Tag Archives: Las Cuevas Cave

You Bat-ter Believe it

May 17, 2019

Per usual, my day started at 5:00 am bird watching. It was a clear morning and the birds we saw were absolutely spectacular. The forest came to life as the Plumbious Kite took its regular perch and parrots flew overhead, two even landed in a tree right in front of us. The Melodious Blackbirds hopped onto the ground and the Social Flycatchers were chirping away.  The highlight of morning was the sighting of two toucans. Their bright colors were absolutely stunning, with red and white tail feathers and a green eye ring. Another exciting event was the Plumbious Kite soaring down and catching an unfortunate moth.


After breakfast we devised an experiment utilizing pitfall traps, traps that an arthropod can fall into but not get out of. We’re comparing the nitrogen limitation, limitation of an environment to provide useable nitrogen to its organism, of the forest floor and the canopy as well as the arthropod species abundance and diversity. At each site we placed four vials, which were vials containing nitrogenous liquid in a tree and the floor and vials with just water in them. On the way we came across a shaft that led into a cave system right in the middle of the path! Looking down and imitating bat calls (kiss the top of your hand to create a high-pitched nose) we saw bats fly up almost out of the shaft. Since I’m the mammal taxon specialist, I tried to identify but to no avail. I couldn’t get a good picture and they wouldn’t let us me them long enough to identify them. They had light brown bodies and large dark brown wings and seeing them was absolutely amazing.


We returned to the station for lunch and then went to explore Las Cuevas Cave. The cave has a large entrance and is covered in bat guano. The ground is littered with Mayan Pottery, and there is a cenote (sinkhole exposing ground water). There, we had three presentation. The first was on Butterflies and Moths, the next was about Crickets, Katydids, and Grasshoppers, and lastly I gave my lecture on Cave Life. It was a very cool experience, especially to see a few things (like stalactites forming) that I had researched in real life.

After exploring the Mayan ruins above the cave and dinner, we ended the day with a night hike. We saw so many spiders and small critters that we hadn’t seen before and it was very eerie to hear all of the noises in the darkness.

Day 4: Into the Belly of the Earth

So I know the title is pretty dramatic, but then again, it was a pretty dramatic sort of day. It started off uneventfully. I woke up a little later than usual but made it to breakfast on time, just before we had another meeting about today’s project: pee traps! As in, we peed in test tubes and used the urine samples to set pitfall traps for insects. Our urine has a lot of nitrogen in it, so the basic idea is that the nitrogen will attract insects that we will then fish out of our pee pee in a couple of days, all in the name of science.


The hike this morning was mostly uneventful. There were the standard blue morphos that flew by, close enough for me to see but not to touch. It’s fine, I’m very much used to those butterflies flying circles around me by now. BUT I AM DETERMINED. I WILL CATCH ONE BY THE TIME WE LEAVE THIS FOREST!! I did, however, manage to catch 3 more butterflies and two moths today, so I’m  sharpening my skills. One of the moths was beautiful yellow and black, and it was a rare diurnal moth! Again, I found all the Lepidopterans flitting near the road on low foliage.

Unidentified diurnal moth.

By far the coolest spot of the morning was a coral snake that Sam found under a rotten log – one of the most venomous snakes of Central America. It was smaller than I expected, and very shy. It slithered away almost as soon as we could spot it.

After lunch, we went to hell.

Not really, but it sure did look like it. We entered a cave near Las Cuevas that is not only home to all sorts of creepy cave fauna, but also remnants of the ancient Maya civilization. The black maw of the cave loomed up suddenly over the forest path. Its entrance was filled with hanging stalactites that looked like fangs and cave swallows that nest between them. The Mayans believed this cave to be the entrance to the underworld, and it sure looked the part. We entered via ancient steps carved by the Maya and slowly made our way through the bat poop (guano)-covered cave. I thought the squelchy brown substance spread all over the cave floor was mud, but it was not long before I noticed that it was actually guano. Delicious. Not a single one of us made it out without being covered in the stuff, except maybe our incredible guide, Pedro.

View from the inside of the cave.

There were definitely some scary moments in the cave involving uncomfortably narrow passages and slippery footing. In some of the most claustrophobic recesses of the cave, I became supremely aware of just how deep I was in the Earth: only alien creatures that are adapted to life in utter darkness can exist here, and I am nothing but an intruder who would stand no chance if my headlamp goes out. It was a humbling and freakish experience that I am glad to have had, but that I am not sure I would repeat. Emerging from the cave was like being reborn.

Goodnight for now! I’ll be up again in too few hours.