As the Community Coordinator and Cultural Liaison at the SFS Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies Panama, I work to connect our students to the larger community of Bocas del Toro, organize community events, and brainstorm ways to connect our learning to the wider community of Bocas. Sometimes I am also asked to step in and support students and staff by attending field trips. Recently, I helped by attending an overnight trip to the Institute for Tropical Conservation and Ecology (ITEC) in Boca del Drago located on the other side of Isla Colon.
A night walk through the rainforest was part of the student’s coursework at ITEC. Everyone dressed in jungle attire: long pants, long sleeves, rubber rain boots, and wore a powerful head lamps. Students were buzzing and chattering about the possibility of finally seeing a snake, how to avoid the seemingly inevitable mosquito bites, and wondering if we would see any nocturnal animals like the night monkeys.
Students heading out to the forest
We split into two smaller groups to increase the chance of seeing insects and animals. Dr. Peter Lahanas, Director of ITEC, led the way while SFS professor Leonor Ceballos and I walked behind the group. Dr. Lahanas encouraged silence while asking everyone to keep their eyes open. However, the students’ excitement created a small buzz as they swept the forest with their flashlights looking for signs of movement and life in the dark green foliage.
“I see something!” I whispered to Leo. Quickly, she reached to catch the tree frog I spotted. She gathered up the tree frog and walked around to show the students. Once everyone saw it, she carefully returned it to the leaf where it was resting. Leo is gentle with the frogs and insects she catches and is careful to make sure students don’t touch them if they are using insect repellant. The repellant is harmful to the delicate moist skin of frogs.
The group kept moving. Soon I spotted more insects, like this cricket that reminded me of a creature from Avatar.
Students found lizards and poison dart frogs, and everyone watched out for the “invisible” spider webs in the forest. Leo and Dr. Lahanas told us about several cool spiders we found, including one that will jump at its prey from its web. That made students pay attention! The hour walk passed quickly and soon enough we were returning to the ITEC facility.
One of many insects spotted in the forest at night
Poison dart frog, Phyllobates lugubris