Tag Archives: tapir

The Last Day at Las Cuevas

May 20th, 2019


The morning was spent collecting camera traps that we set up day 2. While we were collecting our first traps on the 50 hectare plot trail, a troop of Central American Spider Monkeys were swinging in the trees and were at first trying to intimidate us by asking the trees near us. However, after a while, that initial intimidation turned into curiosity as the younger ones swung to trees right above us to get a closer look. The monkeys displayed great usage of the prehensile tails, with one of the littler ones at one point hanging completely upside down just by its tail. The monkeys also seemed to be communicating each other through quieter calls, and what seemed to be glances at each other.

Spider Monkey

After that, we presented our data that we collected yesterday regarding the Sapodilla tree and leaf toughness. We found that the uncolonized trees’ leaves required more force to puncture but our standard deviation was so large that we couldn’t validate this result. We then went to excavate leaf cutter ants, whom cultivate fungus to eat and survive, and got to see the fungus first hand.


Lastly, I presented my presentation on rainforest mammals in which I talked about 5 species of mammals in the Chiquibul, there are a total of 97, and common characteristics that mammals have. These characteristics being mammary glands, hair, a hinged lower jaw, and three middle bones in the ear. We then looked through the camera trap pictures and we were surprised with a tapir(a mammal)! It was most likely a Baird’s Tapir with its short legs, and barrel shaped body. They are the largest herbivore in Central America and are actually endangered.


Tomorrow we head to ATM Cave and stay the night near the Belize Zoo at the Tropical Education Center.

Day 7: chant with me: ants! ants! ants!

Today’s general agenda: retrieve camera traps —> finish poster for project mutualism —> check out leafcutter ant colonies —> look at camera trap photos 

Here’s a missed opportunity: Ant-Man should really be Ant-woman instead

Did you know that if you see an ant on the ground, you are most likely observing a female worker ant? These ants are infertile ants that do many important tasks to keep the colony up and running. Male ants only appear during mating season. Today was definitely another fruitful day in the ant department.  In the early afternoon, we got to make a poster and present on our project focused on Azteca ants and their mutualistic relationship with Cecropia tree. We found that, on average, uncolonized trees have tougher leaves, meaning they are less likely to be eaten by herbivores. However, we definitely need more data to validate our results.

In the late afternoon, Dr. Solomon, the actual ant-expert, took us around the research station to compare leafcutter ant colonies of different ages.  We were specifically looking at colonies of A. cephalotes. These colonies can have millions of individuals residing in them, and they can be seen as one of the earliest farmers.These ants collect leaves to grow fungus, and the fungus is then fed to ant larvae. When aggravated, these ants can use their sharp mandibles and actually chew through rubber boots. It was a surreal experience getting to observe what I have been researching in preparation for the trip. 

leafcutter ant soldier!

As our grand finale for the rainforest, we all sat in the classroom to look at the photos the camera traps took over the course of the five days we were in Las Cuevas. We were all on the edge of our seats because we just were not sure what to expect. I think we can all agree that the best picture that was taken was of a tapir walking on the path. On that note, I think we are all ready to further explore Belize and head to the coral reefs. 

camera trap viewing party! It’s a tapir!
unidentified male captured by camera trap

As a mid-trip reflection, I am already amazed by how much we have learnt in such short amount of time. Even though I was initially worried about having minimal internet access, I think the disconnection allowed us to be fully immersed in our environment. I 

Brendan Wong

Las Cuevas, Belize




Today was AMAZING. It was basically a reptile-a-palooza, we explored the ATM cave system, and we got to tour the Belize Zoo at night!!!!!

One the road while leaving Las Cuevas we saw a fer-de-lance!!!!! What’s a fer-de-lance? You may know him by one of his many other names: lancehead, terciopelo, X-snake, yellowbeard, tommygoff, or Bothrops asper. He’s known for being large, aggressive, and venomous. Then, on the hike to the cave entrance we saw so many reptiles, like almost as many as we saw this whole past week in the rainforest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures because we weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the cave. We saw three small anoles, a Teiid lizard, a helmeted basilisk, and a striped basilisk. Then after exploring the cave we saw two iguanas while we were eating lunch.

Apparently I’m one of those people who is super carsick but then gets excited about seeing an enormous venomous snake and feels better

The ATM Cave (name is in Maya, but it roughly translates to Cave of the Stone Sepulcher) is known as one of the most amazing caves in the world, for good reason. We got into the cave by swimming in the water that was flowing out of it, and we swam in that river for almost the entire time navigating the cave. It was nice and cool and dark. There were lots of rocks to climb over, narrow crevices to pass through, and a few tiny waterfalls we had to slide down (note: some people were more graceful than others at doing these things…and I was not among those some people). I was having an amazing time just being in the river, but we were also right in the middle of a Maya ritual site full of broken pottery and actual human sacrifices. We saw a nearly complete human skeleton (and also some bats).

I was already having an awesome day from the cave, but then we went to the Belize Zoo at night and everything got better. I GOT TO HOLD A BOA CONSTRICTOR. Remember like a week ago back in Houston when I said I wanted Dr. Solomon to let me hold a snake??? Okay it was in a zoo but still. AND I GOT TO PET A TAPIR WHILE FEEDING HIM A BANANA. The best way I could possibly convey how epic this zoo tour was is by saying that we got to see a jaguar that was trained to do somersaults, and yet I decided other aspects of the tour were more exciting and deserved to be written in all caps.

This is Balboa the Boa Constrictor and he is absolutely precious

Honestly, BEST. DAY. EVER.


21/05/19 Close Encounters of the Animal kind

Bye Las Cuevas Research Station! Thank you for your hospitality—I will miss you and the food dearly!

Class imitating our favorite animals—mine is a butterfly, not an owl.

We took the morning and afternoon to explore the ATM (Another Tourist Missing) cave, where we were able to see the remains of human Mayan sacrifices, Mayan pottery, and stunning rock formations while swimming with fish in the caves. To reach the cave, we crossed three rivers/streams in gear. The entrance to the cave was a pool which we also had to swim through. Water within the cave was cool and refreshing in contrast to the heat outside. The cave constricted at certain points, and we were forced to crouch or turn sideways. We also climbed rock formations to reach certain chambers. Throughout the tour, the guide told us about the history of the caves and the Mayan culture associated with the caves. Mayans sacrificed blood (from the Mayan king) and—in times of desperation—human males of all ages in a bid to ensure rain and good harvest. I participated in the blood-letting ritual when I scraped my shin on a rock. If it rains tomorrow, that means that the Mayan gods must enjoy my blood. The tour of the cave took in total about 4 hours, and, by the time we were out, I was famished.

We drove another hour and a half to the Tropical Education Center (where we are staying the night), then had a nighttime tour of the Belize Zoo.

Some cool things that I observed/experienced during the tour:

-was ‘hugged’ by a boa constrictor

-fed and pet a tapir

-stood less than two feet away from a jaguar and a puma

– pet a kinkajou


Me holding a boa constrictor

Today was full of amazing experiences and I am excited for tomorrow—the reef!

20/05/19 Goodbye Las Cuevas!

Today is sadly our last day in the rainforest, but I am excited for the reef!

This morning the class again made the strenuous 8-mile journey down the trail along the right side of the 50-hectare plot, then the Monkey Tail Trail. We retrieved the 7 camera traps that we had set up along that path on our first day in the rainforest.  The class completed the whole trek before lunch while on the first day we took the whole morning (then lunch) and part of the afternoon. We definitely hiked at a faster pace, which made the journey a little harder. Along the Monkey Tail Trail, the class hiked faster in part because we did not want to give the ticks (hidden in the tall brush) the time to fall onto us and suck our blood.

I observed 3 blue morphos, but felt less compelled to catch them since my task had already been completed. I am at peace now. Out of the 3 blue morphos, 2 were spotted together and 1 alone. It seems strange to me that we have observed the blue morphos in pairs (At least 3 times over the course of our time in the rainforest) as they are supposedly solitary creatures. Either way, I appreciate every opportunity I get to see these iconic rainforest beauties.

That afternoon, the class went out to observe leafcutter ant/fungus obligate mutualism firsthand. First, Scott tried to excavate a younger nest in the clearing and find the fungus chamber, but was unsuccessful. Then, we found a HUMONGOUS ant colony along the Monkey Tail Trail—so large that it was almost the equivalent of a small hill that the entire class could stand upon. Scott managed to find the fungus chamber fairly quickly and grabbed a portion of the fungus for us to examine up close. Soldier ants came pouring out (as to be expected), and they were huge and aggressive. Amanda was bitten by one of these soldier ants and, in the process, it tore a small chunk out of her pants. Scott said that, given enough time, these ants could chew through our rubber boots. I am not going to test this claim out.


Excavation of small leafcutter ant colony

The class ended the night with lectures on the geographical and biogeographic history of Central American and the Caribbean and mammals. After the lectures came the exciting part—looking through camera trap pictures. In total, we captured 2 curssows, 2 unknown birds, 1 possum, 1 skunk, 1 tapir!, and 1 unknown earred animal. The camera that I adopted (its name is Rice 2) caught  a picture of a male curssow and a stunning picture of a tapir (I am so proud!). The picture is so clear that you can see the enormous size of its whole body as it walks along the trail. Probably the best photo of the lot! Another interesting capture was a photo of an unknown earred animal. The animal had gotten too close to the camera, and the flash saturated the facial features of the animal, but we were able to distinguish the shape of the ears and some fur, leading us to believe that the animal was a puma. It is frustrating that we cannot confirm this. Either way, a great and successful ending to an exciting week full of new experiences. Thank you Las Cuevas Research Station!

Tapir caught on Rice 2 camera trap!

Day 8: Our Mini Weekend

Blog Post #8

Day 8: Our Mini Weekend

Written May 23rd at 7:06 am


Yesterday (May 22nd) was a super start to our mini weekend. We spent it in transition from Turf to Surf, and did a few fun things along the way. No amphibians (or sponges) were spotted today because we were mostly in the cave or in the sun–two environments where neither of those are found.

After a bittersweet goodbye to Las Cuevas and the staff, we hopped on a plane and headed east for 3 hours. Then we reached the ATM Cave–its English translation is “The Cave of the Stone Tomb.” There was a 45 minute swim/wade in to the cave then we climbed barefoot.

The most interesting thing we saw was a nearly intact skeleton of a 16-18 year old–the namesake for the cave. Likely, this person was a human sacrifice for when the Maya civilization was in trouble, and they were desperate to please their gods.

Then we made our way to the Tropical Education Center, our home for the night. They put us in the adorable forest cabanas and fed us a lovely meal.

That night, we got the opportunity to get a night tour of The Belize Zoo! Of course, I LOVED it. There were so many species and wonderful nocturnal life. The highlight for me: Meeting Indy the Tapir.

We fed him carrots and watched his little nose trunk. He was SO CUTE!!!! What a great end to our night.

Day 7: In Which I Do Not Catch a Blue Morpho

Our last sunset from Las Cuevas

Our last day in the Chiquibul Forest started with a 5 am hike over some extremely steep paths that were still wet from yesterday’s rain. The leaves, tree roots, and mossy rocks were so slick, and I took two nasty spills – I landed on a tree root with my left butt cheek. Despite my searing leg muscles and the blossoming bruises on my butt, the view from the top of Bird Tower was worth the strenuous uphill hike. The sun was still low in the sky, and the forest still seemed to be waking up. Mist rolled in across lush montane forests as far as the eye could see. It was  breathtaking – both literally and figuratively.

View from the top of Bird Tower.

After breakfast, we set out for another long trek to retrieve our camera traps that we set on our first day at Las Cuevas. The hike was long, but the forest here is so inherently beautiful that I didn’t mind the sweat, sore muscles, and countless bug bites. I caught this strange goldenrod-colored butterfly that was bobbing along San Pastor road:

As per usual, every single blue morpho butterfly that we saw flew out of my reach. I’m very, very sad that I haven’t managed to catch Belize’s most iconic butterfly on this trip, but I guess it just means that I have to come back someday to finish my mission!

In the afternoon, we dug up a couple of leaf cutter nests to examine them from the inside. Scott, our resident ant expert, located the queen of a smallish nest for us, as well as the ants’ fungus garden in which they grow their food. The excavation was great exercise, but the ants that we uncovered were definitely not happy with us.

I got bitten by a mosquito right in the middle of my forehead as I was excavating the nest. Here’s Elena helping me put Cortisone on the largest bump in the history of ever.

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for – the checking of the camera traps. I don’t think any of us expected to actually find anything. Maybe a peccary or two if we were lucky. See, as loud, clunky humans that make huge amounts of noise as we travel along the trails, any mammals in the area were aware of our presence before we could even come close to spotting them. By this point in the trip, spotting large mammals in the Chiquibul seemed equivalent to seeing a unicorn.


In the very first trap! A tapir! And a magnificent jaguar, in perfect profile! Right there in the first trap, we captured two of the mammals that we most wanted to see. It only got better and better as we opened the rest of the traps. Of course, not all yielded anything, but most captured at least one or two animals. We saw so many peccaries – nine total.

We also saw a few curassows, two pumas, a coatimundi (kind of like a mix between a raccoon and a red panda), a coral snake, and a 9-banded armadillo. It was truly wild. When the first jaguar appeared on screen, all of us started screaming our heads off – spotting a jaguar is like the mother of all animal sightings in the Chiquibul.

But that wasn’t all! We saw not one, but TWO jaguars in our traps. Practically unheard of!! The big cats were of stocky, muscular build, and had intricate rosette patterning on their hide. I’m still in awe of them and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at these pictures.

What a satisfying end to our stay at Las Cuevas and the Chiquibul Forest. It’s been an amazing, eye-opening experience. I can truly say that I’ve fallen in love with this place – chiggers, ticks, and all. I’m sad to leave tomorrow morning, but look forward to experiencing the reef.

Indie, the cutest tapir

Daily Blog Entry 8:

We woke up for a 5 o’clock breakfast today to leave Las Cuevas. I was glad to leave the mites, chiggers, and the constant fear of insects falling on me. However, I was sad to leave the place where I got to become more comfortable with insects, my fellow TFBs, and lowering my standards of hygiene. I fell asleep until we stopped by a general store at Santa Elena before we headed to the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. We got there and left the vans at around 10 o’clock. We swam across a river, walked across another river, and had a 17-ish minute walk to finally reach the cave.

The inside of the cave was incredible. We saw multiple ceramic pieces partially swallowed by the ground, and I couldn’t believe that the artifacts were not harmed by looters or removed by archeologists. The most interesting find were the human sacrifice remains, including the near-intact skeleton at the very end of the cave. The other remain had a very neat skull where I could visibly see the slanted forehead and the remaining tooth.

After we got out of the cave and had lunch, I had a bit of a mishap, but it was all good once I got into the van. We were in the van for about an hour and a half, so I bolted out of the van as soon as we got to the Tropical Educaiton Center (TEC) to go pee. I ran around the TEC trying to figure out where the bathroom is when I saw two different agoutis. That was pretty interesting.

Once we finished eating dinner, we rode on the back of the pickup truck to go to the Belizean zoo. I got a boa constrictor on my neck, and her name is Queen Green. (I am scared of Queen Green) I think the most surprising things were how small Central American jaguars are, how funky the ocelots sound, how strange the gibnut looks, and HOW CUTE TAPIRS ARE. I was ecstatic that I got to pet Indie the Tapir. We could tell that he was very excited by the food we were giving him. I’m just happy that I got to pet them.

Ants. We’re not in Las Cuevas but we’re still not in Glovers, so here’s my taxon mojo:
At the end of the tour of the zoo, we saw a lot of small winged insects on the floor. Scott picked up one of the insects and it was a queen fire ant. The other insects were on their mating swarm as well.

Back to Land :( (Day 8)

Today was another travelling day. We left Glover’s in the morning to head back to the mainland. We did one last snorkel on the way back through the mangroves at Twin Caye. There, we saw a manatee, a yellow seahorse, a magnificent feather duster worm, and a lot of upside down jellyfish. I also saw some Caulerpa algae, and many of the algae species I’d seen around the patch reefs.

A seahorse found in the mangroves. His coloration makes him look a lot like a dead mangrove leaf!

The other place we stopped on the way back was Carrie Bow Caye, the Smithsonian Research Center. It was cool to meet the volunteer station manager, Clive, and hear about the research going on there.

Once we got back to the mainland, we went back to the Tropical Education Center where we are staying again tonight. We spent the evening at the Belize Zoo and got an amazing tour. We saw five big cats, including a jaguar that did somersaults for us. We also fed a tapir and two crocodiles.

The Tapir we fed at the zoo.

The last thing we did tonight was talk with Lucrecia, who is in Belize to do cat research and took EBIO 319 last year. It was good to see her because we ran cross country together in the fall but she spent the spring semester in Tanzania, and it sounds like she has been doing some really cool stuff.

Tomorrow we are going to a cave. I’m sure it is going to be awesome, but I’m still a little sad that we aren’t at the reef anymore.

(Nakian) May 23: Tapir x Ocelot x Bye LCRS

Today is the last activity day at Las Cuevas Research Station. We finally retrieved the camera traps we set on the first day. I was not expecting much because I have heard how cautious wildlife are especially near human presence. But what are the odds, the cameras caught a curassow, a tapir, an ocelot, and a weasel looking animal that was hard to identify. The last camera trap was a blast with a big cat species we all hoped to see. The ocelot’s beautiful pattern was indeed mesmerizing.
The past several days at the LCRS I must say was extraordinary. The morning choir of the distant and closely birds, nocturne of the night insects, occasional cries of the howler monkeys, bustling processions of Leaf-cutter and army ants’ parade, and shimmer of the neighboring planet beside the tropical moon. Having the first-hand experience of the field biology on the crisp bed of fallen tree litters, rejoicing with the unexpected encounter with amazing species, I have never been so one with the nature before.
I still am not sure what my passion in the ecological field will be in detail. But I learned in LCRS that studying to approach ecological conservation of this biodiversity haven in the light of social, political, cultural, and economic perspective that I aspire to take could be a valid path, even one that could be healthy for me. I do not regret my decision to spend my time here.

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