Sleep like a Nighthawk

19 March 2018

Our morning started abruptly as we hear one of our classmates screeching.  We soon found out that a large female Golden Orb Weaver created a beautiful golden web around the corner from the fieldhouse restrooms.  We knew an exciting day was in store for us this Monday.

We started off on the trail with camera traps on our backs to set up along the way.  We wanted to know what the rainforest held while we weren’t looking. Students picked locations which interested them the most, including the waterfall, the bamboo, and even behind our dormitories.  Who knows, maybe we’ll even see a puma? On Thursday, all our questions will be answered when we collect the cameras.

Cathy, our wondrous rainforest leader, threw another scientific question our way, “What sweats?”  She guided us through the process of transpiration, which is when plants lose water as they photosynthesize. Essentially, the plants are sweating, and we wanted to know just how much.  To answer this question, we placed Ziploc bags over leaves connected to the branches in sunny and shady areas. To determine how much transpiration occurs in different species, we tried to find shady and sunny areas on each tree, making sure that two leaves were enclosed per tree.  Again, the answers to our transpiration questions will be answered later this week.

We finally reached the top of the reserve where we began our next study. Throughout the last two days we’ve been in awe of the clearly defined leaf-cutter ant paths. We sat down in groups to formulate a study to answer how much biomass is harvested per year by leaf-cutter ants at Firestone. A fact that a student read about in an ecology field book was that all the worker ants that carried the leaves on their backs were all daughters of the queen ant. We collaboratively configured a study where we dispersed ourselves across the top of the forest to search for leaf-cutter trails to observe. Each group, for ten minutes, used tweezers to physically separate and collect the leaves from the ants. This was harder than we expected! The ants are feisty and did not want to remove themselves from their hard work. We put the biomass in a paper bag and later put them in the oven to dry.

We trotted down the trail, sporadically stopping to appreciate our setting around us. A group of students stopped at the sleepy night hawk by a familiar tree. The bird was cute, and quaint as the day before…eerily so. People began to wonder if the bird was dead. Quickly, those rumors were dispelled. Despite its deadly allure, a student accidentally awoke the bird attempting to take a picture. The bird opened its sleepy eyes, shrugged, and went back to sleep.

After lunch we did more leaf-cutter ant experiments and another study involving the fungi inside leaves. As we made our way back into the forest, Isa heard leaves rustling as they were falling on Theo’s head. She looked up and to Isa’s surprise, she saw a white-faced capuchin monkey looking back at her, one of the most sought-after animal we were hoping to see this week. After all the wonderful experiments we did today, students chose to either take a refreshing dive at the waterfall or go for a fruit run in the local town of Dominical. The rest of the night was filled with laughter and practical jokes from students and wildlife among us. We will sleep like night hawks in our bunks tonight after another incredible jungle adventure here at Firestone.

Sincerely your jungle gals,

Cameron and Isa

 

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One thought on “Sleep like a Nighthawk

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  1. Another amazing day to share with parents…New York City seems boring compared to the wonder of where you are and what you are studying. Let me guess it was Rose who screeched about the spider? I was going to ask about monkeys yesterday and so thrilled that you got to see one yesterday. How big are the leaf-cutter ants? It’s not hard to imagine them fighting to keep their cargo but really interesting that it was hard to take from them. Must be some very strong backs, legs, combo of both? Thanks again for a great update on your adventures and studies. melinda wax

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