Tag Archives: Hemipterans

Wrap-up blog (I wasn’t the clever title person on this trip)

Now I’m back home, enjoying air-conditioning and incredibly fast image upload speeds to the blog, but missing the beauty of the tropics. A sea of identical suburban rooftops just doesn’t compare to the actual sea.

The rainforest and the reef are two extremely diverse ecosystems despite their low nutrient availability (like I talked about for my lecture on rainforest soils). Because nutrients are hard to come by, organisms are able to fill many different small niches where nutrients are more available. In addition, neither of these ecosystems are low energy. Their proximity to the equator means they have lots of solar energy pumping in all year long. That light is converted into more accessible energy by plants in both ecosystems. One striking similarity that I noticed in both of these ecosystems is that, despite their extreme diversity, seeing moving animals is surprisingly difficult. As you walk through the rainforest, you see very few mammals or reptiles or birds, a good number of insects, but still surprisingly few. The same was true for the reef, the fish and crustaceans and echinoderms blend in so well you often can’t see them.

Overall, this course was everything I expected and more. I came in with a vague expectation to do a little research and learn about the environments we would be surrounded by. I didn’t expect to be designing, implementing, and presenting experiments all in the same day. I also hadn’t even thought to expect how much fun this trip was. My favorite part of the course was definitely hiking through the rainforest and finding insects I knew a surprising amount about despite having never seen them before. I hadn’t realized that because I knew a good bit about one insect species I study at school I could extend that knowledge to related insects I’d never even heard of. (Hemipterans are dope!) My least favorite part of the course was swimming through the reefs. The reefs were absolutely amazing to look at, but I was always afraid of damaging everything around me. The coral reefs are famous for being in danger and as we snorkeled through them I often felt like touching anything might destroy everything. Sometimes swimming through the reefs I worried that we were doing more harm than good. The fish and the corals were beautiful and I don’t want to do anything to hurt them.

The three most important things I learned in this course were how specific knowledge can become general knowledge, how little we actually know about both of these ecosystems, and how important these ecosystems are and how closely linked they are to the entire world. I’ve already talked about the first one a little bit but finding two true bugs nobody recognized and being able to identify that they were nymphs and recognize their body plan was crazy. I could look at these two bugs and I knew what body parts to measure to quantify their size because I’d measured something similar many times before. It was really cool to see the effects of common ancestry implemented. The second thing I realized as we were all trying to identify our species. In the rainforest with birds, pretty much everything was identified, but many of the insects had little to no information available. Most of the taxon id cards featured genera at best and the books we had on tropical insects focused almost exclusively on butterflies, despite the broad diversity of everything else. In the coral reefs, I struggled to find information online about shrimp and crabs and was unable to identify plenty of organisms because they were small or because I didn’t have the right books or because they simply weren’t really described anywhere. Because these two ecosystems have so much diversity and because many of these organisms are so well hidden, information is often inaccessible unless you are an expert in a very specific field, if the information exists at all. The last of the three big things I learned is how both of these ecosystems are closely linked to everywhere else. From the reading before the course, we learned that the xatè palm is harvested from the Chiquibul forest to be used in flower arrangements. From the experiment we did with trash and from Andressa’s presentation, we learned that trash from all over the world can get moved by the wind and water and wind up in the ocean. While we are often unintentionally doing these (and many other) harmful things to the tropics, the tropics are doing surprisingly important things for us. The rainforest is an important CO2 processor and a source of many medicines. The coral reefs act as nurseries for fish that spend their adult lives all across the oceans. Without either of these ecosystems, humans would be worse off and the world would be less beautiful.

Now that I’m home, I get to reminisce about the great experience I just had and implement my new found knowledge and understanding.

Day 6: You Gotta Get Rained on in the Rainforest

This morning I went bird watching again. We saw a lot of the same birds we’ve been seeing all week: Montezuma oropendolas, a plumbeous kite, scarlet macaws, a ton of turkey vultures, and a few social flycatchers.

After bird watching, we found out that Adrienne was leaving for medical reasons. I’m super glad she’s going to get checked out by a doctor and being safe, but I’m also sad she won’t be with us at the reef.

We collected our urine samples in the morning and then started sorting all the bugs we found into morphospecies (sorting them into ones that look like the same species without actually identifying the species). We found way more species on the forest floor than in the canopy and way more species in the nitrogen (urine) than in the water, which wasn’t surprising but it was still really cool to see the science come out the way we expected. We also came across this really cool hemipteran that looked sorta like a hammerhead. It has big black spots on its back that look like fake eyes, but its eyes are really much smaller near its antennae.

During the afternoon it absolutely poured. I ran out into the rain and got completely soaked because, as I’ve said every time it’s rained a little so far, “you gotta get rained on in the rainforest.” I proceeded to get completely soaked. Sammi and I did pose like Titanic. However, contrary to our faces, it was super cool.

Afterward, termites were everywhere because the first big rain is commonly used as a signal for nuptial flights for termites and ants.

This evening I was watching this bird that has a nest inside the satellite dish base. It’s a slaty ant-wren, really small and plain brown. It comes to the nest with food pretty regularly and its babies stick their heads out to grab food. But there’s also this other bird that comes and hangs out around the nest and it’s SO CONFUSING. I can’t figure out what it’s doing, I did figure out that it’s a sulfur-breasted flycatcher though.

(I apparently don’t take pictures of birds. -This is Claire in retrospect trying to post now that we actually have internet.) Here’s a picture of what the slaty antwren and the sulfur-breasted flycatcher looked like from the internet.

Image result for slaty antwrenImage result for sulphur breasted flycatcher

Day 4: Bugs Go Home

This morning I got up early to bird again and saw a lot of similar birds to the day before. The scarlet macaws are still gorgeous and the Montezuma oropendola call is still really cool. We heard a few toucans but couldn’t see them.

This morning we had to pee into falcon tubes for an experiment. The first time I overfilled it, but then I poured too much out which was pretty tragic. I had to chug a liter and a half of water so that I could fill up the rest of the tube (chug team practice actually comes in handy?!). We placed the tubes along some of the trails along with water tubes to compare how many bugs we catch in a nitrogen-rich environment in the canopy and on the forest floor. Along the way, we saw a coral snake which was really cool and thankfully just slithered away from all of us.

This afternoon we went into the Las Cuevas cave. On the way in we saw a bunch of cave swallows. In the cave, we saw a few different bats and lots of tiny arthropods around the cave. A lot of the arthropods were white as you’d expect in a cave with no light. There were also a few smashed pots and other Mayan artifacts. The mix of biology and archaeology and geology found in these caves is really cool.

After caving, I sat and watched the birds. We saw a big king vulture as well as a bunch of turkey vultures. The social flycatchers were sitting on a rope and flying out to catch bugs and then returning to the branch which is a really cool behavior I read about before coming. Apparently, I didn’t care to actually take a picture of them though.

Veronica, Ceyda, and I walked back to where we found the colorful bugs to return them this evening. The bugs I work with are host specific, so it doesn’t seem impossible that these ones could be too. Sadly I can’t keep them in a jar forever and I definitely can’t take them out of Belize, so instead, we took them home. We did see an amazing sunset which was, as usual here, surprisingly early (6:30).

Day 3: I Really Like Hemipterans?

We started the day early with birding and we saw so many birds. There were plumbeous kites, social flycatchers, Montezuma oropendolas, melodious blackbirds, and Red-lored parrots. This is a picture of the tree most of the birds chill in, or at least the one closest to the station.

We went out hiking before and after lunch to set up camera traps. We put half of them on trails and half of them off trail which was difficult, but also pretty fun. I spent a lot of the hike whistling at the birds. I had a great time imitating the calls often rather poorly and hearing them seem to whistle back even though they were just repeating their call regardless of me. It was amazing to see how quickly the forest became super difficult to get through. Along the way, we saw a bunch of these small red bugs that looked like the bugs I work with in my lab red-shouldered soapberry bugs). They were very small and bright red, but we had no clue what they were because we don’t have any books or someone in charge of knowing stuff about true bugs (Hemipterans – an order of insects).

At one of the camera traps, we saw this huge leaf cutter ant colony. It was maybe 20 feet long. We were busy gawking at it when all of the sudden we realized there was a giant boa constrictor behind us. We stood watching it for a while, it was definitely very uncomfortable.

At the last camera trap before lunch, we found these two big bugs on a leaf. They seem to be true bugs (like what I study in my lab at school) but they were way bigger than any bug I’d seen and super brightly colored. I asked everyone who works here if they knew what it was and they all said no which makes me very excited about how rare they are. Sadly the only insect book we have doesn’t even include the order these bugs are in and without internet, I have no way of finding out more about them. For the time being, I’ll just have to settle for measurements and pictures with Sam’s really nice camera. (I have been unofficially anointed as the Hemipteran taxon expert.)


Tonight we had a lecture from Raphael Montenaro, the head of FCD, the NGO that runs Las Cuevas. He talked to us a bunch about how they protect and monitor the forest. It was crazy how much work his group was doing that normally would be expected of the government. I also gave my lecture on tropical soils tonight which I felt better about than expected.