

I had very nebulous expectations for this trip. I wanted to learn and to have fun, but other than that, I put very little thought into identifying what I wanted to take away from this trip. This mindset turned out to be a blessing, as I could absorb my surroundings without constantly questioning whether or not my expectations are met. It was freeing to allow myself to be immersed in these beautiful locales and view them for what they are.

My memory of the trip is rich with precious moments – watching a squid jet across a reef, listening to the boisterous conversations of scarlet macaws, seeing the glistening hide of a manatee as it dive back into shallow mangrove waters, feeling the chilliness of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, spectating the sunrise over the ocean, viewing the uninhibited star-filled sky, laying on a hammock at the end of a long day. This aggregation of serenity and excitement is what I value most about the trip. While at times I felt stressed about the grade I would make, I strove to keep an empowering mindset that allowed me to fully cherish my surroundings.

The trip left me with a wide range of new knowledge. Ethnographically, Belize has an extremely diverse human population, serving as the home of Mestizos, Creoles, Garifunas, and Mayans to name the most populous. I learned about interesting physical properties of many living, including that mantis shrimp have a grasp so strong they can hurt people, Christmas tree worms always have pairs of polychaetes, conchs’ have two projecting eyes that look like cartoon eyes, and strangling figs can overtake massive canopy-forming trees to form large and extensive woody structures. I also learned about the harmful effect human negligence can have on ecosystems, like lionfish (a nonnative species released from aquariums) overpredate juvenile reef-dwelling fish and the prevalence of Africanized bees in the New World were caused by the escape of seven queens. I’ve learned countless new things that form a mosaic as vibrant and diverse as the colors of Belize itself.

I leave Belize with new memories and knowledge. I will always remember the electric blue of the Caribbean, the stunning vibrancy of scarlet macaw plumage, and the translucence of the Caribbean reef squid. After all, all I have are these memories of Belize until I go back.

Day 8: Authenticity (05/23/2017)

There we were, with flashlights in hand, meandering through the darkness of the Belize Zoo. The site was sprawling with tall tropical trees, including the Santa Maria tree (Calophyllum brasiliense) and the gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba), spectacular sights on their own. The Santa Maria trees, not very common and interspersed between shorter trees, had branches high up on the trunk and were some of the tallest trees at the zoo. The gumbo-limbo trees were also fairly uncommon and were shorter with bark that was peeling in fleshy-looking pinkish layers. I was unable to see any animal activity in the trees because we visited the zoo at night.

The trees were unscathed by the human activity necessary for the zoo’s survival; enclosures were constructed around established trees to preserve the integrity of the site. All of the zoo’s animals are native to Belize, and the zookeeper addressed each and every animal by name – Carlos the puma, Junior the jaguar, Maggie the frigatebird, Brutus the American crocodile.

Carlos the Puma

One could feel the zoo’s authenticity. The zoo lacked kitsch. It lacked glamour. It was about people learning about the animals of Belize.

Earlier in the day, my class departed from Glover’s Reef, our home for the past week. Partway through our boat ride to the Belize mainland, we hiked and snorkeled through the Belize mangroves. At a glance, the area would not have looked appealing, with its sediment-filled water, knotted overgrown tree roots, and an absence of colors other than browns and corrupted greens.

However, the mangrove housed a wide variety of creatures. Today’s sightings covered the whole spectrum –red cushion sea stars (Oreaster reticulatus) to sun anemones (Stichodactyla helianthus) to a seahorse (Family Syngnathidae). The red cushion sea stars were amotile and were about six-inches in diameter. The most memorable sighting was a manatee (Genus Trichechus). Although I got little more than a glimpse of shimmery gray with chestnut speckles, it felt a sense an overwhelming sense of awe being in the present of a creature as majestic as a manatee.

Ecologically, mangroves are essential to the survival of many types of animals, including coral-residing species, as the shallow waters and networks of plant materials protect growing animals from predators. Despite not being the most popular image to send home on a postcard, mangroves are a necessity for the survival of countless living things.

That is authenticity.

Day 7: Introspection (05/22/2017)

Today began with at 4:45 with a sunrise – the first I’ve actively watched in years. I watched it alone, some much needed time to reflect. I felt sheer gratitude to witness such a glorious sight at such a special location.

Later in the morning, my class and I boated out to three different reefs. The boatrides were spectacular, displaying discrete shades of blue. There was a crisp turquoise above sand patches, a deep muted turquoise above patch reefs, a dark royal blue across the horizon, and an electric, almost synthetic looking cerulean a short distance from the boat.

Each reef we visited had it’s own character and noteworthy residents. The first (“The Channel”) had mounds of corals in deeper water. A notable sighting was a cluster of three large gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus) that moved in tandem.

The second reef (“The Aquarium”) consisted of shallow depths and very active fish. Two noteworthy sightings were a flounder under sand and a stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) that burped up algae.

Today’s final reef was the same patch reef we visited yesterday and on our fist day snorkeling. The reef appeared more visible and felt easier to navigate. The most unusual animal seen there was a pufferfish (Family Tetraodontidae).

I searched all three reefs for echinoderms. On the seafloor, I found a couple urchin skeletons, maxing at about two-inches in diameter, but nothing significant. Today’s lack of echinoderm encounters is likely because I did not overturn any rubble to look for them.

The afternoon was spent dissecting lionfish our instructors caught during earlier reef visits. It was interesting learning about how invasive species, like the lionfish, have had such harmful effects on ecosystems. It is truly astounding how many ecological and environmental issues humans have created.

Pterois spp. about to be dissected

The world is so big, and I am just one of seven billion humans, which belong to one of six million animal species. Gazing at the sun inch its way across the horizon compels me to think about my place in the world. What issues do I regularly encounter? Do I choose to intervene? How?

Only time will tell how I will respond to the world’s future issues, but until then, I can take time to think. Today, it took a sunrise to force my to take time to introspect. Ordinarily, I constantly look and listen and study, but it is rare that I pause and think critically about the world’s issues and my role in their causations and solutions.
That is something that I want to change.