Tag Archives: Kristen 2018

Welcome to Peelize and Anoles Don’t Like Me



Day 6: May 20th 2018, Las Cuevas

This morning we started bird watching again at 5:30. We saw a toucan, Oropendola, and 2 new parrots (the White-fronted parrots).  We also heard howler monkeys calling tis morning, but they were likely about 2 miles away as the call was very faint. After breakfast, we tarted data collection for our second project.  As we collected our urine and water traps, we observed some interesting fauna.  A Mexican Tree Frog hopped right in front of us on the path.  We also saw a smooth anole which tried to bite Professor Solomon and me to no avail.  Anoles appears to be feisty towards me.  

After we collected the urine and water traps, we organized the contents into categories like beetles, arachnids, etc.  We all then specialized in a particular type of organism and then identified different species using the morphospecies concept which involved using physical characteristics to classify organisms. We then determine the number of different morphospecies present in each vial of each plot and allocate the average species richness of ground water, ground urine, canopy water, and canopy urine.  We we analyzed our data we found that there was an 8x greater arthropod average species richness in the ground water vs. the canopy water, a 2x greater arthropod average species richness in the canopy urine than the canopy water, and a 1.5x greater arthropod average species richness in the ground urine vs the canopy. 

Rain break! It started to poor at the station and we all became officially officially inducted as TBFs by getting rained on in the rainforest. It was a satisfying break from the heat and humidity…. Aaaand back to work.

What we concluded was that there are more arthropods on the ground rather than in the water. We also concluded that nitrogen is a limiting nutrient in both the canopy and the ground, but it is. Greater limiting nutrient in the canopy rather than the ground.  We presented our finding to Professor Solomon and a new group of students that had just arrived from University of Southern Mississippi.  The it was already dinner time.  We had chicken, beans, slaw, and tortillas. To wrap up the day was lectures on Mammals, Reptiles, and Tropical Parasites, Diseases, and Medicinal Plants.  As we were getting ready for bed we found a black scorpion and another small anole.  Every time I got near it or touched it,  it freaked out and thrashing in our hands, but apparently it was fine with everyone else.  I guess anoles just don’t like me.  That fine, I don’t have to like them either then.  

Monsters in the Night

Day 5: May 19th 2018, Las Cuevas

I woke up again at 5:30 today to bird watch.  We saw several of the same birds as before including a Montezuma Oropendola with a bright yellow tail by its nest, but we also saw some new thing.  We saw two birds called the Chachalaca sitting atop a tree and a bright blue little bird called the Sorodian Warbler.  After breakfast, we also saw a toucan perching on a far high branch.

Then it was off to our third project, a new project idea based on the Hurricane that had occurred about two years prior.  We wanted to test the effect of hurricanes (hurricane gap areas) on the richness of grounded vascular plants. We hypothesized that there would a greater richness of grounded vascular plants in hurricane gap areas (areas that have fallen trees creating gaps) versus non gap areas.  We tested this by sampling the leaves of the grounded vascular plants in 5 areas of gap and 5 areas of non-gap using a 22in by 22in quadrant that we three randomly into each area.   On that walk to collect data, we saw a Helmitted Iguana, a coral snake, and large groups of cricket nymphs. 

We broke for lunch, eating a fantastic version of chicken fried rice.  After lunch, we sorted our leaves into morphospecies (different species by appearance), and analyzed our data.  We needed up concluding that we could not reject the null hypothesis that there was no difference between the richness of grounded vascular plants in gap and non gap areas. We presented our finding to our professors for feedback on experimental design, presentation of data, and future ideas.  While in the lab, Pedro showed me a picture of a dead gray/black furred rodent that he had found that had fur on its tail. My guess was that it was at least related to the Hispid Cotton Rat, genus Sigmodon.  After a nice break, we heard lectures on Bees, Amphibians, and Visual and Auditory Communication in the Rainforest.

After dinner, we did a night hike.  There was so much to see, we didn’t walk very far.  We observed several large spiders on the way to a frog pond where we saw several small mud turtles, two enormous brown crickets, and a brown colored anole in addition to the many insects flying around us.  Pedro found the skeleton of some type of nocturnal mammal (about 1 ft long) to the side of the pond.  It was likely preyed upon by another larger animal.  As we walked away, we saw a small 1ft red snake slithering into the brush.  We think that it was a coffee snake.  We also saw a banded gecko with leopard like patterning that was uselessly attempting to bite Professor Solomon’s finger.  Professor Correa had her own fun as she tried to pick up cockroaches without screaming. She was, however, successful at one point.   At the end of the hike, Pedro showed us a tarantula hole, and lured out the tarantula for us to see and for him to hold.  It was huge, furry, and the perfect conclusion to the night.  Things really do come out in the night here, and I swear they’re bigger than anything you’ll find at home.  However, the stars here are second to none, and to be honest I don’t think any of us want to leave. 

Caves, Cavewomen, and a Few Cavemen

Day 4: May 18th 2018, Las Cuevas

Bird watching started at 5:30 today, so that means we got those 30 extra minutes of sleep!  I thought I heard male howler monkeys calling this morning, and loudly raced out of bed.  Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be anything, and I woke up my roommates in the process but at least we were up.  During bird watching, we saw Red Lord Parrots, Oropendola, and a pair of Scarlet Macaws. Then, breakfast was at 7, and we were off to the lab for our second experiment. 

For our second experiment, we created two sources, water and urine (nitrogen source), one set for the canopy and one for the forest floor per student.  The sources will act as traps as organism fall in them, allowing us to collect and analyze them.  We aimed to test the effect of limiting nutrient (nitrogen) differences between the canopy and forest floor on insect biodiversity.  We are expecting to observe nitrogen as a greater limiting nutrient in the canopy as compared to the forest floor. We placed each of our vials in 10 different locations as to test this with the understanding that the water would help to understand the richness of species in the canopy vs the floor, and the urine would act as a nitrogen source drawing proportionally more organisms into it the urine trap the water on the same level (canopy or forest).  We will go back and collect the traps in two days and analyze our results then.

We had lunch around noon which was a great soup and rice.  After we got to our surprise activity… caving! We got all geared up and headed down to the cave with our guide, Pedro.  At the massive entrance their were swallows fling about, that I almost mistook for bats.  It was explained to us that the Mayans used to use this cave, believe both that Chaac, the water god, live in the caves, and that the caves were the entrance to the underworld.  As we entered, we saw amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations.  The ground was muddy with bat guano, but areas with high concentrations were full of life when you look closer.  There were many cave insects, including millipedes and pill bugs.  The organisms here often lack significant pigmentation, eyes, and have longer appendages, making for some very interesting sights.  We also saw several bats! I believe there was at least two species, one that eats insects, Glossophaga soricina, and one that eats fruit that I could not identify.  They were flying and screeching about as we shown lights on them.  We even saw a cluster of baby fruit bats hanging from the ceiling with the adults flying around them.  As we went deeper into the caves, we saw also saw an ant nest and a white cave crab.  

After dinner, we had our lectures including Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Orthoptera (crickets, grasshoppers, etc.), and Biodiversity in Cave which I presented.  After that, we observed a frog, a gecko and a long-nosed beetle insect that actually played dead!  It was a thoroughly engaging day.  

Wait… No One Told Me about the Zombies

Day 3: May 17th 2018    – Las Cuevas Research Station

Today we started with 5:00am bird watching.  We saw several Plumbeous Kite’s, including what appeared to be a mated pair.  We saw several Red-Lored Parrots perching on higher trees with light foliage, a Montezuma oropendola flying into its hanging nest, and a social fly catcher flying about.  After a breakfast of eggs beans and bread, there was a coatimudi spotting, a mammal in the raccoon family. Unfortunately I managed to miss this exciting mammal siting but apparently it was spotted and soon reentered the foliage.

Soon after, we gathered to begin our first project: setting out the camera traps with a question we intend to answer.  We decided to test the effect in human trails on mammal presence, hypothesizing that there would be higher mammal density, abundance, and richness in off trail locations.  To test this, we identified 5 areas at a nearly equal distant radius from Las Cuevas.  We hiked to each area where set one trap facing the path and one about a 7 minute walk off path. Let me tell you, this is where it gets really exciting.  While placing our second location’s second trap, Professor Correa stumbled upon an leaf cutter ant nest that was 20 feet across! What she didn’t notice at first glance was that there was a 5 foot boas constrictor behind her!  Both find would have been extraordinary finds on their own, but I think we’d almost all say that boa constrictor was something no one expect to see this trip.

As we returned to break for lunch, we saw a Plumbeous Kite catch a small rodent, likely a mouse or rat from the grasses. It shared the meal with its mate. After lunch, the rest of the walk was equally exciting with a variety of interesting bees, ants, epiphytes, trees, butterflies and more spotted.  Most notable was the zombie ant we found on the bottom of leaf which has been parasitized by fungi and had walked up a plant to allow the fungi to grow and disperse inside its dead body.  Creepy, but fascinating.  I will admit I almost dismissed the site as particular gross dirt before asking Professor Solomon what it was.

After the hike, we listened to a talk from the director of the FCE which manages the Chiquibul Forest region and its conservation. He spoke about the difficulty in conserving such areas and how few understand the true beauty of the Chiquibul.  He, interestingly, also spoke about the border conflict between Guatemala and Belize, the extent of which was news to a lot of us.  After a dinner of beef, beans, mashed potatoes, and tortillas, we had lectures on Arachnids, Ants, and The Paradox of the Tropical Soil.  Off to bed! 

The Mayans and the Howlers

Day 2: May 16th 2018,  From the Ecolodge to Las Cuevas Research Station

Today we woke up around 5:00 am in the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, had a fantastic breakfast, and were on our way to our first stop by 7am. Our first stop was series of pools and small waterfalls called Rio on Pool.  The pools were cool and the rocks were mossy as we slipped and slid all over the rocks as we explored the areas.   There appeared to be little in the water at first glance, but after being there for a while, we saw small fish, spiders, a few leaches, and an insect exoskeleton.  After drying off, I spotted two lizards.  One was about a foot with a distant green stipe down the middle while the other was brown and a few inches long.  After saying goodbye to our little stop of paradise, we were on the road again.

The road was bumpy, and uneven as we made our way closer to the Chiquibul.  We passed through a large pine forest expanses, three military checkpoints, and into the entrance of the Chiquibul before making it to Caracol, a Mayan ruins site.  Our tour guide, Leo, showed us a variety of structures and species as we went from the Give and Take Palm to the large plaza that would have been overlooked by the king of the Mayas at the time.  Most notably, we climbed the largest Mayan structure excavated, and ironically the largest structure in Belize.  It was over seven stories high, easy to go up, and hard to come down.  When we reached the top, Leo, showed us two tombs where skeletons where found.  Within each, the walls were covered with bat guano (droppings)! Maybe not the most glamorous, but the first evidence of wild mammals I had yet to see.  

Just as I had finished climbing down the largest structure in Belize, and thought I was going to see essentially all the evidence of wild mammals, Leo pointed out a spectacular site. There was a large male howler monkey sitting in a tree several hundred feet away.  And with that came 5 other males, one after another including what appeared to be juvenile!  As we were leaving the site for lunch, we even heard their call which resembled wind howling through a tunnel. What a sightings!

After Caracol, we drove on an even more remote road to Las Cuevas Research Station.  Once we got there, were settled in and went on a short hike where we saw several interesting species including a Mexican Tree Frog.  After that, we ate dinner, and learned about Belizean trees, birds, and life in the rainforest canopy.  A long, but exciting first day in Las Cuevas. 

Day 1 in Belize!

(Crystal Paradise Ecolodge)

Today, we arrived at the airport in Belize City around mid-afternoon Belize time. Ironically, our pilot was the father of one of the attending students and greeted us both before we entered the plane and as we exited. Soon into driving, we stopped at a little market shop to stock up on snacks, water, and anything else we might have forgotten.

I wasn’t personally expecting to see much of anything besides Belizean scenery on the way to the ecolodge, where we’d be staying for the night; however, I was pleasantly surprised. I had prepared myself to identify several types of wild Belizean mammals, but what I hadn’t prepared myself for was the domesticated ones. We drove through the outskirts of Belize city and several small towns on the way to the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, each of them with a variety of domesticated mammals. I sited several horses standing outside fences with riding collars on. One was even being ridden. We saw a variety of dogs, both what appeared to be strays and pets ranging from large pitbull-like dogs to a nursing female and puppies. I spotted a small white cat lurking outside of a house, but it was hard to tell if it was domesticated. Several farms with cattle were spotted, including one near the Mayan Mountain range with what was anywhere between 30 and 50 cattle.

I don’t think I’d be surprised to see any of these mammals if I were driving through the Texas countryside on a normal day; however, I was today. While preparing for the trip, I was so caught up in preparing to identify all of the wildlife, I almost forgot that people live here too and all of the things that come with that including domesticated animals. It sounds silly, to forget that people actually live in Belize, but when you are preparing for a trip like this, other people are the last thing on your mind. Instead you’re thinking ‘did I pack enough clothes?’, ‘did I forget anything?’, and ‘am I prepared for the work I’m about to do?’. Rather, I got so caught up in everything, that I was surprised to see so many familiar species.

After the drive, we arrived at the Ecolodge around 7, ate dinner, and got an introductory run down of the trip. It’s all quiet after that… except for the chorus of insects in the background.

Ready for a New Belize Experience

Having been to Belize twice before, one might think that I can at least already picture the landscape as we enter Belize City.  Truth is that during those trips I was tourist, viewing Belize as a tourist in cushy hotel with little day excursions, and I think even that first look will look a little differently than it has before.  Further, I can’t help but wonder how Belize will look as a whole to me as I enter it with a completely new purpose and perspective.  I expect I’ll be able to see deeper into the history, the wildlife, the culture, and quite literally see deeper into the forests and reefs.  I also just expect that I’ll have a great time. 

I prepared on many levels for this trip.  I prepared myself academically through readings, taxonomic research, and presentation preparation.  I prepared myself mentally for the long, exhausting days accompanied by possibly brutal humidity.   I prepared my bags in the hope that when I get to Belize, I will have everything I need.  However, there’s really only so much preparation one can do.  I’m a little nervous in general about the travel. I’m also a naturally cautious person, so new tasks and places naturally give me some anxiety, but the fact that this is an amazing opportunity in the end overrides all of that, giving me the security to push myself and experience all the amazing new things I will experience on this trip.  I’m most excited by the fact that we will be so far from our modern lives and so close to the outside world experiencing something completely new.  As I previously mentioned, I been to Belize twice before, and I’ve been to both islands off the coast and to many resorts on the mainland.  I’ve seen some Maya Ruins, been to the Belize Zoo, and snorkeled some reefs.  While I don’t think my previous experience prepares me much for this trip, it sure makes me excited to go back.