Discovery in Lamanai, Belize

Sudden roaring from above, like lions are hunting elephants in the canopy of the jungle. ‘The howler monkeys say Hi’, Eric laughed at me from behind his rainbow colored sunglasses.  I barely could hear him because my heart was pounding so hard. ‘Actually there are jaguars here, that make the same sound to confuse the monkeys. But only at night’. Thanks,man! That made it a lot better for me.

He continued talking about a tree which is a real Mayan pharmacy:

  • Tiny ants that live in this tree can cure cough when 9 of them are squeezed and drank with water. 9 is essential though. Don’t mess it up!
  • Chewing the leaves slows down the distribution of snake poison through the body. You would basically have 8-9 hours left instead of 3-4, before … you know.
  • Last but not least, the thorns of this tree have also a secret remedy for the boys.

He smirked and switched topics. ‘The Pyramids of Lamanai that we can see on this map are only 2% of the whole site, the rest is still undiscovered’. How did someone come up with this number when the rest is still undiscovered, I wonder?

On the top of High Pyramid I admire the green thundercloud below me. As far as my eyes can see is jungle. Only the river cuts a way though the endless green. Trees competing against each other for the best place under the sun, climbing atop each other, leaving only tiny little gaps for a sun ray to kiss the ground. There could be a whole big city hiding in the bushes. 

In front of the majestic High Pyramid the Mayan had build a ball court for Juego de Pelota. With all the trees in their sight, were Mayan Pelota fans sitting or standing on the Pyramid’s stairs and to cheer for the players below? ‘Go! Tukum B’alam! Go!’ Chants, or something like that?
Compared to other mesoamerican ball courts this one is small. But who knows? There might be another one hiding in the jungle and this one is just the 2% court.

The flat, dry ground in and around the ball court is home to interesting ants. Large, black ants with a pea-sized golden butt, dazzling in the sun.

Gold-butt ants

Three years after my visit to Lamanai, an image of the Ants with the golden butts caught my interest again. They don’t look like any other ant I’d ever seen. Far bigger than the small German, brownish fellows and also different from leave cutter ants that look like mini-boats with their green sails in the rough ocean of the forest ground. I tried not to think about the tragic event were I accidentally killed a whole colony of micro-ants in Guatemala a few years earlier.

The Lamanai Field Research Center offers an Identification card for Lamanai Ants but under the 28 described ants, none looked like my Gold-Butts. Was this species not yet discovered? The research center contacted their Ant Specialist Alex M. Smith for me and he knew more:

These ants are from the genus Camponotus and are likely Camponotus sericeiventris. The interesting thing is that I have barcoded these from Lamanai (a picture of the DNA barcode for the ant is attached) and from various localities within Costa Rica – and there are large genetic gaps within ants that are called “Camponotus sericeiventris” – so the C. sericeiventris at Lamanai may actually be an as yet unnamed species!”

Undiscovered species Camponotus sericeiventris *ingi*"

DNA barcode of Camponotus sericeiventris *ingi*”

Let’s call them Camponotus sericeiventris ingi, what do you think? Maybe I’m an Ant-decker.

Here are more images from Lamanai


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  2 comments for “Discovery in Lamanai, Belize

  1. May 31, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Oh my gosh, I may have turned around and left after the comment about the jaguars. Sounds like an amazing adventure!

    We spent some time in Costa Rica last year, and the sound of the howlers is almost impossible to describe. I’ll tell you this, though, the first time we heard them outside our balcony I wasn’t sure if a rabid dog had climbed a tree or if I was losing my mind.

    • June 1, 2012 at 12:02 am

      Yeah, it’s really shocking if you don’t know what’s causing this noise. I’ll try to record howler monkey craziness on my next trip and use as alarm sound 😀

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