Books for children on exciting animals of the Maya rain forests, stories that are also educational for parents
Posted Feb. 20, 2015
FLAAR is moving forward to its long-range goal of creating and designing books for children. Focus will be on the remarkable sacred (and often edible) flowers of Neotropical Guatemala (and Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador) plus the impressive wild animals of the forests and swamps.
Dr Nicholas Hellmuth has over 50 years experience with nature in Guatemala: flora and fauna. He lived 12 months at Tikal already at age 19, and spent five years creating the Lago Yaxha-Lago Sacnab Parque Nacional in the 1970's.
While at Harvard and then a series of post-graduate scholarships and fellowships at Yale University, Nicholas studied animal hieroglyphs, animal symbolism, and then did his PhD at the University of Graz (Austria) on iconography of plants and animals in the Underwaterworld cosmology of the Classic Maya.
Together with a team of capable young artists, illustrators, and graphic designers, Dr Nicholas is preparing storyboards, first for books for children. But these books will be sufficiently exciting with fresh information that adults will enjoy acquiring them as well.
We are also preparing background scenes for potential future feature movies on the Maya, Aztec, pre-Columbian (pre-Hispanic) Mesoamerica. There are plenty of people to write scripts, but the environment, the setting, the reality of the Maya eco-systems: this is best done by an archaeologist who knows the trees, animals, insects, and reptiles with first hand experience.
The Parque Zoológico Nacional La Aurora is a good place to study the animals of Guatemala
First posted Dec. 2, 2014
Although this is a general zoo, and thus naturally has the world-popular elephants and other animals from Africa, there are also lots of the important birds and animals of Guatemala. So if you are a student or zoologist or iconographer or ethnographer, this Parque Zoológico Nacional La Aurora is one place to be sure to visit. Naturally you will want also to explore the rest of Guatemala to see the birds or animals outside in their natural habitat, but to get detailed photos, you can get better focus in a good zoo.
Since raccoons are common throughout the USA, and as I grew up (on summers and weekends the rest of the year) on a farm in the Missouri Ozark Mountains, animals such as raccoons are not the exotic creatures such as jaguar. Nonetheless, raccoons were present through many areas of Mesoamerica and are worth studying. This is the what I would call normal common raccoon, Pacyon lotor, mapache in Spanish.
Thanks to the Parque Zoológico Nacional La Aurora it was possible to enter the cage of these cute animals. They got used to us after a few minutes and were so curious they would come down from the top of the tree and peek at us. So even without a tripod we got some sharp photographs (Canon EOS 6D camera). I would also have used our Nikon D800E but the assistants did not pack the appropriate lens, so I stayed with the Canon.
We are looking at other brands and sizes of ring flash (this was taken with a basic Canon-brand ring flash, which does not fit on most Canon lenses (since it is made just for one macro lens). Most non-Canon ring flash have screw on rings so you can put the other ring flash on any lens (of any brand).
Bird by bird, species by species, we advance our knowledge
Posted June 10, 2014
FLAAR studies both plants and animals (related to the Maya culture). We have over 500 plants in our list of utilitarian plants of the Classic Maya. These we list on our www.maya-ethnobotany.org. In the last three years we have amassed about 78,000 high-resolution photographs of sacred flowers, edible plants, and other species of interest to the Maya past and present.
We also have a PDF listing every single insect, reptile, and other creature which was of interest to the ancient Maya: as food, as a pet, for leather, or as a sacred spirit, or as a demon in Underworld cosmology. So we are working on owls, as you can see below.
Our research teams also admit that we enjoy popular birds such as the toucan. Although most people focus on the more colorful species, the Keel-billed Toucan, we wish to remind ourselves that other toucans also exist, just that they are not as flashy or showy.
So we are now adding notes and comments on toucans, you can visit our page here, and wanted to feature the sketches of young K'ekchi' Mayan students of mountain villages of Guatemala. Later we will do more photography.
Owls of Mesoamerica
Updated Sept 5, 2014
Posted June 3, 2014
We are continuing our research on the owls of Mesoamerica.
Owls are pictured in military scenes at Teotihuacan and hence in areas of Guatemala which was impacted by the military strength of Teotihuacan.
Owls appear in many tales of Mayan folklore, especially in the Popol Vuh. And owls are pictured in murals, stelae, ceramics, and on other artifacts. Thus it is helpful to learn more about owls.
Courtesy of zoological parks we are able to get good photos of owls, so we can study their exterior features.
We are also training several Mayan-speaking interns on rendering the owls as characters. Here is a rendition by a 15-year old Cakchiquel Mayan speaking intern: done with a Wacom tablet (first time she ever used a pen tablet, so you can notice that Maria Josafina has potential). Our drawings are intended to be for children as well as adults: we are not attempting to do scientific illustrations (notice this owl is imbibing sugar Cola). We wish to use the owls to present future books about cultural values.
Visit our page about Owls of Mesoamerica.
Bats in the ethnozoology gardens of FLAAR
Posted Jan 14, 2013
We are pleasantly surprised, in the middle of the suburbs of Guatemala City, at 1500 meters elevation, to find a nice specimen of a bat (caught alive, and released alive, by our gardener). The photographs are by Sofia Monzon, of the FLAAR Mesoamerica photo team.
Already we raise tailless whip scorpions, and real scorpions; diverse spiders (both inside and outside the office), meliponia (here, very tiny stingless bees), monarch and other butterflies, and a very rare miniature snake (looks like a worm; same size and shape as a worm but with head of a snake), plus opossoms and other local creatures.
We appreciate that Guatemalan bat specialist, biologist José Octavio Cajas Castillo, kindly took the time to suggest an identifation as either Lasiurus ega o L. intermedius, of the family Vespertilionidae (60 species of th is family en Guatemala). Understandably it would take personal inspection, in-hand so to speak, to ascertain which of the two species this specimen was. But to make sure the bat would stay healthy, we released it after photographing it. So we will have to find another to have time to allow José to get to the office.
Jose Cajas says these are insectivorous, amply distributed in Guatemala, but hardly ever available for study by biologists. Thus we are glad to have contributed scientific knowledge.
We do not allow the use of insect spray or other harmful chemicals in our ethnobotanical garden. We will now do additional studies to learn what kind of habitat will make these bats content to visit us, and learn what they need as a nesting area.
Search for venomous centipedes
Posted Jan 2, 2013
Already in 1994 Nikolai Grube and Werner Nahm brought up the idea of centipedes being a model for mythical Late Classic Maya creatures which had previously been accepted as skeletalized serpents. Then Erik Boot produced an unpublished manuscript on centipedes and serpents in 1999. Harri Kettunen and Bon V. Davis II have argued that the Maya creatures are a mixture of snake, centipedes, crocodiles, and even sharks (2004). Although published in 2004 this was a lecture presented in 2000, so they were not able to cite Taube's study of centipedes and serpents of 2003.
During 49 years in Mesoamerica I have learned that studies of the creatures represented in Maya art, in-person, can offer insights not available in even a peer-reviewed journal. For example, after finishing my PhD dissertation which included considerable discussion of water lilies in Maya art, I then spent a total of six years of seasonal field trips to Peten and Monterrico and my knowledge of water lilies is significantly improved. Fortunately my PhD dissertation was also based on field trips in the 1970's and early 1980's.
In other words, if you have the snakes, crocodiles, and centipedes available, in front of you, literally, it is easier to understand their features (in this case especially their dentition, which I assure you is painfully visible when you are physically inside the crocodile or caiman pen at the zoo). The snakes are put on our portable studio table by the helpful herpetologists. And to answer the logical question, yes, the snakes do (rarely) strike at us. Sophia almost got bitten last year. And twice I have woken up with a scorpion on my body (one in a hotel in Mexico; once again while doing field work at Nim Li Punit, Belize).
Because experience has taught me that library and Internet research (for flora and fauna in Maya art) is not fully adequate, you will see that we are investing in more and more photo sessions with reptiles, centipedes, and scorpions during 2013. Our primary goal is to find the venomous centipedes. Every single person we speak with in Guatemala says they know of large centipedes, but until we have each species on our portable studio table, we are unable to further comment.
All our photographs will be made available to iconographers, epigraphers, zoologists, and students who are interested in these subjects. Please excuse the fact that due to the world economic situation, our budget is rather non-existent, and until a kind benefactor or foundation can assist our field trip research, we may be a tad slow processing the 21-megapixel digital images.
Further photograph of snake scale patterns
Most recently updated January 2, 2013. Posted Dec. 26, 2012
Since so many snakes are pictured in Maya stelae, murals, ceramics, and mentioned in Maya myths it is helpful to have good photographic references for iconographers and epigraphers.
Because of errors in identification of snake species, and confusion between dentition of reptiles and centipede pinchers, we are doing deeper research in reptiles and centipedes.
With the assistance of herpetologist Thomas Schrei we spent another day doing close-up photography of live venomous snakes in Guatemala City. We do this photography in a studio with soft (digital fluorescent) lighting to bring out the detail.