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Itza Lodge, Long Caye, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize December 2016

We are a team of Canadian and American biologists who visited Itza Lodge and Long Caye for 2.5 fantastic weeks of fieldwork. We work on an amazing little fish called the mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus. As its name suggests, this fish lives in mangroves throughout Belize, Central America and as far north as Florida. It is such fascinating fish because it can survive in environmental extremes of temperature, oxygen, salinity and hydrogen sulphide (toxic to most animals). It is also the only known vertebrate hermaphrodite. It has both male and female bits and can self-fertilize! If that’s not enough, this fish can also breathe air through its skin and will often jump out of water, stuck to exposed mangrove roots. In the dry season, these fish will pack up in damp logs and can be out of water for months! Itza Lodge and Long Caye are an ideal place for us to study this fish. The Caye’s extensive boardwalk system allows us easy access to the dense mangroves and the fish. The Lodge also sits adjacent to a rather magical freshwater pond, home to a couple of crocodiles and a coot – as well as the mangrove rivulus. We did not expect to find the fish in this freshwater habitat as it is known to live in salty mangroves, but during our last visit in 2012, we found a robust population that is genetically distinct (but still the same species) from their mangrove, saltwater counterparts. Incredible!

Our team is interested in understanding more about the mangrove rivulus’ dramatic habitat to appreciate aspects of its biology that allow it to tolerate such extreme and variable environments. During our visit in December 2016, we monitored the mangrove and freshwater habitats and conducted experiments on these fish studying their behaviour and performance on land, when they air breath, and in water. Our plan is to analyze all our data, present it at meetings and publish papers in the scientific literature.

The accommodation and staff at Itza were wonderful! They fed us exceptionally well (the food was delicious!) and happily provided us with everything we needed to do our research. Thanks for being so accommodating and interested!