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From the Field

Is that an Animal Making that Sound? Peru Week 5

December 5th 2023

Every morning I wake up to the absolute racket that the insects outside make. The cicadas are among the loudest of this out-of-tune orchestra, emitting an electronic sound not unlike a car alarm. But I’ve already given insects a lot of attention in my last post, so today I’ll focus on the other animals I’ve seen during my first two weeks here in the Amazon rainforest.

There are many beautiful birds here. One species that stands out in my memory is a supposedly rare species known as the pale-winged trumpeter. These birds are actually quite common here. The presence of this indicator species suggests that the forest around the Amazon Ecology and Wildlife Rehabilitation Programme, research station is relatively undisturbed. Having an undisturbed habitat is very important for the survival of the wide variety of animal species which live in the rainforest. I also found out a fun fact about these pale-winged trumpeters. When a predator approaches a group of these birds feeding, instead of immediately flying away, one brave pale-winged trumpeter stands unmoving and sacrifices itself! Who’s taking one for the team this time?

Mouse_OpossomCatching some Koala Cousins

One of the research projects that I’ve been involved in here is trapping small mammals, such as rodents and marsupials. Marsupials? Like kangaroos and koalas? Not exactly. There are no kangaroos or koalas here in the Amazon, but there are plenty of opossums, which are also marsupials.

In my opinion, the mouse opossum was the coolest small mammal we caught in the traps because it wasn’t quite like anything I’d ever seen before. We only caught one mouse opossum (Marmosa genus) overall, but we often caught two different kinds of spiny rat, Mesomus and Proechymis. Trapping for these small mammals is important because it allows us to determine the prey density in the area for big cats, such as ocelots and jaguars.

Unfortunately, I’m yet to see a jaguar. They’ve been caught on the camera traps in the area, so if I get really really lucky there’s a chance I may see one before I leave! On a night walk, we were once convinced that we’d seen a margay. This is a kind of spotted cat similar in appearance to an ocelot, but more adapted to an arboreal lifestyle (living in the trees). We were so excited to see it! However, upon closer inspection, we were dismayed to find out it was actually just a really big opossum.

Dark Nights and Spider Frights

On these night walks, we creep along in the darkness of the forest, using the light from our head torches to look for eye-shine from nocturnal animals. Different animals have different coloured eyeshines, depending on the compounds present in their eyes. If you shine your head torch on the forest floor, there’s so much white eye shine that the ground glitters like sequins. But these aren’t sequins. They’re spiders. With a fear of spiders just a couple of notches down from Ron Weasley’s, I often feel a little on edge during these night walks, worried I’ll walk into a giant web.

golden spiderVolunteer in Costa Rica | WorkingAbroadOne time one of the research staff pointed out a spider perched in the middle of an enormous golden web. This species of spider is aptly called the golden orb weaver. To my utter horror, he then proceeded to pull hard on the spider’s web. I thought that the spider was going to jump out and attack us. It didn’t. He was able to pull on this spider’s web without it breaking because the silk that this spider spins its web from is extremely strong. In fact, it’s one of the strongest kinds of spider silk

One afternoon, I heard a loud ominous rumbling sound, almost like thunder. “Is that an animal making that sound?” I asked. Movement in the treetops ahead made me look up. Howler monkeys! Howler monkeys are thought to be the loudest land mammals, with howls loud enough to travel through 5 kilometres of dense rainforest! This howl is used to alert others to stay away from their territory. If someone howled at me like that, I would certainly stay away.

Lastly, I’ll mention the wildest creature of them all. Josie is the craziest, most mischievous and most energetic puppy I’ve ever met. She was a rescue puppy and has been living at the research station for the past few months. Her favourite pastime appears to be stealing people’s shoes and hiding them in unusual places. I once had to crawl underneath the building to retrieve my stolen shoe. She’ll follow you wherever you go and happily chew on your clothing, while you’re wearing it.

I’ve seen so many animals here already that I can’t write about them all. These are the ones which stuck in my mind; unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get photos of them all. I feel very lucky to have seen these incredible species so far, and maybe a little unlucky with seeing others, like bullet ants and a pink-toed tarantula in our room. That’s all for now, next time I’ll tell you about my own research project which I’ve just begun. Thanks for reading this, until next time!

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Written by Holly Fortune

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