Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

March 9: Day 6 – Excursions
by -- March 9th, 2011

The rain forest boasted many beautiful species of butterfly.

Before ending our stay in Galeta, we traveled to some of the nearby sites…

Early today we departed to a different rainforest crane. As we rode on a bus through the Panamanian countryside, we crossed the one of the inland canals, watching massive ships pass in and out of our periphery.

As we reached the road’s zenith, we hopped off the bus. There were two small buildings nearby, with some laundry hung out on a clothesline to dry, but the crane operator was not in sight. We dawdled around for half an hour, taking in the smells and sounds of the rainforest before taking off on the path down to the rainforest crane to investigate. Soon enough we were on a narrow rocky road, slowly climbing the Panamanian mountains. Flanked by dense foliage on either side, we witnessed bursts of colors from tropical flowers and brilliant, iridescent butterflies.

The path was an amalgam of steep steps, ramps, and stepping stones–all slick with moisture. Clambering down the path was somewhat treacherous, and too often I was unsure of my footing. A small creek bubbled down the slick slope next to us, forming murky pools in the crevices and pits of the grey stone. Animals lived in these pools. We saw dark tadpoles, small fish, and darting crayfish that took shelter in the dark haze as our shadows passed over them.

Once we reached the crane, we realized the operator was already there in the control box of the crane waiting for us. He began to lower the massive metallic hook down towards us–down towards the metal cage we would shortly be climbing into. However, after about two minutes, the hook stopped. It merely swung slowly above us, suspended in place. The crane had jammed. It was uncertain how long it would take to bring out a technician to repair it. We would have to be content with what we had seen on our drive up the road and our walk down the slope.

We climbed into the fort and descended down its staircases to the ground floor. Here there were many caverns, possibly used for shelter, possibly used for storage of food and ammunition. These had all been reclaimed by the surrounding environment, and were home to mosses and vines, as well as bats, and some kind of small animal that called out a lonely cry in one of the more wet caverns. Exiting the rain forest, we then drove to Castillo San Lorenzo, and old fort built in the 1600s to defend Panama. The structure sat on top of a massive cliff that overlooked the Chagres River. The scene was breathtaking and serene. Birds with yellow and black plumage emerged from hanging woven nests and flew overhead. The air hummed with their wing beats.

Upon returning to Galeta, we decided to redo our odor attraction experiment. Before we had the tubes containing the odors randomly placed along the beach, and we only laid out tubes of odors about ten minutes before removing them and collecting responding crabs. Today, we were careful to plant the odors further down slope on the beach so that the scent would be carried by the ocean breeze upwards to the brush that the crabs inhabited. We also extended the time we laid out odors to twenty minutes, which gave crabs more time to detect odors, approach them, and respond to them.

This time we collected many more crabs, which we tested in the arena with the ten degree target. We noted their response, and then expelled them from their shells so that we could determine the shell fit, and compare the data to our first batch of hermit crabs.

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