Tag Archives: Stephanie Zhao

Pitfall Trap Analysis + Night Hike

Happy Sunday everyone! Today’s schedule was a bit different than those of our other days here. The morning began with a short hike along the Maya trail to pick up the pitfall traps that we had set up yesterday and analyzing our data. Specifically, we examined species’ richness and abundance on the forest floor and compared those values to the canopy’s. We also investigated whether there would be greater species’ richness and abundance in the urine vials relative to the water vials in the canopy as opposed to the vials in the forest floor. Interestingly, we found that both richness and abundance were higher in the forest floor than in the canopy and that the abundance in urine was greater than in water in both locations.

A female pinching beetle (Lucanus capreolus) from one of our pitfall traps
A female pinching beetle (Lucanus capreolus) from one of our pitfall traps

Many beetle specimens were collected today (10 species and 18 specimens to be exact) from our pitfall traps! A few of the most interesting were a fairly large beetle of about 3.5 cm long with a shiny black body rimmed with red that I believe may be a female pinching beetle (Lucanus capreolus), a very small slightly shimmery dark brown or olive green color leaf beetle (perhaps either a Dogbane Beetle with scientific name Chrysochus auratus or a type of flea beetle), and a black darkling beetle with a segmented body (species possibly Alobates pennysylvanicus).

Some of the beetle specimens brought to me from our pitfall trap experiment!
Some of the beetle specimens brought to me from our pitfall trap experiment

As you can see, today was a fairly light day in terms of physical activity, but I am sure we will make up for it with the night hike tonight and especially with collecting all of the camera traps tomorrow. I am excited to see what animals are in the images we’ve captured (hopefully a picture of a jaguar?!?)! Thanks for reading! 🙂

A giant spider that we found along the path
A giant spider that we found along the path during our night hike

Update: We got to hear from a Ph.D. student named Lauren tonight! She’s currently a little more than halfway through an eight month study here and is using 52 pairs of camera traps to conduct research on carnivorous forest creatures. Also, the night hike along the Maya trail was super cool! We saw tarantulas and other spiders the size of our palms, a cockroach the size of a large mouse, and a coral snake among many other species!

And I must end this post with a picture of a cool beetle from the night hike :)
And I must end this post with a picture of a cool beetle from the night hike 🙂

Beetles, Beetles Everywhere + Pitfall Traps + Cave Explorations

Hi everyone! First things first, today was a great day for beetle spotting! We went on a small hike before lunch down the Monkey Tail Trail and found some great beetles. The first was a patent leather beetle (of the species Odontotaenius disjunctus) of about 3.5 cm long among the leaf litter, the second was a small chestnut brown colored scarab beetle (identified by its segmented antennae and fairly round body among other things) of the family Scarabaeidae. We also found a 3 cm long grub of a beetle on a log on the side of the Monkey Tail Trail and an empty black elytra abandoned in the middle of the trail. The elytra was a little difficult to identify, but it was about 3.5 cm long, had one flat edge and gently curved to the middle. Perhaps it could have come from something similar to a flower beetle or another firefly (family Lampyridae).

A scarab beetle, family Scarabaeidae

On our second trek along the Maya trail we also found a black beetle with reddish spots on its elytra about 1 cm that could possibly be of the genus Mycetina. Last, but definitely not least, I just identified another black ground beetle that appeared to be of the same species as yesterday’s (family Carabidae) crawling along the floor below my chair.

A look back at the cave entrance before we ventured further into the dark zones
A look back at the cave entrance before we ventured further into the twilight and dark zones

Other exciting things we did today was explore the Las Cuevas Cave. We went down into the different zones of the cave (entrance zone, twilight zone, and dark zone) and explored the creatures and geological structures of the cave. Some interesting things we observed there were a peccary skeleton, some wrinkle-nosed bats, and pieces of ancient Mayan pottery. Afterward we set up some pitfall traps of urine and water along the Maya trail to investigate if canopy dwelling species (particularly arthropods) were more limited to nitrogen than forest floor dwelling species and looked at what might have been some Mayan plazas. We then climbed to the top of what appears to be a hill but is suspected to be an ancient Mayan ceremonial temple. That’s all for now everybody! Thanks for reading! 🙂

The pecory skeleton inside the cave
The pecory skeleton inside the cave

Ants All Day + Cecropia Trees + Nest Excavation

Hello everyone! As today’s title implies, today’s activities focused on a few different species of ants. This morning we split into a few different groups and performed experiments to test how Cecropia trees, which usually rely on a symbiosis with Aztec ants to fend off herbivores, survive before they are old enough to provide for ants. My group in particular focused on if there is a physical difference between the young and old Cecropia trees that resulted in this deterrence. One way we did this was using a penetrometer to test the toughness of the leaves.

During the day, we also found a trail of Army ants along the road and the cone-shaped holes of the ant lion under the classroom building. In the afternoon, we excavated three leaf-cutter ant nests to find the fungi that they cultivate. It was really cool to see all of the different castes of these ants as they swarmed out of the nests and not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

A peek into the leaf-cutter ants' fungi garden
A peek into the leaf-cutter ants’ fungi garden

In terms of beetle spottings, one small narrow bodied black beetle (I believe it was of a similar species to the Brentus anchorago beetle based on its body shape, similar abdomen and thorax size, and very narrow snout) was found near the 10 year ant nest. There was also a 2-3 cm black and brown beetle (I think it might also have been a ground beetle, similar to the Lebia genus) with a narrow body in the classroom. A tiny black beetle of around 1 cm was also found on a leaf of a small tree around a juvenile Cecropia tree. This beetle I think was of the Cysteodemus genus based on its highly rounded abdomen covered with punctate marks. There were also more fireflies of the same species as yesterday (Ellychnia within the Lampyridae family). Finally, there was a black ground beetle (family Carabidae, species similar to Calosoma calidum or a species in the genus Harpalus) of about 4 cm crawling around in the girls’ bathroom sink late tonight. Thanks for reading everyone! 🙂

A black ground beetle, family Carabidae


Camera Traps Abound + >16,700 Steps Before Lunch

Hello hello everyone! Before I get into any of the day’s activities, I have some very exciting news! Last night, I had two taxa sightings! The first was a black ground beetle (Pterostichus melanarius) in the family Carabidae spotted in the classroom in the building next to ours as it crawled along the walls. The second was a flat faced longhorn beetle (Callipogon barbatus) and was actually in one of my classmate’s hair.

A banded netwinged beetle (Calopteron discrepans)

Today I was also able to identify three different beetle species. There was another ground beetle, this time of a dark coppery almost black color, that was crawling on the ground near the base of the Bird Tower and a banded netwinged beetle (Calopteron discrepans) near the base of a large fallen tree as well as many fireflies (we captured one and I believe it was the species Ellychnia corrusca within the Lampyridae family based on the stripes on its back and lack of distinct median ridge) flickering about during our hike through the rainforest.

A firefly (Ellychnia)
A firefly (Ellychnia corrusca)

Speaking of which, today we went out into the Chiquibul Forest for the first time and what an experience that was! Over 31,400 steps taken, over 13 miles covered, over 2800 calories burned, and over 120 flights of stairs later, we had set up 12 camera traps to take pictures of the species that roam the area for the next five days. Now I am going to head to bed and get some rest for tomorrow’s activities. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Made it to the top of the Bird Tower!
Made it to the top of the Bird Tower!

Caracol City Exploration + (Another Bumpy) Journey to Las Cuevas

Hi everyone! I’m checking in today from the porch of Las Cuevas research station after another busy and fun day. It began with an early morning open air breakfast at 6 am filled with cool bird sightings (we saw a blue-crowned motmot and a brown jay among other things) followed by travels to Caracol and an exploration of the ruins of the Mayan city.

It was really neat to climb to the top of the different ruins and learn a lot about the history of the area from our awesome tour guide. He told us about balsa bark and how it cleanses blood, about how the Mayans climbed up the ruins on their hands and knees to humble themselves before the Gods, and the structure of the old city and how it resembled the spokes of a wheel with the elite living in the capital at the middle of the spoke and the agricultural peasants living around the edges as well as many other topics.

After our picnic lunch, our plans to swim in the waterfalls at Rio On got deterred due to the lack of transmission fluid in the van, so we took a break in the middle of the dirt road and learned about termites as one of the taxa presentations for the day. Eventually we made it here to Las Cuevas research station, where we will be spending the next week. Sitting here sweaty and satisfied with the day’s activities thus far, I have to say I am equally excited for the shower tonight and for the next week ahead! 🙂

A quick note about any taxa sightings before I end today’s post: Other than a small click beetle (family Elateridae) I spied among the dead leaf litter at the base of a large tree in the ruins, observations of my taxa were not prevalent today, but I am sure there will be more to identify during this upcoming week in the rainforest. Species sightings did abound today in other taxa. We saw are a coati (small mammal), a gumbo limbo tree (nicknamed tourist tree because of its red peeling bark), and an anole (a small brown lizard) on the way to Caracol, many lichens, birds, and a philodendra fruit (which we sampled) while in the ruins, and toucans and butterflies on the road to Las Cuevas.

Caracol was beautiful.
We made it to the top!

Travels + First Day at (Crystal) Paradise

Hello from a lovely room at Crystal Paradise (the name of the resort we’re staying at) near San Ignacio, Belize! Today was mainly a day of travel and adaptations, from the lack of running water and food at Houston Hobby airport to the technological difficulties with the projector during lecture time.

Nothing too noteworthy to mention about the plane or car ride, but after landing in Belize and going through customs, we took a van to this resort (stopping at a small grocery store along the way for snacks), had a delicious homemade dinner prepared by the locals, and then listened to presentations. Today’s lecture covered life in the canopy, and the taxa presented were trees and epiphytes.

As for my taxa, no beetles were spotted today, but I am confident that there will soon be plenty of them to see and identify once I have the opportunity to take a closer look at the trees and ground in the rainforest. Suffice it to say, it was a pretty great first day despite all of the adjustments we had to make! I’m looking forward to all the adventures sure to come over the next two weeks here. 🙂

A trail of leaf-cutter ants that had formed a path outside Crystal Paradise
Ready to explore 🙂

The Calm Before the Storm: <24 Hours Until Departure!

Hi everyone! Welcome to my very first blog post (disclaimer: I’ve never written a blog before but I’ll do my best) about my soon-to-be tropical field biology adventures in Belize! I, along with thirteen other students and two professors from Rice University, fly out tomorrow (!!!), and I am both excited and nervous.

Oddly enough, a part of both of those emotions come from not quite knowing what to expect. Though I have been speaking with other students who went on the trip last year to try to prepare myself and gain insight on what might be useful to bring/do, I feel like there is no way to completely know what is going to happen these next couple of weeks.

That aside, most of my excitement stems from being able to explore new ecosystems and learning firsthand about a variety of organisms that live in those ecosystems. I hope to learn a lot about the different aspects of the rainforest and the coral reef and be able to identify some species that live in each of them. On the other hand, I am slightly nervous because some of those organisms are definitely not things I would normally prefer to interact with (i.e. spiders and snakes) and because I have no previous experience conducting research in the tropics.

In an attempt to prepare myself for such an adventure, I have been doing some research on my assigned topic (marine debris!) and taxa (echinoderms and beetles!) to prepare for the presentations we will be giving, but I am sure that the actual experience of finding and identifying these species will be quite the learning experience in itself. I have also purchased all of the required equipment (and lots of other things we may or may not need) and practiced with the snorkel gear. Still, I know that despite any and all preparations I could make, there will undoubtedly be surprises once we arrive and are actually immersed in both the rainforest and coral reef.

For right now, my bags are packed, my presentation PowerPoints are finished, and by the time I make my next post, I will be in Belize amongst the rainforest creatures! See you all on the other side! 🙂


^Everything is clean at the airport on day 1. 🙂