Tag Archives: reptiles

Belize has my heart

The tropical rainforest and the coral reef are two of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. What similarities exist between these two ecosystems, and how might these similarities relate to high levels of biological diversity? What personal observations have you made about the similarities and differences between these two ecosystems? How did the course compare with your expectations? What were your favorite—and least favorite—parts of the course? Describe three things that you learned in the course that you consider to be the most important or surprising (i.e., what did you

It seems so weird that just a couple of days ago we were in Belize and now I’m back home in my bed writing this reflection (with air conditioning).

The tropical rainforest and coral reefs have so much biodiversity, and there is still so much we have to learn and discover about these ecosystems. I knew before that there were large numbers of species that hadn’t been identified yet in the rainforest as well as coral reefs, but nothing compared to seeing this for myself. The amount of flora and fauna in the rainforest is crazy, and there were definitely things that we saw such as beetles and even ants that Scott or our guidebooks couldn’t identify. In our hurricane gap project as well as our To Pee or Not to Pee project, we separated our findings into morphospecies and the number of species we had for both projects was extremely large (so large it took us 5 hours to separate the morphospecies from the pee traps). Both ecosystems also are nutrient poor, but they overcome this by finding nutrients in their own inhabitants. Nutrient cycling takes place by decomposers or in coral reefs, by corals and sponges. Another similarity is how both ecosystems are not only threatened by natural dangers such as the changing environment but also direct human threats such as poaching and use/harvesting of land and resources by other countries like Guatemala and Honduras.

I went into this class not really knowing what to expect, as many of the other now TFBs will say as well. I was definitely nervous the day we left Rice to fly to Belize. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the class, or I would discover I wasn’t cut out for the TFB lifestyle. However, I discovered that the TFB lifestyle is amazing and I am more than capable of completing long hikes and swims in tropical environments. I can even hold snakes and swim after sharks because I’m not afraid of them anymore. Seeing these creatures in the wild is way different than seeing a picture online, and you can truly appreciate how amazing they actually are.

One of the last days in Belize, Scott asked some of us what our favorite moment of the trip was, but having to choose one is just too hard. One of my favorites from Las Cuevas had to be the last night there where we all gathered around a laptop to look at the camera trap pictures, and we first saw a tapir picture and the second the picture changed there was a gorgeous shot of a jaguar and we all flipped out and were screaming. At Glover’s I really loved the sea urchin day, because I got to hold a ton of adorable sea urchin, including my favorite thing ever, a sea egg (yes sea urchin can be adorable).

It’s hard to say something out of this trip wasn’t great, but I guess my least favorite moment was having to endure getting a ton of mosquito bites at Glover’s. However, I was having so much fun that I wasn’t about to let bug bites get in my way.

Before this trip, I was still on the edge about what my major would be and what I wanted to do with my life, and it might sound cheesy but this class solidified that my passion is biology and I want to work on helping and studying the environment. I also met some wonderful people on this trip, and I wasn’t expecting to come back with so many people I can call close friends. We all seemed so different but were connected by our love for the environment and desire to make a difference through studying it. I feel really lucky to have met everyone and shared this experience. Finally, I realized how much I want to do to make a difference in the environment even just at home. I would always tell myself I would try and cut down on my waste, but I never stuck with it. After seeing marine debris attached to a nurse shark, and having to pick up trash off a remote island that I could never imagine having debris, I feel like not only cutting back on my waste but also educating others about the effects and of marine debris and how we can help cut back.

This trip to Belize has literally been one of the most important experiences in my life so far, and I know I will always look back and remember the things I learned and experiences I had. 

The Day I Discover I Actually Love…

Today we left Las Cuevas, and it was pretty hard to say goodbye to the Chiquibul forest. Then we started driving to the ATM caves. The road was very bumpy and winding, so about halfway there I got pretty carsick and had to move to the passenger seat. We stopped at a convenience store, and I was able to get a new towel with the Belize flag on it (getting excited to be constantly in my bathing suit).

 

Once we got to the ATM caves we had to walk to the front of the cave, which also involved swimming across a river a couple times. Then we got to the entrance of the cave and waded into the freezing cold water. Once in the cave and we couldn’t see the daylight anymore it started to get colder but I was mostly distracted by the gorgeous stalactite structures. Inside the cave, after getting out of the water, our guide lead us to where the Mayan artifacts were. There was a bunch of pots, but the most anticipated things were the human remains. There were multiple skulls and even an entire skeleton that was still intact, and it was so amazing the actually be able to see these 1,000-year-old sacrificial remains. Also, on the way back, I was able to see a Basilisk on the side of the trail in the bushes and it looked exactly like the one on my Id card, which was pretty cool.

After the cave, we continued our drive to the Tropical Education Center and I mostly napped and listened to music. I also finally got service on my phone and was able to text my mom, which was nice. After dinner, we headed to a night tour at the Belize Zoo. Me and Andressa got there early and both got to hold a Boa Constrictor, which felt like such an accomplishment for me. I didn’t feel scared at all, it was actually very calming, and after doing all this research on reptiles and specifically snakes I discovered that snakes are actually really beautiful and I might even love them (pet snake in the future??). While on the tour I got to feed a tapir, which is absolutely the cutest animal ever, and I also loved seeing the cats, including the ocelot and jaguar. It’s such a different experience than American zoos because we were able to pet some of the animals and get pretty close to the enclosures as well.

The Best Day Ever

Today was actually one of the most exciting days at Las Cuevas. It started out by us waking up early and leaving around 5:30 to hike the Bird Tower Trail. The trail was very steep and the leaf litter was slippery, which made for an interesting hike with me falling off balance every couple steps and some people actually falling and sliding down. Once we got the bird tower 6 of us climbed up at a time, and while it was a bit scary climbing up the rickety ladder, the views from the top were indescribable. The sun was still rising, and I could see over all the trees of the canopy and the mist covering the tops. We definitely worked up an appetite after the hike though.

After breakfast, we went out to collect all the camera traps that we had set out the first day, but Scott told us we had to wait to check them until the sunset. While on the hike, we found a really cool beetle called the golden tortoise beetle, and another brown anole which Veronica picked off the trunk of a tree that was covered in lichen. I tried to hold it, but it bit her hand and jumped away back towards the tree.

Later, we left with Scott and the other group of students from Mississippi to do leafcutter ant nest excavations. We started with a one-year-old nest and found the queen, which was way bigger than I imagined it to be and I got to hold it in my hand. Once we moved to the monster ant nest we had trouble finding the fungus chamber, but we did find the dump chamber where the ants put their waste.

 

Finally, after dinner, we all gathered around Scott’s computer to look at the long-awaited camera trap photos. In the very first camera trap photo, we saw a tapir and its butt, then the very next picture was a jaguar!! We ended up having two amazing pictures of jaguars, and it literally made my day and I will probably be thinking about it for months. Also, the pictures of Adrienne were pretty great too.

 

 

Peelieze

Today we spent the majority of the day picking up our vials of pee and water from the other day, and then brought them back to the lab to sort into morphological species. It was a very long process, that involved us having to dump vials of our pee through a sieve into the toilet and sort through the insects we found. While working on the experiment the other school group showed up, so we got to present our final poster to them.

 

While working on the experiment, it started raining and then actually pouring and we all ran outside to experience rain in the rainforest. It was so exciting to see one of the first big rains of the rainy season, which also meant that the nuptial flight of some insects, such as termites, began.

Also, today when we first got on the trail we spotted a frog in the leave litter that I got to hold, and it was super cute. We also found a smooth anole as well that was the same as the one I saw the night before. I identified it as a smooth anole but didn’t want to hold it, since it could bite and was thrashing its head around, I did pet its head and its face was pretty cute.

Helmeted Iguana Sighting

Today Scott and Adrienne gave us a new question about how hurricanes affect the Chiquibul, to come up with an experiment around. We came up with a preliminary experiment to test the growth of pioneer species in areas of hurricane gaps versus areas without hurricane gaps. However, once we got out into the forest we decided the hurricane gaps were too dense to be able to go through to collect data, so we revised our question and decided to test how grounded vascular plants were affected by hurricane gaps.

 

While on the trail, Elena spotted a Helmeted Iguana on the side of a tree. It had to have been at least 10in including its tail. Seeing this iguana was so amazing because it was the one reptile that I wanted to see the most and it’s really cute. We all took fun pictures by it too.

After collecting all the data, we spent a large chunk of time working on our poster to present our data, and my overpacking came in handy because I got to use my highlighters and pens to draw the graphs.

 

When we finished dinner, we got geared up for our first night hike and set off into the forest. It was a very different experience than just hiking during the day, mostly because bugs are flying directly in your face the whole time. We found a large stick insect that I let crawl on my arm and felt like Newt from Fantastic Beasts holding BowtruckleJ. Pedro was with us and was able to point out a Red Backed Coffee Snake, and once we got to the frog pond we also found mud turtles and (I think) a smooth anole. We also saw a Yucatan Banded Gecko, which was super cool because it looked exactly like the one from my ID card.

 

The Cave!

After birding today, Scott and Adrienne asked us to pee in 2 vials so we all started chugging our waters for some unknown experiment. We later were told we were going to be using them as pitfall traps for insects to test nitrogen differences in the rainforest canopy versus the rainforest floor. Urine contains nitrogen so we were able to use it to design the experiment.

 

While setting up the pitfall traps we came across a Tailless Whip spider, which actually is the spider Mad Eye Moody uses in the 4th Harry Potter movie (Hp reference!!). Also, Sam spotted a coral snake under a rotting log in the middle of the trail. I was only able to catch a look of the very end of it as it slithered away, but I think it may have been the Central American Coral Snake, and the most venomous snake in this rainforest.

After lunch, we suited up to go explore the Las Cuevas cave, aka: The Caves Cave. Pedro was our guide through the muddy and usually slippery cave. He explained to us the difference between stalactites that were “alive” and still growing versus “dead”. If someone touched a stalactite that was still growing it would stop, so tried to avoid accidentally hitting one with our hard hat.

Once we reached further into the cave and couldn’t see the light from the entrance anymore we saw our first bats hanging from the ceiling of the cave, and as we moved further we saw at least twenty baby bats hanging from one stalactite and then they began to peel off and fly to a higher and more hidden spot. I actually think that bats are adorable and I was super excited to be able to see so many of them. A few of us went with Pedro to a smaller cave, and we had to crawl through a bunch of bat guano and mud to get there, but on the way, we saw a white crab which had died but was still cool to see.

 

Later in the day during presentations, I saw a gecko on a post in the restroom that was brown and had 2 white stripes and then a grey gecko later near a light that looked spiny and had a thick tail but crawled under the wood before I had a chance to get a good look.

 

Camera Trap Day

I started the day waking up at 5 in the morning to go birding. It wasn’t as hard to wake up as I thought it would be and I’m glad I did because seeing some of these birds in the morning with the sun coming up is so cool. I definitely want to look more into birding and learning about different types of birds and bird calls once we get back.

 

The main project today was coming up with a question about animals that we could access with the camera traps. We had a long discussion about questions that we had about the Chiquibul forest and mammals found in it and came to the final question: How does the presence of human trails affect mammal abundance, richness, and diversity? Then we set out to put out our camera traps.

While we were at an off-trail site setting up camera traps, Adrienne started yelling about the “mother of all leaf-cutter anthills” and we all hurried to see the giant ant pile which ended up being about 20ft in diameter. Suddenly, someone screamed and we turned around to see a boa constrictor in front of the ant hill. It was about 5ft and seemed threatened because it was pulling back its head and following us when there were sounds or movement. I thought I would have been terrified, but it was actually really cool to see a member of my taxon group that I never would have thought we would see.

After lunch, we finished putting up the last of the camera traps and found some really interesting beetles that no one could identify. Once we got back, I quickly took a cold shower which was a nice way to cool off, and then we heard an amazing lecture from Raphael Montenero, who runs the FCD (Friends for Conservation and Development), who spoke about the Chiquibul forest and how the territorial disputes with Guatemala might cause the forest to be lost. Hearing Raphael speak about his love for the rainforest and passion for saving it and helping Belize was extremely eye-opening.

 

Waterfalls and Mayan Cities

 

We woke up early and left Crystal Paradise to begin our journey to Caracol. We made a stop at the Rio On Pools on the way and were surprised with beautiful waterfalls and pools of fresh water. Swimming in the pools was such an amazing experience, but after about an hour I heard Veronica shouting about leeches. I promptly jumped out of the water onto a rock and proceeded to check myself to make sure there wasn’t any on me, thankfully there wasn’t any.

Once we left the beautiful Rio On Pools, we headed towards Caracol to see an ancient Mayan city. Our tour guide Leo gave us a brief history of the Mayans of Caracol and then led us to some of the monuments and structures. Climbing up the steep steps of one of the monuments and being able to see to treetops of Guatemala in the distance was a breathtaking view. While at Caracol, I also spotted a brown anole on the side of one of the Mayan structures and later on the tour Scott was able to grab another brown anole so we could see it up close.

We then piled back into the van and continued the drive to Las Cuevas research station. I slept a good chunk of the ride, which was surprising because it was so bumpy. Once arrived at Las Cuevas we met Raphael who runs the station. Then we went on a hike around the station to get better used to the area. On the trail, we saw a Mexican tree leaf frog that we disturbed by trying to get a better look, so it squirted pee on us. Finally, we ended the hike back at the station and saw the beautiful and endangered scarlet macaws, which was absolutely amazing.

So excited for Belize!

I am so excited and a little nervous, about going to Belize tomorrow. I have never been to Belize before but I’ve traveled to tropical places before (Costa Rica & Puerto Rico), and go on a lot of hiking trips with my family. However, I know that this is probably going to be way different than just hiking, and I’m hoping to be able to keep up, but I’m looking forward to what’s in store.

To prepare for this trip I’ve been reading the Natural History of Belize textbook and also researching my taxon groups and presentation topic. Studying my topic of the rainforest canopy has given me a lot of interesting facts about different species in the rainforest.

Over the course of this trip, I’m hoping to learn a bit more about the rainforest and the animals that live there, as well as get more information about what could be future paths for someone in ebio or doing ebio research. I’m also really excited to study at Glover’s Reef and be able to snorkel.

First Day of Belize

Today after rushing around my house grabbing extra things that I had forgotten to pack the night before, we met on campus and took a bus to Hobby Airport to leave for Belize. We landed in Belize City, and Claire’s dad who piloted the flight even gave us a shout out:)

 

Once we got through customs we loaded our luggage onto another bus and started our journey to Las Cuevas. The ride wasn’t too bad, the windows were so tinted I fell asleep a couple times before we reached the ecolodge, Crystal Paradise.

 

We dropped our things off in our rooms and met back in the common area for an amazing dinner. It was really nice to able to have a nice “family” type dinner and get to know everyone a bit better on the way to the lodge. Scott and Adrienne talked a bit more about the plan for tomorrow and what it’s going to be like once we get to Las Cuevas (it’s going to be a lot less cushy than the lodge).

 

After dinner, we walked back to our room and saw two lizards above the door. It was pretty dark, so it was hard to see what type they were, but they looked a lot like typical geckos that sometimes get inside my house at home. I’m looking forward to the excursion tomorrow, I just have to keep reminding myself to put on sunscreen because the goal is to not get burnt during the whole trip (fingers crossed).