Category Archives: Travels

The boa strikes back!

Our mission here on Big Ambergris Cay was to work on iguanas. And we did, don’t get me wrong. We collected some really good data, including some relative population abundance data through the use of road transects. Moreover, a party of two researchers from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) were helping us during this trip. They were particularly interested in collecting data on the possible presence of invasive mammals like rats and mice. Luckily it seems that these rodents are not present on the island, which is, of course, good news for iguanas and the rest of the endemic fauna. Giving the additional development planned for the island, the RSPB crew will also help in the development of a biosecurity plan for Big Ambergris Cay. With incoming barges full of materials hitch-hiking of undesired animals is possible and a biosecurity plan is fundamental to keep rats off the island.

Sarah Havery, from the RSPB crew, handling a male iguana at Calicos Jack.
A female iguana hanging on a tree. When shrubs and small trees have new foliage iguanas like to climb on branches to reach out for the new leaves.
A close up of the same iguana.

The title of this post, though, gives away the fact that the great protagonists of this trip were also boas. During the week on Big Ambergris Cay we had more than one encounter with these reptiles. A couple of nights ago some of the permanent workers of the island found a rather large female boa hanging around the dorms.

Me (holding the boa’s head and body), Dr. Gerber (center) and George Waters (with the hat), processing the boa.

In previous posts I showed a few pictures of a boa having lunch with a curly tail lizard. Boas are predators, and juvenile iguanas, 1 or 2 years old, are approximately of the same size of an adult curly tail, if not smaller.

Yesterday, during our last road transect we saw and documented a boa eating a juvenile iguana. We know this happens on the island, but documented records are rather scant.

We were cruising on the island looking for iguana to log during our transect and my eyes picked the cutout of a boa on the ground. It was about 16:50 in the afternoon. Boas are generally nocturnal predators and the first thing that I thought was a road kill. We stopped to check whether the animal was one previously captured and marked. We were all surprised to find out that the boa was well alive. The one not doing so well was the juvenile hanging from its mouth.

What probably happened is that the boa found the iguana’s burrow and went right in. It likely strangled its prey in the burrow and then pulled it out to eat it outside. When we arrived the boa was taking the little iguana towards some bushes, probably to eat it away from the sun and in a more sheltered area. Here are a few shots that I took with my camera. Enjoy, comment, share.

If you liked the previous post you will love this one (PG13 – 😬)

In the previous post I showed a few pictures of a boa eating its meal. This short video shows how the boa swallows the last bit of its prey before crawling to its retreat. I took the video with a Canon-EOS-RebelT5. I had to somewhat reduce the quality of the video cause it was way too large to be loaded here.

Enjoy, share, like  and comment.

How and what does a snake in the TCI eat again?

Imagine you want to eat something. Those who are lucky and have easy access to a food source would probably go in the kitchen, open the fridge, get some food and start eating with knife and fork. What happens if you don’t have hands, or limbs? And what if you don’t have access to an easy food source and you have to go out there and hunt down your prey?

Well, things can get a little more complicated in that case.

On Big Ambergris Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, the rainbow boa (Chilabothrus chrysogaster) has to deal with all of these problems. And yet, it doesn’t seem to be doing too bad. The sequence of images below shows a boa, about 60 cm long, swallowing its prey. In this case the victim is a curly tail lizard (Leiocephalus psammodromus),  but larger boas can eat young and subadult iguanas too. After this pantagruelic meal the little boa will probably crawl in its retreat and digest for the following two weeks.


A male adult iguana was right there when this gruesome show was going on.

What do iguanas and Murphy’s law have in common?

Today was pretty intense here on Little Cayman. After a couple of rainy days and a slow morning, the sun was shining again on Blossom Village and the rest of the island. That was probably the cue for many hatchlings who decided to emerge from their nests.

Jen “Boss” Moss holding five hatchlings that recently emerged.

Why did I mention Murphy’s Law in the title of this post? Well, the funny thing is that up till a couple of days ago the situation seemed relatively calm. We only had a few “rogue” hatchlings running around. Of course at that time we were 5 in the field: Jen, Tanja, David, Anna and I.

The "Welch Lab" crew posing for a lab photo. The lab logo on the t-shirt has been drawn by Chatu, another member of the lab.
The “Welch Lab” crew posing for a lab photo. The lab logo on the t-shirt has been drawn by Chatu, another member of the lab. (From left: David, Anna, Jen, Tanja, Me)

In the last two days we lost Anna and David. I say “we lost”, but nothing dangerous happened to them. They just had to leave because classes are about to start at Mississippi State University.

Long story short, now is only Jen, Tanja and me. And of course all the hatchlings are coming out. Today we  captured and processed 35 babies from multiple nests. We were able to “close” 2 of the enclosures (meaning that we collected all the hatchlings that were expected to come out of those nests). We still have ~20 nests to go and with only 3 people is going to be pretty intense. But we are pretty bad ass, especially the Boss and Tanja, so we will be fine 🙂


Iguana Work on Little Cayman (2)

We finally got a few hatchlings! Not as many as we are expecting to see out of the nests any moment now. Still…we caught a bunch of them in the surrounding of some of our enclosures. A few nests, of curse, have not been marked. It would be impossible to mark all of them. The hatchling from those nests have to come out eventually. When they do and we are around we try to catch them. We also look for emergence holes and make sure that there are no more iguanas inside.

Three processed babies.
Anna is trying to “feel” if there are more baby iguanas in the nest.
A baby iguana chilling on my arm before release.


Iguana Work on Little Cayman

I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end this hot summer than some iguana field work. I am on Little Cayman now, helping out my colleague and friend Jen Moss with the data collection for her PhD project. She works with the Sister Island Rock Iguanas, Cyclura nubila caymanensis. As part of her project she is trying to monitor the reproductive activity of adult iguanas on this beautiful island.

In the last couple of months Jen spent quite some time in the field tracking down females and trying to figure out where they nested. Now is hatching time and, with the help of four volunteers, including me, she is trying to monitor how many hatchling will come out from the nests that she was able to identify. Briefly, this is how it works:

  • identified nests are surrounded by an enclosure (we generally use metal flashing)
Hatchling enclosure
Hatchling enclosure






  • the enclosure has to be large enough to make sure that the egg chamber (which is underground) is inside it
  • we build a little shaded area in the center of the enclosure, to make sure the hatchlings can get away from the sun
  • each enclosure is monitored every 2 hours so that the hatchlings do not spend too much time inside the metal flashing
  • after processing them, the hatchlings are finally released in the wild

The work is rather exhausting. Patience is probably the main ingredient for such kind of work. Walking all day long across the island checking on those enclosures is no joke. The heat, the mosquitoes, the sweat, the sun, and the occasional iguana that hasn’t been tagged yet….all these factors can make the days veeeery long and tiring. Luckily, Jen is not alone in this endeavor. She has three volunteer helping her. Me? Well, I am the fourth one, tagging along to learn more about the nest work and how to deal with hatchlings.

David Herz and Tanja Laaser applying colored beads to an adult for quick remote identification of individuals.
Jen Moss (aka DaBoss) holding a rather large male. Anna Jackson is about to collect head measurements of this individual.

Stay tuned to learn more about these wonderful animals and see pictures of the adorable babies.

My first Evolution meeting…

Austin (TX). June 17 2016. I get off the plain and the heat assails me. Is it different from the famous Mississippi heat?? Not sure, but I am still sweating like a ……………………. (fill the blank with whatever kind of metaphor you like to use in these kind of circumstances).

The shuttle takes us from Austin’s Airport to Durden Hall (2624 Whitis Ave.). It is actually a pretty sweet place, at least for me. My boss is already complaining that he would have preferred to go to the Hilton or whatever other Hotel…I am loving it.

We go looking for some food. We try this local Mex restaurant called El Patio. Puts out with our expectation. Cold “cerveza” and meal of decent size and flavor. We leave with a full belly and no complaints.

We take the shuttle downtown to the Austin conference center. This place is huge. Now I know what they mean when they say “Everything is bigger in Texas!!”. We register for the conference…

IMG_4513 2

I am super excited and scared at the same time…so many names…so many “big” names…and here I am, with my story about Iguanas (that I should be rehearsing before tomorrow!!!!). We go to the Keynote Opening Speech. Only then I realize how many people are actually there….


Carl Zimmer is giving a talk. It is about his career as a scientific writer, and of course is somewhat celebratory to Stephen Jay Gould. Nothing fancy, but is still love it. He talks about Evolution, with an emphasis on us, Homo sapiens.

I use all my drink tickets on the first night….tomorrow things get serious…