Student Questions from Passaic, New Jersey

By Anna Mazzaro
April 7, 2003

We have received many questions from students in response to our experiences in the tropical rainforest on Barro Colorado Island. We would like to share with you what others have asked and also some of Anna's responses. You can read the responses colored green and can also read the student's questions.

The questions come from the Science Club students in Public School #9 in Passaic.

Jasmine asks: How did you find and capture the wild animals?

Your question is very interesting. Personally, I didn't capture any wild animals. But the scientists that work on the island of Barro Colorado that work with the animals have different methods of trapping the animals. The scientists put out different types of traps according to the size of the animal they are studying. They are constantly checking the traps to see if there are any animals inside. As soon as an animal is caught, they inject them to calm them down or make them sleep. Later, they attach a collar with a radio transmitter. This transmitter allows the scientists to obtain important information such as where the animals are located at certain times and when they are most active. Once the animals have the radio transmitters, they are set free. The scientists never keep the animals in captivity, but just try to learn as much as they can so as to better help the animals. See the section of our website under "Background" --see the homepage--- and click on the item #8 "How We Study Mammals."

Javier asks: What is the amount of rainfall in the tropical rainforest?

Very good question. The amount of rainfall varies in the rainforest according to the type of rainforest. For example, in the Amazon it rains much more than in the tropical rainforest. In BIC, it rains 80 inches a year, while in other rainforests it rains from 200 to 300 inches a year. There are other rainforests that receive even more rain annually.

Hazael asks: Where do you stay when it rains?

Although you may not believe this, when we are in the rainforest and it begins to rain, rather than protect ourselves, we want to get wet. This may seem ironic or strange but you will see it is not. As you know, the rainforest is very humid and hot, when we walk in the rainforest we are very hot and sweaty, and then when it begins to rain we are very happy because it is refreshing. After the rain we know that there will be a pleasant and refreshing breeze. If it rains too much we bring our ponchos to protect us.

I don't want you to think that we are always outdoors. We have bedrooms and rooms built with bricks just as you have here. These houses have strong roofs and bathrooms and beds where we can sleep and rest. What a pleasure to sleep in your own bed when it is raining!

Alexander asks: What did you see when the plane flew over Panama?

One of the things I enjoy when I travel by plane is to see and appreciate the beauty of the clouds. They are so beautiful and look so soft! In addition to the clouds, as we approach Panama, you can see the tall buildings of Panama City. You can see a great deal of the ocean and the boats and ships waiting to cross the Panama Canal. It's amazing to see so many boats waiting to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa.

Mayra asks: What do you do in the tropical rainforest?

Mayra I'm glad that you asked this question. The scientists on Barro Colorado Island study the ecosystem and conduct experiments. I am a teacher and went there to learn what the scientists do when they are investigating ecosystems. Some scientists study plants, others study seeds and flowers, insects, mammals, the weather, and many other things. Doctor Willis and her assistants conduct census studies on mammals. You understand what the census of a human population is: it is the number of people in a town, a city, or a country. The same is done with the mammals. We study the number of mammals on an island and their habitats and the behavior of these animals and what influences their lives. This is why, in addition to conducting a census on the mammals, we also examine the fruits of certain trees that the mammals feed on.

Our work involves going out in the morning, and at times in the afternoon and evening, to see what mammals we can find. In a notebook, we record where we saw the animals (the name of the trail and the distance), at what time, and what they were doing (eating, drinking water, resting, etc.). All this data is collected and then compared with data of previous years. Maintaining this registry of information we can analyze the behavior and feeding patterns of the animals. We can also examine changes in the population of certain animals and what are the factors that contribute to these changes.

This is very interesting work that has helped us learn about the animals that live on the island.

Wilfredo asks: How do the scientists attach the collars on the animals?

It appears that this question intrigues many of the students in your class. I have already answered this question and perhaps you could read the response that was given to your other classmates.

For your information, the easiest way to attach collars on the animals is to catch them in a trap. The size of the trap depends on the size of the animal. Sometimes the traps are made of wood and others are made of wire or other materials. Once the animal is captured, it is injected with a tranquilizer to calm them or make them fall asleep. Then either a collar is put around the neck, or a numbered tag is put in the outer ear or on another part of the body. The collar has to be adjusted to fit to the proper neck size of the animal so that it will not fall off but also will be comfortable. Radio transmitters are attached to many of the animals. This allows us to monitor where they are, what they are doing and many other things.

Mariana asks: a. What are your favorite animals in the rainforest? b. What animals sleep at night? c. Could you tell me the name of some plants?

Dear Mariana:
Thank you for all these very interesting questions. I like all the animals in the rainforest but my favorite ones are the anteaters and sloths. These two animals are very cute. Anteaters are fairly small animals. They like to eat ants and termites. They have very strong claws to help them climb up and down the trees. They are very protective of their babies. Sloths are bigger, furry animals. They feed on leaves and live in the tops of the trees. They come down to the forest floor only once a week to go to the bathroom.

They move very slowly and are very shy. They spend their lives hanging upside down. I’ve been very lucky in having the opportunity to see both animals. When you see them, the first thing you want to do is to try to hold them. They are very nice animals.

Many animals get to sleep at night. The two that I just mentioned are animals that sleep at night, but may also be active at night. Also sleeping at night are some monkeys, birds, lizards, and many other animals. There are also many animals that like to sleep during the day, and these are called "nocturnal" animals. They look for their food at night. Night monkeys, geckoes, owls, and opossums are good examples.

There are many different kinds of plants in the rainforest. Many of the plants are not familiar to us, but I would like to mention some of them that can be familiar to you because some are houseplants. These plants include: orchids, bromeliads, heliconias, ferns, rubber trees, fig trees, and philodendrons, just to mention some of the rainforest plants that are used as houseplants.

Dear Children:

I want to thank you all for so many interesting questions. I hope you enjoyed your journey through the Rainforest Connection and have learned a lot. Look for the journal entries that are coming up soon. Hasta pronto,

Hasta pronto,
Anna