The End of an Era

After over 6 years of intensive research and community development work in and around the Yachana Reserve, GVI Amazon is coming to a close. We have finished our final research project (look forward to our Road Effects paper, coming soon!) and are handing over the project to our partner, The Yachana Foundation. They will continue to maintain and monitor the reserve, using it as an hands-on science education center for students -- we're very excited to see what fabulous things this next generation of scientists find! For more detail on GVI Amazon's closure, and our accomplishments over the years, please read on...
GVI Amazon Closure Statement

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Babies and the Beast

It was the first night survey for the new group of volunteers and the conditions were prime. A rare six days of no rain followed by a couple days of heavy rain followed by a clear moonless night seems a perfect equation for encountering the beasts of the forest. The survey was an amphibian and reptile search in which we push 500m into the dense reserve off trail; this is part of a novel study measuring the effects of road disturbance in tropical rainforests. Any frog, snake, or lizard we see we identify, capture (if safe),  weigh, measure, and of course release.

What we ended up seeing most were, oddly enough, babies. From the start, we came across a juvenile Enyalioides laticeps Amazon Forest Dragon and a juvenile Drymoluber dichrous Common Glossy Racer. Both no more than a couple weeks old, both certified Amazon adorable.

Enyalioides laticeps juvenile
Drymoluber dichrous juvenile
The night of little guys didn’t stop there. Just as we hit our final 500m mark we saw something that was, according to volunteers present, “the cutest thing” they’ve ever seen. I could hardly disagree. While Imatodes cenchoa cenchoa, the Blunt Headed Tree Snake, is fairly common on the reserve, one this small stands out for sure. Likely only several days old; I think in the end we took over a hundred photos and named him Blunty.

Li'l Blunty
With the survey was over, we tromped through a stream to get to the nearest trail to head back to base. Still excited about the finds of the night (the above plus about a dozen frogs), our Yachana Colegio student Henry yelled out “Caiman!”

The group froze, waiting to see orange glow of the cat-like eyes of the caiman staring back at them. Seeing it submerge, I got in closer, removed a log, and stood over the almost perfectly blended caiman resting inches below in the water. Patiently, I scooped it up. All of our eyes widened as we saw the 1.2m size of the beast, further dwarfing the juvies from the night’s survey.

Smooth fronted caiman:
not so smooth fronted, very caiman.
With grins all around, we couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the night had been. To top it off, just as we hit the trail on the way home, we saw one more: a baby 9-Banded Armadillo. Pink, clumsy, and awkward.

Overall, an incredible night. Despite the fact that we didn’t make it back to base until midnight and some of us had to be up by 5am to do a bird survey, the volunteers and staff out in the night had such a good time we’d gladly sacrifice the hours’ sleep to do it again.

A little science info about the weather conditions: When possible, many animals will coordinate activity based upon abiotic (weather, non-living factors) like rain, sun, and moonphase. This was seen throughout the Yachana Reserve these last few days, from termites and ants swarming in mating frenzies to a lot more calling bird activity around base. This trend is seen much stronger and much more often in temperate areas of the world, many species will coordinate all coming out from winter after the first day over a certain temperature or all go in for a winter’s hibernation after a certain shortened daylight period. It makes sense from an adaptation standpoint, there’s no sense in activating in the spring for an animal if there’s no other fellow creatures around to interact or reproduce with; some species only live for a few days so they could miss out all together if poorly timed. Here in the Amazon and near the equator we don’t get a ton of seasonal variation so any sudden change, like a few dry days into a wet day, can be used by animals as a ‘signal’ to all come out. Thankfully, we got to experience the best of it.

Phil Torres, GVI Amazon Base Manager