Living Life At A Field Research Station

Sunset, Belize

At the station we have developed a routine of monitoring the forest. We go out for a few hours, survey the habitat and search for any critters. *cough* I mean herpetofauna, pssh… gotta’ sound all sciency and legit. Besides herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians), we record any other sightings we find, such as mammals, birds, coelacanths, ninjas, flying spaghetti monsters, etc. However, the only species we collect are amphibians and reptiles as the transects are primarily designed to target these species. When we find one we take morphometric data, take a Buccal swab for DNA, and lastly we swab the animal with a Q tip to test for the prevalence of chytridiomycosis. In terms of its effect on biodiversity, chytridiomycosis is quite possibly the worst disease in recorded history. First identified in 1998, this potentially lethal skin disease is caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which has been detected on at least 287 species of amphibians from 36 countries. Chytridiomycosis has caused amphibian population declines in Australia, South America, North America, Central America, New Zealand, Europe, and Africa, and is likely responsible for over 100 species extinctions since the 1970’s. The status of chytrid is undetermined in Belize so studies like this are crucial for protecting the biodiversity of amphibian life in the country.

belize rainforest

This Lithobates vaillanti was one of two amphibians we found on Monday’s night survey. After a bit of harassment (aka gathering data), we released it back out into the forest. Sometimes if an animal is found and cannot be identified in the field it is temporarily brought into captivity. For me this method is a last resort, as I believe this is highly stressful for the animals and they lose a night of foraging. Currently there are a few amphibians in the lab and one of them needed to be identified!

Gulf Coast Toad, Belize

When I arrived at the station there was a “mystery toad” that was found in the orchard. The uncertainty was based on the fact that when it was brought into captivity a month or two ago it was freshly metamorphosed and it had considerably dark markings meaning it could be a rare species of toad.

Gulf Coast Toad, Belize

Was it the rare and threatened Forest Toad, Incilius campbelli?

herp lab

After looking at toad cranial diagrams and morphological structures and pouring over photos of Forest Toads, we concluded that this little one is not Incilius campbelli, but it is in fact the ubiquitous Gulf Coast Toad, Incilius valliceps. Still beautiful and still awesome, but not the rare toad we hoped for. So, back out into the forest for you little one!

smilisca

Soon all the amphibians that are captive will be released back out into the wild. Little buddies do best in the forest, not in boxes! There has been a lull in the productivity at TREES because of one set of interns being here in the summer and now a new group has arrived in the fall. Projects are being created and data is beginning to be gathered, so one thing had to be done: The lab needed to get organized!

Nine banded armadillo

There is a great lab/workspace for interns and staff at TREES, but because of the change of interns it got a bit chaotic. So we spent the evening putting things where they belonged and soon order was restored. Things got interesting as we got to the freezer where we keep samples.  We found some weird stuff… like this is a nine-banded armadillo. Sad story: Its mother was shot by a hunter and the baby was taken and given to the directors. I assume to be nice to the little one? Well, unfortunately it died shortly after losing its mother.

naked tailed armadillo

We found another frozen armadillo! This species is a naked-tailed armadillo and they are quite rare in Belize. I believe this one was dug up by the dogs, but it was already dead. What a beautiful animal. It’s a shame to see them in plastic bags stuffed inside of a freezer. The moral of the story? You never know what will be inside of a field station’s freezer… be warned.

So, what’s going on with the time lapse cameras?

belize rainforest

Not much. Unfortunately the snakes have been shy, but I have been getting some really interesting photos of me, the dogs, and grass growing! I have a great spot to set them and soon we will record some interesting snake behavior.

belize rainforest

Two days ago a heavy downpour was caught on camera. It is pretty fascinating to see how long the rain came down and how the plants reacted to the rush of water. Hopefully soon we’ll get some snake action on camera, but for now… their secrets remain a mystery. Tonight we are going back out into the field. More updates soon!

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