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Day 14: Crab Jail and Meditation

This morning was super slow. After breakfast, we had a few hours to just chill while the 7 lionfish Scott had speared over the course of the week thawed. I probably should have written blogs, but instead, I took a nice nap on one of the hammocks.

Around 9, the lionfish we caught were ready to be dissected. Veronica and I worked with the largest one. It weighed 1.3 pounds and was over a foot long.

Lionfish are an invasive species in the Atlantic. They’re native to the Pacific ocean but were released into the Atlantic where they quickly began eating everything while having no natural predators. After weighing them and measuring their body length, the first part of the dissection involved removing the fish’s 13 poisonous spines. We then measured their mouth size before cutting open its body cavity. Veronica and I were supposed to figure out the fish’s sex and identify stomach contents, but we were mostly confused by this giant hard white mass in the middle of its body.

After a bit of reading the manual and confusion, we figured it was probably the swim bladder and stabbed it so it would deflate. We could then see the entirety of its organs. We found that it was male and that it had a mostly decomposed fish 2 and a half inches long in its stomach (only slightly smaller than the smallest lionfish we found).

When we finished dissecting all the fish, Scott began filleting them to prepare a ceviche. A ceviche is a dish in which raw fish is effectively cooked with acid (from limes or lemons etc) and then basically served in a salad. The ceviche was delicious. We had removed an invasive species, collected scientific data, and had a tasty snack, which is a pretty solid trio in my opinion.

After lunch, some of the class went out snorkeling in the reef near the island, but Kristen, Ceyda, Andressa, and I stayed back and instead played with the hermit crabs. We decided to dig a hole and put a bunch of hermit crabs in it. It may have been a somewhat childish activity, but it was a pretty great time. We collected about 25 hermit crabs, mostly from under the solar panels where they seemed to like to hang out. It was really funny to see them continue to climb up the steep sand walls we had dug. They always went out upside down, with their shell above them. I think this climbing strategy made it easier for them to carry the weight of their shells while climbing a difficult slope. When they made it out (and we stopped pushing them back in), they quickly walked off in all directions directly away from us and we got ready for our last afternoon activity.

Around 3, we got on the boat for one of the last times to head to a resort on one of the adjacent islands. We got to spend a few hours hanging out at a nice beach resort like we were actually on vacation and not a class. I found a few small true crabs running around.

We left a t-shirt behind (my “rice owls give back” shirt) signed by everyone on the trip, as was tradition at this resort. We were sad to head back to the research station because we knew it was almost time to leave Belize.

We ended our last night by meditating with Scott out on the pier. We all sat in a big circle and Scott led us in 10 minutes of meditation. 

We then stayed up way too late chatting and admiring the ocean. Sadly we never got a cloudless night at glovers, but honestly, it didn’t really matter. I had a great night talking with everyone and even with a few of the guys stationed on the island for the Belizean coast guard. Overall, it was the perfect last day.

Day 12: Mantis Shrimp are Freaking Aggressive

We spent the whole morning analyzing our data from the coral and urchin stuff we did over the last two days. It was nice to just sit in a hammock staring out at the water that is an unnatural shade of blue and talk about data. I was actually dry for a few hours too which was pretty exciting. On most of this trip, I’ve either been in the water, getting rained on, or super sweaty.

In the afternoon we waded out to the reef that’s right next to the island. At first, it was super hot and disgusting because of the decomposing matter and the fact that our feet just went right into the ground respectively. But as we got out farther into the reef, it started to get cooler and we found super cool stuff. We picked up a ton of conchs, both alive and empty shells, tiny crabs, algae, and coral rubble. We brought everything back to the wet lab, where we have running ocean water, to get a better look at what we found. While we were still out collecting stuff we found a gigantic Caribbean spiny lobster. It was hiding under some coral. Scott spent at least 10 minutes trying to show it to me. I couldn’t see it because it was dark and because the lobster filled up literally the whole space and because apparently, I have crustacean blindness. When I finally saw it, I realized it was at least 3 feet long. It had long spindly antennae and stripy legs. On the way back to shore, we flipped over a piece of coral rubble and found 3 different lobsters. They skrted pretty quickly, but I think they were spiny spotted lobsters. There was one that was about 10 inches long, one that was 5 inches long, and one that was an inch and a half long. They looked like they might have been shrimp, but I knew they were lobster because of their thick antennae. In the tropics, you don’t find lobsters with the big claws like the ones in the supermarket, instead, they all have large antennae, either thick and spiny or wide and flat.

We had SO MANY CRUSTACEANS in the stuff we collected. We got a star eye hermit crab, whose eyes were gorgeous, and a white speckled hermit crab, who had slightly less gorgeous eyes.

There were a ton of crabs. Most of them were small green red ridged clinging crab, as in they were green but their common name is the red ridged clinging crab (because common names are useless). There were also a few other crabs one of which I think may have been a furcate spider crab which is a decorator crab. It was sorta fuzzy which I think was various algae it had covered itself in. We also had three tiny (<1cm) shrimp. One of them was a bumblebee shrimp which was kinda squat and covered in black and white stripes. I wasn’t able to ID the other two, one was super transparent and I have no clue what it was. The other had red and white striped arms and I think it was a sea anemone shrimp, but there are lots of small shrimp with red and white arms. There were a ton of tiny hermit crabs that I couldn’t identify too.

The most interesting thing that we found, I would argue, was a common mantis shrimp. It was about an inch and a half long. Mantis shrimp are known for either punching or spearing their prey. The common mantis shrimp is a spearing mantis shrimp so it has really sharp arms it can use to stab shrimp and what not. It would spend most of its time hiding under the large hermit crabs. But whenever it was disturbed, it would sometimes run up to one of the crabs and start attacking it. You could hear the pop as it punched the crabs with its arms and the crabs would totally freak out. I was showing all my crustaceans to the coast guard guys who are on this island with us and they thought the mantis shrimp was really cool. I really enjoyed teaching all these guys about the crustaceans that live in the ocean that is basically their backyard. I want to go into science communication and getting to talk to these guys about the crustaceans was a really cool chance to do it a little. There was a little bit of a language barrier, but I still got to show them the mantis shrimp and how violent it was and how beautiful the hermit crabs were and how pinchy the tiny crabs were.

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