Giant Anteater and Tent-Making Bats
In our last week at Cocha Cashu we found the ‘Pampas’ trail that we hadn’t yet explored, so headed out for the afternoon. It always takes ages for us to get anywhere because there are just too many animals to stop and look at! Particularly this trail, which was a largely untrammeled, tangled scramble. Excellent! We didn’t quite make it to the creek at the end of the trial by dusk, so we were stumbling along in the dark when Beloved cried “GET OVER HERE!” in a stage whisper. He doesn’t tend to make such demands without good reason, so I ran/stumbled my way over as quietly as I could (aka about as quietly as a herd of elephants). “GIANT ANTEATER! WTF?!” It is a strange thing to find an enormous long black fluffy thing wandering about in a rainforest. Such an amazingly weird critter! I had disturbed it a bit but got a brief glimpse before it decided to crash off through the tangled understory. We crashed on ourselves, and settled for a brief, mozzie [mosquito] -ridden picnic dinner in the dark by the creek before spotlighting our way home.
I found the stunning green-and-black Ameerega trivittata, of the poison arrow frog family (Dendrobatidae) sleeping on a leaf – although it woke up with our close inspections of it. Amazingly, further on we found it’s purported mimic – Leptodactylus lineatus – which belongs to a completely different family (Leptodactylidae). Why spend all that effort to be poisonous when you can just pretend to be? (or perhaps, pretend to be more toxic than you already are …?) More amazingly, Leptodactylus lineatus associates with the extensive network of leaf-cutter ant nests. In an interesting mutualistic relationship, the L. lineatus feed on the parasites of the ant mounds, and use the underground chambers as a hidey hole from approaching predators.
Further on we found the kooky toad Rhinella margaritifera that is in the same genus as our much maligned cane toad – but this one is cool and kooky. I was ahead on the trail when I heard a funny kind of humming, snuffling sound at the base of a hollow tree. Could this be our anteater friend eating termites during its evening meal? I was leaning in to investigate when Beloved arrived, and informed me that what I was listening to was the pulsing hum of a hornet’s nest, and it would be quite advisable to move along in a timely fashion (I think he used other words).
A few days later, a visiting bat researcher Cocha Cashu, Jose Luiz Mena from Lima, pointed us towards something I’ve always wanted to see … tent-making bats! With a description and a GPS point we headed off in search of the roost. It was exactly as he described, in the upper-most leaves of an Astrocaryum palm (the local common name is Huicungo).
The bats (Mesophylla macconnelli) had made two rows of incisions to form a little canopy for themselves. Underneath we found two adults and a baby! They were small and fluffy and just fantastically adorable. (yes, I AM an objective scientist, thank you. These bats were objectively adorable). We found them again on subsequent days, sometimes with three adults and two babies, and Beloved checked them at night and found the two babies there alone while the adults were out foraging. Apparently there are around 20 species of tent-making bats, most of them in the Amazon. One day I’ll make it to Hondurus or Costa Rica to see the white fluffy ones…
Our stay at Cocha Cashu Biological Station wrapped up all too quickly, and after 6 weeks we had to begin our journey out to make it to the next adventure. While I was feeling all very sad and sentimental, it seemed as though the forest was not feeling so fond – packing up our tent at 4 am a scorpion who had made our tent fly it’s home stung my thumb. I kindly ensured that our neighbours and our neighbours’ neighbours received the news at this hour by the volume of my, er, exclamation of pain.
Sad farewells and then into the boat with all our tonnes of gear and a motley crew leaving the station. My bird list for Cocha Cashu Biological Station had been a bit spare – its hard to identify little brown jobs when there are hundreds of similar species, and you get a bad look of them up in the canopy. And you’re out late searching for frogs, snakes and mammals most nights. So I enlisted the help of the birders on the boat to improve the situation. Good job too, the highlight was the beautiful snowy cream-and-yellow Capped heron on the side of the river. Three stops (2 guard posts and an extra loo stop) and we were at Boca Manu by midday. With little ceremony we were turfed out and the rest continued on. Oh dear, the Aussies and their terrible Spanish are on their own!
Dagging around Boca Manu for the afternoon, we had a kind of bereft feeling for not being in the beautiful primary forest, so were very excited when the local shopkeeper asked “Do you want to see the boa?” Yes, we do! There was a stack of crates with beer bottles ready for recycling, and the boa had found its way into the crates. It was a very stunning Boa constrictor! Beloved gently extracted it from the crate and asked Senor shop keeper what he’d like us to do with the snake. “Take it back to Australia,” he replied. I wish!
The blog post above has been kindly provided with permission by Dr. April Reside, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland. Please check out her blog Conservation on the Fly for more fascinating entries:
Please also follow Dr. Reside on Twitter https://twitter.com/april_reside