A suggested nature trail guide for Guatopo national park, Venezuela
Welcome to Guatopo National Park. Soon you will find and be
introduced to some of the beauties of the forest and discover the parts they
play in the rain forest community.
Your discoveries along the 700 meter trail will be aided by this
guide. The numbers on the stakes along the trail correspond to the numbers in
the leaflet. The trail will return you to this place in about 40 minutes.
So that your experience on the trail will be as pleasant and
interesting as possible - for you and those who follow - please observe the
1. Stay on the established trails.
2. Use the
proper receptacles for garbage.
3. Do not disturb, molest, kill or remove any
plant or animal. All plant and animal life is protected by law.
1. These trees represent a whole community of plants.
They are involved in a struggle for survival. Many different kinds of trees
evolved in the competition for minerals, water, sunlight and space. How
many do you see?
How is the Matapalo making a place for itself? Note its white,
trunk-like roots to the left and look up to see how it is growing over and
strangling the Puin tree.
Air plants sit on the trunks and branches of trees. They
collect nourishment that falls from the air, and so they are not
parasites. How does the shape of their leaves help them catch water and
falling debris like dead leaves and insects? Who might visit their water pools?
Insects? Tree frogs? Hummingbirds? and who else?
What other plants are growing on the trunk of the Puin tree?
2. The stream creates an opening that breaks the dense
vegetative cover of the forest, allowing the sunlight to penetrate, Sun-loving
plants found here may be different from the shade-tolerant species in the
Do you see the skirt of vegetation that seems to flow from the
treetops to the ground, covering the edge of the wood? Why do you think this
A few of the common plants that can be seen here are:
Yagrumo - a favorite meal of the sloth
Mulato - with its
Urape - the butterfly leaf
Cariaquito - a member of the mint family with its square
Platanillo - a bird of paradise flower
3. This tree fern is a living fossil - a living record of
the earliest evolved form of tree. Various types of giant ferns were widespread
over the earth during one geologic period. Then, with climatic changes through
time, their success became limited to specific geographic areas. What is special
about the climate in Guatopo that allows us to find the tree fern growing here?
The climatic changes also encouraged some tree forms to evolve
and specialize. This continuing process of evolution results in the infinite
variety of plant sizes, shapes, textures, and colors. Look around for some
plants that look similar. Find some that are very different.
Some plants developed special aids for seed dispersal,
protection and getting along in extreme climatic conditions. Consider, for
instance, different seed shapes and how they travel away from the mother plant.
Carried by the wind? Stuck to the fur of a passing animal? Deposited in
excrement? Or dropped from the beak of a bird, perhaps?
Are the two thorny palm trees to your immediate right the same
Thorns may serve as protection. What kinds of animals
might eat the berries of the Macanilla palm tree if it did not have thorns? The
animals which eat the fruits determine how far the seeds may be carried. How
does this affect the tree's pattern of distribution?
4. We have noticed a variety of plants. Some, like air plants,
ferns, lichens, and mosses can live on the trunks of trees and on rocks. But
what makes up a whole forest?
Trees? shrubs? ground plants? vines? Of course, all of these.
Look at these as different levels in a cross-section. How does each layer
benefit from its position? Which layer seems to prefer shade? Why do lower
leaves seem to be larger? What do vines and lianas do to satisfy their need for
water and full sunlight?
Guatopo has yet another group of plants. Here in the rain forest
there is enough humidity to support an abundance of air plants and orchids.
5. The homes of these two insects are commonly seen in the
forest, They play different but equally important parts in the breakdown and
recycling of minerals. Who are they? Ants and Termites,
Both live in societies organized for efficient harvesting and
reproduction. Do you know how to identify the worker ants from the guards?
Leafcutter ants gather a variety of green leaves. The leaves are
used to prepare a recipe in which a fungus is cultivated. This fungus is their
The termites are organized into groups of reproducers, workers
and soldiers. What do they eat?
In what ways are their homes different? What animals may eat
them? What animals may move into their abandoned homes?
6. Root shapes, too, can be found in variety. They serve to
support the tree and to absorb water and minerals. As a growing part of the
tree, they also need to breathe.
Roots have different shapes depending on the kind of tree, and
wind, soil, and growing conditions.
What conditions may have contributed to the elevated roots of
the Yagrumo tree?
7. We can learn curious, delightful and useful things about our
environment. How good a detective you are depends on how well you use your
senses - sight. smell, hearing, and touch. Forest plants can be good clues. Some
like wet places -others grow only in dry areas. We call these indicators.
What might the Casupo plants on your right indicate about their
Plants can also be clues to history. If they are seen in areas
where they are not native, we can suspect that the plant was introduced by
people, often for decorative or agricultural purposes. Can you find an
introduced plant nearby?
8. The forest is a hive of activity. Everything living,
breathing, growing. But the dead and dying things play an equally important
Minerals are the money of the forest, They are concentrated in
the growing vegetation as money is in the bank. But how then are the minerals in
one plant recycled -that is, made available to new plants? What breaks them down
into simpler parts?
Many helpers speed the decomposition of fallen leaves, and dead
plants and animals. Which animals help break down these materials into the
simpler parts? Vultures? Termites? Worms?
Mushrooms, bacteria and other soil organisms complete the
process of reducing the leaf litter, wood, and animal matter to humus. The thin,
dark, top layer of the ground is the mineral-rich humus. This enriches the soil.
Like the bank teller, it holds some of the mineral-money ready for exchange.
Water carries the minerals from one place to another. With rain,
the humus minerals dissolve and filter into the soil. In this way, borrowed
minerals are released again into the forest community. Again available to the
growing plants and the animals that eat them.
Leaf litter and humus also help the soil to absorb and hold
rainfall, and protect it from erosion.
Examine the humus. Feel and smell its richness.
9. Stop and listen a moment. There are many different sounds.
Why are some pleasing and others annoying?
How do animals communicate in a dense forest where it may be
difficult to see one another?
10. The soil has structure. How many layers can you see? We have
seen the leaf litter covering, and the humus or organic matter. Beneath this
lies what is called the A layer, occupied by most of the living roots.
Therefore, water and minerals for plants are provided by this top layer.
If water is not absorbed by plants, it, along with some of the
dissolved minerals it carries, will leach out and be deposited in the B layer.
Therefore, the soil of this zone will be more colorful.
The C layer is defined as the non-living parent material from
which new soil base will be made.
How would you define soil? What is it a mixture of? It is a
mixture of decomposing organic matter, parent inorganic material, air, water and
The process of soil building is slow. It takes about 500 years
to produce 2.5 cm of topsoil.
Erosion washes away in hours what took centuries to
build. The roots of forest plants help hold the soil in place. And this soil can
then hold more water for steady release into the streams. What happens to the
soil and the waterflow in deforested areas?
11. Where do the animals of the forest live? Some sleep in nests
on branches or in the hollows of trees. Others in dense ground vegetation, or
even in the cracks in rocks. What do we have here? These burrows in the cliff to
the left and also along the descending bank on your right are of many shapes and
sizes. Which animals could live here? Armadillo? Rodents? Lizards? Snakes?
Jacamars? Crabs? Whip scorpions?
If the stream is approached quietly, especially in the early
morning or evening, you may see some wildlife. Many animal tracks have been seen
here, including deer. Look around a bit.
12. Why do animals come to the stream? Because water, like food
and shelter, is one of the basic necessities of life for them as well as for
In and around streams lives a special community. Feel the
rocks in the stream. Slippery rocks are an indication of microscopic plant life,
phytoplankton. This is food for snails and some insects that spend their early
life in the water, like the dragon fly, caddis fly and black fly larvae.
Food is fuel. Fuel is energy. Each hungry animal
is a link in the food chain - both the eater and the eaten. Some eat only
plants; others eat only other animals; while some eat both plants and animals.
Who lives around the stream to eat the insect larvae and adults?
And who, then, may we expect nearby to prey on the crabs, frogs, fish, and
birds? Which insects are flying around now? How do they fit into the food chain?
Dragon flies, for example, eat other insects, including mosquitos !
Like the wild animals, we too are dependent on the stream flow.
Where does the city water come from? What kind of land holds water best and
releases it in an even flow?
13. What are some of the forest interactions that can be noticed
from this point? What story could you tell about this tree and the vines around
14. These roots of the Jobo tree are very different from others
we have seen. How do they help the tree and the soil at the same time? What
could be a cause for their shape and length? Feel their texture.
15. Both plants and animals have defenses against being eaten.
One of these is a chemical toxin in the yellow and orange milkweed flowers often
seen blooming in open fields. The Monarch butterflies incorporate this
distasteful toxin into their bodies when they feed on the nectar of the milkweed
flower. Their would-be predators soon learn that they are NOT a tasty meal.
The grassy state of this open field is maintained by the
intervention of people. If left undisturbed for a few years, which plants might
occupy the field? After these sun-loving species have colonized the area,
imagine how this space might look.
The place where two habitats meet is called the edge. More
animals may be found in this zone because they benefit from what both habitats
offer - often food from one area and cover from the one next door. We are on an
edge. What are the two habitats? Where else have we seen an edge today?
Why is this an open field? Are there any clues of historical
16. This log of Cuji may be called a Mother Log because it hosts
a plant nursery. Notice how there are many different plants, including tree
seedlings, growing on it.
In the moist, dense rain forest, plants need a space to start
growing. A log or fallen tree such as this provided the opportunity by creating
an opening of light in addition to space. How does this process both encourage
growth and speed up decomposition?
17. Did you guess that this field was once the site of a sugar
mill? Marker 15 is beside the ruins of the aquaduct which brought water from the
stream to power the trapiche.
Concentrations of people now live in cities and towns: away from
the sources of running water to power small machinery, and for washing and
drinking; away from the source of wood for fuel and building materials; away
from the source of wild animals and plants for food; away from an intimate daily
dependence on nature for our survival. How do we meet these needs today? What
are some of the complicated problems of our lifestyle today?
Measures can be taken to ensure the wise management and use
of our resources.
How can you Help:- Prevent forest fires and encourage
- Follow hunting laws; hunt only when and where permitted.
- Remember that litter is a sign of waste. Waste and litter are
signs of negative use of natural resources.
- Insist on moderate and appropriate use of wood, water, fuel
Can you think of some other ways in which we can apply our
technology to preserve our environment?
Text prepared by Basha Goldstein. Peace Corps Volunteer,