mesoamerica and the maya world

Category: natural world

Mexico’s best natural attractions

According to the LA Times, that is. It lists six of them:

  • Michoacán’s Million Monarch March:
  • Whale-Watching
  • Sea-Turtle Nesting Beaches
  • Lago Bacalar
  • Copper Canyon
  • Desert Landscapes in Baja Sur

What do you think of this list?


Photo Wednesday: motmots

turquoise-browed motmots

This image of turquoise-browed motmots comes from jvverde’s photostream.


Orchids of Mexico and Guatemala

The New York Public Library has digitized and put online The Orchidaceæ of Mexico & Guatemala by Jas Bateman. This rare book was published 1837-1843 by James Ridgway and Sons. The prints are quite beautiful, as these examples suggest:

Oncidium leucochilum. [White-lipped oncidium]:

Oncidium leucochilum. [White-l... Digital ID: 1112173. New York Public Library

Stanhopea tigrina. [Tiger-like stanhopea]

Stanhopea tigrina. [Tiger-like... Digital ID: 1112179. New York Public Library

Cattleya skinneri:

Cattleya skinneri. Digital ID: 1112185. New York Public Library

See the full book here.


Protecting butterflies


Mexican president Felipe Calderon visited the Sierra Chincua monarch butterfly reserve to announce a new $4.6 million program that will provide equipement and marketing support for the preserve, which is the winter refuge of monarch butterflies that migrate south from Mexico. Without a safe Mexican habitat, the butterflies would be endangered.

Calderon noted the significance of the butterflies to indigenous peoples:

The butterflies’ stay meant the essence of the dead, because the butterflies used to arrive around the time of the Day of the Dead and for the Otomí and Mazahua, they represented the spirit of the harvest, because the harvest ended when the Monarch butterfly arrived. These butterflies, which attract thousands of tourists, are regarded as one of Mexico’s natural wonders and this season, we hope to receive 230,000 tourists.

Calderon also announced that Mexico is working with the United Nations to have the monarch butterfly area recognized as a World Heritage Site.

via Mexico Premiere (also the source of the photo on which my artwork is based)

Chiminos Island Lodge

Chiminos Island Lodge is located in the remote Petexbatun Region region of the Peten. It bills itself as an “eco-archaeological adventure.” I have never visited, but that seems fair enough based on the evidence of this video.

Lodge home page

The Yucatan as a garden

the forest at coba

It might seem an obvious point, but a 2004 report by Anabel Ford, a UCSB anthropologist wroking at the site of El Pilar, confirmed that Yucatan’s ecosystem “bears the evidence of manipulation.” Plants are spread more uniformly that would be the the case in an unmanipulated ecosystem. Many of the “jungle” plants are cultivated species that have gone feral. Says Christine Hastorf, an archaeology professor at Berkeley: “That isn’t the forest that was there before humans landed in the Americas.”

An excerpt from the report:

Plants are nurtured for medicine, ornaments, food, spices, dyes, poisons, construction, household products, toys, beverages, rituals, fodder and many more household needs. These forest gardens may at first look more like a compost heap and untamed jungle, but as you spend time with the farmers, you come to understand the management strategies and the alliance that actively engages in the verdant environment. While plants introduced over the past 500 years influence these contemporary gardens, more than 90% of the native forest oligarchy is nurtured in the traditional forest garden suggesting that the structure of the forest and the forest garden is much the same.


Shown: Forest at the ancient Maya site of Coba


Via Wired


What is this?

I took this photo of this colorful creature at the Maya site of Ek Balam in the northern Yucatan.

ek balam bug

Love birds


So colorful! It’s not hard to see why the ancient Maya attached such importance to the macaw.

White-Tailed Deer release in Guatemala

Endangered white tailed deer were recently released in Guatemala. (I haven’t been able to find details about the release — if anyone knows more, please leave a comment.)

Find more videos like this on


View of temple 1, Tikal, from east plaza

This is a watercolor I did some years ago.

watercolor by thomas christensen, first view of temple one, tikal, from east plaza

The motmot

This handsome bird is a motmot, who may be seen in thickets and forrests throughout Mesoamerica. His name comes from the sound he makes (often heard in early morning).


motmot birdI had always heard that the bird modifies his tail himself, plucking away at the midfeather to leave the barbs at the end. But now I read that the middle feathers are weak and fall off naturally.

The Mayan word for motmot is xukpi.

The sound is from Dan Merrill’s excellent Bird Songs of Santa Rosa. The image, blue-crowned motmot (Momotus momota) is from Wikipedia.

Lycaste skinneri var. alba

monja blanca

This orchid, called the Monja Blanca in Spanish, or White Nun, was proclaimed the national flower of Guatemala in 1934 by the dictator Ubico. (Another version of the Latin name is Lycaste virginalis var. alba.)

This rare orchid is found in Alta Verapaz, in the northwest of the country. It is fragrant and showy, but difficult to grow; commercial use is prohibited in Guatemala. It is said to symbolize peace, beauty, and art.

Image from Heckeroth Orchids.

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