Dr. April Reside
Monkey Toilet & the World's Cutest Frog
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Cocha Cashu Biological Station (EBCC) is full of monkeys. We’ve been watching Peruvian spider monkeys, black-capped capuchins, black-capped squirrel monkeys, brown titi monkeys, two species of tamarins and red howlers. Beloved says idly “I’d love to wake to the sound of those howlers.” The next morning at 5:15 am we were woken by a steady vibrating hum. The vibrating hum rapidly escalated into a proper howl, right above our tents so it was surround-sound. We lay awake, charmed and excited – howler monkeys right above us! And then, SPLAT!! “Hey wha –?” SPLAT SPLAT SPATATATATAT. “They’re shitting on us!”. For the next 20 minutes it was a steady raining of piss and shit on the tarp above our tent – thank goodness for the tarp! We got up about an hour later, when the sun had risen, and there were five red howlers sitting in a row along a branch, staring down at us. One dropped a bit more just for good measure.
After a leisurely breakfast we set off for the 7 (ish) km walk to a small sandy beach on a small creek called Playa Bonita. We got a nice view of a pair of fasciated antshrikes, and found a little boggy creek full of small frogs hiding in the leaf litter, including Allobates femoralis. A mob of pale-winged trumpeters scooted across the path, and we are constantly beleaguered by tinamous flying off as pigeons do, in a flurry of loud flapping, without getting a decent view. We did see great tinamou a few times, who have been kind enough not to fly off immediately. It was hot and when we arrived it was a relief to dip into the cool creek water. We accidentally disturbed an Agami heron, who had been cryptically lurking in the riparian vegetation. There were prints of the giant river otters on the sand, and possibly a jaguar print, but still no sight of the critters themselves. From a vantage point we watched magpie tanagers high in the trees, and macaws and white-bellied parrots flying overhead. A pair of bluish jacamars were hawking insects over the creek, and perching in the afternoon sun so their feathers shone brilliant orange and green (but no blue …? Strange name). A sunbittern flew in, calling its soft call which is uncannily similar to a bush stone curlew’s. The little tail wagging dance is quite unlike anything I’ve seen a curlew do, however; and it has beautifully coloured wings and a soft, floating flight.
We set off back for camp just before dusk, and it was already dark under the forest canopy. As it got dark we started spotlighting and found some great frogs by their eye shine. We found the photogenic Trachycephalus typhonius perched up in trees. Further along we found a small greenish mammal that looked kind of like a bandicoot, with a ridiculous piggy tail – a green acouchi.
There is so much to see around EBCC, that the choice is a bit overwhelming! I joined the mist netting team one morning, who are one part of the bird recensus team. The bird community here was thoroughly examined and described in the 80s by researchers, and now a team has received a grant from National Geographic to come and repeat the same methodologies to see if, and how, the bird communities have changed. This includes spot-mapping throughout a 100 ha grid; following canopy flocks and understorey flocks to describe their composition, location and behaviour; mist netting for colour-banding individuals and locating the cryptic understorey species; and specialised surveys for parrots, caciques and oropendolas. The nets that morning caught rufous-capped antthrush, three species of antwren, elegant woodcreeper, white-chinned woodcreeper and band-tailed manakin.
However it was getting pretty hot around midday, and the birds had stopped moving. So when beloved asked “Do you want to come to Playa Bonita to set trail cameras?” I thought that was a good plan! It was a bit of march to get there before dark, so I had to resist bird watching on the way there. Frog spotting upon return, however, was permitted! Wandering back beloved looks up underneath a palm frond and emits some words I won’t repeat here. “What what what?” “It’s a [more unrepeatable words] silky anteater!”. O.M.G. The most adorable critter, ever. Its defence strategy involved putting its little paws over its eyes, and either curling into a little ball of fur, or stretching up to display some impressively muscly ab-crunches. In other words, no defence. How are these guys not eaten out of existence?
Its heating up and we continue to find more species – beautifully camouflaged lizards Stenocerus fimbriatus, and my favourite frog: Ceratophrys cornuta. The Ceratophrys is two-thirds mouth; it sits quietly in the leaf litter presumably as a sit-and-wait predator. We’ve found some large ones and some super tiny ones, way too cute for me.
Last night we found two species of Scinax, both pretty kooky.
The article 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: