First Q&A Session 2003

We have started getting email from classes, in response to our latest journal entries. Jackie would like to share these with everyone. She will answer below, so that you can see both the questions and answers. The messages today are from the classes of three teachers in New Jersey.

FROM: Ms. DeLuca's Class in Jersey City:

Dear Dr. Willis:

How are those igs? See any? Are the ctenosaurs the species called "pectinatas"? Or something else? Can you send a picture?
Keep looking out for those green igs!

TO: Ms. DeLuca's Class:

You all have a serious interest in iguanas ("igs") and their many lovely relatives, partly because Ms. DeLuca has some green iguana friends at home! But your enthusiasm is mainly because they are such interesting animals. Well, the iguanas here live most of the time high in the canopy that Anna wrote about in RFC#3, so they are usually difficult to see. Recently, the egg-laying season has begun and we saw a big (5-foot long, total length) male iguana walk past the dining hall windows, coming up from the lake. The soft soil on the sunny parts of the lakeshore is where they dig their nests. We also have a photo from one of our trip-cameras that shows a big male with a black head walking near the shore. But we have not located a nesting female yet.

iguana coming out of its den

Yes, the Ctenosaurs on the mainland are the species C. pectinata. More on them later-- I'd like to write much more on them and send videos too.

FROM: Ms. Rissmeyer's Class in Hillside Intermediate School, Bridgewater-Raritan:

Dear Dr. Willis,

How are you doing in Panama? This is Miss Rissmeyer's class. We got your letter and we loved all the intreasting facts you had in the fantastic letter! Thank you for taking the time out of your day to write us a letter.
From reading your letter we have many questions. Some questions we have are: What types of snakes have you seen in Panama? Also, have you ever discovered a new species- like animals, plants, or fungi? What is the chance of seeing a boa snake? We are so intreasted in snakes after we read the letter! The last question we have is: Can you describe the lab, and how does it work?
I hope you can answer the questions that we have. We hope you have a great time in Panama while you're there!

Your science pals,
Miss Rissmeyer's students

TO: Ms. Rissmeyer's Class:

We're doing well here in Panama, although scratching a lot because of itchy chigger bites. We have seen many snakes here this season: cat-eyed snakes that eat frogs and toads, one boa we already discussed in RFC#2, black racers that eat rodents, Spilotes (9-foot long black and cream color, very fast), a coral snake (deadly poisonous very docile), some small brown snakes, brown vine snakes, and others too fast to say what they were! The Boa constrictor I saw was the first I had seen on BCI in maybe 22 years. I have seen other species of boa several times, usually babies, but not this type, which is usually the most commonly seen in other places. We saw Boa constrictors many times in Belize, for example, but none this big.

No, I have never discovered a new species, but that is not likely to happen here on BCI, where the mammals have been fairly well studied for 90 years. People who study insects and fungi here do find new species, however. And there are more to be found by those who study these lesser-known groups of organisms.

FROM: Mrs. Macht's Students in Hillside Elementary School, in Bridgewater-Raritan:

Dear Dr. Willis,

We are enjoying your website very much. We have checked out the articles more than once. Our favorite entry was the one about the snake you saw.

Last Monday we had a homework assigmnent on what questions we have about the rainforest. One was, does the weather change with the seasons? We hope you are having a wonderful time in Panama and we will see you soon.


Yes, the weather changes: Panama has wet and dry seasons. The Panamanians call them winter and summer, but they occur at the opposite time from the New Jersey seasons. And Panama is never cold-- cool weather is when the temperatures are in the low 70's.

Dear Dr. Willis,

How have you been doing? We've been doing great. How is BCI this year? Have you seen any brand new animals?
We saw the video about the boa consticter. It was unbelivable.
We thought it was so extremly cool. That boa was SO BIG! We would have been scared if a boa was about to bite us. Were you scared?
We hope to see you soon and also hope that you will enjoy Mrs.
Macht's visit on BCI. We'll miss both of you.

Your Friends,
The Mad Monkeys
Jonathan, Jenna, Nick, Alyssa, and Dee

No, we have not seen any "new" animals, but we have seen lots of some rather rare species, or those that are hard to see, like tree rats and ocelots. And, no, I was not scared when I saw the boa, or when she aimed at me, as if to bite. I have handled big boas often enough to know what to expect.

Dear Dr.Willis,

The past couple of days we looked at your previous website,and completed a scavenger hunt. We saw one way that you study animals is by setting up trip cameras and looking at the pictures they take. We have a few questions about it: How do you set up the cameras? How many pictures does one take? How do you know when to get the film from the camera? How big is the camera? What is the animal that goes by the camera the most? Is there a new species that you have gotten a picture of this year? Hope to see you soon!

Your Friends,
Vincent L.
Erin W.
Nicholas V.
Julia E.

We set the cameras in pairs sometimes so that we get photos of both sides of any ocelots that pass between the cameras. The cameras are about a foot off the ground and aimed at a trail, or the area under a fruiting tree, or wherever we know animals pass by. The cameras are small point-and-shoot cameras that are encased in a waterproof box with windows for the lens and flash-- not very big. We usually load the camera with 24-exposure film, because the longer rolls tend to get sticky in the humidity if left for weeks, and then the film is ruined. So about 2 weeks between film changes is about right. We have to go look at the camera to see if the film is ready to be changed. Greg and I can't do that when we are in New Jersey, so Ricardo Moreno takes care of the cameras while we are in the USA. The animal species most frequently photographed is agoutis. I think ocelots come next. We have something like 300 ocelot photos over the past few years! Since we last wrote to you, I think we got our first capybara photos on BCI. Capybaras are big, aquatic rodents, and they don't often walk around on BCI, but they have been seen in the lake nearby.

Dear Dr.Willis,

How's your stay on BCI? We explored your new website yesterday.
We're also using last year's site. Our class did a scavenger hunt on it. The search included when BCI was opend to traffic, how BCI was created, and much more! One more question we have is what has been your biggest suprise on BCI this year? Was it the Boa Constrictor encounter, or something else?
Your friends from Mrs.Macht's class,
Keli G, Sammy J, Randy R, Micheal C

My biggest surprise this year was the big boa. Greg says his biggest surprise was that he found no sloths here for a whole month. And then this week we found three sloths between the two of us.

Dear Dr. Willis,

Howdy! How is your good old friend, Boa? We read about how you almost stepped on a boa constrictor. It sounds really freaky. We all watched the clip of the boa. It was awesome. Was that the biggest boa you have ever seen?
Our class went on the new website and read some of the journal entries you and some of the teachers wrote. We read "Back in the Forest Again," "Did Someone Say Sloth?," "Night Walk." They were all good. A mental picture that stuck in our heads was when Mrs. Macht was cradling the little sloth. That was so cute.
While going on the web we came up with some questions we would like the answers to. Some of them are: What is the role of insects on BCI? What unique types of fungi are found on BCI? Are any of them similar to the ones we found with you in our backyard?
We hope to hear from you soon. Happy trails!
Hillside's Hilarious Hawks (Dana, Andy, & Kat)

Yes, that boa was the biggest I have seen in the wild. I have seen boas twice that size in the Bronx Zoo, however.

Insects have many important roles on BCI, just as they do back home in New Jersey. Insects here are pollinators of flowers (such as fig wasps). They are predators on other insects (such as army ants) and so are secondary consumers. They eat plants (many caterpillars) and so are primary consumers, they are top carnivores (tarantula wasps) who eat other carnivores, they contribute to decomposition by chewing wood (termites)-- you name it, insects do it in this ecosystem! Of course, they cannot do what plants or fungi do. As for fungi here: I am not an expert but I can see lots of bracket fungi that look like those at home- not the same species, but similar form. I don't know if any are unique to BCI.

Thanks for all these great questions!