Healthy Water, Healthy Planet

Large scale ecological studies can be one of the most rewarding and painstakingly difficult endeavors for researchers to undertake. Not only are they expensive to maintain, but it can take years to find valuable results, which creates incredible pressure on primary investigators. Nevertheless, these experiments can provide extremely valuable results and create a research platform for generations of scientists. Some examples of very successful large scale experiments include the Forest Accelerated Succession Experiment (FASET) plots in northern Michigan and the Allegheny National Forest deer enclosure experiment in Pennsylvania, but the Agua Salud experiment in Panama is entering new territory by investigating the agroecosystem matrix in a tropical setting. It studies an ecosystem at the watershed level and is centered on understanding essential ecosystem services, such as maintaining favorable water conditions in the canal or sequestering carbon at faster.

The intricacies of Agua Salud are described in detail by other blog posts, but what isn’t mentioned is the social importance of this experiment. Agua Salud is ecology in action and can be a fantastic tool to explain the relevance of the environment to society. People are able to see how their decisions, such as farming a certain tree monoculture or preserving a specific patch of land, can have major implications for the surrounding environment. For instance, fewer trees planted could lead to more runoff and increased water flow within the canal – which could have both ecological and economic impacts throughout Panama.

In addition, since Agua Salud investigates the relationships between agriculture and tropical ecosystems (which are both ubiquitous within Central and South America) the results may be more generalizable than many other large scale experiments. A common critique of experiments that examine entire ecosystems is that they are unreplicable, but this does not seem to be the case at Agua Salud. The researchers at STRI have made sure that the results from Agua Salud are applicable to systems throughout Central and South America.

Lastly, Agua Salud is a young experiment with high potential. It was only started in 2008, so opportunities to build an entire career in science can be found there and researchers have generated novel data that are valuable to both the scientific and public spheres. I see Agua Salud as the new frontier of large scale experiments, where both valuable ecological data is collected and ecosystem services are better understood by those within academia and the public.


P.S. Agua Salud is looking for an intern for next year and it would be a great experience for anyone

Venemous Snakes and Stuff

Biodiversity of the neotropics is well-known for being rather high, especially in comparison to more temperate regions. Within the country of Panama, which considered part of the neotropics, there are 127 recorded snake species, and among those only 20 are considered venomous. These venomous snakes especially a cause for concern due to the high levels of aggression that these snakes may exhibit, and the lethality of a few of the species. However, it is very unlikely to encounter one of these, even if you are specifically looking for them. Most species are nocturnal, and most people who actually get bitten are agricultural workers. In fact, the chances of being bitten by a poisonous snake are just as likely as being struck by lightning! If you do get bitten, there is usually a major hospital that is reasonably close that carries the anti-venom, and most fatalities are usually children and the elderly (who tend to not have great immune systems) and agricultural workers.

So far, our group has only encountered three individual snakes, and two total species. During two late night hikes, we encountered two juvenile cat-eyed snakes, and a chunk-headed tree snake, none of which were venomous, and none of which even attempted to bite. Despite the widespread apprehension towards snakes, it is very unlikely to encounter one, and if you do, it’s not very likely that the snake is even venomous. There is even a story of an encounter with a Fer-de-lance where the victim who had gotten bit was able to survive for three days without decent medical care, and never actually needed the anti-venom.

Despite the relative scarcity of venomous snakes, it is still good to be aware of their existence. The aforementioned Fer-de-lance snake may the most commonly found venomous snake, and is widely considered one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Bushmasters aren’t so common, and usually avoid areas of high human density. Nevertheless, these serpents are rather aggressive, and may strike if approached.  In Gamboa, the town where our class is staying, my research group was warned by a local man to watch out for the “patoco”, a dangerous snake that he said liked to hide in tall grass. We later discovered this “patoco” was actually the venomous hog-nosed pit viper. To this point, we haven’t encountered it, and we likely won’t (much to my dismay). Overall though, listening to locals may be the most effective way to know if there are certain snakes to avoid in the areas, and can be important in understanding how to avoid them.

In essence, it is not likely to encounter a snake in Panama during the day, especially venomous snakes. Despite the rarity, people should know the general behavior of venomous snakes in their areas, especially they’re aggressive, and lethality of the venom.

Baby Got Bat

Last night we went out to do something that I have heard much about, but never seen in action.  We went mist netting.  For those of you not familiar with the term, mist netting is a technique used by ornithologists and bat biologists to capture birds and bats for research.  These nets are held up by two poles, looking much like a volleyball net when all is said and done.  They have long, lengthwise pouches that aid in the capture of whatever might fly into the net.  In this case we were netting for bats.  The bat species richness in the tropics is incredible and is higher than any other vertebrate species.  My group was especially excited to meet with the bat researchers since our project is focused on bats.  We went out to watch the nets being set up by the bat researchers at 6:30 pm; bats generally come out around 6:45 pm in Gamboa.  The net set up turned out to be more difficult than I originally expected; it was prone to getting caught and tangled and we were instructed that it could not touch the ground because it tends to pick up every leaf it encounters on the forest floor.


In order to work with a mist net one must be trained and certified.  It is important to check the net often and remove the animals quickly and carefully so they are not harmed.  Going into the netting I was told not to get my hopes up because in temperate zones researchers will set up nets and wait for hours with nothing to show.  However, within the first 20 minutes we had bats!  Total about 5 or 6 bats were caught; two bats were pregnant and quickly released.  After the nets were set up we left the forest to wait, then we were taken back in smaller groups to check out the net.  Some of the bats were also brought out to our group in a small felt bag so that we could all view them.  The first bat I saw was a Jamaican fruit-eating bat (Artibeus jamaicensis), a species of leaf-nosed bat.  The name “leaf-nosed” comes from the protrusion on their nose which is thought to play a role in echolocation.  This bat was pregnant, and as soon as the bat was freed it opened its mouth preparing to bite whatever it could.  The second bat was from the genus Coleura and was much smaller than the first.  It was amazing to see the little hunters and foragers up close.  Mist netting is a big part of bat biology because until more recent technological advances it was the primary way of studying bats, and is still probably the most reliable.  However, there are some problems with netting.  It is possible that some bats are better at avoiding the net and that some bats do not fly as low as others which might skew any measures of abundance.


There were many different experiments going on in the bat research group.  One study was looking into the role of vision in foraging species of bats.  Other experiments were focused on bat memory, looking into how well a bat might remember where a food source is or what was poisonous and what was not.  Jerry, who was in charge of showing us around, was doing research on true vampire bats which eat blood of other mammals, usually larger mammals such as horses or cows.  Vampire bats are very interesting in the ecological community because they share meals with each other.  If one bat goes out and finds food and another does not the bat that did not find any food will generally be fed by one of its roast mates.  This does not technically make sense, because according to most animal behavior theories animals should be selfish in order to survive.  Altruism has been documented in primate species and favoring of kin in some other lesser species.  However, the mechanisms behind the evolution of altruism are still very much debated.  Jerry was looking at the importance of kinship vs. previous encounters/ongoing roast mate relationships in these sharing interactions and hearing him discuss his research was very intriguing.


Seeing the bats, and the mist netting, and hearing about some of the research being done was all fascinating, but my favorite moment of the night was when we were able to use the class echolocation detector, or echo meter, with Jerry.  The data my group is collecting is on bats as I mentioned previously.  We have been going out every night with a wildlife acoustics echo meter, in hopes of studying species diversity and abundance in the grassy fields outside of the tree line versus that within the rainforest.  None of us are bat experts so although the device was Iding many species, we were not entirely sure that it was IDing the bats correctly.  We were also a bit confused about how to interpret the visual readings.  Jerry was able to walk us through some of the different features of the echo meter as well as show us what a searching call looks like and what it looks like when the bat finds the insect he was hunting.  The longer lower sounds are the searching calls, while the sharp drops on the screen indicate that the bat has located its prey.  Overall it was a very exciting and informative night and we got some reassurance that our data collection is not for nothing.  I am so excited about all of the exotic plants and animals we are seeing on this trip and all that we are learning from the guides and experts accompanying us.  I hope to learn more about the bats in the tropics as we get further along in our data collection and research so that I might be able to share with others what I have been so fortunate to learn from this experience.

Agua Salud

The Agua Salud Project has three main research areas, as described by our guide:

  1. Secondary forest succession– 50% of land around the canal has been deforested, and the canal authorities want to replace those losses with plantations and/or with replicating the species makeup of native rainforest. Since many plots have been reforested separately over decades, this creates an opportunity for “chronosequencing” and comparing the development of biodiversity across ages without waiting ages. As would be expected, biodiversity can be oversimplified as increasing with age, and vertebrates like monkeys and snakes are far more likely to be seen in the 80-year-old forest than in the 50- and 30-‘s.
  2. Hydrology– The difficulty with crowding woody plants around the canal and river sources is that the roots may soak up too much of the water and prove counterproductive, especially during dry years (like this one) where low water levels put transportation capacity at risk. Agua Salud consists of nine watersheds instrumented with weirs (mini-dams), which are checked weekly for data on water purity and quantity. In doing so, this mainly allows them to test the “sponge hypothesis” and the effects of secondary forest and cattle pastures on water level.

    our guide's own experiment, testing the speed of vascular transport via heat gradients

    our guide’s own experiment, testing the speed of vascular transport via heat gradients

  3. Smart forestation – The last sphere is more direct than observational, and contains several experiments focusing on optimizing water yield/purity, economic gain and biodiversity off what they’ve learned from the first two. For example, one group is testing growth in nitrogen enriched soil vs phosphorous vs both vs neither, with care to place these experiments so that runoff wouldn’t greatly affect readings in the weirs. Another huge experiment is that of narrowing down the best candidates for timber production that help all three areas. Currently teak is rather popular, but it’s a non-native plant and has specific soil demands that aren’t met across all parts of the country. The watersheds in particular consist of a red and nutrient-deficient clay, and teak plantations there have only grown at half the normal rate. As of right now, shade-grown coffee is looking like the best for sponging and the economy, and other native plants they favor include amarillo, cendrospino and cocobolo. So currently they’re taking each of these species in turn and surrounding them with members of another to see how they fare in competition, among other factors.

Due to long term nature of these projects, it’s very common for them to be passed on between scientists and interns over time. Also, we have to be up in >8 hours, hence the brevity. Also, puppies.

Agua Salud Galore!


Today, our study abroad group visited Agua Salud, which is a research initiative partnered with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) that focuses on ecosystem services or benefits gained from a natural resource in the Panama Canal watershed. There are four types of ecosystem services: supporting services, which provide for the rest of ecosystem, provisioning services, products obtained from ecosystems like natural medicines, regulating services, benefits from a regulating ecosystem such as water and air quality, and cultural services, intangible benefits people get from an ecosystem like recreational activities. Agua Salud studies a variety of these services and primarily looks at regulating and supporting services in a tropical forest as most of the area’s water supports the Panama Canal.

The Agua Salud project, which was established in 1980 and later reinitiated for research purposes in 2008, has been involved in numerous research projects throughout the years. Previous studies include: soil analyses and meteorological trends. Findings found that tropical forest soils support the sponge hypothesis as it acts like a “sponge” because they are porous and able to store large quantities of water throughout various seasons within an ecosystem.  The significance of these studies showed that forests contribute to clean watersheds and improved water quality.

This photo shows the lookout from the Agua Salud meterological research area.

This photo shows the lookout from the Agua Salud meterological research area.

Current work consists of three main study areas: hydrology, secondary forest, and timber production. Hydrology, the study of water, is used at Agua Salud to research the forest’s watershed. A watershed is a system that carries water from high elevation to low elevation, draining the water to a specific source. At Agua Salud, there are nine watersheds that drain into one stream. Scientists are able to measure how the watershed changes through time and how a watershed can change land usage.

Secondary forest research at Agua Salud is related to hydrological studies because the amount of water and other components availability can determine the growth of a forest. One of these components Agua Salud studies is carbon. Researchers look at how carbon can affect forest growth by creating 25 year chronosequences of secondary succession land plots. A chronosequence is a method used to avoid the time needed for plants to grow by arranging plots of soils based on age. By using chronosequences, Agua Salud is able to document patterns in the area’s tropical forests.

Timber production research looks at how production can be maximized. Coffee, pineapple, timber, teak, and even lemon trees are grown on plots throughout Agua Salud. While a majority of plants are successful at growing, the teak plots are not successful. Teak is a non-native species and the soils in Agua Salud contain a high concentration of Iron, which is not preferable for teak growth. Along with timber production research, some plots are also cut down to conduct a competition experiment between the varieties of tree species in Agua Salud.

Lemon Tree

Agua Salud is home to many lemon trees (pictured above) as part of timber production studies.

The research conducted at the Agua Salud project has brought global attention to the variety of services a tropical forest can provide. Current studies of hydrology, secondary forest growth, and timber production are important aspects in understanding ecosystem services.

Majority of this information can be found at:

Under Pressure

Today’s destination was unusual in more ways than one despite its close proximity to our previous adventures. We packed our day packs full of field guides, binoculars, lunches, water bottles, sunscreen, and bug spray (aplenty). Nothing new for our group. However, once we crossed the Centennial Bridge, which was opened in 2004 as a response to heavy traffic on the Bridge of the Americas, we were in new territory. The bridge was constructed across the Culebra Cut, an artificial valley that was constructed jointly by French and American developers. Although this region was not geographically distant from where we were staying (Gamboa), this was our first experience with the dryer climate of the Pacific side of Panama. As our bus reached the entrance to Altos de Campana National Park, it became immediately obvious that our day would feature beautiful vistas of lush vegetation with hills and valleys rolling across the landscape. As a pleasant surprise, the climate was particularly hospitable and reminiscent of a cool summer day in central Ohio.


Centennial Bridge as seen from the northern side.

Our guide provided us with a plethora of information regarding the plants, animals, and other organisms which make this park their home, in addition to historical facts regarding the construction of the canal and previous usages of the park. It was the first national park in Panama and played an important role as a model system for many other parks around the country. Along our hike we encountered several species of insects, including one which may have been parasitized by fungi. In addition, our guide Iaan mentioned that at higher altitudes, there may be higher numbers of epiphytes. These are plants which make their living using other plants for structural support and include lianas and vines within several plant families, as well as bromeliads and mosses. Several species of spiders, shelf fungi, and palms were encountered along the way, but the most charismatic find of the trip was an Orange-bellied Trogon. The bird perched on a tree carefully inspecting its observers. Most of us unknowingly passed under it and were rewarded with harassment from a large horsefly, but returned soon after to much delight.


Orange-bellied Trogon –

Despite the wide diversity of life forms in this area, I found the geology and landscape the most awe-inspiring. The park itself was part of igneous formations of a previously active volcano. Thus, the area has a history of geological activity, which is evident in the many peaks and red soil around the area. The andisols, which are formed from volcanic ash, are likely the reason for the red coloration. After our hike at the some of the park’s highest trails, we descended in our bus and made a final stop at an outlook. The outlook itself was merely a slab of cement with railings. Admittedly, it might provide a perfect context for a nice photo. Not so for this story.

Altos de Campana National Park - Outlook

Altos de Campana National Park – Outlook

A trail behind the outlook descended almost halfway down the slope. Following the trails with my eyes, I saw the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow: a grassy outcropping that would provide a closer look at the forest below and the Pacific Ocean to the south. A small group descended with the hopes of finding something. What we found was, like many other things real experiences provide, better than imagination alone can conjure. This area was beautiful but it resonated with some of us moreso than others. For me, I instantly recalled some of my adventures throughout the United States hiking through national parks. The lush hillsides gave way to an expanse of sea, only succumbing to the infinite sky. Despite climbing a fair distance down the hill, the hike back up did not trouble me at all. Often in these situations, exhaustion or weariness yield to curiosity and wonder. This will be a day to remember.

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.

Hawksbill and Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Efforts in Panama

Worldwide, threats to the existence of sea turtles are numerous and widespread. Conservation of the sea turtle species are of the upmost importance, and for a few species of sea turtle, the hawksbill and the leatherback, conservation is no more important in Panama than anywhere else. Chiriquí Beach, located just south of Bocas del Toro, is a critical nesting location for hawksbills and leatherbacks, and several past threats have threated to wipe out the turtles. Recently, an organization named the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has been working to prevent threats, such as poaching, and populations have seen a significant rebound.

Due to the highly successful impact of the STC, another beach, Soropta Beach, was given to STC for conservation, and this beach is another important beach where leatherback turtles go to lay their eggs. Conservation had originally been under the supervision of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which had become unable to financially support conservation at the site, so priority was given to the STC. Ten years before conservation began at the site, nearly 100% of the eggs did not go on to survive, and occasionally even the adults were being killed. Today, 600 nests are conserved at the beach, and adults are allowed to emerge without the risk of being killed by poachers.

STC has now expanded and is encouraging biologists to work with the leatherback turtles on the island, and they even set up a camp for the biologists when they are doing their research. Before the 2013 nestling season, more property along Soropta Beach was purchased by the STC, and will use it to continue to improve conservation for the future. Another challenge for this organization is to bring in funding in order to support year-round protection at this new site.

The impact of poaching, and other threats that occur to sea turtles when they beach has decimated their populations to the point where they have become endangered. Organizations such as STC has allowed for effective conservation of these species, and in the future these organizations will play a critical role in keeping the populations from becoming further devastated, and perhaps they can improve the species from their current endangered status.


For further information, or to donate, please visit

You’ve Gatun be kidding me

We’ve seen a lot during our short time in Panama including lethargic sloths, flamboyant toucans, a small caiman (allegedly), but today we got our first taste of one of Panama’s most spectacular and iconic landmarks, the Panama Canal.

Our home base in Gamboa, Panama is situated on one leg of the Canal and immense and humbling container ships occasionally trudge by, an impressive event that I’m certain very few of my classmates give its due reverence. After our kayak tour today, that would all change…

6:30 AM, crack of dawn, the birds haven’t even started chirping and we are dragging ourselves out of bed and into the dining room for a hearty breakfast of hard boiled eggs, fresh papaya, Sailor Sammy brand sugar cereal (which bears a shocking resemblance to another nautically named cereal), black coffee, and hojaldres -a crisp fried dough eaten for breakfast in Panama. After breakfast, we begin the 20 minute walk, including traversing a narrow walkway on the edge of a one lane bridge constructed over 100 years ago to meet our Kayak guide, Ian. He is enthusiastic and eager to share whatever knowledge he has whenever he can.

As he set us up in our kayaks and launched us out into Lake Gatun, there are many species of heron, countless wattled jacanas calling, and the muffled growls of distant howler monkeys. We are warned by Ian of crocodiles in the area and the possibility to spot the rare manatee, while we warn one another of our group lore; we believe that a curse and misfortune follows one who took more than they could finish at one of our group meals. I knew Ian would be taking us on a trip down the Chagres, but what I didn’t know was that Ian would be taking us on a trip back in time.

Lake Gatun was formed in 1913 when the Chagres River was dammed to form a reservoir to feed the Panama Canal; however, the Chagres was important long before that, as Ian would inform us.  The Chagres was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502 and he was awestruck at the amount of and the size of the American Crocodiles which would have been far more abundant in his day. The river would become an important route of transportation for the Spanish. It was the main constituent of the Las Cruces Trail, a transportation network colloquially referred to as the treasure trail –a major route for the export of precious metals and other goods from the Spanish colonies to the major port of Panama City for further trade.  Famous Welsh privateer, Henry Morgan (Yes the captain associated with the modern rum) would use the Chagres to raid and destroy Panama City in 1671.

Ian informed us that the Chagres also was important during the California Gold Rush as it was a crucial component of a route west that involved sailing up the Chagres, walking or taking a train to the pacific coast and sailing the remainder. The Chagres was even discovered to contain gold itself and is still panned to this day. Today, such a route is made even more convenient by the presence of the Canal.

Finally, the Chagres would become impassible to trade with its damming and creation of Lake Gatun to feed the Panama Canal. As we paddled, we passed many stumps rising from the water that stood anchored in the ground, remnants of trees that occupied the area that was flooded to create Lake Gatun.  We also paddled by a village of the indigenous Enberra people, a group that circumvented the US military ban on people living in the Canal Zone who were not employees of the Canal because they were contracted to teach jungle survival techniques to the US military . As we traveled up and down the Chagres and Lake Gatun it was truly captivating to learn the rich history of the region, and I cannot wait to learn more about this important Panamanian monument.

“Those are ALL spiders?” Exploring the Neotropics at Night

Alarms here at the Gamboa Schoolhouse sound far earlier than any alarm I have set for an early class. But with only 12 days in the neotropics to hike, kayak, eat, meet natives, and attempt to understand the functions of this place’s  natural beauty, our days must be stretched as much as possible – 5am breakfasts are welcomed with enthusiasm (more so when pancakes are involved), when we’re likely the most positive and high-functioning OSU undergraduates on Earth. Here the early hiker gets the bird, and Panama has rewarded us with 40+ different bird species, multiple monkey encounters, and long views of not-quite-yet blistering hot roadside (and riverside) culture. Getting out and under the cover of the forest canopy before midday is rewarding in itself – multiple 6+ mile hikes have left us drenched in sweat before lunch, but 90 degrees and 90% humidity seems to be more than bearable when searching for howlers amid massive palms and webs of lianas. Needless to say, after we fill our starved stomachs with Senora Francis’ home cooked dinners, we’re lucky to make it past 9pm without coffee. But Thursday night, we decided to chug the dark stuff and and skip the afternoon heat in a different way – by heading outside after dark.

After finally determining how to not blind the person we’re attempting to talk with – headlamps are not to be trusted with caffeinated undergraduates – we made our way through Gamboa, suddenly much more foreign that it had seemed. The sheer volume of sounds still coming from the surrounding rain forest was almost unmistakable from our morning hikes, with just as many insects, frogs, birds and chirpy geckos contributing to the eerie chorus. A true appreciation of how many individual life forms were present around us, even while still in the village, didn’t come into view until someone shined a beam of light onto the overgrown futbol field, pointed and said “spider eyes”. Thousands of tiny green lights reflected back at us. We walked a little more carefully.


Keeping a slowly-adjusted eye at our feet for venomous snakes and tarantulas, we made our way to a small creek running along Gamboa’s perimeter. Amphibians were the catch-of-the-day here. At least 5 different species of new toads and frogs popped into view after short searches; this was their time, they weren’t trying to hide. More than any others, the seemingly abrupt appearance of dozens of bright Red-Eyed Tree Frogs in the low hanging tree branches blew us away.


These frogs live almost exclusively in jungle trees – hunting insects, breeding, and laying their eggs on the large leaves. Many researchers think the shocking red eyes and yellow-and-blue stomach developed to make predators to at least take an extra minute to consider them before chomping down, and ironically enough they seem to have the same effect on us humans. These colors also make them popular pets, and while their populations here in Panama are still running strong in the forest evenings, their numbers are dropping. They are known as an indicator species; frogs and salamanders, while growing up into adults in water, are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality, like pollution and added sediments. Human waste and changes to the soil structure from spreading agriculture, when applied to these fragile jungle ecosystems, quickly wipe out frogs before most other types of animals, indicating that the jungles are beginning to suffer. We were overjoyed to see them so close to humanized areas, but we also wondered how much longer they would be able to occupy that particular stream.

Nocturnal wasps, mayflies and two small frog-eating snakes also graced us with their presence, but the quick and unsure sightings are what got our blood-pumping. Caimans, a smaller and shier cousin to the crocodile, may have darted away as soon as our headlamps announced our presence, heading into the darker deeper waters of the creek. On top of it all through, staring down at us from the ridges above the creek before slinking away to find his dinner of other mammals – an ocelot, or perhaps a puma.


Incredibly rare to encounter because of their nocturnal habits, these big cats roam large territories throughout Central America, acting as top predators in jungle food webs. Cats like these can often act as keystone species – animals that, if removed from an ecosystem, would have massive effects on the food web beneath them. Without them to control prey mammals and other vertebrates, these populations would spike, creating more herbivores and in turn dropping rare plant number throughout these systems. All of these species-of-the-night play an essential role in most species that are active throughout the day. We, as a species, need more night hikes.