Our friends had taken the night-time trail the previous day so we were looking forward to a similar experience. The highlight for them had been a Toucan that they’d spotted in a distant tree. It was too far to appreciate with the naked eye, but as clear as a bell through the lens of the guide’s high powered telescope. We set off, with two others, to the strain of "whatever you see, please don’t see the Tree Frog". Apparently their guide had said that the tree frog was around but it was very hard to spot.
Up until that point I’d not even considered that we see such a creature, but it had become iconic of the jungle following its starring role on the cover of David Attenborough’s "Life on Earth" (published 1979). Our guide confirmed that "It would be our lucky night" if we spotted one.
We set off at a slow space with our headlamps fixed firmly to our heads. My wife had been warned about flying insects and so was well covered in "deet" and had a scarf wrapped around her head so that only her eyes were showing. She must have been baking inside but she was determined not to get bitten again. We’d only gone a few yards when I saw a spider close to my foot. It was quickly encircled by the five of us and Levy, our guide, identified it as a wolf spider. Apparently the wolf spider lives an almost solitary life and hunts on its own without even the aid of a web. Their good eyesight (two of their eight eyes are larger) and agility enables them to chase its prey over short distances. They’re not huge creatures and this one was pretty much fully grown at two inches. Indeed as we progressed on our walk we saw many more wolf spider on the ground.
Our first "spot" under our belt and we’re off again. It was sure I’d seen something near a leaf a few yards ahead so went to investigate. Knowing me it would be another leaf! There was movement again and this time Levy was on the case. He held up his hand and we all stopped. He moved forward cautiously and then turned and smiled. "You lucky people" he exclaimed "we have a Tree Frog" Sure enough there it was – a bright green little fellow with huge bulbous red eyes. It was just like the cover of "Life on Earth" and this little chap was not frightened of us. He stayed for a photo call and happily jumped onto Levy’s hand and was content to look around at us with a penetrating stare. Even my wife, who hates frogs with a vengeance, was "taken with him" and asked if she could have him on her hand. This was to be a first as Levy transferred the frog from his hand to Elaine’s. Her eyes showed no fear, but before I could fire off a photo the frog had leapt back to Levy and was clinging to his shirt with his footpads. The same footpads that enable the Tree Frog to cling to leaves in the jungle forest as they wait for insects or smaller frogs to pass by. What a great spot! We all had difficulty leaving the frog behind and I promised myself that I wouldn’t gloat when I returned back to base.
Finally we broke away from our 2 inches long Froggy friend and headed off into the darkness. As our lights shone there were hundreds of tiny diamond-like reflections surrounding us. This was the eye-shine from hundreds or even thousands of spiders. It was an incredible sight and somewhat surprising that they managed to avoid being trampled underfoot as we headed across the open ground.
Once again our guide brought us to a sudden stop as he crouched down and asked that we turn off our lights. He reached for a small stick and began, very gently to tease out the spider living in the burrow in front of us. A furry leg grabbed the stick and after some patience from Levy a Red-Rump Tarantula emerged. It’s also known as the Black Velvet Tarantula and this one looked to be huge – easily 5 inches across. We gave it the respect that the name Tarantula demands and held back from getting too close (thank goodness for telephoto lens) even though Levy assured us that the burrowing tarantula was more interested in insects, small lizards or other spiders.
We were well chuffed two great spots and just a few more yards ahead we evidenced that the Leaf Cutting Ants work 24/7. There was a procession of this amazingly hard working insect and somehow it looked even more impressive at night.
We’d now walked round to the top of the Lamanai site and Indian Church, Levy asked that we avoided touching anything. This, he explained was the territory of the Brown Recluse Spider. I have to say that the small scurrying insect that disappeared into cracks of the masonry seemed to pose no threat but as Levy stated that it was highly venomous we all visibly retreated away from the building in front of us. Having said that the spider is not "normally" aggressive but if bitten the bite can become infected and tissue irreparably damaged.
We pressed on and were told to carefully step over the Red Army Ants that, like the leaf-cutting ants, walked in procession at our feet. As we stepped over a column of Red Army Ants Levy stated that they made at clapping noise at night because they were prey for several animals and birds. One of our party, not me I hasten to add, asked if the noise was audible to humans. "Of course" exclaimed Levy. "Wow" said an incredulous tourist, "clapping ants". "No" replied an equally incredulous guide "I was talking about the Howler Monkeys". Talk about a language barrier!
The whole walking adventure took us over 90 minutes and it felt like "no time at all". We’d had a real exciting trip and we buzzed with excitement over the Tree Frog, the hairy Tarantula and the worker ants.
Did I boast about our sighting of the Tree Frog when we met up with our friends? Of course I did – who wouldn’t!