Tag Archives: Piscivorous fish

Post-Belize Reflection

Wow! What an amazing experience! Our class of 11 was constantly at work hiking, setting up pit fall traps, collecting data with transects, snorkeling, collecting data with quadrads, interpreting data, putting together poster presentations among other activities. In total, we accomplished 6 research projects with poster presentations for each of them. For each research project, we learned something new and interesting about the unique environment that we were living in for half a month. The experience involved a lot of hard work both physically and mentally, but it rewarded me with knowledge, fun, friends, and a lasting appreciation for the beauty of this world. It is nice to be home, where there’s air conditioning, WiFi, warm showers, less mosquitoes, no sandflies, but I will be thinking about Belize and my experience there for a long time to come. Thank you Dr. Solomon, Dr. Shore, Las Cuevas Research Station, and Glover’s Reef Research Station—for this one-of-a-kind opportunity!


  • Eurytides marcellus, Zebra Swallowtail
  • Morpho peleides, Blue Morpho
  • Ascalapha odorata, Black Witch Moth
  • Sphingidae genus, Sphinx Moth
  • Heliconius hecale, Tiger Longwing
  • Eacles imperialis, Imperial Moth
  • Papilio polyxenes, Black Swallowtail

Piscivorous Fish

  • Ocyurus chrysurus, Yellowtail Snapper
  • Pterois volitans, Red Lionfish
  • Sphyraena genusBarracuda
  • Halichoeres bivittatus, Slippery Dick Wrasse
  • Hemiramphus brasiliensis, Ballyhoo
  • Ginglymostoma cirratum, Nurse Shark

Above is a list of the different species I saw from my taxons while on the trip. Below is a picture of a different species that I see at home. Glad to be reunited with my house cat (Felis catus) pictured below in his natural habitat!

27/05/19 I’m not lion…I had fun.

Today is our last full day of class since tomorrow is just traveling! We began the morning with a fun activity—cleaning up the island! We took trash bags out, geared up with long pants tucked in socks, shirts tucked in pants, jackets tucked in rubber gloves, and picked up garbage at four different sites around Middle Caye—the mangroves of death, the coral graveyard,  the Glover’s Reef dock, and the touch tank. I, along with Pierce and Keegan, picked up trash at the coral graveyard for 30 minutes. My hands pruned up with sweat, but the coverage was worth the mosquito protection.


Some interesting garbage found:

-lots of plastic bottles, lots of plastic bottle caps

-plastic utensils

-many sole-mate less sandals (ha!)


-baby doll leg

-stuffed animal




-2 hyperdermic needles

-a crab using a round bottle as a shell! Trash Crab!

Then, we had some coconut water, coconut meat, and lionfish ceviche—just doing our part to remove invasive species. The lionfish that I dissected was a 79.1g virgin male, and we found a whole, un-digested juvenile slippery dick wrasse in his stomach! The wrasse itself was at least 3 centimeters, maybe even 4. What a cool find!

Lionfish of genus Pterois beside the slippery dick wrasse (Halichoeres bivittatus) found in its stomach

We had our last lectures for the course on annelids and the history and culture of Belize given by our wonderful guides Herby and Javier—they were excellent and they will be missed so much!

Thank you Glover’s Reef Research Station for a fantastic week! Now, I’m prepared to head on home.

26/05/19 Urchin Searchin’

We began the morning with a survey of sea urchins in patch reefs (in and out of marine-protected areas). We collected urchins in a bucket, then identified them by species and determined the diameters of their tests (in centimeters). We found long-spined urchins (Diadema antillarum) (don’t touch!), slate-pencil urchins (Eucidaris tribuloides), reef urchins (Echinometra viridis), and a few West Indian sea eggs (Tripneustes ventricosus). Although I was hesitant to jam my hand into small crevices in the coral to retrieve these spiny creatures, I had fun catching the urchins while simultaneously discovering how stubborn they can be. Some of those sea urchins were really wedged into their crevices and would not budge.

Bucket o’ urchins!

We collated our data into a poster, then transitioned into lectures on  crustaceans, hydrozoa, cubozoa, scyphozoa, ctenophores, and climate change and its effect on coral reefs.

We ended the night with a night snorkeling session from the dock to a patch reef nearby (which we got lost on the way to). It was a surreal experience. In the brief time that we were out in the water, I did not get to see much, but the creatures that I saw —including some tasty-looking lobsters—were vastly different from the ones that I normally see during the day. Our limited field of vision under water made for an invigorating experience, like when sting rays appeared and disappeared from darkness.

25/05/19 The Chummiest of Friends

This morning we completed (you guessed it) more transects! Again, we went out to two patch reefs, one in an MPA, one not. The first patch reef (within an MPA, nicknamed ‘the Aquarium’) contained lots of fire coral hidden in the coral we were attempting to survey. Weaving the transect tape and manipulating the quadrad was especially hard with the stinging fire coral around, especially since the water was so shallow—there was a limited amount of space above the reef through which we could float. At one point, I was floating directly on top of fire coral—a precarious situation. At (what was intended to be) the second site, there were moon jellies floating around, so we decided not to complete our transects there and opted to move to a different non-MPA site for our final transects. The final area that we decided on to be our non-MPA site was full of lionfish (yum! that’s my taxon!) and squid! After completing my transects, I watched Herby spear a lionfish that was hiding deep within the coral. I am excited to eat these lionfish at a later time.

In the afternoon, the class took the boat out to the fore reef, where we saw the reef drop off, sponges, and bigger animals in general, however, many of us (myself included) fell ill and could not properly appreciate the majesty of the reef in our conditions.


We ended the night with lectures on Anthozoa (non-reef building zoanthids, corallimorphs, and anemones), marine mollusks, and threats to coral reefs (of which there are a lot).

24/05/19 Piscivorous fish are more metal than herbivorous fish. Periodt.

We took the boat out for the first time to survey two patch reefs. The first one, Marisol, was within a marine-protected area (MPA). The second was not within a marine-protected area (non-MPA). There were some grey clouds in the sky as we drove out to the first patch reef, but I did not feel the sprinkling as I was snorkeling in the cold water. I saw snappers as usual, and what I thought to be a foot-long grouper that quickly swam away before I could fully process its presence.

In the afternoon, the class geared up to wade into sea-grass off of the island. We were looking for creatures to capture and keep in a ‘touch tank’ briefly for our observation. As a class, we caught many queen conchs (and one conch shell occupied by a crab), two donkey-dung sea cucumbers, a sea egg urchin, a pencil slate urchin, a red heart urchin, an octopus!, two fire worms, a damselfish, several brittle stars, two sun anemones, several types of coral and algae, and many hermit crabs—no piscivorous fish though! The water is too shallow for these big boys. It was interesting to feel and observe the organisms from other taxons though. The donkey dung sea cucumber was particularly interesting as it molded into your hand as you squeezed it.

Me touching a West Indian Sea Egg (Tripneustes ventricosus), a type of urchin

We ended the night with lectures on herbivorous fish, piscivorous fish (given by yours truly), and how competition, predation, and environment shape coral reefs.

23/05/19 Urine the Sea Now

(Never thought I’d say this but…) it was nice to sleep in today now that breakfast is at 7:00am! Today is our first day working on the reef!  The class went out to the coral graveyard to practice the point-intercept and quadrad methods of conducting surveys, then examined coral skeletons taken from the coral graveyard. We attempted to identify the coral skeletons species or at least genus; we identified a range of corals including Pseudodiploria, Colpophyllia nattans, Agaricia, Pendrogyra cylindris, Acropora palmata, Gorgonia ventalina, Siderastrea, and Fabullata. There is so much variety in corals and coral structure on the macro and micro levels, yet corals are deceptively hard to tell apart, especially when it comes down to specific species. 

Later in the day, we utilized the quadrad method on sea-grass and algae. Cassia and I developed a set of hand-signals to communicate data under water that enabled us to complete the transects relatively quickly. Using tools under water was a surreal experience! First, we had to swim over to the sand bar within the sea-grass/algae area carrying our bulky PVC quadrads, transect tapes, and clipboards for recording data. Writing under the water with water-proof paper and pencil was a novel experience for me, and its a technique that we will be utilizing a lot in the coming days. At the patch reef, I saw several yellowtail snappers, and a nurse shark (the couch potato of the ocean)! Hopefully, we will see more piscivorous fish in the coming days.

We ended the night with lectures on echinoderms (go sea cucumbers!), green and red algae, and mangroves and seagrass beds (their relevance and importance to coral reefs).

22/05/19 I’m not popular with boys, but I’m popular with mosquitoes!

After 6:00am breakfast at the Tropical Education Center, the class drove an hour and half to the marina, then three hours (in a boat) to Middle Caye in Glover’s Reef. The three-hour boat ride was quite exciting because of the high winds and choppy waves—it felt like a roller coaster. Every time the boat ascended a wave, my body would fly out of my seat; then, when the boat crashed back down into the water, my body would smack against the seat. Arriving at the research station was exciting! The view is beautiful up above and all around, and on the ground there are adorable hermit crabs scuttling about everywhere. One of the more interesting hermit crabs that I observed had a snake-like pattern on its shell with banding and scale-like coloration.

Hermit crab with snake-like shell

We tried our gear out in the ocean for the first time. While circling the patch reef, I saw several yellowtail snappers (piscivorous fish!) I also saw an upside down jellyfish and a sting ray hidden in the sea grass. The class migrated to the leeward side of the island in the hopes that the wind and currents wouldn’t be as overwhelming. To reach the leeward side, we had to run through the ‘mangroves of death’. Today, we truly experienced what the ‘mangroves of death’ mean. As soon as we reached the area, Scott took off running with little warning. We were confused, then we started feeling the bites. At one point, I had 7 mosquitoes attached to my body. These pests were swarming all over and biting through the dive skin. I have bumps all over my legs, arms, and face, and my skin feels like Braille. I don’t know Braille very well, but I believe that my right arm spells O U C H. My skin is red, blotchy, and very, very angry at the mangroves of death. We made it to the other side of the island though, and I saw fire coral, Christmas tree worms, what I believe are young grunts, and a slippery dick (Halichoeres bivittatus).

Unfortunately the only path back to the research station was through the mangroves of death. We were aware of the danger this time, but it turns out that not even speed, mad flailing, and slapping can save us from the mosquitoes. Back in my room, I saw a common house gecko crawling on the ceiling above my bed. He was unusually large—at least 15cm in length and 3cm in width (very, very fat). I spooked him and he fell from above the top bunk to the floor with a thud.
The class ended the night with lectures on corals, sponges, and reef microbes.

Pre-Departure Blog: Any Fin is Possible If You Just Belize

T minus 12 hours until I’m on a plane to Belize! Will this trip be the academic experience of a lifetime? Will this trip re-define my perspective of the world? Will my poor sight hinder my ability to distinguish between a snake and a branch leading to a rather tragic and short-lived trip for me? All this remains to be answered in the upcoming weeks.
It’s May 13th. My stuff: packed. My assignments: turned in. I am: excited. Now that I’ve established myself as ‘that one kid who feels an obligation to title ever blog post with a horrible pun’, I have to say: I am beyond excited to meet everybody, bond, learn, and experience the wonders of Belize. I hope to come away with valuable field work experience and skills that I can bring back with me to Vanderbilt labs (plus 10 new friends)!
While the obvious anxieties for a newbie to the tropics arise (heat, diarrhea, getting lost), it is my habit as an overachiever to worry more about my grades. Fingers crossed, the readings will sufficiently prepare me for conducting quality research. As an off-campus class member, I know that my preparation process has been slightly different from the rest of the class body. Communication has been a  source of annoyance, but those woes are soon to be gone once I am integrated into the class. I packed my gear and living supplies into two bags and flew down from the 901 to Houston yesterday, where I have been crashing on my cousin’s couch and eagerly awaiting Belize (picture of me experiencing Houston attached below). Here’s to an awesome experience! See y’all soon!

-Elizabeth Dang

Last full day :(

Daily Blog 14

In the morning we worked on lion fish dissections. Unfortunately Sami and I were only able to dissect the smaller lion fish, so while dissecting the lion fish, we were unable to identify the sex of ability to spawn. The organs were too small to be identified. However, we were able to see that one of the lion fish we dissected had a small inside! The fish was only partially digested so we were able to identify some of the body parts. I learned in Jessica’s lecture on invasive species that the native fish do not recognize lion fish as predators, so it was sad to see the digested fish inside its stomach. I never actually got to see the lion fish while they were alive, so as I saw Scott use the tongs to carefully remove its venomous anal, pectoral, and dorsal spines, I was wondering how intimidating the lion fish would have looked with it’s spines. Although lion-fish in the Caribbean have caused awful effects as invasive species in removing native fish species, I think their warning coloration are visually captivating- the brown lines around their head and body are incredibly detailed, and their venomous spines are quite scary. One of my favourite parts of the dissecting has to be consuming the fish- Scott made a mean ceviche.

In the afternoon I went on an optional snorkel. A couple of us snorkeled to the nearby patch reef, moving from one place to another. I got to see a few squirrel fish exhibiting their usual behaviour- swimming away from me, hiding in rock crevices, and erecting their dorsal spines when I got too close. While swimming back, I got to see a sting ray! For some reason it was exhibiting really interesting behaviour- it was fluttering it’s body (non-propelling but undulating locomotion). It clearly wasn’t moving to swim, and it was just causing a disturbance in the sediments on the benthos. Perhaps it was hunting or practicing some other type of behaviour. The sediments the sting ray was raising from the benthos made it difficult to identify its shape and colour, so I can’t decide if it’s a southern stingray because I only got a glimpse of its yellow-beige coloured back.

To end the day perfectly, we got on a boat and headed to Marisol on Southwest Cage. We ordered our drinks and had them by the docks overlooking the shoreline of the island and I ate some conch ceviche. Conch ceviche with chips was probably my favourite thing I’ve eaten all trip. Later Rose taught us to dance in the Belizean way, and we had an amazing time trying and failing to imitate Rose. Once we got back on Middle Caye, we watched the beautiful sunset on the dock and lowered diving lights once it got completely dark.

our lionfish pre-dissection:

Mad Mangrove Mosquitos

Daily Blog 13

After waking up in the morning to thunder, rain and winds, we finished the lectures instead of going into the water. I was relieved to give the last lecture on mangroves, seagrass, and coral. Afterwards we went to the coral graveyard to pick up trash for our experiment, Talk Dirty To Me, where we wanted to figure out trash composition and amount on the windward and leeward side of Middle Caye. We also went to the mangroves where my face was butchered by mosquitos. I got a bite above my eyelid which later swelled up, so I had a little difficulty opening my right eye in the afternoon. I also got two bites on my forehead. Those mangrove mosquitos are absolutely awful.

We then finally went out to the reef at 2:05, only 5 minutes later than the time we were supposed to leave. Yay! I had an absolute blast swimming in the “aquarium”, the deeper reef off North-west Caye and a channel off Long Caye this afternoon. I was able to find so many different types of piscivorous fish, and I was so happy. I got to swim right next to a trumpet fish off Long Caye, along with a school of Yellow tail snappers. I also saw two sting rays, which was probably a yellow stingray and a southern stingray. I dived to look for lionfish in the crevices of the rocks and at the bottom of the corals, but I just ended up finding dozens of Squirrel fish. I think the squirrel fish I saw were Holocentrus. We also saw two nurse sharks. Unfortunately, one of the nurse sharks we saw had a fishing line and a plastic bottle around its fin, and we couldn’t remove it because we couldn’t risk being attacked.

When I got on the boat from the last snorkel, I heard Scott saying that he saw a black tipped reef shark and a spotted eagle ray. I WAS SO SAD AND MAD I DIDN’T GET TO SEE THEM. I love sharks, so I was really sad that I didn’t get to see the black tipped reef shark. The spotted eagle ray is also such an iconic fish, so I was also sad that I missed out. I hope I get to see it before I leave here!