Tag Archives: Scarlet Macaws

Day 5: “You’re in” good hands

Today’s general agenda: project P —> presenting project P —> lectures 

Right before we were about to head out to collect our vials in the forest, we had an unforeseen circumstance. This situation was probably one of the most unique situations I have been in- we were stopped by two Scarlet Macaws that were roaming around the research station. We looked at them through the scope once again, and this time I was able to capture their interaction on camera! It’s hard to imagine having your plans delayed because of Scarlet Macaws but that is essentially what happened. 

Morning interruption: Scarlet Macaws!

I was the first to collect my samples and boy was I surprised. My urine sample actually had two beetles in them! We took all our vials back, and, as part of our methodology, I was tasked to examine and group ants that shared similar body structures. Through a microscope, I was actually able to look super closely at the facial and body structure of the ants that we collected. Keegan’s vials contained a Strumigenys ludia, which is this really small ant, roughly 2.5mm, with a yellow coloration. In total, I sorted the ants into 16 different groups or morphospecies. We unfortunately were not able to draw any definitive conclusions for our research because we need more data points to support our question. 

my “powerful” and nitrogen-rich urine sample PC: Dr. Solomon

Prior to this trip, most of us were not too familiar with each other, but I was so impressed how we were able to put together a presentation. I think having to pee in vials definitely brought our whole group closer together as well. Tonight was also the night that I gave my presentation on ants to the class. After learning so much about ants in such a short period of time, I was able to draw connections to my presentation. I am very lucky to have very supportive classmates, and hearing their presentations have been so much fun. Moving forward, I look forward to presenting my other two presentations on sponges and coral reef formation. 

Brendan Wong

Las Cuevas, Belize


Day 14: Spotlight (5/29/2017)

Three days after setting them up, it was time to retrieve our camera traps. Our morning hike was significantly shorter than Friday’s corresponding hike, taking half as long. A combination of a faster walking pace, increased endurance, and fewer stops to study wildlife accounted for this.

Our afternoon hike was not as seamless, as it took approximately the same amount of time as its earlier counterpart. GPS in hand, I was responsible for leading my class to retrieve one of our camera traps. I faced extreme difficulty in leading, spiraling around the site of the trap, unable to pinpoint its location on the device. My frustration was escalated with the knowledge that twelve other people were watching me and following me through the lignified labyrinth.

After dinner, my class and I analyzed the images from the camera traps. Sometimes our subjects, like the ocelots and the great curassow, bolted from the flash of the camera. Other times, our subjects, like the pacas and peccaries, lingered, unfazed by the flash.

Being the subject of viewership can emote a spectrum of feelings and behaviors. It can drive one to linger to flee or to the edge of insanity.

One set of organisms uninhibited by the spotlight is the scarlet macaws. The macaws made regular appearances around the research site. Today, three of them perched on a Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata) directly in my class’ line of vision and later moved to a nearby avocado tree (Persea americana). Both of these trees were in an open clearing. The Spanish cedar was large with a pale gray trunk and was primarily leafless. Very little animal activity occurred on this tree, apart from the macaws’ brief visit. The avocado tree had branches that extended laterally and were dense with medium-sized broad leaves.

Deeply saturated with vibrant red, yellow, and blue, the macaws hardly camouflaged with their surroundings. They also call out in cacophonous caws, attracting attention to themselves. These characteristics render scarlet macaws as easy targets of poachers, who sell these majestic creatures into the pet trade.

Two scarlet macaws socializing

It’s heartbreaking that not only the scarlet macaws but also the ocelots, pacas, and many other animals are subject to poaching – One animal, man, exploiting the beauty or resources of other animals for economic gain. No matter how advanced society becomes, avarice triumphs, for both local poachers and wealthy foreign collectors.

In an undisturbed ecosystem, there is balance. There is predation, parasitism, and competition, but there is balance.

Despite how advanced humans are, there is something we could learn from nature.

Day 12: Social Interactions (5/27/2017)

I wake up in the middle of the night and step outside to something I have never felt before. It is the rainforest night. The air is rich with animal sounds. The sky is pitch black but adorned with countless stars, creating the illusion of a deep indigo-gray. Heartbeats of lighting illuminate the sky, but there is no rain. An unmatched sense of awe comes over me, something I could only feel being alone before nature’s grandeur.

Many hours later, my class and I are in the forest. Tall kapok trees (Ceiba pentandra) along the path form islets of intense shade, and yellow prickly trees (Zanthozylum spp.) sporadically flank the path with yellow-brown adornments. Some of the yellow prickly plants were speckled with tiny crawling ants. These leaf-cutter ants chisel and delivery circular sheets of leafs to their colonies, advanced eusocial communities that mature over time.

We say three ant colonies: one year old, four years old, and ten years old. Similar to an individual organism, the colonies aged, growing larger and more advanced with time. Leaf-cutter ants sustain by cultivating fungus on leaf pieces concealed in underground chambers, and thus colonies must have increasing number of chambers to grow enough food to feed their growing numbers. With time, colonies supported more types of workers and had longer, deeper, and wider tunnels.

A leafcutter ant hard at work

Late in the afternoon, I saw five scarlet macaws (Ara macao) fly across the sky in unison. Although macaws lack a complex social structure like leaf-cutter ants, they still cluster for social interaction and increased protection from predators.

It is interesting how human social interactions relate to those of other organisms. Some people have clearly defined senses of duty, like worker ants chiseling leaves for their colonies. Some exhibit altruism, like a scarlet macaw rearing her chicks. Even if there is no evolutionary relationship between the social interactions of humans and other animals, it is interesting to see the common elements.

However, sometimes it’s preferred to forgo my social role and be alone. The sky is much more powerful that way.