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"Expedition Panama" Guide & Resources

Welcome to Panama! Join Alan Alda as he visits scientists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a living laboratory of incredible biodiversity on an island in the Panama Canal. Find out how the Isthmus of Panama changed the world millions of years ago and how a canal built in this century led to unintended consequences. You also learn about the lives of lives of bats, bees, ants and other species that call the forest home and discover how a rodent could be a key to saving Panama's rain forest.

Here are the topics and running times of stories on this show and a brief description of related activities you'll find in this online teaching guide:

  • Big Picture -- A map of Panama and your guide to this Frontiers expedition, in a PDF format.

  • Echoes in the Night (running time: 12:18) -- Scientist Elisabeth Kalko spends her nights in the forest with a bat detector, monitoring the ultrasonic communication of bats. Activities: How much do you know about bats?; Echolocation techniques in bats and other animals.

  • Rat Soup (running time: 12:13) -- A pilot project involving Panamanian rodents could help solve problems in store for the Panama Canal. Activities: How locks work; Watersheds and their problems.

  • Bee Lines (running time: 9:38) -- Panama's stingless bees communicate with pulses so precise they can let other bees know just where to find food. Activity: Insects Rule! Trap and observe insects in action.

  • Champion Chompers (running time: 5:56) -- Leafcutter ants and their fungus gardens enjoy a unique relationship in the tropical rain forest. Activities: Champion weight lifters of the insect world; Thinking about the rain forest.

  • The Bridge that Changed the World (running time: 7:40) -- The tiny Isthmus of Panama formed a land bridge with global consequences, from climate to animals to human evolution. Activities: What's behind the Coriolis effect; A timeline of events.

  • Viewer Challenge -- After you watch "Expedition Panama," test your viewing skills with ten questions about the show!


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.