Our last day at Las Cuevas came sooner than I thought possible. It is bittersweet because it is over but I was so excited finding, identifying, and taking photos of the myriad flora and fauna in the Chiquibul forest this week. I will come back, or at least I will adventure somewhere similar before I forget what a wonderful time this has been.
Last night’s hike lit by the full moon was surreally bright and teeming with life unseen in the light of day. Nothing could prepare me (or Dr. Correa) for the size of the roaches and spiders I encountered on the trail.
Most exciting for me was the sighting of multiple Monkey Hoppers (Family: Eumsticidae). These little guys hold their legs at a strange angle to their body, and they are often wingless. Only found in the neotropics, I was so excited to finally see one in person.
Today on our trek to collect our camera traps I got lucky once again, finding a plant on the trail ROILING with lubber nymphs. The exact species of this lubber was unclear to me, but it was possibly Tropidacris cristata—comonly known as the Giant Red-Wing. Multiple stages of development were present on this plant, presenting a wonderful visual display of the life cycle of hemimetabolus insects like Orthoptera. I will be sing much fewer of these little buddies on the reef, but get ready for my reports on sponges!!!
Day 6 began by collecting pitfall traps that we set out yesterday. The traps consisted of either water or urine and we’re placed in trees and on the ground. Insects either are attracted to the traps or fall into them and then are stuck. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of our traps had caught insects in the 16-ish hours that they had been set up. We spent the morning analyzing the number of insects we caught. We looked at where they were caught and what morphospecies they were in order to determine the species richness and abundance of the samples. We then spent some time going over our data. It was difficult to determine exactly how we should summarize the data. We ended up coming up with one conclusion but completely reversing it after we talked to Adrienne and Scott. In the end, we found that insects in the canopy had a greater need for nitrogen and were more attracted to the urine traps.
In the evening we went on our first official night hike. Near the beginning of the hike we found an Acacia tree right on the trail that had two stick insects hanging off of it. The green stick insect was around a foot long and was hanging upside down with its front two legs extended above its head. The other stick insect was smaller and brown. Soon after we began observing them, the brown insect started climbing pretty quickly up the tree and away from our light.
Acacias are special because they have a mutualism with ants, like Cecropia. The ant species is different and more aggressive. The tree that we observed didn’t appear to have an active ant colony, but we didn’t look very hard for it.
We also saw a lot of spiders and roaches. We saw two tarantulas on a huge tree, which was different because all of the other tarantulas that we’ve seen have been on the ground. There were a lot of other large spiders and roaches that we would be much less likely to see during the day. It was good to be able to experience the forest at night, when so many new creatures can be seen.
Happy Sunday everyone! Today’s schedule was a bit different than those of our other days here. The morning began with a short hike along the Maya trail to pick up the pitfall traps that we had set up yesterday and analyzing our data. Specifically, we examined species’ richness and abundance on the forest floor and compared those values to the canopy’s. We also investigated whether there would be greater species’ richness and abundance in the urine vials relative to the water vials in the canopy as opposed to the vials in the forest floor. Interestingly, we found that both richness and abundance were higher in the forest floor than in the canopy and that the abundance in urine was greater than in water in both locations.
Many beetle specimens were collected today (10 species and 18 specimens to be exact) from our pitfall traps! A few of the most interesting were a fairly large beetle of about 3.5 cm long with a shiny black body rimmed with red that I believe may be a female pinching beetle (Lucanus capreolus), a very small slightly shimmery dark brown or olive green color leaf beetle (perhaps either a Dogbane Beetle with scientific name Chrysochus auratus or a type of flea beetle), and a black darkling beetle with a segmented body (species possibly Alobates pennysylvanicus).
As you can see, today was a fairly light day in terms of physical activity, but I am sure we will make up for it with the night hike tonight and especially with collecting all of the camera traps tomorrow. I am excited to see what animals are in the images we’ve captured (hopefully a picture of a jaguar?!?)! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Update: We got to hear from a Ph.D. student named Lauren tonight! She’s currently a little more than halfway through an eight month study here and is using 52 pairs of camera traps to conduct research on carnivorous forest creatures. Also, the night hike along the Maya trail was super cool! We saw tarantulas and other spiders the size of our palms, a cockroach the size of a large mouse, and a coral snake among many other species!
For our second to last day at Las Cuevas, we wrapped up our arthropod experiment by collecting all the pitfall traps set along the Maya trail yesterday. The majority of the day was dedicated to data analysis and the presentation of our results; there’s nothing quite like having a poster session in the middle of the rainforest.
We also spent a good part of the day discussing illegal extraction from the Chiquibul and the problems with conservation in Belize. I never fully appreciated the intricacies of conservation biology until today. The Chiquibul’s greatest threat is illegal extraction of plants and animals by Guatemalans from villages along the nearby border. Yet the issue of conservation is much greater than that of sustaining the area’s ecology and incorporates complex economic and political landscapes, as well.
Since our activities were primarily indoors, the day offered few opportunities for reptile sightings. However, I was excited at the prospect of our first night hike—the evening brings out a number of nocturnal species, transforming the Chiquibul into a completely different habitat than it is during the day. We managed to spot all kinds of creepy crawlies, including spiders the size of your face and a giant roach that emitted a sticky white substance. By the end of the hike, I had nearly given up on searching for reptiles in the leaf-litter and under fallen logs. But at the very end of the trail, we approached a sinkhole; as I peered down I heard a shout of “snaaaake!” I looked down to find the distinctive tri-color banded pattern of the Central American coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) all but a foot away from my boot. The snake was small but could clearly be identified as one of the most venomous snakes found in Central America. Just goes to show that you can never stop looking.