We wish you a merry Isthmus

One thing that has sparked the curiosity of many- why is there such an incredible diversity of plants and animals in Panama? Today we toured the Museo de la Biodiversidad to investigate further. Turns out, the Isthmus of Panama has not always been in existence- in fact, it was formed out of volcanos just over 20 million years ago. That may seem like a long time ago, but compared to the entire history of the earth, Panama’s existence is a mere blip on the radar. Heck, Panama didn’t even get to experience the Cretaceous period. Yet, Panama’s formation is a key to explaining the biodiversity we see today.
Without Panama, there is no physical land bridge between North and South America. Upon the joining of the Americas, many species now had the capability to migrate that they hadn’t had before. For instance, marsupials had never appeared on North America until the formation of Panama. So now we have two continents’ worth of species interacting with each other for the first time. Second, the Isthmus also acts as a barrier for migration between the Pacific and the Caribbean. So, we now also have marine organisms that were once united being forced to separate into two environments. In turn, we have two species sets becoming more and more different from each other. Combine these factors with the fact that Panama is in a very unvaried environment temperature-wise, and we get the immense biodiversity we see today.
Not were these past couple days a learning experience biology-wise, but also a learning experience culture-wise. Yesterday, we got the chance to explore the city and catch some authentic dancing at the Las Tinajas restaurant. Today, we got to explore the Casca Viejo neighborhood. If you ever find yourself there, I’d recommend checking out the Santa Rita restaurant- but don’t expect the food to be cheap there. Also, if you do go to Panama, bring a poncho. Always. We found that out the hard way after lunch.

The Views from Campana

Today, our group ventured over to the Pacific side if Panama to check out the biodiversity there. We were out the door at 7:30 in the morning and had a fairly exciting bus ride. Ok, maybe “exciting” isn’t the right word. More like, “extremely bumpy and thus impossible to fall asleep.” It was definitely worth the trip, though. We were able to catch some amazing views (which I unfortunately can’t post here yet due to technical difficulties) and get a glimpse of some unique plants and birds. One interesting observation was how there are increasingly more epiphytes (plants that grow on plants) as we climbed up. We also caught a glimpse of the orange-bellied trogon. Spoiler alert, it’s a bird with an orange belly. But it’s a fine example of the many beautiful birds we see out in the tropics.

The trail, however, was pretty strenuous. Many parts of it were steep, and I cannot remember any parts of it that were flat. There were also a fair amount of flies, from the high-pitched, tiny, annoying ones, to the ones that’ll actually pack a bite. Luckily, no one got attacked by ants this time. Fun fact, I was attacked by ants on Tuesday. Turns out, leaning against a tree without first checking if there’s an ant nest on it is a bad idea. Who knew? Luckily, they didn’t carry any formic acid, nor were they the trap-jaw ants, whose bites pack a punch.

Steep inclines and big flies aside, today may have been one of my favorite parts of the trip from the views alone. We also got the chance to swing by a juice shop- if you ever find yourself in Panama, I’d highly recommend trying their passion fruit juice. Also, Balboa and Soberano cervezas son muy bien. Today marks the half-way point of our trip, but there is definitely more to look forward to, such as venturing into Panama city, and making progress on our group projects. My group is examining leaf-cutter ants for our project- there will be more updates on that to come. In the meantime, hopefully I can figure out how to post pictures on here through my tablet.