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Panamania Just another Weblogs at Harvard Law School weblog

February 17, 2005

Nesting crocs and killer snaks

Filed under: crofootStories — crofoot @ 4:32 pm

First off, a few more photos of the Chiva from my
birthday.  These are from Axel Haensson
(it was also his birthday/leaving Panama

“Chiva group”

“Chiva dancing”

It has been an exciting last
couple of weeks. Santa
Maria, the last radio-collared agouti that hadn’t been
eaten disappeared off the ARTS system. 
None of the towers were picking up her radio-collar, and we had been
debating whether we thought the radio-collar had malfunctioned or if she had
been eaten. Then early last week, one of the towers started to pick up her
collar again, at a very low signal strength and constant direction.  This meant that she was probably dead, and we
needed to go recover her radio-collar, and whatever was left of her.  Santa Maria
had been a survivor, living over a year since she had been radio-collared.  When we finally did pick up her signal with a
hand-held antenna and receiver, it was on mortality mode—the signal pulses were
faster than in normal mode.  The collars
are designed so that if they don’t move for a predetermined amount of time,
they start emitting this mortality signal. 
(This proved problematic when a sloth was radio-collared, and started
emitting the mortality signal within 1 day even though it wasn’t dead because
it hadn’t moved enough).

Tom did find Santa
Maria’s radio-collar, along with a matted ball of fur
and some claws.  He interpreted this to
mean that she had been eaten by a snake, because snakes can apparently digest
everything except hair and nails.

I also found the remains of a
sloth while walking my fruit census. 
Like with Santa Maria, there
was a lot of fur, and some claws, but no bones. 
I guess this means that we have at least one large snake on the island,
although no one has seen any really large boas in a really long time.

Because there is a lot more wind
in the dry season, a lot of the wind dispersed plants fruit at this time of
year.  There have been a lot of really
cool seeds floating around, including those of Tachegallia—the suicide
tree.  This species is really cool
because it is a big, canopy tree that grows for decades, maybe even centuries,
never fruiting.  One year, once it has
become enormous, it flowers, produces thousands of wind dispersed seeds, and
then dies. 

These are some of the fruits that
I found on my most recent fruit census. 
The large green one on the bottom is Sterculia apetala.  On the inside are a bunch of round seeds
about 1 cm in diameter, which are surrounded by fiber-glass like hairs.  When you try to pick the seeds out of the
capsule, these hairs stab you, and you end up with hundreds of them stuck in
your hands, which actually hurts quite a lot. 
The capuchins, however, don’t seem to be bothered very much by these
silica-hairs.  They break open the
capsules and eat the seeds without thinking twice about it.  Sterculia reminds me a lot of the Neesia
fruit that grows in the peat swamps in Borneo.  Neesia also has fiber-glass like hairs
protecting its seeds, and when orangutans eat it, they use sticks as tools to
avoid getting the hairs stuck in their hands. 

There are also two species of
Virola which are starting to drop fruit. 
This is the red fruit in the green capsule on the right side of the
photo.  It is a relative of nutmeg.  The white flower in the middle is from a
pseudobombax tree, and the brown fuzzy thing at the top is in the same genus as
the monkey-comb that I’ve talked about before (Apeiba).  The capuchins are eating Lacmaellea (the
yellow fruit), and Chrysophyllum (the purple fruit below the yellow fruit)
right now, both of which taste pretty good. 

I also found this enormous seed
pod in the field the other day!

This Ochroma (balsa tree) in the
lab clearing has been flowering for the last month, which has been really neat
because all kinds of animals eat its nectar. 
One of the capuchin groups I study has been visiting at least once a day
to feed.  Some nights they sleep right in
front of my room, and feed in the Ochroma both in the early mornings and late
afternoons.  Kinkajous, medium sized
nocturnal mammals, also eat balsa nectar, and we’ve been going out at night
with large spot lights to see them. There is also a a large potoo that has been
hanging out near the balsa tree.  Potoos
are large, nocturnal birds that look a bit like owls, but have an absolutely
blood freezing cry.  One kinkajou
researcher who worked alone at night in the forest apparently comforted himself
after hearing a potoo call by saying “that sounds like a monster. . .but there
are no monsters in Panama.”  It has also
been really interesting because several people looking for the kinkajous have
seen capuchin monkeys feeding in the Ochroma in the middle of the night.  I should be able to use the ARTS data to look
at how often the capuchins are active after dark, and whether this correlates
with food availability. 

I had some really forgetful
moments this month.  After having an hour
of computer problems as I tried to print out data sheets, including multiple
phone calls between myself and the computer technicians in Panama
City, I finally got out to the forest and found my
monkey group, only to realize that I had left my clipboard, with newly printed
data sheets, in the lab.  This was my
solution, and in retrospect, I think it looks kind of cool.

The other cool thing that has been
going on is that three crocodiles have laid eggs on the shore along the lab
clearing, so we’ve been seeing a lot of them.  


These are just some cool things
that I saw on a walk yesterday:

It is a big week coming up for
me.  Saturday is carnivalito—the island
celebration of Carnival.  Unfortunately
I’m not going to be able to play as much as I’d like, because Bob Lessnau
arrives that day to help me radio-collar a few more monkeys.  Its going to be a crazy week, and hopefully
I’ll have some interesting photos to share with you. 


  1. you should take me with you next time. i have been wanting to do this for the longest time!!!


    Comment by Corey — October 30, 2007 @ 6:26 pm

  2. Wow! I just stumbled on your pictures by chance and they are just beautiful! It looks like you are having a fun time there!

    Comment by Dulce — October 25, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  3. What can I say, I just came by this blog by complete chance whilst looking for a picture of a balsa tree.

    Such beautiful photographs, it’s a real treat for someone like myself that you took the time to do this.

    I have to admit though, quite a few of the things in those forests made me itch somewhat and gave me a shiver down the spine.

    This world is a truly amazing place, let’s hope that it stays this way for many aeons to come.


    Comment by DrKincade — November 1, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

  4. What an interesting life you lead. I mean that in a good way! I, too, came upon your page purely by chance. Whilst looking up hermaphrodites. Please, keep up the wonderful work! I will be back for sure!

    Comment by claudia — December 12, 2008 @ 1:48 am

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