Tag Archives: Jessica

Day 5: Our First Poster Day

Blog Post #5

Day 5: Our First Poster Day

Written on May 20that 6:17 am


DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!


Well May 19thwas a day for the books! We were tasked with our first project that we were to start and finish in one day. We were attempting to look at new pioneer plant biodiversity in hurricane gaps with tree regrowth vs not.  However, the hurricane gaps (tree fall areas induced by hurricanes) were so dense that we couldn’t enter the forest with the methodology we had created. So, we just ended up looking at plant biodiversity in hurricane gaps vs. forest.

We collected leaf samples from 10 different plots and then sorted them into morphospecies (categories of leaves that we think looked like the same species, not rooted in actual knowledge). It appeared to us that there was no significant difference between the two—had 30 morphospecies in gaps vs 28 in forest. We made a very lovely poster, and Scott thoroughly enjoyed our presentation.

After that, I gave my presentation on Amphibians! Everyone really liked my Frog and Toad slide especially. We had hoped it would rain so that there would be frogs out during our night hike, but unfortunately, it did not. We could hear frogs but unfortuantely couldn’t see them. I don’t think my eagle eye spotting was the best, and I was still somewhat confused by the calls of amphibians vs. insects, so the sound was hard to follow.

However, we did see lots of nocturnal reptiles including mud turtles, a red backed coffee snake, and a banded gecko! I also really enjoyed listening to the insect chorus of communication throughout the night. And I even had a chance to feel like Newt Scamander when I held a stick bug that looked a lot like a Bowtruckle! 🙂

Day 4: Pee in Vials; Not in Caves!

Blog Post #4

Day 4: Pee in Vials, Not in Caves!

Written on May 19that 7:13 am


DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

I didn’t write this blog post last night because I was just so, so tired! I fell asleep with the lights on (3rdnight in a row) with lots of people chattering around me.

Anyways, we started the day with birding—we tracked the beautiful scarlet macaw mated pair as they chattered away. During this time, Scott handed us 2 50 mL vials and told us to fill each with 25 mL of urine. It was a very odd way to start the day, but turns out, our second project had to do with nitrogen scarcity and insect diversity in the canopy vs the forest floor.

Once we developed our question, hypotheses, null hypotheses, and methods, we set out to bury and hang out samples along with water vial controls. We picked two different sections of the same trail and placed them roughly 100 ft apart. We’ll collect them after two days to analyze what kinds of bugs fell into our pitfall traps! During our hike, Sam did spot a red-banded coral snake under a log and we got to watch it slither away.

In the afternoon, we had the special opportunity to spelunk into the Las Cuevas Cave, just a mere 100 yards away from our clearing. It was beautiful!! The stalactites and stalagmites glistened, glittered, and shined with all kinds of minerals. Since the cave has technically been closed for archaeological excavation research, it was relatively untouched and purely natural. Biologically speaking, we saw a bunch (literally) of baby bats (see pic), adult bats, crabs, isopods, mites, and an amblypygid (a glorified spider), and a peccary skeleton. Mayan wise, there was a nearly intact bowl, a metate (grinding stone), faces carved into the rock (rudimentary, but very noticeable), bone fragments from human sacrifices, and lots of shattered pieces of pottery. It was really incredible to walk the same walk and see the same sights as the kings or high priests of the Maya culture did when they worshipped in this cave to their rain god Chaac.

In the evening, we had our lectures, and a somewhat rare amphibian sighting! There was a frog in the window, and I caught/held it (see pic). I’m unsure of what kind of frog this was, but when we reach internet, I’ll for sure look it up! (UPDATE: It was a Mexican Tree Frog without its coloring since it was night time)

(Hey Mom and Dad, do I look happy? :D)

Day 3: Surrounded by Green

Blog Post #3

Day 3: Surrounded by Green

Written on May 17that 9:31 pm


DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

On our first full day at LCRS, we started our first project! We were given a method (camera trapping) and were tasked with creating a question, testable hypothesis, and a full methodology. After much discussion, tweaking, and organizing, we decided to ask about human impact on mammal traffic. We measured this by setting camera traps in pairs—one on the trail facing the trail, the other off trail facing away from the trail. We hope to catch some great cat (like jaguar) shots!

With all the details figured out, we left for to set up the first three pairs. We went from the station, down Monkey Tail Trail, and turned onto Saffron Trail. This broad daylight hiking was different than yesterday—the sun rays glowed through the trees lighting up the forest canopy with all shades of green. Most notable canopy spotting today was a large termite nest in the Y of some branches; it had to be at least 5 ft in diameter!

I sadly did not spot any amphibians today—I think this is because it is the end of the dry season, and not that many rains have come yet. Also, most of the Belizean frogs are nocturnal and we’ve just been hiking in daylight or dusk thus far. The tree frog from yesterday was really a treat!

Somewhat related to amphibians are boa constrictors! We actually had the incredible opportunity to spot one in the wild while hiking off trail to set the camera trap. The boa was directly in front of a 30 ft wide leaf cutter ant pile, so we were all having a field day with this nature sightings. The snake, on the other hand, was very nervous but never lunged—it just followed any moving person with its eyes.

When we returned from our hike, we had a chance to shower then hear from the Director of Friends of Conservation and Development Raphael. He explained to us that (in a nutshell) his NGO is responsible for patrolling the border with Guatemala and other high-risk areas to protect the wildlife. All in all, today I learned to appreciate the rainforest, and even more, the colors and battles of the rainforest of today really made me appreciate being in the rainforest.


Day 2: Three Days Packed into One!

Blog Post #2

Day 2: 3 days packed into 1!

Written at 9:43 pm on May 16th


DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest are posted after the fact!

Today felt like 3 days packed into 1… We started at the Rio on Pools excursion, which is halfway to Caracol from our ecolodge. There, we swam, “showered,” and identified wildlife. I spotted several little puddles of tadpoles! Also, Claire helped me pick up one of the bigger ones for a picture.

When we left Rio on Pools, I fell asleep in the van, so waking up felt like a whole new day. We arrived at Caracol to observe the Mayan ruins and learn more about the culture. We also talked about forest reclamation over these structures, and we discussed the pros and cons of excavation. No amphibians were spotted on this trip, but it was great to see the birds, howler monkeys, lizards, and countless plants along the way.

Again, I fell asleep during the ride to Las Cuevas Research Station and woke up to an oscillated turkey in the road. Once settled in, we readied ourselves for our calibration hike, figuring out all our gear, hiking ability, and sharpening our eagle eyes. Kirsten spotted a Mexican Tree Frog (identified thanks to my Taxon ID card!) that was blowing up his air sacs doing a mating call, resting in the center of a palm frond. Scott lowered the leaf appendage so we could see it better and the frog promptly projectile urinated behind him and jumped forward onto Scott. He said the frog was slippery, so he couldn’t catch it.

We came back to a lovely dinner, and then we did our first night of lectures, it is now 10:18 pm and I am ready to go to sleep! 5 am birding calls my name tomorrow.

Day 1: All the Traveling

Written at 9:01 pm Belize time on May 15th

How excited am I to be in Belize? As excited as this dog was to take their picture!

This pup is the resident at the Crystal Paradise Lodge, our first place we call home on this lovely trip. It’s been a long day, but it was a great introduction to Belize. (We aren’t supposed to pet the dogs, but at least we can take cute pictures!)

We started at 10:30 am in Anderson Bio Labs on campus—we took a cute group pic for the Biosciences Facebook page/press release (not sure where to find that). Then we hopped on the bus and headed for the airport. Upon arrival, we found out that Claire’s dad would be our pilot! We ate Chick-fil-A and Pilot Jeff bought us all cookies.  Then we turned our phones to airplane mode (not before my last game of HQ for a while), boarded our plane, and left for Belize.

After going through customs, we met Edward, our van driver for the day. He took us to the local convenience store to get some snacks and whatnot—I bought shampoo and conditioner because, oops, mine spilled in my toiletry bag…  During our 2.5-hour ride, we talked to each other, looked through the savannah plains, identified recent burn areas, and learned about each other’s lives. It was a great time. I also really enjoyed talking to Edward and learning about Belize as a country. The highway we took was called the Western Highway, but it is now called the George Price Highway in honor of his role in helping achieve Belizean independence in 1981. We took turns looking out for our taxonomic groups, but I didn’t see any of mine (Amphibians or Sponges). Claire did see one frog in our bathroom, but I didn’t get a chance to look. From her description, it seems like an Hourglass Tree Frog, but who knows…

We arrived at the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, where we were guided to our “cabanas” and then served a delicious dinner with really good cake for dessert. There are lots of cool bugs and animal sounds, and we are really into trying to identify them all. We are quickly learning that we haven’t even scraped the surface of the insects we don’t know… And now, I’m working on my blog and my field notebook journal.

This trip is off to a really high note! Scott and Adrienne have warned us that this first location is a ton nicer than the research stations and we should enjoy it while we can. Also, on a similar vein, blog posts will be posted only when internet is accessible. Las Cuevas has an ethernet cable, but my computer doesn’t have an ethernet port… So, we shall see what happens. No idea about Glover’s Reef yet.

I hope that we will have ok enough internet to post every day, but I apologize in advance if we won’t be able to!

Let’s Go to Belize!

As I sit in my childhood backyard in Atlanta, GA, I think about all the bugs that seem to be nipping and milling about. I can only help but wonder what the bugs and critters will be like in Belize… I imagine that the mosquitoes will be much worse!

I’ve traveled to Belize before, but that was on a live-aboard sailboat! So, I’ve never been to the rainforest, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the rich fauna–even if they are hard to find. I’ve been researching amphibians, and though there are lots of them, every site says they are nearly impossible to spot unless you have a watchful eye. I am a little concerned I won’t be able to spot them as well as others because I am so short, but maybe they’ll be more on the ground!

I am most looking forward to spending time on the reef. I love being in the ocean, swimming about, seeing the fish, corals, and everything in between… I’ve always had an interest in marine biology, and I had an internship 3 summers ago at the Georgia Aquarium with the animal husbandry specialists. I’m excited to see how my research on sponges (which I also looked at back in sophomore year of high school) compares to real reef life.

All in all, as soon as I can pack, I am ready to hop on that plane and get there! I am ecstatic I get to share this experience with other equally invested and dedicated Rice students plus Surf+Turf. 🙂

EBIO 319 2018 woot woot!