Category Archives: Biodiversity

Oryba kadeni – the third record for REGUA

Oryba kadeni, REGUA, 29 June 2017 (© Alan Martin)

Since 2001 there have been 74 species of hawkmoth (Sphingidae) found at REGUA, from the 110 or so that have been recorded in the Serra dos Órgãos mountains. Arguably one of the nicest is Oryba kadeni which has a distinctive shape and colouring.

Widespread throughout Central and South America, this is this was my first sighting, though it has been recorded at REGUA twice before, once by Nicholas at his house and once by his father Robert Locke. To be more precise, Robert found the unmistakable wings of this moth by his front door, the remains of a meal for a large bat.

Update on the Sungrebes at the wetlands

Female Sungrebe, REGUA wetland, (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)

Whilst walking the Yellow Trail which meanders around the wetlands, Adilei took this splendid image of a female Sungrebe (Heliornis fuluca). Since the appearance of REGUA’s third Sungrebe in June 2016, at least three and perhaps four birds have been regularly sighted at REGUA.

Almost a year passed with a pair regularly seen on the wetlands, until recently when they became very elusive. It could be that they are hiding in the dense undergrowth around the wetland, breeding or nurturing their young.

According to literature this species has a unique feature – a small pocket under their wings in which they are able to carry their young, even in flight. Though a species of least concern (IUCN Red data list), many birders from Rio de Janeiro have visited the wetland keen to photograph them. Very little is known of their habits so we have our fingers crossed that they will be back in the near future.

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.

Insect life Research

REGUA received a visit by the eminent biologists Dr. David Redei and his colleague, Dr. Qiang Xie from Nankai University last December.    Working in partnership with Brazil’s Fiocruz (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation) and invited by Dr. Felipe and Dr.Elcio, they spent a day looking at REGUA’s insect life.

Dr David Redei inspecting the Conservation Centre Moth Trap (© N Locke)

David and Qiang are working on phylogeny using morphological and molecular characters used in establishing taxonomic differences.   David is classifying insects according to tribe, family and genus.   Their interest in South America is evident once one knows that the continent has its own endemic and specialized insects.   David’s specialty is Hemiptera or Stink bugs, but he became very excited to learn that REGUA has its fair share of Phloeidae, a family existing only in the Neotropics of the Atlantic rainforest.   These are barnacle like insects that can be found mainly lurking on tree trunks in quality forest.

Now we will keep our eyes peeled to photograph and send images to these fascinating visitors. Thank you both for visiting and sharing your interests with us!

Tiger Beetle

Tiger beetles are always exciting to watch as they prowl about searching for food before flying off like a jet fighter to disappear out of view.

Tiger Beetle [possibly Cicindelidia politula] (© N Locke)
They have characteristically large bulging eyes and large mandibles for crunching up their food.

Tiger Beetles come from the Cicindelinae family, originating from the Latin word of Glow worm since most are brightly coloured.    Whilst this example looks similar to a Limestone Tiger Beetle, it is one of many different Cicindela sp.