Station Update – Fall 2017

ITEC Field Station from Joe’s Tree

What’s New in 2017

Hi everyone. Another year has gone by and we have a lot to report at ITEC!   It was a year to remember with the loss of one of our faculty and board members, and the loss of our boat motor as well. But we have persevered and end the year on a high note. There is much to report  including new construction, new visitors to the station, new instructors and new research.

Wildlife Sightings at ITEC

Tamandua Foraging in the Forest

We see interesting animals all the time at the ITEC station but every once in a while we get good photos and would like to share them. This year was no exception (but we can’t beat the tapir from last year!). One afternoon way back in the forest we came across a tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla). Tamanduas have and strong shoulders and large claws with which to protect themselves so they aren’t particularly fearful of people. We watched this specimen crawl about, foraging under logs and leaf litter for some time. One night a wooly possum (Caluromys philander) showed up at the station. These slow-moving marsupials make easy targets for photos and this guy was no exception. He hung around for some time before scampering up to the canopy and disappearing.

As in most years, we took our Neotropical Herpetology course to Isla Bastimentos to have a look at color polymorphism in the strawberry poison frog, Oophaga pumilio.

Polymorphism is poison dart frogs.

There is a theory out there that suggests that females are choosing males that look like them (sexual selection) and this is the mechanism behind polymorphism in this species. Problem is that, if this is true, then extremely polymorphic populations such as the one present on Isla Bastimentos, should not exist. That highly polymorphic populations do exist is evident from the three frogs shown here caught within a meter of each other!


Pete with boa constrictor in forest

While an OTS group was visiting the station we came across a large boa constrictor in the forest. We normally find these snakes in the rafters of our buildings but we also see them fairly regularly in the field. Generally we leave them alone but in this case we decided to capture this specimen. While some of the students were keeping the boa focused on them, Pete grabbed it behind the head and he was ours! After the cameras stopped clicking we released the snake where we found it, in the buttresses of a walking palm.

OTS students with sloth

And last, one day a sloth came out of his tree and began a slow, agonizing crawl across the lawn in front of the lab. Everyone went out to take photos and as we encircled the poor creature, she went into a defensive stance. A perfect opportunity for a photo! There is always something crawling around at the station.

New Construction

New tool bodega below dining hall

Several construction projects have been completed this year that were begun in 2016. Because we took down the old tool shed we needed a new place to put our equipment and tools. We poured concrete slabs and built walls beneath the dining hall to create two new rooms. One of these rooms was chosen for the new bodega and everything in the old storage shed was transferred there. Then we installed roofing below the dining hall deck to increase the dried-in working area below. We also completed the laundry room which is now supplied with a washer, gas dryer and storage shelves. It became a real educational process buying the washer. Buyer beware! It turns out that unscrupulous retailers are selling washing machines that were meant for only the Mexican and Brazilian markets which uses a 137-140 volt system. As with the U.S., Panama uses 110-120 volts. Needless to say, the washer wouldn’t run and it took a lot of time and sleuthing to figure this out. We did eventually get our money back for the non-functional washer and bought one made in Canada that works fine.

Walkway to coral reef

Another project that we worked on was the elevated walkway out to the reef. It has taken a long time to complete this project mainly due to lack of funds, scarcity of the right wood and costs much higher than we originally imagined! An additional 100 meters has been built and we have now reached the mangroves. We have another 30 meters to go to reach hard ground, and from there the trail will be gravel. It’s another 100 meters to where the dock will be which will have steps down into the water for easy access. We are very much looking forward to completing this project.

ITEC’s newly painted boat

The ITEC boat has also taken on a new look. A new enclosed deck was built into the bow of the boat (that’s the front end for you land lubbers!) which is used for the battery and storage. The boat also received new paint inside and out as well as new seats, and has to be one of the most handsome crafts now plying Almirante Bay! To finish the boat’s update, we built new seats, added more cleats, bumpers and lights. More about this below.

Future Construction Projects

The field station is nearly finished with the exception of the faculty housing building. This structure, sitting across the courtyard from the student dorm, will house both ITEC faculty and long-term researchers in a bit more comfort than afforded by the dormitory. As many as 12 faculty and researchers may be housed there. While this structure was conceived as part of the original station plan, funding for it has not materialized. The building’s foundation is already in place but funds are needed to frame and roof the structure. Other projects, not so pressing, include installing pavers in the courtyard and building a new generator house.

ITEC Field Courses Presented in 2017

Session B Group

There were a number of ITEC courses presented at the field station in 2017. These include Coral Reef Ecology, (Al Beulig, Summer B, and Lonnie Kazmarcki, Winter Session 2016-17), Tropical Rainforest and Canopy Ecology (Barry Sullender and Joe Maher, Session B; Pete Lahanas and Joe Maher, Winter Session 2016-17), Neotropical Herpetology (Pete Lahanas, Session B), Canopy Access Techniques (Joe Maher, Session C), and Tropical Animal Behavior (Pete Lahanas, Session C).  Dr. Al Beulig (founding partner and New College Professor Emeritus) will be offering his Coral Reef Ecology class as an ISP for New College students for the first time in January.  We have begun to implement this and to date, a 3-week class is scheduled for January, 2018. The response has been good and Al has a full class plus a waiting list. Other courses like this are in the planning stages for next year and will include a terrestrial-based class.

Study Abroad Groups Visiting ITEC

Group from Northeastern University visits ITEC

This year we had visits from the College of Charleston (Dr. Craig Plant), Organization for Tropical Studies (Drs. Pablo Riva and Mauricio Garcia), Cambridge School of Weston (Steve Scrimshaw), New England University (Dr. Jeri Fox), Students Without Boarders (David and Maddie Fehr), Northeastern University (Dr. Pete Lahanas), Union College (Dr. David Gillikin), Austin College (Dr. Loriann Garcia), Ohio University (Dr. Harvey Ballard), Anderson University (Dr. Tom Kozel).

MiAmbiente visits ITEC

We also received visits from Dr. Ron Oldfield (Case Western Reserve University), Ryan Monger (Sultan High School), Dr. Molly Gurien (Ohio University), and finally, a group from MiAmbiente (Panamanian environmental authority) visited the ITEC station to evaluate the facility for a future week-long international symposium on La Amistad International Park.


Research at ITEC

Fulgorid leafhoppers

We had several folks working on research projects during 2017. Barry Sullender was back out in the forest working with millipedes and fulgorid leafhoppers. These leafhoppers are fascinating in that only males and females of different species are found together on the same tree. Barry is trying to find out why and to test various conditions that cause them to flee

Three-wattled bellbird

Edgar Griffith and David Correa showed up in September when the Three-waddled Bellbirds were calling. Edgar is working with folks from MiAmbiente and helping them locate and capture rare animals to begin a captive breeding program as a hedge against their extinction. He was very successful in doing this with Panama’s Golden Frog. The group put mist nets high into the forest canopy near a breeding pair but were not successful in capturing any. These birds remain only in the highest reaches of the canopy and are very hard to reach. The group has experience going after a number of animals including resplendent quetzals!

Rick Mosher returned again to continue his work with Lepidoptera. Rick set up a number of scent and light traps in various parts of the pasture and forest in search of his quarry. His work is providing ITEC with a detailed list of the moths in the region and provides a valuable experience for the students. Visiting these traps at night is fascinating as they attract not only moths, but a myriad of other insects, particularly beetles.

Allison Koch (University of San Antonio) returned to ITEC to work with local Ngöbe village of Drago and looking at how Starfish Beach tourism has influenced the community with respect to social and economical factors. Erin spent a lot of time with Don Enrique as they taxied tourists to and from Starfish Beach and elsewhere.

While his research was done a few years ago, we would like to acknowledge Justin Clause from the University of California, Davis, (NEH-14) who published his ITEC independent research project recently in the journal, Mesoamerican Herpetology. His paper, entitled: When it counts, size does matter: complex territoriality in Oophaga pumilio (Schmidt, 1857) examines the role of home-field advantage and size in territorial disputes between male strawberry poison frogs on Isla Colon. Congratulations Justin!

In Memory of Joe Maher

Joe Maher, 1940-2017

Joe was a one-of-a-kind individual. The sort of person you may have read about but never had the opportunity to meet. Like a character in a fiction novel, Joe defied belief. At 76 years old he was doing things that some 20-year-olds could not accomplish. He climbed trees. Not just small trees, but trees 200 feet high or more. Joe lived for doing three things, photography, tree climbing and story telling. But he loved climbing trees most of all. All day, every day, Joe would be in the trees. Sometimes it was difficult to distinguish him from the monkeys! But above all else, he lived for teaching folks how to climb trees, and received quite a bit of notoriety and press for doing so in his native state of Georgia. He would teach all age groups, from

One of Joe’s climbing students

as young as 4 or 5 years to old geezers like himself. But I think he received greatest satisfaction from teaching young researchers how to reach the canopy in order to do science. I believe he felt that in this way, his skill, knowledge and love of tree climbing would live on and be passed to generations way into the future.   Lets face it, Joe was also a cranky old bastard. But we loved him. We loved the way he looked at life and the way he lived it. He was here for the moment, and really didn’t care what happened next year. He had a quote or saying for everything and this became obvious whenever someone sets up a quote wall at the field station. Half of them are from or about Joe! “you people” and “ what happens in Bocas, never happened” and “What Ever” and “get out of my kitchen, sweet pea”, etc. etc. etc. Joe was an

Joe’s Tree Mosaic

adventurist with child-like passion for doing new things and putting himself at risk.   Joe passed away on July 8, 2017 doing just that. He wanted to use his GoPro to capture some images of coral reef students diving on the reef at Punta Caracol. Dissuading him from doing so was ineffective. It was Joe’s last adventure. There will be a celebration of Joe’s life at the field station on the 16th of January, 2018, during which his ashes will be spread in the forest he loved and the tree he climbed every day. A mosaic plaque, created by Cathy Fields, will be attached to the huge fig tree next to the field station. We know it as Joe’s Tree. We all miss him dearly.

ITEC’s Boat was Stolen

Pete repairs holes in the ITEC boat

In the wee hours of June 10, 2017, someone crept in on foot along Ground Creek to the ITEC dock. Staying in the water and below the motion detection light on the bodega, the thief carefully cut the ropes tying the ITEC boat to the boathouse, and silently pushed the boat out of its slip. From here he drug our boat out to the entrance of Ground Creek where presumably another boat was waiting to tow it to a channel marker near town. After removing the motor and all the gear inside (anchor, paddle, fire extinguisher, stern light, tarp and a rain jacket, they set the boat adrift, unconcerned about what might happen to it. They really only wanted the motor, a lightly used 60 hp Yamaha worth about $3500. They also took one of the water taxi boats moored next to the ITEC dock on Ground Creek. Somehow, either by luck or inside information, they chose the taxi that had the newest motor, but unlike our boat, they dutifully tied the boat to the channel marker so that it would not drift away. Moreover, they left

New Engine and Cover

everything in the boat other than the motor. Incredibly, this channel marker is in full view of the Bocas police station! The ITEC boat came ashore on the island of Solarte where it banged against the rocks long enough to put three holes in the bottom. We were forced to buy a new motor (75 hp Yamaha), anchor and chain, paddle, lights etc., which cost ITEC more than $5000. We want to thank those that stepped forward and donated to help relieve the burden of this cost, including Cathy Fields, David Brown and Rick Mosher. Rick set up a GoFundMe site which netted about $1200, and really helped offset the cost of this motor. We want to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who donated to this web site. We especially want to thank Cathy Fields for sewing a cover for the new motor which completed the boat makeover.

Now, the ITEC boat is looking better than ever and the new Yamaha 75 really pushes it well. We can travel from the station to Almirante in just 25 minutes! Another result of the theft has been the installation of a security system in the dock area.  Thieves beware!

New Purchases

Our new Nissan X-Trail

In addition to the 75 hp Yamaha outboard motor purchased to replace the one that was stolen, and the washer and dryer mentioned above, the other large purchases we made were a new electrical generator and a used Nissan X-Trail. Our old generator gave us 5 years of service which we feel was remarkable for a machine that built the station and ran every day! I hope the new one, a PowerMate 5.5 kw, will do half as well.

ITEC has done without a vehicle for about two years which has hampered and complicated trips to town. The new vehicle will serve this purpose but will also be used to locate birding sites and other biologically interesting locations on the mainland in connection with our plan to begin offering a birding program (see New Projects below). We want to especially thank Nick Lahanas who made a $2000 donation to ITEC for the purchase of this 4X4 vehicle.

From the Garden

Our first pidiba!

Enrique with our first mammon chino!

This year saw several new fruits from our garden at ITEC. Now, four years into our new location, our coconut trees are finally large enough to produce. They are still small, but we can see coconut rice coming to our dinner table! In addition to these nuts, we are now harvesting pidiba. Pidiba you say? This is an anonaceous fruit that is reminiscent of guanabana only more flavorful. I believe its called sweet sop in English and chitymoya in Spanish. But locally it’s called pidiba.

It has taken four years but our avocado has finally borne fruit. We only got two from the largest tree, but that bodes well for next year. They were delicious!

Ripe Cacao at the station

Also new this year were coffee cherries (not many) and mammon chino, a very popular lychee-like fruit. And finally, our chocolate trees are bearing ripe fruit. Perhaps we will have chocolate cake for  dinner made with our very own cacao seeds! We are still harvesting many of the other fruits and veggies on a regular basis (in season) including banana, pineapple, guanabana, mango, guayaba, culantro, guava, papaya and a variety of peppers.

Volunteers at ITEC

We want to thank Sylvia Francucci for her contribution to the station this summer. While we have many volunteers in the past, we have never had one work so hard. Sylvia was a tornado of activity! Apart from normal duties, such as cleaning, helping with supply purchase and transport, etc., she single handedly brought back our pineapple and pepper plantations from the brink. No small task as this required not only pulling and hoeing among the spiny points of the piña, but also laying down strips of visquine plastic as a block to future weeds. I wish we had 10 more volunteers like her! Nick Lahanas volunteered in the Spring for three weeks during which the extension of the elevated walkway to the reef was made. Doug Doughty and Melissa Donnelly also visited and helped around the field station for a week. Craig Ziegler arrived in November and helped with station operation and in setting up the alarm system in the dive bodega. We especially want to thank David Zimmerman for his continuing donations to ITEC with his frequent help with logistics and management both at the station and in Panama City. Thanks to all of you!

2017 Board Meeting

Our board meeting this year took place at the ITEC field station and was attended by the Director (Peter Lahanas), the Secretary (Cathy Fields) and the following board members: Al Beulig, Barry Sullender, Joe Maher, Rick Mosher and David Zimmerman.  Cathy Fields took the minutes. A number of items were discussed including how to boost student participation in ITEC programs, raising funds to finish the faculty housing building, and how to attract more visiting programs at both the college and high school level, among other items. One new item discussed was to initiate a birding program at ITEC (see below). This program was envisioned to provide a more academic focus to birding and include lectures on systematics and ecology. Al Beulig proposed offering his Coral Reef Ecology class as an ISP for New College students.  We have begun to implement this and to date, a 3-week class is scheduled for January, 2018. The response has been good and Al has a full class plus a waiting list.

New Projects and Directions

Red-legged honeycreeper

Birding Program. ITEC plans to initiate a new birding program in hopes to attract birders to the field station. The program will be designed to provide more life history, ecology and systematic information than what a typical birding tour provides.  The trip will begin on Pipeline road in Gamboa near Panama City (one of the best birding hotspots in the world), and then transfer to the field station for local excursions that include Bird Island and Soropta Canal. From here the program continues to mid elevation sites on both the Caribbean and Pacific versants, culminating on the Quetzal trail near Boquete. We hope to attract a class of birders interested in more than just adding another bird to their life list.

New Courses/Instructors.  ITEC has hired some instructors for new courses to be presented during the summer of 2018. These include Julio Gallardo (Mississippi State University) for Tropical Avian Ecology. This course will take place in Session B and include population ecology and conservation, Julio’s specialties. Julio was an ITEC student with Dr. James Roper 15 years ago! He will be returning for the first time since then. Armando Medinaceli, (Washington State University) will present Tropical Ethnobiology which will be offered in Session C. Armando specializes in the fabrication of hunting and fishing apparatus by indigenous peoples and has worked extensively throughout Latin America. After reviewing participation in our field courses, and examining the sort of offerings made by other study abroad organizations, we have discovered a shift in the natural sciences at universities and colleges in favor of genomics and computer programing. Students who are interested in biology have gravitated to courses that include a human aspect and suggest ways of managing and protecting our natural resources. We think this new course will satisfy the needs of these students.  Finally, Riley Shiery (Evergreen State College), will also return to ITEC after a 10-year hiatus as the instructor for Field Photography. Riley is an amazing photographer and many of his photos have graced our posters and web site in the past. He hails from Evergreen State College and will present the photography course will take place in Session C next summer. We wish to welcome these newcomers to the ITEC faculty.

ITEC’s Poster for 2018

This poster is dedicated to Joe Maher and most of the photos on it were taken by Joe. The poster is sent out to about 3500 colleges and university departments in the U.S. and Canada. This year we made an internet version that can be sent to anyone, anywhere on the globe.

How You Can Help

Thank you, Donors!

We want to thank the following individuals for their contributions during the 2017 year, and include David Zimmerman,  Abe Winters, Susan Scrimshaw, Diane Wickham, Nick and Rochelle S. Lahanas, David and Janis Brown, Rick Mosher, Steve Scrimshaw, Maya Sears, Noel Rowe, Cathy Fields, Doug Doughty, John Taglia, AmazonSmile users, many unknown donors to our GoFundMe internet site and the FaceBook Giving Tuesday drive.

Items Needed at the ITEC Station

ITEC is in need of several items for the field station. A small tractor with a mower attachment would be invaluable at the station not only to mow our large property but also to haul up materials, equipment, luggage and people from the dive bodega.

Ways to Contribute

ITEC is seeking donations to offset the loss of our boat motor and especially for the construction of the Faculty Housing building. If you are considering making a sizable donation, please contact ITEC for ways to endow the Faculty building. Donations may be large or small, everything helps. Donations by check are welcome and there are several ways that you can make a donation with a credit card.

ITEC web site. Just click on the Donate to ITEC button in the side bar and continue from there. This will lead you to a PayPal page where a credit card donation can be made. You can also download a form to accompany your check.

Amazon Smile ( is another way to help ITEC achieve its funding goals. This program allows you to designate a charity and Amazon donates a small portion of your purchase price to ITEC but does not increase your purchase cost. Choose Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation as your charitable organization recipient and Amazon will do the rest.

Facebook now also allows you to make a donation to non-profits such as ITEC. Visit the ITEC Facebook site at the top of our home Facebook page, sign in and click on “Donate”. This will lead you through several steps ending in a location that will allow you to make a credit card donation.

Finally, PayPal has a new program that allows folks to make donations to non-profits directly through their web site. Tuesday, November 28 is Giving Tuesday when donations to charities are matched by foundations. Paypal will add 1% to any donation made!  Go to for details!

Thanks Everyone!