Tag Archives: orthoptera

Off Roading (Day 11)

Today was the day I was looking forward to the least out of this whole trip, the day where we set up the camera traps. I had read some of the blogs from last year, and they said they hiked thirteen miles. Luckily, we did not go that far

We decided to use the camera traps to test whether there was differences in the abundances of big cats and of big cats’ prey on the trails versus in the forest. We did this by placing three traps on the 50 Hectare Trail and four on the Monkey Tail Trail. Also, for each camera we placed on the trail, we placed another one 300ft into the forest for a total of fourteen camera traps. Scott Solomon did not tell us until we set the last trap that no group had ever used that many before.

One of the fourteen (!!) camera traps we set.

As we were finding our way out of the forest after setting the very last trap we got a little bit turned around, and dusk was just starting to fall. A large portion of the trek back to Las Cuevas was really dark. We saw a small tommygoff snake in the dark, which was a little spooky because I would have not noticed it had Damien not pointed it out, and it is the most dangerous snake in Belize.

Other things we saw on the hike were a Mexican Porcupine, Scorpion Eater Snake, Blue Morpho Butterflies, a mantis molt, a wheel bug, and a mammal skeleton. We also saw some cat scratch marks near where we set the traps, which seemed like a good sign.

A cool Wheel Bug we saw this morning.

I saw a few Orthoptera species today. One was the same Leaf Mimic Katydid that I’d already seen. The other hopped away too fast for me to identify it.

We are all tired and ridden with ticks from walking through the forest, so these traps best capture some really cool pictures. I want to see a tapir the most. Out of the cats, I’d like to see an ocelot the most, probably.

Back to Reality (Day 15)

Today was the last day of EBIO 319, and tomorrow I will be back in my own bed. That’s pretty wild because it does not feel like two weeks have passed.

We left Las Cuevas around 8 this morning to head towards the Belize City Airport. Since we left early, I had time to bird watch, but I didn’t get a chance to see other forms of wildlife or any orthoptera. We stopped at a souvenir shop on the way, but I didn’t end up buying anything. We also stopped at Cheers Restaurant before we got to the airport. The food there was really cheap and our spending limit was really high, so I ended up getting a jumbo sized watermelon juice because I was way below the limit. I’m pretty sure they juiced an entire watermelon to make it. It was quite delicious.

After we got to the airport and went through security, I got called up to the gate to be randomly screened. I got all patted down and had my things nosed through, but it was okay because I got to board the plane before everybody else. The same thing happened to Ellie too, so we were able to save four rows so that we could all sit together.

My first interactions with Americans (besides those in EBIO 319) were very unpleasant as a result of this. First the flight attendant asked if Ellie or I wanted to date her son. Then lots of grumpy people glared at  us and muttered things under their breaths as the plane got more crowded because the rest of the class was all in the very last boarding group and they didn’t like that we were saving so many seats.

I was asleep for most of the van and plane rides. This was good because we all stayed up late last night and then got up at 5 this morning to bird watch, so I definitely needed the rest. But, this was bad because I apparently sleep with my eyes open and in oddly contorted positions, so now lots of pictures of this exist.

In the van on the way to lunch.

I am very exhausted, and it’s time for me to go to bed. Tomorrow morning, I’ve got to go back to the airport, and then I’ll be finally home.

I am Going to Miss Belize an Ocelot (Day 14)

Today, we repeated the long hike we did a few days ago to go and retrieve our camera traps. Since we were all tired after setting them up, we unanimously wanted to walk much more efficiently and get an earlier start this time. Overall, I think everyone felt in much better spirits this hike.

During the hike, I saw four Western Horse Lubber Grasshoppers, which was exciting because that was the Orthoptera species I had wanted to see the most. They were all nymphs, so they lacked their distinctive yellow mesh-like wings. They were still pretty cool though. I also saw a large cluster of really large Orthoptera nymphs which looked like they might have just hatched because there were so many congregated together.

A Western Horse Lubber Grasshopper nymph. Fully grown, it will have cool yellow, mesh-like wings.

Reviewing the camera trap pictures was super exciting. We got two pictures of ocelots, one of a Red Brocket Deer, one of a Great Curassow, one of a group of peccaries, and a couple of pacas. I wanted to see a tapir the most, but an ocelot had been a close second, so it was exciting to get two pictures of them. One turned out really clear.

The ocelot captured on one of our camera traps set along the 50 Hectare trail.

Tomorrow we are leaving to go back to Houston, and the day after that I’ll be back home. It feels like this whole trip went by fast, but I felt like the rainforest section went by especially quick. It’s sad that we’re leaving Belize in less than eighteen hours and that we won’t see each other again until fall semester, but it will be nice to have light after 10pm and more variety in food again.

Our Lecture Spots are Cooler than Yours (Day 13)

Today was probably my favorite day we’ve had at Las Cuevas. In the morning we sorted through the arthropods that had fallen into our pit traps and analyzed our data. No orthoptera species fell into the traps, which bummed me out a little, but there were plenty of ants and arachnids.

In the afternoon, we went to the Las Cuevas cave. The cave is closed this year because a team of archaeologists are here excavating it, so we couldn’t go as far in as they do most years. We could still go in the entrance and pass through to the second chamber.

The constriction built by the Mayans dividing the first and second chambers.

 

This cave was used by the Mayans for religious ceremonies, so there are still platforms in the cave they built, as well as constrictions between each chamber. Once we went into the second chamber, we had Ellie and Isaac’s Amphibian and Reptile presentations. It was funny that we heard Isaac’s presentation in the cave because on the way out we saw a snake in the Twilight Zone. It was crazy because it slithered up the wall and disappeared into a crevasse. Also in the cave, I saw a Mayagryllus apterus cave cricket.

A snake slithering up the wall of the cave.

In the evening, we hiked up to the Bird Tower to watch the sunset. The hike there was short but steep, and once we climbed the tower we were way above the canopy. The mountains in the background were all such beautiful shades of greens, blues, yellows, and oranges.

The view of the sunset from the observation tower.

To add to the day’s theme of unusual lecture locations, we all sat down on top of the tower for Therese to give us a talk about the research she is doing for her PhD about the effects of defaunation, which is the loss of large vertebrates like gorillas and elephants.

After we finished the lecture, we climbed down the tower and scaled its sides and hung out for a bit. Then we started back to the station. Since it was dark, a lot of cool animals were out. We saw a mouse, scorpions, a Tailless Whip Scorpion, a huge cockroach, and a lot of Orthoptera. It’s crazy how much the community of a place changes from day to night.

A Nocturnal Cricket.

Random Drug Test Day (Day 12)

Today we experienced Scott F. Solomon in his true element: digging up leaf-cutter ant colonies. We went to three different-aged colonies to dig in to and see their tunnels and fungal gardens.  With his tiny shovel and stolen spoon, Dr. Solomon pulled out two of the three colonies’ fungi. It was cool to see how complex the colonies can be and how their complexity increased with age (a single queen can keep her colony growing for 25 years!), but being that close to so many ants was a bit unpleasant.

The other main thing we did today was set up an experiment to test abundances of arthropods and nutrient availability on the forest floor versus in the canopy. This involved each of us filling two viles with our pee and two with water and then tying half to trees and burying half in the ground. Tomorrow we are going to examine the arthropods that fell into the viles.

The day after tomorrow is when we are going to have to go and retrieve our camera traps. I’m excited to see the pictures they’ve taken, but I’m not looking forward to the hiking it will involve. Although the hiking yesterday felt fine, the minimal hiking we did today was pretty painful and quite laborious because I cut my foot on a conch at Glover’s a little over a week ago. As a reminder of our time on Middle Caye, four pieces of shell came out of the cut today. I’m hoping that was the last of it (spoiler: it wasn’t) and that it won’t be as painful in the coming days.

We spent not much time in the woods today, so I did not see any Orthoptera. However, I’m hoping we’ll find lots in the viles. The highlight of today was the Scarlet Macaws we saw. Two of them flew over us and then stopped in a tree nearby. It was a hard to get a picture that did them or their colorful plumage justice, but I don’t think it’s something I will ever forget.

Two Scarlet Macaws spotted in the Chiquibul.

Final March of the Dive Booties (Day 10)

Today was the second to last travel day of our trip. We reached Las Cuevas and will stay here until the 30th when we’ll head back to the airport in Belize City.

The drive was mostly through the Pine Ridge Forest and the Chiquibul Rainforest. To break it up, we stopped in the Rio-On pools midmorning. This was for us to get an idea of the karstist geological features of Belize and to swim and enjoy ourselves.

At Rio-On, there were a lot of granite rocks with small pools and waterfalls between them. It was fun to scramble around on the rocks and try and slide down the waterfalls. We stayed there about twice as long as we were supposed to, but nobody seemed to mind.

Rio-On Springs. It was really fun to swim and climb around here.

When we got to Las Cuevas, we learned that the cave here is closed. The worst part of this is that we all brought caving helmets and we aren’t going to ever use them. At least we got to see the ATM cave already. We also learned that there isn’t Internet here, which is why all these posts are going to go up at once.

Shortly after arriving, we went on a short hike on a trail near the station. We saw ceiba, cedar, acacia, sapodilla, Gumbo-limbo, and prickly yellow trees. We also saw fish tail palms, a plant that is often illegally extracted by Guatemelons for the floral business.

I saw two species of Orthoptera, which surprised me. One I think was a species of Leaf-mimic katydid (Mimica spp.) The other one I couldn’t confidently identify yet but it might have been Amblytropidia trinitatis.

A Leaf-mimic Katydid.

Tomorrow we are forming a question that we are going to answer with camera traps, and we’re going to spend most of the day setting them up throughout the forest. I think it is going to involve a lot of walking, which I am not looking forward to because my foot still hurts from when I stepped on a conch.

 

Cold and Fruity (Day 9)

Dear Adrienne,

Today we went to Actun Tunichil Muknal archeological reserve. Here we hiked into a cave that was used for Mayan sacrifices and has lots of well-preserved artifacts and human remains. I did not see any Orthoptera.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of the cave, but here’s a picture of the sign!

To get to where the artifacts and remains were, we had to swim and scramble our way through the cave. The guide said I had to wear the top I had been carrying out of respect to the ancient Mayans, so it was real frigid being in the cave because the rivers were so cold and my clothes were so wet.

Nevertheless, it was crazy to be inside of such a sacred place, especially since we could see the vessels and victims of sacrifices all around us and knew that only the most elite Mayans would ever enter the cave. As neat and memorable as it was, I kind of felt like it was inappropriate for us tourists to be climbing around in there, given the religious significance the cave has.

Maneuvering through the cave was pretty complicated because it involved a lot of climbing up tall structures and fitting our heads through small cracks. At some point when we were climbing, Deepu scraped his leg and bled some. When we were in the cave, our guide taught us about bloodletting, a process in which people would slit themselves with obsidian blades or stingray barbs and offer their own blood to the Gods, so we were joking about how Deepu was partaking in bloodletting. It was really eerie when we emerged from the cave to see that it had just started to pour as if Deepu’s sacrifice to Chaac, the rain God, had worked.

After we left the cave, we drove to Crystal Paradise Resort where we are spending tonight before going on to Las Cuevas. On the way we stopped in the town of San Ignacio. There I bought a bag of grapes and tried a baby banana. Also, I made Therese go ask a man with a produce stand if we could have some of the oranges that had fallen out of his truck. I think he took pity on us because he just gave her two fresh ones. These are some of the advantages of having a TA.

The towel swan at Crystal Paradise: They really treated us well!

Back to Land :( (Day 8)

Today was another travelling day. We left Glover’s in the morning to head back to the mainland. We did one last snorkel on the way back through the mangroves at Twin Caye. There, we saw a manatee, a yellow seahorse, a magnificent feather duster worm, and a lot of upside down jellyfish. I also saw some Caulerpa algae, and many of the algae species I’d seen around the patch reefs.

A seahorse found in the mangroves. His coloration makes him look a lot like a dead mangrove leaf!

The other place we stopped on the way back was Carrie Bow Caye, the Smithsonian Research Center. It was cool to meet the volunteer station manager, Clive, and hear about the research going on there.

Once we got back to the mainland, we went back to the Tropical Education Center where we are staying again tonight. We spent the evening at the Belize Zoo and got an amazing tour. We saw five big cats, including a jaguar that did somersaults for us. We also fed a tapir and two crocodiles.

The Tapir we fed at the zoo.

The last thing we did tonight was talk with Lucrecia, who is in Belize to do cat research and took EBIO 319 last year. It was good to see her because we ran cross country together in the fall but she spent the spring semester in Tanzania, and it sounds like she has been doing some really cool stuff.

Tomorrow we are going to a cave. I’m sure it is going to be awesome, but I’m still a little sad that we aren’t at the reef anymore.

Finally Here! (Day 1)

Today has been a long day of travel. Fortunately though, everything went smoothly! I can only hope that tomorrow’s boat ride is equally lacking in complications.

We left Rice a little after 10:30 this morning and loaded on a bus to go to Hobby Airport. Even though our flight didn’t leave until 2:30, the five hours we gave ourselves ended up to be just the right amount of time. As I’m learning, everything goes slower when you’re part of a group of fourteen.

Even though I was in one of the later boarding groups, I managed to snag a window seat. Most of the trip we were flying over the Gulf of Mexico. I fell asleep for a good chunk of the flight, but luckily when I woke up I could see boats below so I assumed we must be nearing the land, and I got to get a glimpse of Mexico’s gulf coast as the land reappeared.

The Gulf coast of Mexico, as seen from the plane

I thought I remembered reading in the textbook for this course that we would fly over the Chiquibul as we approached the Belize City Airport, but I only saw agricultural plots with some trees in between. Maybe I wasn’t looking at the right time, or maybe the author came from a different direction.

Once we landed in Belize City, got our luggage, and got through customs, we got on another bus to head to the place we’re staying for tonight. We also stopped at a supermarket to pick up some snacks.

We are staying for tonight at The Belize Zoo’s Tropical Education Center. We got in just around dinner time, so although they showed us the trails, pond, and observation deck we did not get to do much before dark. However, we’ll be back here again at the midpoint of our trip before we head to Las Cuevas Research Station.

Just walking around the gravel trails here though, we did see a little bit of fauna. I did not see any Green Algae or Orthoptera species, but it was cool to see other people in the class recognize species from their assigned taxa groups.

We saw a green iguana snacking on some leaves in a tree right over the trail.  There was also a lot of leaf cutter ants, to the point where there was a sign warning us of their traffic corridors. We saw a lot of epiphytes around the trail on the many trees here. We are in a savanna environment, but at least in the near vicinity of where we’re staying there is much denser vegetation than I would expect for a savanna. Although, driving here we passed a lot of ‘classic savanna’ scenery: sparse short trees, grasses, and very flat land.

Green Iguana Perched Precariously on a Branch

Right in the middle of our cabin, we also saw a little toad. It would be great if all the Orthoptera and algae species got the memo and were to show up right by my bed in the coming days, but my hopes are not high.

This Kind Toad Came Right into our Cabin to be Identified!

Course Review and Wrap Up: Michael Saucedo

I want (an it is required of me) to recount the three most memorable experiences from this course. The first is obvious, and that is the experience of meeting and getting to know the incredible group of instructors and students who decided it was important or even necessary to complete this course. Most people would not consider trudging a dozen miles in the Chiquibul or collecting marine debris at Glover’s Atoll to be an entirely pleasant way to spend one’s summer. Each and every participant made it their aim, however, to not just complete these and other challenges, but to take away from them a positive message. Not to mention the positivity and diligence of the workers at each of the two field sites we stayed at. These people have devoted their life to the cause of conservation and biological research and to the education of young people like myself. In five years, I am confident I will still remember the attitudes and moments of courage from those who inspired me during the last two weeks. This was undoubtably my favorite part of the course.

Secondly, I will never forget the peace of mind that comes with field work. Never before had I reached a feeling of calm as when diving to the bottom of a reef, hearing nothing but my own air bubbles, and carefully observing and recording the diversity of life I saw. The same is true of my time spent in the Chiquibul, where the cacophony of noise reaches a transcendental hum. In the field, your eyes and ears become attuned to each stimulus they encounter. Over time, nothing slips by and you can appreciate everything around you. I dream of a time in my life where I can spend months or even years in this blissful state. I guess this experience has given me a dragon to chase, my first taste of “field euphoria.” I take it back, you guys were great, but this was undoubtably my favorite part of the course.

The third memorable aspect of this trip (and reducing this trip to just three memories does not really do it justice) was the unstoppable stream of information coming from both qualitatively observing and directly quantifying my surroundings. Both from direct observation and methodical quantifying I became more attune to the biotic and abiotic processes occurring all around me. But comfort in your assertions about this environment are short-lived because of the astounding amount of alternate information popping up left and right. When we conducted studies of different biological systems we constantly faced the dilemma of what question to ask (what data to quantify), because there are a million valid questions, but many fewer that actually lead to meaningful results. Even once you have asked the right question, it is not always clear how to interpret the data you have collected. Different statistical methods can lead to finding wildly different conclusions from the same data set. This experience has taught me that specific knowledge of life is key to understanding the problems that face our modern world. It has also taught me that careful scrutiny and painstaking attention to detail is the only way to sift through this wealth of information and acquire relevant knowledge. The daunting feeling that comes with this realization could be viewed negatively (as my least favorite realization) but as always understanding what you are up against can make it feel less scary. So overall, a net positive experience.

How can I most succinctly summarize this experience and still do it justice? One adjective that comes to mind immediately is educational.  EBIO319 is hands down the most educational experience I have had in my time at Rice. You can read and discuss all you want and begin to understand the systems of organisms that exist in the tropics, but until you see them first hand it is near impossible to fully appreciate their novelty and complexity. My expectations of adventure were certainly met, but I had no idea how much knowledge I could attain from exploring these pristine habitats.

Moreover, the nature of this experience was paramountly thought-provoking—stimulating connections each time we reached a new location and inspected its life forms. One of the first lectures in the Chiquibul focused on life in the rainforest canopy. It touched on the paradoxical duality of high biodiversity existing in soils without highly abundant nutrients. This concept immediately rang a bell in my head because it was so connected to one of the fundamental aspects of my lecture topic from the reef. On coral reefs, waters are oligotrophic as well and yet support a similar richness and abundance of life. Both ecosystems rely on the cycling of nutrients from the top of the ecosystem to the bottom and back again from the bottom to the top. In the rainforest, decomposers like microorganisms, fungi, roaches, and other insects recycle plant and animal detritus which then can be absorbed by roots. These lucky roots (along with the beating tropical sun) support the growth of tall trees that host the larger heterotrophs which ultimately (along with plants) become food for those detritivores I mentioned before.

On the reef this process is more cryptic, since it prominently features microbes. Here highly abundant and productive autotrophic bacteria photosynthetically fix carbon within their cells. Along with dead microbes and larger organisms, the exuded photosynthates from these bacteria become food for heterotrophic bacteria, abundant in the water column and more so on the reef benthos. This cycle of nutrients is so tightly linked that nutrients hardly exist free floating in the water for long. Larger organisms filter feed on these nutritious microbes, grow, and are then consumed themselves by ever larger organisms. All eventually die and become food for the heterotrophic bacteria that form the base of this microbial loop.

Belize is truly a biodiversity hotspot. A center for conservation focused research and legislation that promotes the sustainability  of such an environment. What we have in both of these locations in Belize is ideal specialization in an ideal habitat. Nothing goes to waste. Every necessary niche is filled by a diversity of life. This is only possible when anthropogenic extinction is limited and preservation is the top priority.