Sunday, July 11, 2010

You could happen upon...

an enormous variety of wildlife here on BCI.  Some have referred to Panama as being "hyperdiverse" because flora (plants) and fauna (animals) from both North America and South America meet here on the isthmus.  There are more species of birds here in Panama than in the US and Canada combined, and more species of plants just in the Canal Zone than all of Europe.  For the first few days, it just looks green, and then as your eye becomes more trained and less overloaded by the newness of it all you begin to notice the incredible differences at every turn in the forest.

While working here on BCI we have planned a few paths to accomplish our goals.  We started an interview project to get to know the scientists who are working and studying here.  Our line of questioning has to do with what got them interested in science to begin with, what their research is about and how it fits into the big ecology picture, and how they conduct their research.  Another project we are working on is to walk a particular trail that has a guide book written for it, re-photograph each of the points of interest and then work to caption each photo with a summary from the guide that is more easily digestible for teachers and students.  We are hoping that will help give people an idea of the diversity here and and a little taste for what it is like to walk through the tropical rainforest here in Panama.  A third vein we are exploring is along the lines of the historical, political, and cultural aspects of the country, which impacts the environment and the people's appreciation for their natural resources.  The fourth aspect we are keeping busy with is visiting some other STRI sites (other than BCI) to get a handle  on how they do public outreach and education.  (see entry on Culebra).  Dana and I hope that our work here will facilitate teaching our students back at Fratney, offering professional development to our immediate colleagues, and opens the doors to some continuing work...

So with that, living on the island offers opportunities to 'come across' some interesting things like iguanas outside of your room, rhinoceros beetles on patio outside of the lab, basilisk lizards (JC lizards) running away from us as we scramble for the camera, frogs calling to each other from the moats built around the greenhouses to keep out the ants, golden orb weaver spiders hoping to capture something tasty in their amazingly strong (and beautiful when they are not stuck to your face and arms) webs, and enormous trees that remind you of perspective.  Check out more in the album below...

some big, some small


  1. Dear Ms Sarah and Ms Thome,
    How does the Ceiba tree grow so big? Would the rhinoceros beetle be as big as my hand?

  2. Dear Ms Sarah and Ms Thome,
    Who took the pictures? Because whoever did, they are an awesome photographer!
    Alanna (the 4th grader)

  3. Hi Ms Thome and Ms Sarah,
    How big do you think the Ceiba tree is? How does it feel to be in a forest that big? What if you got lost? what would you do?
    (I'm going into 4th grade!)

  4. Hello everybody!
    That tree must have been really cool! I liked when you showed the iguana. Did it move? How fast? Did it change colors?

  5. What's up?
    Probably a tree! I like monkeys, but my favorite is a spider monkey, not the howler monkey. I don't really like them, because they are loud. Are there any spider monkeys there?

  6. Alanna~
    Ms. Sarah has taken most of the pictures. I have taken a few. Yes, she is an awesome photographer. All of the pictures are of things that we have actually seen!

    Maureen~ The iguanas are really fast if you startle them. If they don't know that you are there, they sit very, very still. We haven't actually seen one change colors. I did see one that was half blue!

    Mick~ Ms. Sarah is a pro with maps. If I get lost, I ask her what to do! And also, you never go into the forest alone!

    Billy~ There are lots of howlers here! And yes, they are very loud! They make noise at dawn, dusk, when they are threatened and before it rains. (Sometimes they are wrong.) There ARE also spider monkeys! We saw a bunch today playing in the trees. We've even seen capuchin monkeys. Although there are monotitis here, we have not seen them yet.

  7. Hi Adele,

    What great questions! First the easy one - yes! The rhinoceros beetle is as big as the palm of your hand. It would feel a little fuzzy.

    As for the Ceiba tree, well part of the reason it is so big is that it has been there for a long time, probably many decades. One of the really cool things about Barro Colorado Island is that it was created when they built a dam at the Chagres River when they dug the Panama Canal. It used to be just a hilltop. It has not been logged for over 100 years. Instead scientists have been researching here. The Ceiba is a special tree that grows straight up to get to the canopy. It also has large buttresses (the trunk - going to roots part) that help hold it up. That Ceiba was also pretty lucky to have a forest gap (after another large tree fell) to grow in where it could get more sunlight!


    I would estimate that the width of the base of the Ceiba tree is 35 feet at its widest, and it would take at least 20 people holding hands to go around it (the circumference). But, that is of course, just my estimate!

    If I were lost in the forest on BCI, I would pick a direction (probably north) and walk in a straight line until I reached the shoreline, and then do my best to follow that around. There was a guy who got lost last summer and had to spend the night in the jungle - he did make it out though! Another good thing to do would be to follow a river downstream until you get to the canal.

    AND lastly, being in a forest so big is amazing and humbling. It makes my everyday worries seem a little less important in the grand scheme of things. Plus, it smells great.

    Keep asking questions!!!

  8. Hi Ms Sarah an Ms Thome,
    I meant also another way with my question about the Ceiba tree, which is how tall is it?

  9. Hi Ms Sarah and Ms Thome,
    I need to ask you a question. Have you climbed up into the canopy of the rainforest?

  10. Hello,
    Are there any animals that are in the horse family that are in the rainforest? Then, what other monkeys are there? We saw some pictures of monotitis online and they are very cute. I hope you see some. Please answer the question that I asked by the leaf cutter movie. Thanks.
    See you later,
    Alanna (the 4th grader)

  11. Hello,
    How long would it take to climb a Ceiba tree? How would you want to climb it? How many degrees is it there usually? (how hot or how cold) Are there any swamps there?
    Adele the 2nd grader

  12. What's up?
    Probably a tree, just like yesterday. So, is there a McDonald's there? Are you staying in a hotel?

  13. Will~
    Yes, the trees are up! They are very tall! Yes, there are lots of McDonald's here! We are NOT staying in a hotel. We are staying in a dormitory. It's like a hotel - just a room and a bathroom but not fancy at all.

    It would take awhile to clime a ceiba tree. They are so tall! Some people here who climb them with a ladder! They attach the ladder to the tree with ropes. They also climb them like you would a rock climbing wall. I'm not sure I would want to climb one. They have lots of animals living on them and lots of other plants, too.

    It is usually about 90 degrees here and very, very humid.

    We have climbed up into the canopy of the forest. There is a neat place, sort of like the Urban Ecology Center but in the rainforest that has a tall tower. You can climb up that tower and see all of the different levels of the forest and then you can climb to the top of the tower and look out OVER the canopy! The tower is THAT tall!

    Great questions!

  14. JONAH,

    There are pictures from our climb into the canopy at the post 'Panama Rainforest Discovery Center". You will see pictures from the forest floor, understory, emergent layer and the canopy. We have gone up in two different towers (both located in Gamboa, but will different forest structre and vantage points). The second one was just yesterday and I am going to work on putting up a few pictures soon.

    I agree with Dana - I, personally, would probably not be interested in climbing the Ceiba. Many animals make that tree their home, including, but not limited to, bats, snakes, ants, beetles, frogs, spiders, termites, various lianas and ephiphytes. Also, the bark of the tree is pretty bumpy and has big thorns in some places, kind of like roses.


    There are swamp-like habitats here. The areas change with the seasons. Here in Panama there are two seasons which are described by the precipitation rather than the temperature like in Milwaukee. So here they talk about the rainy season and the dry season. It is always hot. In the rainy season there are low parts of the land that fill with water, or places where the levels of the rivers and lakes rise. There are also Mangrove habitats along the coast by the sea (check out the post about Galeta) which are a type of wetland ecosystem.

    In addition to the naturally occurring wetlands, there are parts near the canal that are being artificially filled with muddy water spoils from dredging (digging out more soil) in the canal to make it wider. I will work on putting up some pictures of that, since it is happening between the island (where we are living) and Gamboa (the town on the mainland that we take the boat to when we have to go into Panama City).


    There are not animals in the horse family (Equidae) on the island, however, there are tapirs (which we have not seen). Tapirs are in the same order (order Perissodactyla) as horses. Which means (sort of) that they are on the same tree, but different branches.

    As for the monkeys, there are four types that are living here on BCI. 1. monotitis 2. howler monkeys 3. capuchin (white-faced) 4. spider monkeys. Each group of monkeys has its own personality. Two days ago we came across a group of spider monkeys and watched them play for a while - they hardly stood still and it was impossible to get a decent photo of them!

    Keep wondering!

  15. Dear Sarah and Dana,
    I used to go to zoo camp all the time. After camp, my mom and I would walk around the zoo. Once we went into the monkey house and I had some face paint on. A spider monkey came up and looked right at me. Then he stuffed his face with lettuce, spit it out, and smeared it all over the glass. He followed me wherever I went. We don't know for sure, but we think it was the face paint that made him act that way! We call this story one of our families "national stories".
    Safe travels,
    Alanna the 4th grader