A Walk in the Rainforest

If you’ve always wanted to walk through a rainforest but didn’t want to deal with the bugs and humidity, here’s your chance. We’re in a Belize rainforest today.

Surprisingly, over half of Belize is forest. The rainforest in Belize is called the Selva Maya forest and is an ongoing collaboration of organizations dedicated to conserving it.

More info Nature Conservancy Belize Rainforest

More info Wikipedia Belize

Let’s go for our walk.

With vines hanging down and roots coming up out of the trail, we have to look down quite a bit, watch your step. It would be nice to stroll through and look around, but it’s best not to do both at the same time.

The ground is alive with insects. All you have to do is accidentally step once into an army of ants, and you don’t forget to look where you’re stepping ever again.

The forest floor is one of the most distinctive features of a rainforest. Fallen bark and limbs, downed trees, leaves and flowers. Combine all the fallen flora with warmth, humidity and rain and this makes for a constantly decaying environment. Many forms of fungus accelerate the decay.

The pungent smell of decay is unmistakable: earthy, moldy and mildewy.

Beneath the forest floor is a vast universe of ants. Ant societies are underground, flourishing in the steady and constant pursuit of expanding their colony. While the queen is producing eggs continuously, worker ants are busy feeding larvae, foraging, and cleaning and defending the nest.

This is a colony of leafcutter ants.

You cannot see the ants because they are carrying bits of leaves far bigger than their bodies. They have cut the leaves from a plant and are delivering them to the nest.

This is a bullet ant, below, named for its extremely painful sting.

Because ants are such a big part of the rainforest, it follows there are many species of birds that eat ants. There are more than 250 species of antbirds in subtropical and tropical South and Central America. They have names like antthrush, antpitta, antshrike and antwren.

Antbirds forage on the ants, so when we come to a mixed flock of antbirds hopping around the ground and tree trunks, it is an indication there is a moving train of ants charging along the forest floor.

Many ant-following birds do not have the word “ant” in their name. This one, below, is a ruddy woodcreeper. Their legs and feet are adapted to gripping vertical stems and tree trunks. They are always creeping up and down the wood of the trunk, thus their name.

Another thing about the rainforest: it is always dark. Thick tree canopies prevent the sun from penetrating through. This adds a challenge to birding and especially photography–a flash extender is a must.

Here is a bird who is nesting on the forest floor. The common pauraque is a nightjar species, and nocturnal.

If you look closely at the photo below you can see there is an extra eye under the parent bird. It is a chick on the nest, protected by the mother.

Moving up off the floor is the forest’s understory where birds, snakes, amphibians, lizards and mammals reside.

We came upon this Baird’s Tapir on a night drive. They are the largest native herbivore in the New World tropics, with adults weighing 330-660 pounds (150-300 kg). Tapirus bairdii is rare and endangered, and the Belize national animal.

Post I wrote on the Baird’s Tapir

One day we came upon this small creek. They were still a few months away from the rainy season, so the water was low; and it was late in the day so it was quiet. But we knew if we waited, something would come along.

And voila–a beauty arrived.

The red-capped manakin. Ceratopipra mentalis. A male with his orange beacon head and yellow pantaloon legs, he will no doubt give a commanding performance of his entertaining courtship dance during mating season. They are usually very difficult to spot because they primarily eat fruit and are hidden in leaves, but that day we were lucky he was thirsty.

This red-legged honeycreeper, below, is a nectar-feeder in the tanager family. Cyanerpes cyaneus is about twice the size of a hummingbird.

One day we were on a different trail, a narrow path close to water when we were surprised to come around the corner and be face-to-face with this unique heron. Cochlearius cochlearius.

Although I love all the lizards of the rainforests–so nimble and prehistoric-looking–my favorite is the basilisk with its curious features and amazing ability to skid across the water’s surface.

This individual was living near our bungalow and often came to greet us after a long day in the field. It lived in the darkness underneath this wood perch.

Sometimes there’s a patch of sun shining through a gap in the canopy and photography is a little better.

Light helps with distinguishing the camouflaged wildlife, too.

It might take your eyes a minute to see that there are two large parrots in the middle of this photo, below. Look closely at the center horizontal branch. Red-lored parrots — Amazona autumnalis.

The Belize national bird, the keel-billed toucan, takes the prize for an unusual bird. Ramphastos sulfuratus. A large bird and much easier to spot than the parrots above, but always so very high up in the canopy.

The bill looks heavy and unwieldy, but when you watch the toucan deftly eating berries in a tree, you see the bill is its best tool. It is very light, made of keratin.

Often when there are monkeys in the canopy, you will know it. They are either vocalizing with loud chatter or howls, or tree limbs are bouncing and leaves are scattering.

Way high up we were alerted to a mother and her infant.

You can see how splayed out the four limbs and tail are on this monkey (above), giving it a spider look and hence its name: spider monkey. This photo demonstrates how the adult is utilizing her prehensile tail. (The tail is the upper far right appendage and is wrapped around the limb.)

It is a marvel to watch them glide effortlessly and acrobatically from one tree to the next.

Also up in the canopies of many rainforests in Belize are the howler monkeys. This big guy watched us quietly and passively, but often their howling can send shivers down your spine on a dark night.

We are lucky to have rainforests on our planet and it has not been without a struggle, despite the benefit they offer to climate change.

Yes, the rainforest is moldy, dark and teeming with biting insects. But it is also filled with toucans, parrots and hundreds of colorful bird species, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. A tropical party that never ends.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

91 thoughts on “A Walk in the Rainforest

  1. Dear Jet and Athena,
    thank you very much for taking us on this walk through the rain forest of Belize. Interesting text and brilliant photography like always. We learn a lot from your posts.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • They are beauties, eh, Brad? And I didn’t even include the hummingbirds here! More beauty and wonder than I could fit into one post. Yes, it would be great to have them in my backyard except that would mean I would be bitten by mosquitoes about 25 times in an hour. ha. Great to see you, Brad, thanks for stopping by.

  2. What a wonderful walk through the beautiful forests of Belize.
    We are so thankful for this and the great photos presented illustrating
    just how plentiful nature is in this part of the World. Breath taking!
    Thank you Jet.

    • Yes, it is a breathtaking place in the world, Eddie, and a true joy to be there and share it here. I am grateful for your visit today and lovely message. Enjoy your day today, my friend, as I know you will.

  3. Fascinating and magical, Jet. Your narrative is always an interesting read and Athenaโ€™s images complete the story. Such stunning birds, industrious ants and cool monkeys. Iโ€™ve heard Howlers and that sound is haunting! Thank you for putting this together- a terrific read. ๐Ÿ˜„

    • Hi Mike, yes, it is quite striking the colors of the birds in the Belizean rainforest. There were just so many, it was challenging to narrow it down to these dozen or so photos today. My warmest regards and thanks to you.

  4. I think I’ll enjoy the tropical rain forests via you ladies! I did visit the rain forests up in British Columbia (near Ketchikan). I loved the experience but then it wasn’t quite as colorful or lively!

    • I liked your comment, Jan, leaving the tropical rainforests for us to visit. The tropical ones are teeming with life, but that’s because there are so many bugs and bug-eating species. So what a delight to share it with you today. Thanks so much for your visit.

  5. Great post Jet. I enjoyed all of it and Athena’s photos. Rainforest are always fascinating to me. I was fortunate to live on the edge of one in West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer way back in the 60s. Rainforest walks were one of my favorite activities. And I know what you mean about army ants. They invaded my home once! I only got bit once, but indeed, that was all it took. โ€“Curt

    • Yes, all we need is one ant bite to heighten our awareness of these insects, it’s true. How lovely that you had a chance to live on the edge of one in West Africa, Curt. Thanks very much for your visit today.

      • I explored much of the surrounding country using trails that led to villages, Jet, and even mapped it with my compass. The villagers were always surprised to see me on their trails.

  6. I’d have the heebie jeebies with all those ants about, Jet. They’re a pet hate of mine. Startlingly beautiful birds though and I’m quite happy for them to tuck in. ๐Ÿคญ๐Ÿ’—

    • I really enjoyed your comment, Jo, and your true confession about ants. Good thing to know about yourself, and you know not to walk through a rainforest now. Always a complete joy to “see” you, Jo. Thank you.

  7. It was interesting to compare and contrast your photos with what I experienced in the Liberian rain forest. I don’t remember such a collection of beautiful birds, although they may have been about. What I mostly remember are the snakes, the ants, the termites, and the dark silence of the paths. We sometimes walked back to villages for our clinics; how I wish I could do that again!

    • It’s quite astounding how different the world’s rainforests are, Linda, depending on the location. I took a quick Wikipedia look at Liberian rainforests and saw there are two types: evergreen forests in the southeast, and moist semi-deciduous forests in the central and northwestern parts. Sounds lovely. I am happy you enjoyed the walk in the rainforest today, Linda, thanks for your visit.

  8. A wonderful tropical rainforest walk today, Jet! So many things to see and hear, from beneath your feet to high above. Iโ€™d love to see some spider moneys – any monkeys, really – but today, a hat tip to the laid back howler. Thatโ€™s the way to enjoy your day, part of it at any rateโ€ฆ
    Great stuff – thank you!

    • My friend, pc, always a pleasure to get your “take” on things here. Isn’t that howler monkey pose the greatest?? Often in the high heat they get pretty lethargic. Once we were on a Mayan ruin, a pyramid-like temple, and we were over near a howler, admiring and taking photos and at his level in the treetops. Athena got a little too close and the howler, in that lethargic way, took a seed pit he was chewing on and threw it at us. ha! Always a delight, pc, thank you. Have a fun weekend!

  9. How nice to see the Spider Monkey, Tapir, Howler Monkey, and the Ants, when I was in the Amazon. Great photos and great post, my friend. Thank you a lot. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Some beautifully colorful birds, Jet. I greatly enjoyed the walk (and lack of heat and humidity.) While in Costa Rica some years ago, we encountered howler monkeys. They’re quite loud. We saw sloths as well. We went with a group and a guide in the rain forest area which was a great idea as the guide spotted things we would have missed and also had a spotting lens.

    • It’s great that you have the experience and memories of your Costa Rican rainforest adventure, Janet, and I’m glad this post brought it back for you. Sloths are a wonderful aspect to CR and are typically very difficult to spot, so it’s good you had a guide. Thanks very much for your visit.

    • I really appreciate your thoughtful comment, Ronnie. I work on making the info engrossing, to use your word, by giving just a bit of interesting facts, but not extraneous, regarding each photo subject. It’s a writing style I have developed just for blogging where photos are so easy to provide. My deepest thanks.

    • I do love sharing the beauties of the world especially with you and other folks who do take away the info and appreciate it. Thanks so very much, Janet, it is a pleasure to have you stop by.

    • Hi Craig, the taxonomy of the boat-billed heron is a complicated one due to a zoologist who named it and his non-conformity with the zoological nomenclature. To answer your question, here’s what I got from Wikipedia: “The name Cochlearius is from the Latin cocleare, coclearis or cochlearium for a ‘spoon in the form of a snail shell.'” This must be what the big bill looked like to the zoologist. It is a curious thing, thanks for your interest. And of course, always a pleasure to have you stop by, thank you.

  11. This journal of your walk through the rainforest of Belize is just astounding. The photos are so beautiful. Costa Rica is as close to Belize as I think I have seen so thank you for taking me on this trip with you and Athena. I do remember the basilisk lizard that I saw in Costa Rica. Our guide called it a Jesus Christ lizard because it could walk on water. It was amazing.

    I hope you two have a great rest of your trip to this lovely spot on our planet.

    • Thank you, LuAnne. It is a pure joy to receive your kind and thoughtful words, and I am smiling. I am delighted you enjoyed the walk through the Belizean rainforest, such a wild and wonderful place. We are lucky so very many people and organizations have devoted their time, energy and funding to keep it protected. And I agree with you: the basilisk lizard is truly amazing to watch as they skitter atop the water’s surface. My warmest thanks to you.

    • Yes, it is remarkable to find a country that is over half rainforest. Its small size does make that possible, and it also has a relatively small population and a dedication to conservation. I’m glad you enjoyed the Belize rainforest post, Steve, thank you.

  12. Thanks for another wonderful tour of the rainforest, Jet. The photos & the narrative take me back, not to Belize (which would be great to visit) but to Costa Rica where I found a similar joy encountering some of these species (oh, my wife still bears an ankle-scar from the ant bites!). What a treasure-house of life, these rainforests, what a tragedy for the planet if they continue to be diminished.

    • I so enjoyed your comment, Walt. I also fondly remember your joy-filled descriptions of frolicking in the CR rainforest recently and I understand the ankle scars of your wife’s too well. It is fortunate you and I have had the honor to embrace rainforests, and I, like you, continue to hope for their survival. There are so many dedicated people and organizations working constantly to preserve and protect the rainforests we have left and I think there is a chance. A big smile to you, my friend, and thanks.

    • Hi Dave, I’m glad you enjoyed the Belizean rainforest. This post reflected two visits I have made to Belize, and yes, I have spent time in the CR rainforest, as well as the Amazon. I love visiting tropical rainforests. And I appreciate your visit here, thanks very much.

  13. Thanks so much for a bug-free and humidity-free visit to the rainforest! It’s amazing how brightly colored most of the birds are, in spite of (or because of?) living in such a dark environment. The Red-legged honeycreeper is so vibrant, what a beautiful portrait!

    • How wonderful to have you stop by, Barbara, and I’m really glad you enjoyed the pleasant vicarious walk through the rainforest. We were happy to have time with the red-legged honeycreeper and it just so happened that Athena could capture his image while he was in a patch of sunshine so it really lit up his legs. Sometimes the legs just look black in certain light. I really like that photo too. My warmest thanks for your visit, Barbara.

  14. Great writeup. I felt like I was walking in the Rainforest. So many creepy ants that can bite you and cause weeks of pain and suffering. They need more ant eaters there. I enjoyed my walk in the rainforest. Thank you

    • How wonderful that you could share in the walk through the Belizean rainforest, Bill, without any creepy ants biting you. It is clear you know well the scene with biting ants, no doubt from living in fire ant country. I’m glad you enjoyed the walk, thanks very much for your visit.

  15. You really made the rain forest come alive… a tropical party that never ends, indeed! I love how colorful the birds are. I’m grateful that I could walk through with you as a guide. Thank you for breaking the trail for us!

    • It was great fun walking through the rainforest with you, Nan, breaking the trail, as you put it. Several times we were alone on those trails and without a guide and it got wild a few times, unpredictable and a little scary, so I’m glad I could ease the way for you. My love and warmest thanks.

  16. Magnifico! Have not had the chance to visit a rain forest as of yet (fingers crossed for the future). Can’t think of a better alternative than having you letting us tag along with your keen eyes. As you know, I am partial to the incredibly gorgeous birds that inhabit those types of environments. The honeycreeper and manakin make me drool. We do have access to the Common Pauraque with our trips to the Rio Grande Valley – incredible natural camo – have not seen their chicks before, what a treat. Leafcutters are familiar to me, soldiers and that notorious bullet are fortunately still foreign to me. Assuredly worse than the fire ants that are constantly flexing their mandibles so to speak on our dog’s paws. Really appreciate you taking us along on this journey and kudos to Athena for the nice shots in what had to be difficult lighting conditions.

    • Thanks so very much, Brian, for your appreciative response. Of course you would love it there, ants and all. The manakin was an incredible triumph, and having been searching in many tropical forests over the years, we knew instantly how fortunate this find was. Fun to see the bullet ant, too, from a distance of course, because they have those unique antennae. Leafcutters are my favorite ant, your familiarity might be from your Texas meanderings? And the common pauraque was a complete thrill. The presence of the chick underneath the mother was not even discovered until afterwards when going through the photos on the camera. I am delighted you could share in the Belizean rainforest walk with us here. And your response probably means you reached home safely after driving through the hellacious storms, a great thing. Thanks very much.

      • Yep, we made it – slow and steady through the ice and snow that hit us as we got closer to home. The cold weather tracked south as we were heading north so we lucked out in that regard – still miss the beaches though. You are also correct on the Leafcutters – see them a lot down there – especially for some reason in the San Antonio area (Guadalupe River State Park).

  17. Oh, I am so envious of your time in the Belizean rainforest, Jet. It’s not the bugs keeping me away nor the heat but the travel to get there. Too long a drive from New England and I am not likely to fly for a second time…at least not in this lifetime. ๐Ÿ™‚ How wonderful it must have been to see so many of the examples we see in “Life on Earth” etc. To watch a parade of leaf cutter ants!!! โค Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful experience with us.

    • I was delighted to receive your comment, Steve, and equally as delighted to share the Belizean rainforest with you. One of the things I like most about blogging is having the expanse of the whole globe at my fingertips, because there are inevitably places you and I will never get to personally to visit. My warmest thanks for your visit, Steve, you put a big smile on my face.

  18. Love this informative post (as usual) and Athena’s wonderful photos… my favorite was definitely the red-legged honeycreeper, What utterly fabulous colors with those red “shoes” is the height of fashion! I think I could likely do without the bugs, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Your globed trotting adventures are such great fun…. (she says with a touch of envy! ๐Ÿ™‚

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