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And that’s a wrap

This trip was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Not only did I learn a ton, but I also discovered how fun and rewarding field biology can be.

In visiting both the tropical rainforests and coral reefs of Belize, we were able to experience the two most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. Though at first glance these ecosystems may seem very different, they actually share many characteristics that may contribute to their amazing biodiversity. Both tend to exist in the tropics (as seen by the existence of both in Belize), where stable temperatures, large amounts of sunlight, and/or long evolutionary lineages may contribute to extreme biodiversity. Additionally, both rainforests and coral reefs often exist in nutrient-poor environments, and thus nutrients are cycled through the communities rather efficiently.

The rainforest and coral reefs had incredible structural diversity. In general, the rainforest’s structure was provided mostly by plants, while the reef’s was provided mostly by coral colonies. With so much structural diversity comes the creation of a plethora of niches for species to inhabit, thus allowing for many species to exist in the same ecosystem. In both areas, we saw countless species from many different taxa, some of which seemed similar but in reality had slightly different ecological roles. The species compositions of the rainforest and coral reefs were of course very unique. For example, very few mammal species exist in the Belizean reef environments, but a large diversity of mammals exists in the Chiquibul forest.

One specific similarity that I noticed between the rainforest and reefs was the complexity of their trophic pyramids. For example, on a coral reef, a great barracuda could eat a Nassau grouper, who could eat a bluestriped grunt, who could eat a clam, who may filter feed on plankton. This complexity is very interesting, and as the “expert” on mammals and piscivorous fish, I found it really exciting to be able to observe some top predators in the wild.

The only thing that this course did not provide me with was a sighting of a wild jaguar (which only means I need to go back!). It really was everything I could have hoped for. There was more scientific methodology practice than I had expected, but I think this was very helpful for learning about how science works in the field. My favorite part of EBIO 319 was just being able to explore the rainforest ecosystem, whether through early morning walks or camera trap images. My least favorite part was probably the pre-trip preparation (which was a bit stressful), but I think it all paid off in the end.

Three of the most important things that I learned on this trip:
1) Living in a more sustainable way, by focusing on true needs (like hydrate or die) rather than superfluous wants, is incredibly rewarding and strengthening.
2) Seeing an elusive creature (such as a tayra) in the wild, even if it took hours or days of seeing nothing, is absolutely worth the effort.
3) Even with little sleep, few snacks, no internet, cold showers, limited electricity, and lots of ticks, field work felt rejuvenating!

Overall, a completely unbelizeable experience!
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Day 8: : A Heartfelt Departure from Las Cuevas

Today, I left my forest haven. It’s certainly been a wild ride with my cockroach buddies, witnessing firsthand the cockroach species of Belize. While I didn’t mean the farewell to be sentimental, sometimes nature has its own plans. As I prepared to pack my belongings onto the (very late) bus, I noticed a small cockroach that I had identified previously in my records running across the open clearing towards me. This was strange to me, as it was the middle of the day, and the roach was terribly exposed in the open field. It seemed in a bit of a hurry, so I let it keep on with its business. However, deep inside me, I almost felt a sentimental connection with the roach, bidding it farewell as I drove in the class bus to our new lodgings in preparation for Glover’s Reef.


We drove from Las Cuevas and stopped at the Belize Zoo Lodge after a few hours of finagling with a mixed up bus schedule. At the zoo, we had the opportunity to see up close the mammals that inhabited the forest surrounding the Las Cuevas research station (the Chiquibul forest). The zoo staff showed the various big cats like jaguars, ocelots, and pumas and shared the backstories behind how the zoo obtained these beautiful felines. Many of the creatures from the zoo were rescued by the forestry departments, either from neglectful pet owners or simply weaker individuals from the wild.


While today felt more like a luxury visit, complete with ice cold drinks and gift shops, I needed to remind myself that the tropical field biologist adventure is still ongoing.


Day 3: A Lesson from Nature

Cockroaches come in all different shapes, colors, and abilities, but they usually have a similar body plan that renders them distinguishable from other types of insects. Usually, cockroaches are dull colored, ranging from light brown to black. This probably assists them with camouflaging in the leaf litter, where most of them can be found. However on a few occasions you will find a roach with such a beautiful coloration that many would believe it to be something else. One roach photographed that neither Scott nor I had seen before was found relaxing on a moss covered rock.

It was colored a combination of red, yellow, and black stripes all along the pronotum and abdomen and possibly the most beautiful cockroach as of today. In excitement I attempted to capture the creature in my handy tupper ware container, only to see the creature squeeze through the grip of my hands and fly back into the leaf litter. I was frustrated of course, but later realized that I don’t need to capture these cockroaches in order to document their appearance to some extant. That was a lesson I made sure to not forget during this week at Las Cuevas. However, I wasn’t sure when I would be given another opportunity to find another specimen of the same species.

Luckily, during a short segment of a difficult hike, Dr. Correa found the same species and called for me, the so-called “roach expert.” And just like that, after a few photographs, I managed to capture an image of this awesome specimen. I’m not sure if this type of tropical roach is described anywhere in Belize, or even Central American roach databases! But more research will be needed to verify that. For now, enjoy the picture at the bottom! [I later found it that this roach is a wasp-mimicking cockroach of the genus Pseudophyllodromia].

Besides a few other roach specimens, today was very tiring! We walked about 13.5 miles of uneven terrain, a personal record for me, all to set up camera traps for one of our projects. However at each place, I was starting to have a surreal feeling of living the tropical field biologist life! While the hard science of the course is getting to my head, and my legs, the opportunity to contribute to the growing knowledge of Belize’s forest as well as the chance to observe stunning habitats overshadows the inconvenience of tiredness! Here’s to another lesson filled day tomorrow!

Not all roaches are dull! Some are fabulous
Not all roaches are dull! Some are fabulous. UPDATE (May 29): After some online research, I’ve learned that this roach is of the genus Pseudophyllodromia, a type of wasp-mimicking cockroach! I don’t really see the wasp resemblance but perhaps I should contact at true roach expert!

I am become sweat, destroyer of pants.

Another early morning. Five am birdwatching was fun to listen to as I was dreaming, and I woke up briefly when Adrienne screamed, shocked to find her son’s toy pupa in the secret compartment of her coffee thermos. It’s hard to explain what makes some of the funnier things from this trip so funny. Maybe its the delirium setting in but hey, a good time is a good time. I guess you would have to be here.

You also have to be here to see the Scarlett Macaw (segue!!) which we did after breakfast this morning. I can’t say exactly where we saw them, because revealing their locations to poachers who prowl the internet could endanger the safety of the small population that lives in Belize. I can’t even post images of them. Needless to say, their amazing creatures. Look them up.

Before long, our day of ardor had begun. We set twelve camera traps in multiple areas and along corridors, both manmade and natural, to compare the impact of humans on species richness and community composition. The hike totaled thirteen miles by the end of the day. Two pairs of boxer-briefs and twelve hours later, we finished. Along the way I spotted this little fella.


Taenipoda eques, the Horse Lubber Grasshopper. This one’s a nymph, so no wings yet. These get pretty big though, commonly over four or five inches long. They are poisonous as well, like yesterday’s Abel’s Katydid, the yellow markings tell predators to avoid this morsel. When they are threatened they also release a noxious liquid foam that deters any truly committed attacker. I also can do this when it’s hot out.


Also included is a picture of a Leaf Mimic Katydid. Family: Tettiigoniidae. She looks like a dead leaf! Wow!


P.S. The title is because my pants are destroyed with sweat— somehow that has to do with Oppenheimer creating the atom bomb. Like I said the delirium is setting in and I think it’s time for bed.