Mills Lab undergrads learn about tropical ecology in Nicaragua over spring break

Students in Nciaragua

Two Mills Lab undergrads, Rebecca Venezia and Lindsay Clontz, both of whom work with Dr. Lafferty and Dr. Mills on projects at the captive hare facility, recently had an opportunity to learn about tropical ecology through an NC State study abroad program to Nicaragua led by Dr. Chris Moorman. Below is their account of the trip:

You know you have experienced something wonderful when you do not want to come home even though large spiders have been crawling on you during showers and bats have been getting stuck in your mosquito net, subsequently requiring assistance to regain their freedom. We had a great experience traveling to Nicaragua, learning about tropical ecology, and getting to know people who love and care about wildlife as much as we do.

Our excursion began after touching down in Managua, Nicaragua, late in the evening on Friday, March 4, 2016. Over the 11-day duration of our class, we stayed at five different locations, giving us the opportunity to experience diverse weather conditions and observe diverse species. We began our adventure on a coffee plantation known as Finca Esperanza Verde near San Ramon where we spent a total of three days and four nights. Activities at The Finca included bird walks, mist netting, small mammal trapping, day and night hikes, coffee tours, a day trip to San Ramon, and a tortilla making lesson. We saw a diverse array of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and plants. Then, we traveled to a higher elevation, approximately 4,800 feet, to Santa Maria de Ostuma. The sights were astoundingly beautiful and the howler monkeys never failed to break the early morning silence with their outrageously loud vocalizations. Ostuma is close to a nature reserve known as Selva Negra that we visited in hopes of seeing a three-wattled bellbird and a resplendent quetzal. We think we can speak for the whole group in saying we are proud that we found them both. Next we headed to Grenada, which is one of the oldest colonial settlements in Central America, where we visited Mombacho, the dormant volcano. Mombacho is located in a cloud forest ecosystem and that is home to many endemic, high elevation species. Some of the endemic species we saw included Mombacho orchid and the Mombacho Salamander. Also while in Grenada, we got the chance to see the Las Isletas that were formed during an eruption from Mombacho 20,000 years ago. Today the islands are covered in vegetation and inhabited by humans. Visiting the Las Isletas was a great opportunity to get to see many water birds, nests of Montezuma oropendolas, barn swallows, and so much more. Finally, we stayed was Montibelli, which is a private nature reserve near the capital, Managua. While at Montibelli we got to meet one of the top bat specialists in Nicaragua. He taught us about the diverse bats known to live in Nicaragua when we went mist netting for bats with him. It was interesting that most of the female bats we saw were pregnant. Also while at Montibelli, we saw a mottled owl, green and black iguanas, scorpions, paraque, common potoo, turquoise-browed motmot and many more species before we flew out the following morning.

This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For example, we had the opportunity to see several of the bird species are revered by avid bird watchers as well as numerous fascinating mammals. Also, to experience the culture, food, landscapes, climates, and comradery among the group in our eleven-day trip was truly unique, and we are very thankful we had this experiential learning opportunity.