Argentina

Spot the beast 58

I saw this beast flying off from our verandah when I turned the light off early morning.

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Here it is. Just visible even when I cropped the picture.

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The moment the moth gets ready to fly, it is a different story! Quite beautiful.

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Spot the beast 55

The setting makes spotting this -rather delicate- beast difficult. However, I am sure you will find it…

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Here it is, probably not what you expected? I was pretty sure that you would check the sticks thoroughly and probably (at least at first) miss it.

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It is a rather delicate moth that does not visit us very often.

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Rescue!

While in Salta I got an invitation to join a group of friends on a fishing trip near a place called Goya, in the mighty Paraná River, the same river where we have spent some great days fishing in the eighties (See: https://bushsnob.com/2015/01/28/a-fishing-expedition/).

This time the fishing was not memorable as there seems that the river is suffering from too much fishing pressure and the large fish are disappearing.

At one stage during the fishing we were traversing a smaller tributary known as the Santa Lucía River when I spotted three large birds of prey circling a floating object. I kept watching their activity from about one hundred metres away and saw that one of them landed in the water and started to peck the object.

I realised that the birds were three Caranchos or Caracara (Caracara plancus) and I was surprised to see one landing in the water. Then, the bird lifted the object in its paws and started to fly away but dropped it. At that time, I saw that what they were mobbing was a smaller bird so we went to have a look.

While moving towards the spot, there was a second attempt at lifting the bird again and, again it was dropped.

Our approach scared the predators and we found the prey to be a Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata), a rather unusual target for the Caracaras that, although known as opportunistic, I did not think capable of going for a rather large kingfisher!

When we approached the bird, it swam with the aid of its wings towards us.

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A “rushed” picture of the kingfisher “swimming” towards us seconds before I lifted it.

I lifted the bird, risking its rather strong beak. Soon I managed to close it with a sticking plaster to avoid becoming a victim myself! I checked the bird and, fortunately, it did not show any visible injuries.

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Bushsnob and soaked wet rescued bird with its beak closed by the plaster!

I kept the bird on the boat for about two hours, waiting for it to dry and to keep it from struggling I covered it with my hat, burning my bald head in the process!

Eventually, it got dry and became rather active so I judged that it was as ready for release. As soon as I removed the plaster and held it in my hand for a few seconds, it flew away strongly.

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Waiting for the now dry kingfisher to fly off.

Unfortunately I can only speculate as to how the kingfisher ended in such a tight spot that, surely, would have cost it its life if we would not have come to look. In my view, the most probable scenario is that it was a young and inexperienced bird that had recently left the nest and, being still insecure, made a mistake spotted by the caracaras that took advantage of the situation. However, I could well be wrong.

Spot the beast 54

Another beast to test your observation powers. Not too difficult this time but good camouflage nevertheless…

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Good dress to deceive in Autumn!

Rococo

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A rococo is a large toad as you would expect with such spectacular name! It has been classified as Rhinella schneideri and it is also known as cururú toad in other parts of South America. In English it goes under the much less spectacular name of Schneider’s toad.

As toads go, a rococo is a large one: the males can measure between 15-17cm and the females between 18-25cm with a maximum weight of  2kg of weight! Pretty sizable if you ask me.

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Rhinella schneideri is a widespread and very common species that occurs in a variety of habitats but most commonly in open and urban ones. It breeds in permanent and temporary ponds.They are found in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil where they are sometimes kept as pets. I remember my aunt in Salto, Uruguay that used to have one in her garden that would come every evening from the cover of the plants to get its mince meat!

Luckily, at Salta, although we are at about 1,500 m above sea level we do get rococos and we see them sometimes around the house, feeding on the insects attracted to the outside lights. They are fierce predators feeding not only on invertebrates but they have been seen feeding on rodents, snakes, small birds and even fish and other amphibians.

Despite this, it a a shy animal that itself falls prey to snakes and birds of prey.  In fact, just a few days ago we saw a roadside hawk (Rupornis magnirostris) catching one on the road but our approach by car scared the bird that -luckily for the toad- dropped it unharmed (as we stopped to check it). They are able to pump themselves up to avoid being swallowed by snakes but this is clearly no defense against birds.

They are mainly nocturnal and very imposing creatures with a rather large body but rather weak hind legs that makes rather slow. They are distinguished by their supraorbital crests and their pupils are large and slit-shaped. Apart from their size they also have tibial glands located in their hind legs that secrete a milky bufotoxin. The later causes nausea, vomiting, and even paralysis and death in potential predators.

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Luckily, they are not threatened despite being collected for the pet trade.

 

 

Landscape

While in Presidencia Roque Saenz Peña in the Chaco Province of Argentina (on our way to Salta) we came across this sighting. I wonder if you can guess what it is?

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It looks like some kind of terraces that could be of volcanic origin?

Not so. It is a finding I have not seen before: ant nests!

 

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They “sprouted” in the front of our hotel and their builders were some species of leaf-cutting ants busy carrying stuff to their nests. However, this cargo was not the usual green bits but yellow.

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Here they are in motion…

Curious, we followed the yellow ribbons for quite a long distance around the corner and immediately saw the “victim” about 50m away: a smallish tree still covered with yellow flowers despite the ongoing harvest.

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I am sure that in a couple of days the ants will have to look for other source of sustenance as the flowers would have gone!

 

 

Spot the beast 44

The final beast from Salta as we are now moving to Africa again. It was spotted on some tree bark that stayed on the ground after collecting some firewood. See if you can see it.

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I do not think that it was too hard… I should do better next time.

Forever in doubt!

This event took place in August 2008, when I was not aware of the existence of blogs and even less that I would be writing one! It took place at our farm in Salta.

It all started with the death of a steer at a neighbour’s farm on the 17th of that month. The animal’s hide was removed on the 18th and left to rot. Over the next couple of days a number of Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus), Southern Crested Caracaras (Caracara plancus) and Chimango Caracaras (Milvago chimango) were seen feeding on it during the day. On the 20th we saw a fox and a tawny wild cat on the road, near the carcass but we were not able to identify them. As things were getting interesting and as we were used to waiting for hours for predators and scavengers at carcasses in Africa, we made a point of returning that night to see what could spot.

At about 21:30hs my wife and I drove to the area and pointed the car headlights towards the carcass, as unfortunately we did not have a spotlight. While I was maneuvering to get the best illumination of the dead animal, my wife -already known for her keen eyesight- said almost shouting with excitement “There is a large cat feeding!” I stopped the car and brusquely moved towards her seat to get a better angle.

What I saw left me amazed. At about 30 metres from us a large cat was crouching on the other side of the carcass, apparently feeding on it. It looked at us three times and bounded off towards the bushes. As we could not follow it with our lights, we could not see if it was spotted or not. What we both agree is that it was a large cat (at least the size of a large leopard) with a rather sizeable and rounded head that we saw clearly as it stared at us. That was it! Although we both knew that seeing a jaguar (Panthera onca) in this area was extremely unlikely, we were both convinced that this was what we saw.

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We knew that the chances of seeing it again that night were not high and, after a while, we returned to the farm, about 1.5 km away. We were so excited that we invited relatives staying with us at the time and our children to come back to the spot with us but failed to see it again!

The following morning we checked the area around the carcass for footprints but the soil was too hard and we failed to find any around the carcass or in the area we saw it moving towards, where there was a small stream.

When I spoke to our neighbor about this, I had the feeling that he thought I was joking but finally the concept sank in and he considered it as an impossible occurrence. After searching on the Internet I came across a publication that dealt with the distribution of the Jaguar[1] and decided to contact the author.

Below I translate our exchange.

4/12/2008

Dear Mr. Perovic,

Maybe this message surprises you but I have a farm in El Gallinato, Salta and wished to consult you about the possibility of having seen a Jaguar in this area. The coordinates of the place are: 24°40′ 23.10″S and 65°21′ 35.99″W.

In this place in August of this year a cow died and, aware that in Africa carnivores are spotted many times feeding on dead animals at night, we went with my wife to see what was feeding on it and we were surprised to see a large cat with rounded ears and green eyes that looked at us a couple of times, ate a bit and left. Regrettably we only had the car lights and a small torch that did not help us much to see the body. It looked rather dark but we do not know if melanistic specimens are present here or not. Around this area we have already seen wild cats and a puma but we do not publicize this to avoid hunters finding out and finishing off the few that may be around. Of course we returned to the carcass the following night but we only saw dogs feeding.

As I found your work on the distribution of the jaguar in the Argentinian North West, I thought that you would be interested in this information. I would also like to know if what we saw could have been a Jaguar or if it is that we are too old and having visions!!! Maybe some day when we are in Salta we could meet.

Kind regards.

His answer came the following day:

Dear Julio,

Many thanks for your message. Regarding your query, regrettably, I must tell you that is unlikely that it was a jaguar, I do not say impossible as one should never loose hope that their distribution will increase again to its original area which included the El Gallinato. But I do not think that nowadays it could have been a jaguar.

Regarding the article you mention, (although old) you would note that sites close to El Gallinato are mentioned (the mountain road towards Jujuy). These are data on footprints and some other signs, but regrettably 8 or 9 years have passed during which we cannot find new evidence.

I reside in Vaqueros and travel frequently to Jujuy (I am from there) in the mountain road. At the moment I work with jaguar and other cats (that are just as important as the one you saw) in several places, but mainly in the Yungas and Andes highlands.

If you wish when you pass through Salta, you could write and we could talk about this, about things that need to be taken into account about the predatory attitude of the different species, and I could also give you some useful material.

I thank you for your interest and initiative.

Many thanks and I remain at your disposal for any doubts you may have.

Greetings.

Pablo

Although we had a couple of additional e-mail exchanges, I have not yet met Pablo. I was in Rome at the time of the exchanges and in the past and present our visits to the farm were (and are) always short for time as there is always other more urgent and or important things to do!

Thinking back, perhaps the situation called for the probably first and last use of my “yaguareté” (jaguar) caller that I had acquired earlier in the Beni of Bolivia with the absolute guarantee (from the seller!) that it would attract jaguars! Luckily, the contraption remained forgotten in a corner of our farmhouse!

Incredibly ten years have passed since the sighting and, although I take in what Pablo said, writing this post brought back the memories of the large cat we saw that night whose identity will probably always remain unexplained for us!

 

[1] Perovic, P.G. and Herrán, M. Distribución del Jaguar en las Provincias de Jujuy y Salta. Noroeste de Argentina. (http://www.jaguares.com.ar/datos-personales/distribucion/distribucion-noroeste.html)

Spot the beast 43

Although winters at our farm in Salta are mild, sometimes we have cold nights and the occasional frost.

We buy some hardwood for our fireplace and also use fallen trees and branches to complement it.

The picture shows a pile of pine wood getting dry for next year. It also hosts an inhabitant rather tricky to spot.

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Here it is, revealed for you. It was quite difficult, I know! A real master at camouflage!

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Alien

This year Salta has been unusually wet and we still have warm weather and rather heavy rains in April. This has created a true green revolution accompanied by an insect explosion. The moths are still coming in numbers to our outside lights and midgets and mosquitoes are still around.

We found a cicada that had been attracted to the verandah lights. It was rather quiet and, unusually, stayed after daybreak. I collected it without much difficulty to have a look at it as there was clearly something wrong. While having a look, my wife noted pinkish silky filaments where its abdomen should have been! In addition, it was opening its wings from time to time but not making any effort to fly.

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Dorsal view of the cicada.

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The parasitoid larva can be seen at the joint between the thorax and the abdomen.

It was during one of these wing movements that she also noted a protuberance on its dorsal area that, after some careful inspection became a small pink worm-like creature apparently lodged in it. It was about 3 mm long and somehow it reminded me of a small warble fly larva.

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The pink parasitoid seen from above with a size reference.

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A close-up of the parasitoid larva.

Further inspection revealed another couple of worms also lodged on the cicada’s flesh. The larvae were still alive as they moved when I touched them!

We decided to keep the “sick” cicada under observation. As expected it died the following day but the larvae were still there so we left it undisturbed.

It is now about one month after the find. One of the larvae that detached soon after the death of its host has apparently built a small cocoon attached to the glass jar but the other two that stayed on the dead cicada turned grey and are apparently dead.

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What I believe hatched from the cicada and made a cocoon in the glass jar.

I am afraid that the outcome of the cocoon will probably have to wait until our next visit, hopefully in 2019. In the meantime I can only speculate that, as it happens with caterpillars and other arthropods, the cicada was the victim of some parasitoids that have somehow colonized it. It is likely, as we other situations like this, that the larvae had eaten the cicada slowly until the damage created caused it to perish but not before the parasitoids, or at least some, were ready to leave the body and develop.

I will venture that these are larvae of a parasitoid wasp but I cannot be sure until the small cocoon hatches, if it ever does. However, having seen such an interesting interaction, I will watch for another cicada showing similar signs and follow it up.

 

Postcript: In the internet I learnt that some flies are important parasitoids of cicadas and that they locate them through their sound. It is also possible that the silky, pinkish filaments could be a fungal infection that follows the parasitoid’s damage of the host.