Saturday, February 14, 2009


I rang in the new year my favorite way- Central American style, on a beautiful Caribbean island full of snakes and friends. The purpose of the trip was to continue research on the ecology of boa constrictors initiated by Chad Montgomery and others several years ago, and also to begin a new study of the host-parasite relationship between boas and ticks. I spent New Year's Eve last year on the same island, but this year's trip was much better than last year's, considering that we retained our luggage and everyone smelled much better.

It's a beautiful place, not just because it is crawling with boas and iguanas.

The island is fairly small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in relief. To get to the really good boa spots (places with names like the "Honey Hole" and "Bee Draw"), you hike up some very steep trails and bushwhack through some dense tropical vegetation.

Look at all the airplants!

The island also has some giant orchids:

The boas tend to be stretched out on horizontal-ish branches near the ground (or, there are probably lots up in the canopy too, but the ones we see are near the ground).

When someone finds a boa, we catch it, quickly take a blood sample from the heart for later analysis of hormone levels, collect data on the habitat, and bag the boa for measurements to be done later in the lab. Here are Chad and I bleeding a boa in the field:

Since so many boas could be found with six people searching for them, entire afternoons were spent processing these boas in the lab.

Boats brought massive tourist crowds to the island each afternoon. The tourists were allowed to traipse around the island for a grand total of about 10 minutes before being herded onto the boats again, and if they were lucky enough to commence traipsing during an afternoon processing sesion, Tony or Chad would treat them to an up close and personal lesson about boas:

One new focus this year was quantifying the number and placement of ticks (Amblyomma dissimile) in order to examine how things like sex, body condition, and hormone levels of the boas relate to tick load. Ticks mainly congregated on wounds or scars on the boas:

In addition to our studies, some goofing off was had by all. There's snorkeling, hiking, swimming, exploring beaches, iguana-catching, etc. As usual my favorite extracurricular activity involved food. Our cook Jani showed us how to make tortillas from scratch. Yummy gooey manteca-filled tortillas. Yup, that's lard. That's what makes them actually tasty, unlike the heart-healthy cardboard we call tortillas here.

And of corse, no Cayos trip would be complete without a party or two or three.

New Year's Eve dance party Central American style (lots of food, straight booze, hyper children, and really, really bad hip hop music):

We finished up the trip with a day on the mainland. PJ got some choice garments at Carrion (yes, the department store does indeed appear to be named after rotting flesh):

And Honduras trips always end with some beers n cocktails at Ex-Pats:

This summer we'll be heading back down for a longer, hotter and sweatier trip!

... And here's a completely unrelated photo, simply to show off my very cute dog getting his first bath yesterday. He finally forgave me a half hour later, but a rawhide was exchanged in the bargain.

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