All posts by Sue Healey

Heliconia, Hummingbird and Soldierfly Research

Andrew Proudfoot, REGUA Volunteer, reports on research work at REGUA.

“The two men in the middle drop in on Caio Missagia (right) who, helped by his friend Juan, is working towards a doctoral thesis on the intricate relationship between Heliconia spathocircinata, three Hummingbirds (Violet-capped Woodnymph, Reddish Hermit and Saw-billed Hermit) and a Hoverfly (Syrphidae) and Soldierfly (Stratiomyidae) species.

Juan and Caio with Andrew and Thor (REGUA Volunteers) (© REGUA)

Who benefits, who loses and by how much?    Heliconia needs pollination visits from the hummingbird and could provide a plentiful nectar reward.   Larvae of the two fly species are kleptoparasites, gorging on the sugary tissues deep within the protected bracts of the plant’s familiar boat-shaped flowers.   If only those paired bracts were more open, marauding ants might rid the flower of its freeloading flies.

The Amazonian species has no hiding place for Diptera larvae and perhaps it has no trouble supplying its pollinators with nectar. Natural selection could have driven the development of a less enclosed host plant flower. As the Heliconia provides less resource for the hummingbirds, what is the impact on pollinator behaviour and fitness? Fewer birds are recorded visiting infected flowers.

As yet, Caio has no clear answers to these important questions and whether or not Heliconia spathocircinata might be pushed to control these unwelcome freeloaders? An unfolding story; at REGUA we await the next instalment with excitement!”

Andrew Proudfoot

Spider-hunting Wasp

Michael Patrikeev has been working on the identification of species he found at REGUA during his stay and has more news for us.

Pepsis-inclyta (© Michael Patrikeev)

“I have identified another species for the reserve this time it is a giant black-blue spider-hunting wasp, which has very likely been seen when it was busily looking for its prey in the forest understorey. The size is impressive, 50-55 mm, and its sting is very painful, apparently scoring 4.0 on the Schmidt sting pain index, next to the bullet-ant (4.0+).

The species is Pepsis inclyta Lepeletier, 1845. It is  “commonest in southern Brazil to central Argentina, but ranges over most of South America” (Vardy 2005).

More images and details on identification can be seen here (http://www.wildnatureimages.org/Insects/Hymenoptera/Pompilidae/Pepsis-inclyta.html).”

Michael Patrikeev

Seed Collecting Holiday!

Sylvia and Chris Knight recently stayed at REGUA with their two children.    They opted to stay in the relaxed environment of the research accommodation, and here is their review of their stay with us.

Our seed collection (© Knight Family)

“We have just returned home after four wonderful days at the REGUA reserve.   As a family with two primary school aged children, we knew that having the chance to spend time at the reserve was going to be incredible, but was slightly concerned about how long the girls would last before they got tired or bored.    We needn’t have worried!

The combination of incredible birds, mammals, insects, plants and reptiles together with the most wonderful swimming spots we have ever encountered meant they were totally engrossed and as sad to leave as their parents were.

Having visited two other places in Rio state before arriving at REGUA, they particularly appreciated the amount of space and the freedom that gave them – for example being able to go and visit the capybara group on their own before breakfast. A mini ‘project’ for the visit was to make a seed collection – we were just short of 100 types, but I’m sure it could have been much more.

Sylvia and Chris Knight”

Birds love our new forests!

In 2013 we started our most ambitious plan – to plant over 160,000 native trees in a 100 hectare area bridging the gap between the forest of the Green Trail and the Guapiaçu River and village.   The first major tranche of planting started in November 2013.

We completed planting the 100 hectare site in 2016 – and there are already a large number of diverse species taking advantage of the new habitat created by these young trees.   Many of these trees fruited in the first year, providing food for many insects and birds.   As the trees have grown and shaded the ground the under-storey has started to clear and mammal tracks are visible in the ever increasing leaf litter.

Channel-billed Toucan (©) Sue Healey

One of the best ways to assess the improvement in the planting is to survey the bird species seen.  Our resident bird guides have been surveying some of the newly planted areas, and good species indicators of the increasing quality of the new forests that we area already finding are Saw-billed Hermit, Black-cheeked Gnateater and Channel-billed Toucan.

Many other species are also moving into the area including White Woodpecker, Scaly-headed Parrot, Olivaceous and Lesser Woodcreeper, and Laughing Falcon.

A large flock of Maroon-belled Parakeet have been feeding in the area for several weeks, along with White-bearded Manakin, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow Olive Flycatcher.   Tanager species have also been seen including Green-headed, Red-necked Tanager, Flame-crested and Yellow-backed.

2014 Planting three years on (© Sue Healey)

The birds will disperse the seeds from these trees back into our established forest and strengthen the bio-diversity across the whole reserve and beyond.   What better evidence could we wish for to encourage our work.

Cirilo Vieira (Bird Guide)

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Three Generations visit REGUA

Helmut Seehawer has been visiting REGUA for many years.   As a former Lufthansa Airline Pilot, he flew from Germany to Brazil regularly, and in his free time explored the countryside.

On one occasion he travelled with his colleagues to Paraty in Rio State.  In those days there were no roads and travelling was a real adventure.   One of his friends was keen to find orchids and although Helmut could not understand the fascination, he wanted to explore the jungle.   He was delighted when they found some unspoilt forests with their huge trees, tangles and epiphytes.

The friend pointed out large, bright flowers of orchids on the branches of the trees, and at times the two of them climbed trees to get closer views, occasionally jumping from one tree to the other using the branches and vines.

Whilst climbing the trees, Helmut noticed some smaller plants with more delicate flowers, these too were Orchids and a passion was realised.

Helmut purchased a “Sitio” or property in the mountains near Nova Friburgo so that he could explore and protect the habitat there, especially the wonderful orchids he had grown to love.

Three Generations ~ Klaus, Helmut and Katja back at REGUA (© Seehawer family)

A collaboration with David Miller, Richard Warren and Isabel Moura Miller in the late 1990’s resulted in the  acclaimed book ‘Serra Dos Órgãos Sua Historia e Suas Orquideas’ [Serra Dos Órgãos your history and your orchid]’.

Published in 2006, the book features over 200 superb illustrations by Helmut, in wonderful detail. [See below for just one example]

Helmut is back at REGUA for an extended visit with his son Klaus and grand-daughter Katja, who are both carrying on the family love of biology and nature.   Klaus is a snake enthusiast and has spent long days in the field looking for snakes, whilst Katja has previously spent time as a Volunteer researcher at REGUA, studying the mammals around the wetland.

 

Illustrations by Helmut Seehawer (photo by Sue Healey)

 

The Capybaras of the REGUA wetlands by Katja Seehawer

Inspired by my Grandfather’s (Helmut) stories of adventure in identifying orchids and my Father’s (Klaus) passion for snakes, I visited REGUA as a volunteer in 2015. I want to pursue a career in biology and my focus then was on which mammals venture to and from the wetlands and which routes they choose to take, using camera traps positioned on visibly active animal trails.

Katja Seehawer with Capybara (© Klaus Seehawer)

I showed that trail building in an around the wetlands is almost exclusively done by the Capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, that permanently live in the wetlands though other animals would also use their trails. These animals like to use the main tourist trails, but between the wetland lakes and the major routes also exist a network of minor “social” trails.

The Capybaras’ stronghold at REGUA is the wetlands but they leave the wetlands for feeding. This was done on three major routes leading to neighbouring farmland, adjacent wetlands and into reforested rainforest with remnant pastures.

I returned to REGUA in March 2017 and observed that all the major routes still existed. There was no change in the trail network although there was an obvious change to where the Capybaras stay during daytime. The object of my stay was to determine how the Capybaras live in the wetlands.

Based on different counts I estimated that there were 50–70 Capybara living in the wetlands in March/April 2017. These numbers were less than we expected. I did not count them in 2015, but I have the feeling their numbers have declined. In 2015 there were seemingly two major groups of Capybara and they were apparently present everywhere in the wetlands. But this was not the case this year, when there was only one group left and other individual Capybara were scattered.

In 2015 I also noticed that many Capybara had wounds and cuts especially on their rear body parts. Some were seriously wounded and were noticeably limping. They seemed to be quite aggressive between each other and I could witness several moments when Capybaras bit each other. The wounds were not as obvious this year. Fighting still took place but the wounds were not as numerous and not as severe. I have the feeling there may have been over-population in 2015 and the lower numbers could have diminished social pressure in 2017.

I also observed that only the group near the volunteer houses remained and concluded that the animals also formed “Capybara nurseries”. A group of 20-30 Capybaras would gather on an island and look after the new born and young less than six months of age, guarded by three to six adults. The young were clearly protected with the adult guards looking in every direction supervising the group. This nursery island was abandoned about one hour after sunrise each day, the young guided to their day area and to other Capybara groups. The majority of Capybaras live loosely dispersed on the shores and islands all over the wetlands.

Aside from the nursery, I could not find evidence of a constant group of Capybara larger than five animals during my three week study. I could not mark any Capybara and there are no individual markings on any Capybara body to distinguish them apart. From the pictures of the camera trap I could see that there were no uniform constant groups. Capybara would go alone or form differently composed groups daily.

Katja with curious Capybara (© Klaus Seehawer)

Over the past three years there was a noticeable relocation of the Capybara population towards human housing especially during night time. This behaviour could be the result of a clear increase of larger predators in the wetlands. We have seen at least three large Broad-snouted Caiman Caiman latirostris longer than two metres and there was a clear evidence of an increase of big cat activity in the wetlands. I had read tales from African safari camps of alternating behaviour of animals with young moving towards humans to avoid their predators.

It is possible that the whole population of the REGUA wetland Capybara are in fact a loosely connected society but their behaviour may vary seasonally. This has to be verified.

The REGUA wetland Capybaras give me the impression of a healthy population that very well adapts and regulates itself by wandering off to the adjacent habitat and perhaps also through increasing predation. For future work on the Capybara and to study their social behaviour I will have to find a way to mark individual Capybara. Radio tagging would only make sense when and if we could get funding for a major work on Capybara.

There are excellent conditions to study the life in nature of Capybaras and other wildlife at REGUA because wildlife is diverse and abundant and almost free from human pressure. I look forward to returning and conducting further research work at REGUA.

A new born Jararacussu found on REGUA trail by Klaus Seehawer

I am fascinated by snakes.  My father, Helmut, is an orchid specialist and he knows of over 680 species of orchids that can be found in the cloud forests of the Serra dos Órgãos mountains in South East Brazil.   This is a really important area for biodiversity.

Accompanying my father on his trips to the Atlantic forest starting in the late 1970’s we frequently stumbled over different species of snakes without really knowing them.   I became interested in what was creeping between our feet.   Looking closer, my fascination for these creatures grew and looking even closer I finally fell in love with snakes.  Over the time I have specialized on true vipers and pitvipers.   In the past 30 years I studied female Bothrops jararaca and other snakes in upland habit of the Atlantic forest.    Looking for snakes at REGUA is quite a different story because it is lowland habitat and snakes behave quite differently.   Generally higher temperatures give these poikithermal animals even less reason to expose themselves to the sun.   Snakes are well camouflaged, shy and secretive. Especially vipers will hide most of their lives.   All this makes snakes very hard to find for the naturalist.   However,  on 9th of April 2017 I found something very special here at REGUA, a new born Jararacussu (Bothrops jararacussu) on one of its trails.

The little snake was only a little over 20 cm long, which is small for this species.   Literature gives 26-28 cm for this species but it is not mentioned if this data was taken from captive animals or those in the wild.

Breeding of the genus Bothrops takes place between November and March.   Bothrops are ovoviviparous; Juveniles are born alive or under breaking a transparent egg hull.   Up to fifteen young can be born simultaneously.    This happens usually at the end of the rainy season.

Juvenile snakes are difficult to identify.   In this case it had to be determined whether it was a Jararaca or a Jararacussu. The unicoloured top of the head, the more triangular shaped head, the slightly upturned and sharper edged snout, the more rounded A’s on the snake’s flanks and the little spots along the snake’s spine between the A’s make this snake a Jararacussu.

The Jararacussu is a large heavy bodied terrestrial snake. Females longer than two metres are frequently encountered.   Males are smaller.   Preferred habitat is rocks in close proximity to water.   It is often said to live in semiaquatic conditions. Generally it prefers damper habitat and is by far less abundant than its generalist cousin Jararaca (Bothrops Jararaca).

Please forget your possible fears and dislike for snakes for a moment and have a look at this beauty.   This tiny, vividly coloured creature already has all the scales that it

Jararacussu (Bothrops Jararacussu) (© Klaus Seehawer)

will have when it is a two metre giant.   So these scales are only micrometres small and still are individually coloured in grey, brown, black and white or even have a pinkish hue.

Did you notice the snake’s pale tail?  Many Bothrops as juveniles feed on frogs.  By waving the tail a worm is imitated and frogs are lured into striking range.   Remember Bothrops are born at the end of the rainy season when young frogs are numerous also.  Growing up, Bothrops change their food preference to warm blooded rodents.   At this stage the tail colour changes to the ground colour or black in this species.

The location site of this snake was well off the regular tourist trails.   Venomous snakes are very rarely seen on REGUA trails.   Still everybody should remember venomous snakes could be encountered everywhere in tropical areas.   Snakes will never attack unless seriously cornered or hurt.

Give snakes their space and try to enjoy the rare adventure of seeing a snake in the wild, and if you are lucky enough to find one remember to take a good look, get a sketch, photograph or video and as much information as possible to enable an accurate identification.

Please give snakes their space, have respect and try to enjoy…

Klaus Seehawer

Possible new snake for REGUA by Klaus Seehawer

Whilst counting Capybara, Katja and Helmut Seehawer found a wonderful green snake in the REGUA wetlands.   It has been provisionally identified it as Chironius multiventris.   If this is confirmed it would be a new snake for the REGUA snake species list.

Chironius multiventris showing blue irridescence (© Seehawer family)

The Chironius family of the Atlantic forest consists of five species of elegant green, grey, brown or black snakes.   The green variants are especially difficult to identify.

The common name of Chironius multiventris is cobra-cipó – liana snake.   It is a non-venomous snake that grows to nearly two metres.    The snake is diurnal and actively hunts for its prey in trees and on the ground.   It preys – good news for you birders out there! – mainly on amphibians.

The snake seen at noon right in the middle of the wetlands was 120 cm long and of a wonderful green colour with a blue shimmer reflecting from the sky above.  It was observed for a while and obviously distracted by hunting.

With the growing number of species across many taxa in the wetlands the number of snakes will also increase.   In intact Atlantic Forest habitat (without human snake killing) 80% of the snakes encountered will be nonvenomous.

Chironius multiventris well camoflagued (© Seehawer family)

On a separate occasion the Seehawer family encountered another large green snake on Green Trail.   This snake was possibly Chironius exoletus or Chironius bicarinatus, but they were not able to make a reliable identification as the colour and back marking was in between these two snake species.

Give snakes their space and enjoy the rare adventure of seeing one.

Klaus Seehawer

N.B. it should be noted that snakes are not easy to find at REGUA, their natural defence means they are well aware of human presence and will slip away rather than be found.  The Seehawer family are very experienced in finding snakes and walked in the forest with REGUA Rangers.

 

 

Congratulations Miguel Conceição

REGUA’s Young ranger Miguel Conceição has successfully completed his guide training course with honours.   The course was administrated by the State organisation, INEA and Três Picos State Park with the aim to qualify and prepare youths as professional guides in the region’s parks.

The course  focuses on youngsters who like nature and Miguel was selected after showing a real aptitude for nature in our Young Ranger programme.

Miguel Conceição with sister, mother, Prof Carlos and Raquel Locke (© REGUA)

Everyone at REGUA is very proud of his achievement – it just shows that with determination and perseverance one can achieve great things.    Our education officer Professor Carlos is thrilled with his star pupil however,  he is adamant, that all of the youngsters participating in this course have the capability to achieve this type of success.

As Miguel says, “It is my dream to become a biologist”.    His mother is rightly very proud and overjoyed as the course has inspired and instilled many values with the local youngsters, and says REGUA has been the best thing to happen to her family.    Wow!!!

We owe it to people like Miguel who believe in what we are doing and are prepared to take up the opportunities that are offered their life.    Thank you also to INEA for offering the chance to change this young man’s life.

Water Erosion Education

REGUA’s Prof. Carlos held a workshop with students

Professor Carlos with the students (© Sue Healey)

ts from a Cachoeiras de Macacu Secondary School.   They were here to find out about the importance of trees to the provision of reliable clean water.

After a short talk, they watched a practical demonstration by Prof. Carlos, showing how when the land is devoid of trees, often compacted, eroded and maybe built upon, the rain runs straight off into the nearby river courses.   When the rain is heavy this can lead to flooding, but in any event it takes with it silt and any residual chemicals previously used on the land.

On the other side of our model valley there are trees.   Their roots bind the soil, reducing erosion and allowing the surface of the land to accept the rain, filtering it and slowing down the risk of any flooding.   After watching as water was poured over both sides of the valley, highlighting the differences, the students went off to see the reforested areas around the wetlands.

An excited group (© Sue Healey)