Tag Archives: urine

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 6: The Rainforest Lives Up to Its Name

There’s nothing that centers me quite like a torrential downpour can. I’ve always loved the scent of the Earth after it’s been washed clean. I find it calming and restorative. (And I just learned that this scent is actually the odor of soil bacteria!) I’m writing this blog as thunder is rolling through the gray skies and fat raindrops are pelting the ground. The sheer velocity of the rain is blowing a breeze through the screen windows.

I really can’t describe how oddly serene it is to sit on the floor of a non-air conditioned, wooden research station in the middle of the rainforest as the sky empties itself. It’s humbling. All life here depends on this rain, and today marks the first huge rain of the season. That means that the forest is about to come to life, even more than it already has been. We may get to witness the nuptial flight of ants, in which newborn queen ants and males take to the air in a gargantuan swarm to mate. Amphibians will be more active. It’s going to be a different forest now.

Other than enjoy the rain, we also collected our urine samples from a couple of days ago! On the way back from collecting the traps, I found a dying swallowtail butterfly on the side of the road being eaten by ants. It was was an elegant creature even as it was being gnawed on.

Poor little guy 🙁

Nitrogen an extremely important element that is vital to most life forms. It’s a surprisingly scarce element in a place as rich in life as the rainforest is. Because of this, we figured that more arthropods would cluster to our urine, which we used as a nitrogen source, in areas that are more nitrogen-poor. The forest canopy is actually more nitrogen-poor as compared to the forest floor, so we expected more critters to end up in our traps that we placed in the canopy.

After we sorted and counted the species of bugs, insects, and other invertebrates that we discovered in our pitfall traps, we actually ended up finding some pretty cool results. It was a long afternoon of sorting, counting, and identifying dead insects and bugs that were soaked in our own urine, but we ended up getting to present to a new group of college students that arrived at the station today. I think they were slightly grossed out by our poster, titled “To Pee or Not to Pee,” but I think our presentation went over pretty well.

Today was again a quiet day on the Lepidoptera front. I only spotted 4 blue morphos, all of which evaded me. I know that they purposely fly extremely erratically in order to escape from birds, and they’re certainly doing a great job of escaping from me. Alas.

Welcome to Peelize

Daily Blog Entry 6:

Today was a different day than normal because we only went on a hike once, and I don’t think I got any more bug bites today. It feels strange to not walk around drenched in sweat and fighting the urge to scratch every inch of my body.

In the morning while I was bird watching, Jessica and Scott were talking about the ants by the sugar containing by the coffee station. Jessica called it a sugar ant but Scott said they were ghost ants. The ghost ants had a light, beige colouring to it. Some were crawling around the sugar jar while the others were walking in a single line towards the sugar. I have never seen a ghost ant before, so that was a cool find. I had no idea that ants could have such light coloered abdomen.

Another cool thing that had happened was the experience of working on the urine sample project and presenting them to the Southern Mississippi University students. I didn’t know that the gloves that I used to handle the urine samples had a hole in it. While handling Jessica’s urine vile, my hand got wet and I thought it was just my sweat, but as I was washing my gloves I realised that the gloves had a hole in it. Yikes.

When I introduced the urine project to the other students who came to the research centre today, I welcomed them and started my presentation by saying “Welcome to Peelize”. Pun credits to Sami.

We also saw a scorpion under black light, and it turned to a florescent green. It was wild. Sami, our arachnid expert said that it was because of a protein in their exoskeleton.

Attached are the pee insects. photo credits to Jessica

Cave + Urine Experiment + Coral Snake = 4.3 miles.

I woke up to people commanding me to pee inside a tube. “50 mills in two tubes” they said. I beat everyone else’s pee in coloration, which I like to think may be indication I have the highest concentration of nitrogen in my urine. And that’s relevant because, Scott tells us, one of the crucial limiting nutrients of the the canopy in tropical rain forests. After about an hour of questions, discussion, and writing in our field notebooks, we narrowed in on what exactly this urine experiment was going to be.

General question: How does different levels of limiting nutrients, such as nitrogen, affect insect biodiversity.

Context: In nutrient-poor soils of the tropical rainforests, nitrogen is often a limiting factor of life. It is more limiting in the canopy.

Main Hypothesis: The species richness in urine traps of canopy will be higher than water traps of canopy. This differential is greater than the same type of differential found in the forest floor, suggesting that nitrogen is more of a limiting nutrient in the canopy than in the forest floor.

After 2 days, we will collect our traps and count the numbers of the insect species we have captured.
For more on our project, please check a later blog post, which will contain our findings.

Also, today I found a bee hive outside of the dining room, with many yellow-abdomen bees coming out. They had all the similar morphological traits of a bee I had on my taxon identification card, but these had white front feet. I will have to look through more identification literature to see which species this is.

EBIO 319 In front of Las Cuevas Cave

The other half of our daytime was dedicated to something that better resembled the night. Walking in complete darkness during our first cave exploration. Las Cuevas (spanish for ‘the caves’) caves, are unlit karst formations that resulted from acidic water cutting through limestone. After many years, a whole underground network of life has formed, including the fertilizing bats who power the cave ecosystem through their feces and the accidental venturers who decay inside after failing to find a way out. Guano, truly, is a a glorified name for bat shit. You know, when people say, “that’s some crazy bat shit”… Well, it turns out that a whole ecosystem inside of the Las Cuevas caves (and many other caves around wthe world) depend on guano, both those of bats, and those from crickets. Cave millipedes ingest and digest guano and without it would not be able to survive. I would like to say more, but the fact on the matter is that we do not konw enough. Life there has been unidentified to a large degree, comparable to the deep sea or even extraterrestial life.

Currently, many explorers in these caves are people who are daring and willing to take on the complete darkness and the scary unknowns that come with being in caves. We were told by Raphael, leader of the Friends of Conservation and Development (NGO in Belize), that “we know that each time someone goes into the cave they find a new species”. At the very least, someone ought to write a post-apocalyptic novel revolving around life in the caves. One of the last things we did in the caves was to use guano mud to write and draw on the cave wall. Having heard stories about the Mayan demise, it makes me wonder, when it comes to cave art, how much we, as a species, has evolved in leaving behind markers of our existence and what, if any, meaning can be derived from our symbolic representation after our species has either evolved or died out.

Day 6: Welcome to Peelize!

It’s felt like we’ve been here for months, and when new faces showed up at the Research Station, we naturally told them: welcome to Peelize and continued to talk about our urines for the next half-hour.

48 hours since the start of our pee experiment, this morning was the deadline for the end of our experiment. We started on trail at 9 am to pick up the pitfall traps we have placed on the forest floors and in the canopy two days prior. Of the 40 pitfall traps, most had all sorts of organisms in it, mostly arthropods like spiders, beetles, bees, ants, and grasshoppers.


We then sorted individuals into morpho-species, or species distinguished by their morphological characters. For example, I was the ‘expert’ in charge of assigning morpho-species to bees, and found a total of 2 morpho-species of bees that we referred to as Bee A and Bee B. Bee A had a ‘green v-neck’ on the back of its thorax while Bee B did not and was about 3-4 times smaller. At the end of our sorting, we analyzed our data and found that proportionally speaking, there were more arthropods in the nitrogen pitfall traps in the canopy than there were in the forest floor. Our main conclusion was that nitrogen is likely to be more of a limiting nutrient in the canopy than it is in the forest floor.

Afterwards, we presented our data to fellow students that arrived at the station from Mississippi, starting with a warm welcome to Peelize.


Bonus: Caught a brown anole in the forest!


Day 6: The Day the Insects, Rain, and Southern Mississippi Took Over

Blog Post #6

Day 6: The Day the Insects, Rain, and Southern Mississippi Took Over

Written 12:30 pm May 21st


This post was supposed to be written last night (May 20th), but then I took a Benadryl (#thankschiggers) and fell asleep while typing.

Shoutout to Mom and Jems for a happy birthday!


Yesterday, we spent half of the morning collecting our urine and water samples. Veronica netted another Mexican Tree Frog, but this one had varying shades of brown and green to help it camouflage in the leaf litter. When we returnred, we started analyzing our catches. (Check out Day 4 for the background on this project.) So basically, for the next 5 hours, I looked at insects of all different kinds. Standing over a bunch of springtails, flies, etc and helping our experts (other students who looked at those insects closely) was frustrating but rewarding. Also, everything smelled like urine.

While we were analyzing data, a huge thunderstorm cracked through the sky and we had the chance to get rained on in the rainforest! Scott was especially excited because the first big rain of the season triggers social insects’ nuptial (mating) flights. A few hours later, there were termites EVERYWHERE, and their wings shed very easily.

After the thunderstorm, a group of 25 from Southern Mississippi University arrived. The instructor for their course was intrigued with our insect project, and so he asked if we could present to his group on our urine insects. After much convincing, the group unanimously decided to go for it—and along the way we made all the “pee” puns. We were sad that our personal research station was no longer just ours, but we also had a great icebreaker to meet some new people.


Day 4: Pee in Vials; Not in Caves!

Blog Post #4

Day 4: Pee in Vials, Not in Caves!

Written on May 19that 7:13 am


DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

I didn’t write this blog post last night because I was just so, so tired! I fell asleep with the lights on (3rdnight in a row) with lots of people chattering around me.

Anyways, we started the day with birding—we tracked the beautiful scarlet macaw mated pair as they chattered away. During this time, Scott handed us 2 50 mL vials and told us to fill each with 25 mL of urine. It was a very odd way to start the day, but turns out, our second project had to do with nitrogen scarcity and insect diversity in the canopy vs the forest floor.

Once we developed our question, hypotheses, null hypotheses, and methods, we set out to bury and hang out samples along with water vial controls. We picked two different sections of the same trail and placed them roughly 100 ft apart. We’ll collect them after two days to analyze what kinds of bugs fell into our pitfall traps! During our hike, Sam did spot a red-banded coral snake under a log and we got to watch it slither away.

In the afternoon, we had the special opportunity to spelunk into the Las Cuevas Cave, just a mere 100 yards away from our clearing. It was beautiful!! The stalactites and stalagmites glistened, glittered, and shined with all kinds of minerals. Since the cave has technically been closed for archaeological excavation research, it was relatively untouched and purely natural. Biologically speaking, we saw a bunch (literally) of baby bats (see pic), adult bats, crabs, isopods, mites, and an amblypygid (a glorified spider), and a peccary skeleton. Mayan wise, there was a nearly intact bowl, a metate (grinding stone), faces carved into the rock (rudimentary, but very noticeable), bone fragments from human sacrifices, and lots of shattered pieces of pottery. It was really incredible to walk the same walk and see the same sights as the kings or high priests of the Maya culture did when they worshipped in this cave to their rain god Chaac.

In the evening, we had our lectures, and a somewhat rare amphibian sighting! There was a frog in the window, and I caught/held it (see pic). I’m unsure of what kind of frog this was, but when we reach internet, I’ll for sure look it up! (UPDATE: It was a Mexican Tree Frog without its coloring since it was night time)

(Hey Mom and Dad, do I look happy? :D)

Random Drug Test Day (Day 12)

Today we experienced Scott F. Solomon in his true element: digging up leaf-cutter ant colonies. We went to three different-aged colonies to dig in to and see their tunnels and fungal gardens.  With his tiny shovel and stolen spoon, Dr. Solomon pulled out two of the three colonies’ fungi. It was cool to see how complex the colonies can be and how their complexity increased with age (a single queen can keep her colony growing for 25 years!), but being that close to so many ants was a bit unpleasant.

The other main thing we did today was set up an experiment to test abundances of arthropods and nutrient availability on the forest floor versus in the canopy. This involved each of us filling two viles with our pee and two with water and then tying half to trees and burying half in the ground. Tomorrow we are going to examine the arthropods that fell into the viles.

The day after tomorrow is when we are going to have to go and retrieve our camera traps. I’m excited to see the pictures they’ve taken, but I’m not looking forward to the hiking it will involve. Although the hiking yesterday felt fine, the minimal hiking we did today was pretty painful and quite laborious because I cut my foot on a conch at Glover’s a little over a week ago. As a reminder of our time on Middle Caye, four pieces of shell came out of the cut today. I’m hoping that was the last of it (spoiler: it wasn’t) and that it won’t be as painful in the coming days.

We spent not much time in the woods today, so I did not see any Orthoptera. However, I’m hoping we’ll find lots in the viles. The highlight of today was the Scarlet Macaws we saw. Two of them flew over us and then stopped in a tree nearby. It was a hard to get a picture that did them or their colorful plumage justice, but I don’t think it’s something I will ever forget.

Two Scarlet Macaws spotted in the Chiquibul.

Weird Science! (feat. Urine)

Today was a lab day primarily. We collected the traps from an experiment we set up yesterday that involved urine and insect death traps. I know it sounds odd, but it was totally normal for a tropical field biologist. The experimental design we used involved placing two pitfalls on tree trunks, one filled with plain soapy water and one filled with urine (common name: pee-pee). We also placed another pair of traps in the leaf litter to catch floor dwelling insects. All the arthropods (common name: creepy crawlies) that made the unfortunate choice of exploring these traps fell to their deaths.

Our aim was to compare the community composition and the species richness (how many unique species) and abundance (how many individual organisms) of both forest canopy and forest floor species. The urine component was put into our design to collect relevant data on the affinity to nitrogen (found in ammonia in urine) of arthropods in each habitat. Here’s a photo of all the morphospecies I identified!


There are plenty of crickets and their nymphs in this photo, all of which I have not identified to a species level, but rather characterized as unique by certain morphological characters. This process can be difficult because size can vary with age and color/markings with sex. This method of ID is inherently an estimate of true species richness/abundance.


While it may seem esoteric and boring, the data set we compiled after sixteen hours of sampling was truly enlightening. No single way of looking at this data was 100% correct or incorrect, but depending on the statistical methods our group drew radically different conclusions—just another confounding and thought provoking aspect of scientific methods. Complicated, but never boring, the “telling” of the story completely affects the “message” or “moral” of what you are saying. Even in after just under a day of collection we had a TON of information on our hands and it was up to us entirely to make sense of it. Truly exciting.