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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.

Lasiurus ega o L. intermedius

Here is a nice bat which lives in the FLAAR gardens, and came to visit the other day. We will invite Jose Cajas over, an experienced bat zoologist, to help find another so we can identify the species precisely.

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 Then Erik Boot produced an unpublished manuscript on centipedes and serpents in 1999.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).

Images of two different scorpions, near Rio Dulce, Izabal, Guatemala. The centipedes and millipedes we will show later. We have also found another creature that was missed in all the articles about these multi-legged creatures.

Images of two different scorpions, near Rio Dulce, Izabal, Guatemala. The centipedes and millipedes we will show later. We have also found another creature that was missed in all the articles about these multi-legged creatures.

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.

snake reptiles maya-ethnobotany venomous by Nicholas Hellmuth

Bothriechis bicolor, this is one of the most poisonous species we took that day. We have to be very careful and be with a trained person, because the photos are taken within inches of the snake, photographed by Sofía Monzón.

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.

Further photography of snake scale patterns
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.

Achiote Flower, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth

Venomous Atropoides nummifer, of Guatemala. This snake and other local reptiles have scale coloration patterns which are models for snake monsters in Classic Maya art. There were many more snakes with this oVoVo pattern besides just the normal rattlesnake. Plus some non-venomous snakes mimic this pattern.

Photo taken with high-resolution camera, with the snake out of his cage (courtesy of herpetologist Thomas Schrei). This snake is fully alive.

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.

Search for the truth. Is the Popol Vuh a "story" (merely a myth) or does the Popol Vuh describe actual facts?
First posted Nov. 30, 2012

For years we have been on a search for documentation of what in the Popol Vuh story is romanticized mythical creation (such as a faux Sun God with golden attributes) compared with animals which are are actually zoologically correctly described in the Popol Vuh.

Let's take leaf-cutting ants. Millions of leaf-cutting ants are known for all of tropical Mesoamerica. You can see these at Tikal, Seibal, El Mirador, Yaxha, Dos Pilas (all in El Peten, Guatemala), and Copan in Honduras. But the Popol Vuh clearly and specifically states that leaf-cutting ants steal flowers from the garden of the evil Xibalba deities.

So for the last four years we have gone out into the rain forests of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Guatemala, to search for the reality. Do leaf-cutting ants really harvest flowers?

The Popol Vuh even says that some ants climb high in trees to get flowers from the tree tops. And that other ants gather flowers already fallen onto the ground? But then the ants are not "cutting" the flowers if already on the ground. Yet their zoological designation is known around the world clearly as "leaf-CUTTING" ants.

Row of zompopo carrying flower, in Tikal Pachira aquatica

Row of zompopos carrying the long tubular segments of Pachira aquatica flowers; the other ants carry leaves, but the long brown forms are parts of the zapoton flower, Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, high-res digital camera.

We used a 21 megapixel Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III camera, 100mm macro lens, two different kinds of macro flash to record the zompopos.  Recently the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis had an exhibit of about 20 of our high-res digital photographs of these ants.

Please return later this year and we will reveal what we found during months of field work over four years.

Additional animals to be covered on this Maya ethnozoology resource
First posted Nov. 27, 2012

We have abundant information on rabbits in Maya art. Mayanists are long familiar of the role of the male Rabbit Companion with the very female young Moon Goddess. But how many Maya iconographers or epigraphers or archaeologists have had a wild species of Maya rabbit in their hands?

Nicholas Hellmuth holding a wild rabbit of unknown species

The rabbit you see here is actually the first time in my 49 years in Guatemala that I have seen a native species of rabbit. We are now doing a DNA test on its fur to determine what species it is. It refused to eat carrots or bunny rabbit food, and definitely did not come from a pet store!

Since we are also working on owls, leaf-cutting ants, and felines, it may be a few weeks before we add a new page and new full-color PDF on the Maya Rabbit Companion, but we have plenty of interesting facts both on actual wild rabbits in Mesoamerica as well as on rabbits in stelae, altars, sculptures, ceramic vases, plates, and bowls.

We also have some surprise information on butterflies and their relationship with certain plants of importance to diet in Mayan villages.

Sacred animals and plants of the Maya
of past and present

This new web site is dedicated to the photography and study of mammals, birds, fish, shellfish, insects, spiders, and scorpions which were revered, worshipped, eaten, or utilized by the Classic Maya of Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. This site is focused on Maya ethnozoology and zooarchaeology of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

The creatures of tropical pre-Columbian Mesoamerica which were the most commonly revered were jaguars, deer, turtles, toads, snakes, spider monkeys and various birds, especially macaws, vultures, hummingbird, and water birds. Fish, snails, conch and shellfish were important in rituals as well as diet.

White tail deer Odocoileus virginianus at Autosafari Chapin Park. Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, Guatemala
White tail deer Odocoileus virginianus at Autosafari Chapin Park. Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, Guatemala

Veined tree frog, Phrynohyas venulosa, at Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City. Photo by Sofia Monzon.

Veined tree frog, Phrynohyas venulosa, at Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City. Photo by Sofia Monzon.

Our discussion of Mayan ethnozoology is divided into several basic themes

I have been photographing the birds and insects of Guatemala since I lived in Tikal at age 19. But with the advent of digital photography it became even easier. Based on studying Maya murals, decorated pottery, and ethnographic folklore, we have drawn up a comprehensive list of all sacred, edible, and utilitarian creatures which were of special interest to the Preclassic or Classic Maya of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

The pages of this web site will devote our efforts to include the following Maya ethnozoological themes. The complete list is in a separate PDF.

  • Insects and arachnids
  • Snakes, iguanas, and lizards
  • Crocodiles and caimans (alligators; Guatemala has both)
  • Shellfish: freshwater and marine
  • Fish: freshwater (especially catfish) and marine (especially sharks)
  • Amphibians (frogs and toads) and amphibious creatures (turtles)
  • Quadrupeds
  • Birds
  • Water birds
  • Mythical birds

We are bravely launching this Maya ethnozoology web site with a photographic coverage of an initial 5 species. There are another 200 species we need to cover to be complete, but due to costs of field trips to remote jungle locations, we can realistically aspire to accomplish about 10 species per year. If we had adequate funding we could track down, and photography, and publish all 200 species in less than three years.

Iguana at Autosafari Chapin, Photo by Jaime Leonardo, Guatemala.

Iguana at Autosafari Chapin, Photo by Jaime Leonardo, Guatemala.

Another reason for going slowly is because we have thousands of photographs to process (from the last several years of intensive photography), and also we are occupied simultaneously opening a separate FLAAR web site on Mayan ethnobotany. Our goal is to do additional photography of additional species now that we have better digital camera equipment.

So the five species that we are starting this web site with, I hope these images reveal the potential of what can result if funding becomes available to photograph and discuss the remaining circa 200 species.

How this Maya ethnozoology web site will cover the diversity of creatures of Mesoamerica

The long range goal of this Maya ethnozoology web site is to have one complete page on every pertinent species of creature (that was relevant to the Classic Maya of Mesoamerica).

In the middle of a recession, until a generous corporation or considerate individual provides funding, we will start with pages on theme-groups: so a group of related creatures on a single page.

Then, as funds become available, we will expand and build one complete page for each species. So here are the pages for the groups.

If the link is not a hot link this means the page is still being worked on. As soon as a page is finished we will have a hot link to it.

Themes will be discussed first, then individual species (one by one) later

Water birds

snakes

crabs

Marine turtles

Bees, mostly stingless

scorpions

felines

vultures

Crocodiles & caiman

conch

Fresh water turtles

wasps

spiders

bats

Macaws and parrots

 

Fresh water snails

toads

Ants, mostly leaf-cutters

 

monkeys

owls

 

 

 

beetles

 

rodents

raptors

 

 

 

butterflies

 

Other mammals

 

 

 

 

moths

 

 

Nicholas Hellmuth holding a catfish that relates with waterlily and also with the maya ethnozoology. Photo by Sofia Monzon, Monterrico, Guatemala.

Nicholas Hellmuth holding a catfish that relates with waterlily and also with the maya ethnozoology. Photo by Sofia Monzon, Monterrico, Guatemala.

Which is correct,
Maya ethnozoology or Mayan ethnozoology?

Having been at universities for decades, I am fully aware of the difference in meaning between Maya and Mayan. But to assist the reader understand the differences, and the deep emotions that the difference between Maya and Mayan is to the scholar, we have a separate page that discusses whether it is Maya ethnozoology, or Mayan ethnozoology.

Audience of this web site on Maya ethnozoology
is all interested individuals

With our academic background logically our initial audience are students and scholars. But in reality the full audience also includes the thousands of enthusiastic bird watchers and animal lovers around the world.

I believe this is the first web site on Mayan ethnozoology which is available in 36 languages. Yes, obviously this is a computer translation. But we believe it is significantly faster than earlier Babel-style translators.

To achive such fast translations requires having computer coding specialists in-house on-staff. But since our goal is to help students as well as faculty and the general public around the world, we decided it was worth the investment to make our material available in languages for China, Japan, Korea, India, Africa, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Every year I travel about 414,000 kilometers, to lecture around the world, but also to learn about advanced digital imaging technologies so we at FLAAR can provide museums as well as zoological, botanical, archaeological, geological, and ethnographic institutes, departments, and field projects with assistance in how to improve their digital photography and printing for exhibits. As I am in all the foreign countries where I visit every year, I notice how enthusiastic people are about learning about the Maya cultures of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.

So we wish our material to be in at least 36 languages to start with. I thank our capable staff of web masters for their hard work in programming the FLAAR web sites to be readable in so many languages.

Our other older web sites, such as www.maya-archaeology.org, were written in HTML and PHP, so we have to re-write them from scratch into newer computer code. So it will take us a while to make our legacy web sites translatable.

Dr. Hellmuth taking photographs of a Heloderma in the La Aurora National Zoo. Photo by Sofia Monzon, September 2011

Dr. Hellmuth taking photographs of a Heloderma in the La Aurora National Zoo. Photo by Sofia Monzon, September 2011

Dr. Hellmuth taking photographs of a Heloderma in the La Aurora National Zoo. Photo by Sofia Monzon, September 2011

Heloderma, in the La Aurora National Zoo. Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, September 2011

Most recently updated Dec. 2, 2014.

Previously updated Sept 5, 2014, June 3, 2014,several times already during January 2013, Dec. 26, 2012, Nov. 30 and many other times during 2012. This site launched in winter 2011 (Nov. 2, 2011).

 

 
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SUBJECTS TO BE COVERED DURING NEXT YEAR

Mythical birds

We Thank Gitzo, 90% of the photographs of plants, flowers and trees in Guatemala are photographed using a Gitzo tripod, available from Manfrotto Distribution.
White-nosed coatimundi, Nasua narica, one of the edible animals for the Maya people.
List of all the river turtles of the Maya area (Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, parts of El Salvador) and images of turtle species of Guatemala
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