Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fun Fact: The Term For Ant Forage Is...

In my preparation for an upcoming entry on bullet ants and their habits, I've discovered something amazing:

Harkening back to pirates, many articles on ant foraging refer to foraged resources as... ant "booty."
The Blueberry Hunters (7932669124)

Neighbors Across the Road: Foals, Cattle, and... a Water Buffalo?

I much prefer to "live like a local" when traveling, as much as is possible while remaining a transient field biologist! A lot of researchers stay at research stations or in communal housing, but for a longer-term project it can be much cheaper to rent a local house-- luckily this is just such an arrangement. The house is a 5-minute drive from a small town and a 15-minute drive from a large town, and with all the tourists seeming to remain exclusively in the handful of ecolodges nearby, I am getting a sample of the real Pura Vida. Our bumpy dirt road is frequented by cars, buses, enormous trucks, tour buses to be parked at the drivers' houses for the night, dirtbikes, people on horseback, wheelbarrows, and bicyclists and pedestrians. Just on the other side of that road:

Yes, that's a water buffalo. From behind it looks not at all dissimilar from a rhino in size and color. No, I have no idea why there's a water buffalo.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Research Week in Photos: Coral Snake, Glass Frogs, and Tadpoles in Trees

When out bushwacking in the forest, you have to be careful of vines, thorns, and creepy-crawlies that don't appreciate your intrusions. Here's an ant with cool mandibles that remind me of a hammerhead shark:

A handsome tarantula (gearing up for a fight with a contender a few feet away, actually!). The measurements are from my new best friend: a PVC pipe that serves multiple roles as yardstick for stream- and perch-height measurements, hiking stick, and poking-in-search-of-hidden-animals.
Here is a net-casting spider, which uses web strung between its front legs to ambush prey from above:

We crossed paths with a very graceful, shy coral snake the other day. Gorgeous! Went streaking off into the woods as soon as we noticed each other.
I had the opportunity to check out some glass frogs, too! They are so cool: transparent skin, green bones, semi-visible internal organs.

They lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves that hang over water. Once the tadpoles outgrow their eggs, they fall into the stream below. Check out these unhatched tadpoles:

This is a Norops humilis, a ground anole we catch pretty often. To get their SVL (snout-to-vent length) and some good body-proportion photos, we momentarily press them up against a plastic tray and take a few photos.
A lot of my desk work is using a program called ImageJ to calibrate the scale in this photo to measure the different body proportions of some focal species. When the study is complete, it should yield some interesting data on how the morphology of these species changes over time based on habitat and location.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Environmental Outreach, Our Coffee Snake, & The Squirrel Cuckoo and Other Fancy Birds

Last week, we participated in a big environmental festival at La Selva Biological Station. I made the acquaintance of a bunch of researchers and spent most of the day sitting at our booth, showing young people a handful of frogs, tortoises, lizards, and a very tolerant red coffee snake (Ninia sebae). Here's the little guy getting a drink of water before we released him back home:

It was a great chance to brush up on my Spanish and herp-related vocabulary.
"No, no, este culebra no es venemosa."
"Pueden ver las ranas en esos picturas? Hay uno en cada pictura, pero las tienen mucho camuflaje y estan muy dificil a encontrar."
"Esto es una rana arbórea de ojos rojos."
Repeat ad nauseam, answer questions.

But really. there were thousands of people there, most of them school-aged children with their families. It was great to see such big turnout, and it gave me a good feeling to see a community so interested in their wildlife and local environment.

There was also traditional dancing and bouncy castles, so that was a nice entertainment bonus for everyone in attendance:

We shared an area with a couple of bat researchers, who had a great little setup showing how mist-nets are used. We chatted about techniques and I got to scope out their central american bat books. So many phyllostomids here!

I went on a couple of walks throughout the day.

My first walk, I was lucky enough to befriend a friendly birder on an ecotourism / naturewatching vacation, and he very helpfully told me the names of all the exceptionally fancy birds we saw. I hadn't brought my camera, so I'll have to use wikimedia to illustrate how cool they were. Here are some birds we saw:

The Rufous Motmot:
  Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot:
Broad-billed Motmot
Rufous-tailed Jacamar: Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda) (4090194954)

Squirrel Cuckoo:
Piaya cayana (Squirrel Cuckoo) (15147802961)
Squirrel cuckoo 2

Collared Araçari:
Collared Aracari

On a later expedition, I saw a bunch of identified parrots and had a close encounter with an indifferent peccary:
  Collared Peccary 04

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Today's Photos from the Field: Howler Monkeys, Intense Cable Bridge, and Being In Streams

The workday began with an intense experience with a wobbly (but seemingly reliable) bridge.
We use the PVC poles to measure stream depth, but mostly to stay upright while wading through jungle mud. The measuring tape is used to determine the boundaries of our transect.

We saw a troop of howler monkeys hanging around on our way home! This is the mom of a super-cute but hard-to-capture infant.
Pretty plants by the road

Morning Commute / Do Something Every Day That Scares You

Monday, November 10, 2014

Night Survey Numero Uno: Toxic Frog, Jesus Lizard, and a KINKAJOU!

We had an enormously productive and enjoyable night survey the night before last. Besides sinking into several patches of swamp and inhaling dozens of unfortunate but at-fault bugs, we saw and captured a good variety of animals, especially for a pasture site.

Some photos:

Leptodactylus savigii, the South American Bullfrog, which exudes a toxic mucous when disturbed that can cause bystanders to cough and tear up. Toxic to other frogs. Note the red eyeshine.
Basilicus plumifrons, one of the Basilisk lizards known as "Jesus lizards" for their ability to run across the surface of water.

Smilisca baudinii, the common mexican tree frog, is darn photogenic.

Ninia sebae, the red coffee snake. We temporarily absconded with this mellow fellow to use as an educational animal for a scientific outreach fair the next day.

One of several unidentifiable frog metamorphs-- part way between tadpole and frog.

I also saw a bunch of medium-small insectivorous bats, and, oh yeah...


It's been a bucketlist species to see one in the wild, up there with other tropical species like the three-toed sloth. This guy was in an enormous tree in one of our pasture sites, moving around noisily and checking us out as thoroughly as we were him. His eyeshine was almost as noticeable as the racket he was making. We weren't sure at the time (Olingos are pretty similar), but I ID'ed it later by its prehensile tail, visibly lighter belly. and general scampering around. It was too high up and obscured by branches and darkness for any great photography (besides which, I was pretty occupied with staring at the kinkajou!), but here is a video of a kinkajou doing kinkajou things: