Dangerous?

The following is a compilation of stories from the Rainforest Connection messages.

From Jackie, Jane, and Greg

We were very excited to get a message from Mrs. Weissblum at the Lafayette Middle School in Elizabeth, NJ. with questions about our travels. We now have classes on our mailing list from New Jersey, Florida, Idaho, and Israel. We encourage you to communicate with others as you see students' questions appear in our journal entries. We can identify the schools and their addresses for you, if you wish.

Mrs. Weissblum asked what dangers are out there in the forest and what precautions we have taken. The biggest dangers all have to do with insects and mites that bite or sting. There are africanized honey bees, the so-called "killer bees" but they usually nest high in trees and we leave them alone, and they leave us alone. Their individual stings are no worse than regular bee stings-- the problem is that they tend to call their hive mates to help them sting the enemy, and you don't want them all thinking you're the enemy! The real problem with africanized bees is that they are not native to these forests and have pushed out many of the little wild forest bees, some of which species may soon become extinct. What do you think might happen if little forest bees are no longer available to pollinate the rainforest plants that have tiny little flowers?

Back to dangers: we are having some trouble from ticks and chiggers. We carry masking tape to pick the ticks off our clothing, and keep our pants tucked into our boot tops. This also helps keep the tiny mites called chiggers out of our clothing, otherwise they burrow into your skin and make a big itchy welt. We also are very alert for ants, some of which are very large and can give a very painful sting. Also, there are some trees and small plants that "bite"-- they have sharp spines. We try not to touch things without looking first.

Maybe the greatest danger is dehydration. The heat here makes you perspire quite a lot. If your body loses too much fluid and if you don't drink enough you can dehydrate, which means your body has too little water. Then your body won't function properly, you'll feel terrible, and you can get very sick. So we carry portable water bottles (about a liter each) and drink frequently during our walks. If we stopped for a drink every hour and we drank about an equal amount each time and we were out walking for six hours, about how much water did we drink each time?

There are snakes and ocelots and jaguars in this forest. Many people think these animals are dangerous to humans, but they actually don't bother people unless we try to harm them or their babies. Maybe the most dangerous creatures in the forest are people who don't respect the animals who live here.

We are not afraid to walk in the forest: we are careful where we step, and observant as we walk. We can often hear the animals before we see them, if we walk quietly and listen carefully. And sometimes we can smell them! We know they can smell us: how do we know that?

Another day we can tell you what they eat, how they play, and how they communicate. BYE!

Mrs. Kean's third and fourth grade science students at the Washington Academy of Music in East Orange, NJ, wrote this:

We are researching topics re: Ecosystems in the Rainforest. Keep the information coming. "It's like having a personal news reporter, on location". We're concerned about how you protect yourselves from those deadly killer bees, other than just staying out of their way." These bees are not out looking for people to kill. Usually they are much too busy doing their own work (collecting nectar) to bother with humans. The cases where people are attacked is when the people either squash a bee near its hive or they actually shake or damage the hive itself. We carry some benadryl capsules in our packs in case we are stung: the benadryl helps to reduce reactions to the stings such as swelling and pain. Other researchers report on the locations of africanized bee hives so that it's easier to avoid them. They post reports on a chalkboard in the dining area here. There's also an emergency bee kit here to provide first aid, but that's in the office, not out in the forest.

Greg has seen a jaguar on BCI on the main trail in the morning. This was about 13 years ago, however, and since then only one other person has seen a jaguar on the island. Greg was the first person to see a jaguar on BCI since it became an island in 1914. Others have found tracks and scrapes with claw marks in the soil where a jaguar had marked a territory. But not very often. The tracks included large and small prints, apparently a mother and kitten. The jaguars don't seem to live here all the time, but swim over from the mainland. When Greg saw that jaguar, it didn't see Greg at first because he was standing still on the trail, just writing in his notebook. He got a really gooood look at it, before it smelled him and walked away. Generally they just walk away without threatening people. And most people never see them at all.

Jackie, were you ever attacked and/or bitten by an animal, like a panther?

Yes! I was bitten by a margay cat! Margays are smaller than ocelots, about the size of a big housecat and are yellow with black spots. Her name was Margot and she was rescued as a kitten that was for sale in the Panama City market. Her mother had been killed by a hunter in order to catch the baby Margot. Researchers here tried to teach Margot to hunt and to be wild, but she liked people too much and never learned to kill prey effectively, after her mother was gone.

She was encouraged to roam in the forest on BCI, but came dancing down the trail to greet people when they hiked out in the forest. I think she got lonesome since there are no Margays on BCI. Anyway, one day she saw me and wanted to play. I tried to take her picture but she play-"attacked" my arm, wrapping her claws around my wrist and biting my arm. It hurt, but not badly. I played with her to keep her company. Later that month she was getting too thin from not being an expert at catching food, so she was sent to the US to stay in a zoo. Other than that, no one has been bitten by any cats here.

Hi Jackie, Mrs. Regenye's sixth grade class from PS 25, Jersey City, NJ, has followed your reports with great interest. It's almost like taking a field trip to the rainforest. We have some questions we hope you can answer. Are there many poisonous animals in the rainforest? Which is the most deadly?

The animal with the worst venom that will kill you fastest and deadest, if it ever bites you and chews on you enough to inject the venom, is the coral snake Micrurus nigrocinctus. I had a collision with one on the trail this morning! I was walking along gazing up at treetops, looking for monkeys, when I felt something lash at my boot and I knew "SNAKE!" and levitated forward at warp speed. When I came down and looked around, I saw the snake zooming off at least as fast in the opposite direction. It moved so fast it was a blur of colors that blended into a bright, almost fluorescent orange. The snake stopped and looked back at me with his tiny little eyes and tiny little head. He was about two feet long and was banded with red, cream, and black, in the usual pattern for real coral snakes (as opposed to those that are false corals, or mimics, and not venomous). He quickly found a hole in the ground and zipped down it before I could start up my camera. I'm sure his version of the encounter was much more exciting-- after all, he had my boot come down on top of him! This is the first coral that I've seen in about three years, and nobody here has ever been bitten by one unless they pretty much put a finger in the snake's mouth! So the answer to your question is no, it's quite safe in this forest. Some rainforests have bushmasters and many fer-de-lance, and that's another very serious problem. But not on BCI. This place is not a tropical paradise, what with the ticks and chiggers, but it's also not dangerous. No one has ever died on BCI and the worst illnesses and injuries were appendicitis and some broken ribs - someone fell out of a tree and hit a boat.