Islands, Beaches, and Lots of Animals!

As the ASU tropical biology field course continues, we have explored several different parts of Panama and been able to see many more awesome things. Our adventures include an older tropical rainforest, a mangrove forest/coastal area, and a zoo (where we saw captive and many wild animals!).

First, the older tropical rainforest, which is on an island named Barrow Colorado Island (BCI) in Lake Gatun. Both BCI and Lake Gatun were created when the canal was flooded by damming the Chagres River. BCI contains the one of the oldest tropical field stations in the world, which was home to the original Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute headquarters. While the headquarters have since moved to Panama City, BCI continues to be a very important field station for tropical biology. BCI is also a heavily protected preserve, where humans have little impact on the forest, which allows scientists to observe some very interesting animals and phenomena. Because of all of this, we took our field biology course to BCI to stay overnight. We did several hikes, including an overnight hike. On BCI, we were able to see three species of monkey: mantled howler monkey, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, and white-faced capuchin monkeys. We also saw a coati, and many different birds, spiders, ants, and other animals. Here are some of the things we saw:


An example of the dense older-growth forests on BCI.

Slaty-tailed Trogon

A male slaty-tailed trogon watching me through the undergrowth.


A curious howler monkey peering down from the trees.

Capuchin monkey

A white-faced capuchin monkey tasting a vine.


Another capuchin monkey.


A female violet-bellied hummingbird hiding from the rain.


A giant tinamou, which has a hauntingly beautiful song that can be heard far in the forest.


A hard to find collared forest-falcon, which was a real treat to find!


A coati, which is a relative to a raccoon. You can find them in southern Arizona as well.


This little beetle was very interesting, because when you touch it, it will jump away like a grasshopper.




Plants growing on the leaves of other plants!

Our next adventure after BCI was at the Summit Zoo, which is a beautiful park containing many of the tropical birds and mammals found in the rainforests of Panama that can be very difficult to observe. For example, we saw a very pregnant jaguar, several other cat species, a tapir, and a harpy eagle – all rarely seen in the wild. We also saw several wild animals including a Geoffroy’s tamarin hanging out by the Geoffroy’s tamarin exhibit, tent-making bats, and several cool birds.


A nice close-up of a wild tamarin hanging out by the tamarin exhibit.


This wild tamarin was carefully guarding the do not enter sign.


A captive tyra from the zoo. Tyras are related to weasels and minks, and this is an animal I have actually seen in the wild!


A wild collared aracari.


Wild tent-making bats, which is a species of bats that likes to manipulate and roost under palm fronds like this one.


A nest entrance to one of the stingless bee species that Meghan studies. This species is Scaptotrigona panamensis.


This is a wild piratic flycatcher, which is named because they steal hanging nests from other birds like caciques or oropendolas.


The first time I have been able to photograph a wild chestnut-headed oropendola.


A wild female flame-rumped tanager.


A wild whooping motmot, a very odd and interesting tropical bird, which does these clock-like tail wags that are thought to be signals to predators “saying” the motmot sees them and they should not try to chase them.


A wild keel-billed toucan


A wild blue-grey tanager.


A close-up of a wild grey-headed chachalaca, which might be my favorite bird name to say.


A captive ocelot, one of the six species of cat in Panama, which most people will never see.


The very pregnant jaguar I mentioned above – she was feeding on some leaves.


A captive harpy eagle, one of the largest predatory birds in the world, and the national bird of Panama.

Finally, our most recent adventure took us to the Caribbean coastline and a well preserved mangrove forest there, managed and studied by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. At this site, we saw many different species of crab, and got to swim with several different fish and marine invertebrates. Here are some of the things we saw there:


A white sea urchin, which was ok to hold and very interesting to watch move.


A “beautiful” sea cucumber.


An orchid that we found growing in the canopy of a mangrove forest.


A yellow-headed caracara.


A left-handed fiddler crab on the beach.


A right-handed fiddler crab of the same species (I think), which raises some very interesting questions about handedness in crabs.


An oncoming storm towards where we were.


Several black sea urchins, which you should not touch because they hurt a lot!

At this point, we only have two adventures left in the course, because our students are busy working on their independent research projects on various plants and animals, which all are progressing well! The other instructors and I are definitely being kept busy helping everyone with their experimental design, working out methods, and finding supplies, but all of the projects are interesting, and we are excited to see how they turn out!


This is a really interesting and beautiful spider we have found all around town and in the forest, and one of our students is actually conducting a project on their webs.


This is another female of the above spider species (we believe), showing some interesting variation in color.

I still have a week left in Panama and plenty of animals (especially birds) to see, so I better get back to it!



3 Comments on “Islands, Beaches, and Lots of Animals!

  1. Wow love all the pictures. I assume things are going well! I am flying to Michigan tomorrow for a couple days but will check my email often. keep in touch. Love,MOM

  2. You have a good eye when it comes to taking pictures! So amazing.

  3. This was a great collection / summary of what you guys are up to! So amazing!!!

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