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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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Last day in the Chiquibul

We finished out the last day with another 13 mile hike to pick up all our camera traps. It took us about half the time it did on Thursday and I wasn’t nearly as tired. It’s amazing what your body can adjust to after just a few days. Even though I’m running on less sleep I feel great because of all the exercise and activity.

Checking the photos from camera traps was more exciting than you could possibly imagine. Most of it was nothing but when something popped up on screen we were elated. One of our cameras got a picture of a Tapir (!!!!) and another of an Ocelot (!!!!). Even though we only had a little taste of it I think I am starting to understand how difficult field work can be, but also how rewarding. I will miss the rainforest and all of its colors and scents and noises.

Even though we didn’t see many amphibians out here I didn’t feel too disappointed or bored because it meant I got to bounce around and look at everyone else’s taxonomic groups. The end of the dry season can be tough for herpetology but getting to watch birds, ants, mammals (I saw an agouti this morning), reptiles, and insects made up for it. Not to mention the plants! The diversity was incredible and I saw many more organisms than I was expecting.

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Sophia Streeter


Happy birthday Mom! You too Elena, sorry I missed them.

In Which We Go Back in Time

Today we collected our camera traps, which gave us a chance to do the hike from the first day all over again. 13 miles is still a long way to hike in rainboots, long pants, and long sleeve shirts while the sun is hot and the air is muggy as heck. It was definitely easier than the first day though.

On the hike I learned some important things, like the power of duct tape and the necessity of tiny electrolyte packets you can put in your water. My feet are definitely hot and swollen today, but my blisters are not nearly as bad thanks to duct tape.

I saw one cool spider on the hike as well as a bunch of others scurrying underfoot. The cool spider I saw was sitting with its two back legs splayed and its front legs held together so they looked like one. It was sitting on the underside of a leaf with its red body and black and white legs standing out against the green background.

We analyzed the camera traps at night and saw a tapir in a mud wallow, a great currasow on a road, and an ocelot and an agouti in a leaf cutter ant nest clearing off the trail. Younger Clare would have flipped at seeing a camera trap she helped set up capture an ocelot. Honestly though, present-day Clare probably flipped more. I jumped up and down and squeaked for the tapir and the ocelot.

Adios, Las Cuevas

TFBs on the Monkey Tail Trail of the Chiquibul Forest.

Our final day at Las Cuevas began bright and early as always; we were out the door for our morning hike by 8am. We retraced our steps over 13 miles to collect our camera traps in record time, much more mentally prepared for the trail this time around. Though our picture count was low, we remained optimistic that our cameras had caught some animals (besides us). We also managed to spot what was most likely a Middle American ameiva (Ameiva festiva). I had never come across this lizard species before but was able to identify it using a field guide by its coloration. The lizard was about 12 cm long (which made it too long for an anole) and was a dark brown with white lines on its side broken into spots.

We had to wait until nightfall for the day’s real excitement: our camera trap analysis. The prospects seemed poor as we sifted through endless photos of ourselves or even of leaves flapping in the wind. But our first big find was a giant curassow, casually strolling past our camera in the middle of the road. Soon after, we discovered a picture of a Baird’s tapir, and the group cheered ecstatically at our first mammal sighting. Suspense rose as we tested the final camera; our expectations were low since it was placed in the center of a giant leaf-cutter ant nest. But to our surprise, the very last camera first held a photo of an indistinct rodent, which we guessed was an agouti. As we flipped through the final photos, the characteristic markings of a jungle cat suddenly appeared on the screen. Our final sighting was of an ocelot, one of the elusive large cat species of the Chiquibul.

Though our findings may have been few and far between, just the fact that we were able to capture such diverse species in four short days is incredible. And with that, a week in the Belizean rainforest is already done. Next stop: Glover’s Reef.