The World of Wonder: Belize Bites Back

keeping nature well fed, ant by ant, mosquito by mosquito

July 3rd, 2016


This morning I spent a few hours exploring the gorgeous land of Hanna Stables near San Ignacio, Belize, looking for birds, snakes, and whichever other animals chose to grace me with their presence before the sun made it too hot to function. It's an incredibly beautiful place, if you ever get the chance to visit.

In any case, I thought I was so wise wearing nature-ready clothes that would allow me to tough it out in the jungle while coping with the overwhelming heat and humidity I experienced in Belize only weeks ago. Shorts and a tank top with water sandals and bug spray forgotten in the hotel room = totally knowledgeable naturalist, right? Wrong!

Leafcutter ants doing their thing to the tune of a genuine jungle soundtrack? It doesn't get much better than this.

These little majesties, leafcutter ants, have the most complex societies after humans. They can carry 5,000 times their own body weight. They like the taste of my toes. I'm not sure if that last fact has been scientifically proven, as I only have a sample size of three ants, but they did seem more than willing to forego the mission of carrying bits of leaves back home to snack on my feet. To get an idea of what their bite feels like, note that they have purportedly been used as wilderness stitches, or wherever needles and sheepgut are lacking and leafcutter ants are not.

At first I didn't notice their apparent foot fetish, as I was busy swatting at the mosquitos which had honed in on my bare shoulders while I was trying to take photographs of birds amongst the dense treetops (those didn't come out very well, for what it's worth). I was actually pretty impressed with the ability of both insect species to swiftly find their prey (me) and attack, wasting no time whatsoever. That kind of efficiency is what millions of years of evolution will get you.

Besides bugs, there were so many critters to see (and to see me back, per the above female grackle), and I didn't even have to venture particularly deep into the jungle to find them. I saw at least 20 different bird species, including woodpeckers and vultures, and even a little baby coffee snake! I initially mistook its bright red body for a coral snake, but it lacked the characteristic yellow bands of this snake's venomous cousin. 

It's clear that Belize is quite literally teeming with wildlife, from the bitey to the flighted to the legless. And after today, a decent amount of my DNA. 

Speaking of lost body parts, what do you think happened to this iguana's tail? Scientific knowledge about the lizard would suggest that he either whipped an enemy too hard in the face, or intentionally broke free of it when it was grabbed (presumably by the same enemy whose pride he had just slapped away). I like to think that this iguana lost his tail during a much more epic journey, perhaps while cheering too hard for the Icelandic soccer team in Euro2016, who remain triumphant no matter what the score says. A sadder and even less realistic option is that he succumbed to peer pressure from iguana bullies who convinced him that this was the summer fashion trend for their species.

We may never know the truth.

Over and out,

Ali Wunderman

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