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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Cataloging the Biodiversity of Reptiles and Amphibians in Western Ecuador - Page 3

Written by Stephen J. Bugaj
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It wasn’t quite 9:30 in the morning and I was already wringing wet with perspiration. As we trudged up the steep slope of the mountain, the mud made my footing both arduous and precarious. Moreover, my left insole had an industrial-grade bruise from hiking several days across rocks and hardened mud, and I had several blisters on both feet.

After first recording the temperature and humidity, we searched different substrates, such as the ground, bushes, trees and nearby water. Any herp that a team member discovered was first identified and photographed by Paul. Data was recorded on separate, water-resistant sheets of paper regarding the distance from observer, height and width of perch, distance from water, behaviors and microenvironment (for example, leaf litter). We also recorded the GPS location of the sighting. If Paul was unsure of the proper identification, we would capture it for further analysis and mark the location with a luminescent pink flag. As a general rule, we brought two or three species per night back to the lab.

During the daytime, we either consolidated our field notes and/or examined the previous night’s finds in greater detail. We also observed the length, weight, color of iris and number of scales on our species. This proved to be a major challenge at times; some of our captives were less than thrilled to be probed and prodded, and didn’t cooperate very well. Many of the smaller herps had distinguishing characteristics that were so hard to see that it was extremely difficult to make a proper identification. All of these herps were returned the very next evening at the precise location of their capture. There was only one that Paul preserved as a specimen for further research.

Our efforts at La Perla proved to be very fruitful. We recorded about 200 observations of herps including snakes (boa constrictor, king snakes, cat-eyed snakes and a very close relative of the venomous fer-de-lance known as Bothrops asper); lizards (Basiliscus galeritus; Anolis; Enyalioides); tree frogs (Hypsiboas picturata; Hypsiboas pellucens; Pristmantus achitinus; Trachycephalus jordanii; Eleutherodactylus longirostris; Epipedobates pentadactylus; and a member of the genus Centrolenidae. This amphibian was a “glass frog”, so named because its internal organs were visible on its underside); toads (Rhinella marinus); and one salamander (Genus- Bolitoglossa). This last discovery held particular interest for Paul; his field trips in Ecuador had only catalogued one other observation of a salamander to date. In fact, we learned that there are only six species of salamander in the entirety of South America. Regrettably, Placido told us that just before our arrival at La Perla, he had found an amphisbaenan – which looks like a cross between a snake and a lizard - that is rarely encountered in the field. We were truly sorry to have missed out on this.

Prior to our departure from Bosque La Perla, we had some very interesting experiences. We had recorded Bothrops asper on numerous occasions, but the snakes we encountered seemed to be as wary of us as we were of them. However, one night, while we were all up to our armpits in water, Paul spotted a four foot long Bothrops asper swimming toward him. Paul’s attempts at shooing away the snake had the opposite effect; it seemed to attract the snake to us. Our initial reserved demeanor transformed into frantic splashing and thrashing that finally had the desired effect. It was the first and only time I saw Paul flustered!

The very next day, one of the plantation workers brought us a small, furry creature that resembled a sloth. Placido told us that the colloquial name for it was “Flor de Balsa”. Interestingly, it only had one sharp claw on each foot and we were unable to locate any pictures or detailed information about it. Typical of sloths, it moved very slowly. However, if perturbed, it would rear itself backward, raise its claws overhead, and bring them down into its intruder. This happened to our very own Lucia while she was holding the creature. She experienced a burning, numbing feeling from her wrist to her neck that lasted for about twelve hours, which made us question whether there was some type of toxin or venom in the animal’s claws.


Cataloging the Biodiversity of Reptiles and Amphibians in Western Ecuador, Reptile and Amphibian Ecology International, RAEI, study herptiles, reptiles Ecuador, amphibian Ecuador, herps, Ecuador, Bosque La Protector La Perla, Pata de Pajaro, Cloud Forest, TRANSECT, Stephen J. BugajFinally, a friend of Lucia’s showed us a pair of shrunken heads that he received as a very young boy from his maternal grandmother. He said there were several tribes in Ecuador that engaged in the practice of headhunting many years ago. The heads were taken from enemies killed during intertribal warfare. In fact, as they were only taken from the ranks of those who demonstrated considerable bravery during battle, or who held positions of considerable authority, it was something of an honor to have your head taken, shrunken and displayed in some other tribe’s lodge. Lucia’s friend also told us that these items were in demand at the turn of the 20th century, and that he had been offered $3,000 apiece for each of these heads several years ago.

While we stayed at La Perla, we sampled Ecuadorian food and the local beer. The national brew, Pilsener, was only $1 for a sizeable bottle. Though it had a slight aftertaste, it definitely filled a void.

(Page 3 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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