The Atlantic Forest snake species, Bothrops jararaca, a type of pit viper, is one that locals hold in the highest regard and with good reason. It is dangerous only if one steps on one and accidentally gets bitten.
According to serpent specialists, snakes are not uncommon in REGUA’s forests. I have to admit that although I have walked many times in the forest I have failed to find one. However, I am sure that finding one coiled on the path can be a harrowing experience. In the distant past most local people would kill every snake irrespective of colour, thickness and length.
Today the REGUA rangers know that reptiles form an important part of our biodiverse forests and are not aggressive. They now leave them to their own business, and are helping to spread the word that unless they are inadvertently disturbed, most snakes would slither off into the forest before we are even aware of their presence.
REGUA’s World Land Trust “Keepers of the Wild” project sponsored ranger Rildo da Rosa Oliveira found this one by a rock and left it apparently dozing. He didn’t want to look closer!
Adilei, REGUA’s resident Bird Guide, was walking the wetlands on his usual patrol when he spotted an unusual Caiman.
Peering through his binoculars, he saw that either one of REGUA’s adult Broad-snouted Caiman (Caiman latirostris) had developed far too many bristles or had wrestled with an Orange-spined Hairy Dwarf Porcupine (Sphiggurus villosus).
The Caiman’s head and neck was completely covered in quills, resembling a dragon.
Adilei could not understand the motive that induced the Caiman to eat such an unappetizing animal and now wonders what will happen to the Caiman!
Although it was not easy to get a clear view of the event with the camera, Adilei got this photograph, which shows the quills quite clearly.
We are keeping a close eye out for any more sightings!
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.
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)
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Walking the 50km of trails at REGUA is fascinating for birders and naturalists alike. Altitudinal range spans 30 – 2000m and there is a richness of invertebrates and plants to match the diversity of birds that draws the majority of visitors to REGUA. All classes of arthropod are present in abundance and there are many interesting patterns of distribution waiting to be identified and investigated.
REGUA’s lodge garden has a roofed, whitewashed wall complete with mercury vapour lamp generating many new records of moths for the Reserve and for Rio State. The wall often reveals a wealth of other interesting invertebrates such as this Dobsonfly (Corydalidae). Many of these creatures are difficult to see in the forest probably because they are residents of the tree canopy.
In the forest there are chance encounters with exciting species such as the White Witch Moth (Thysania agripina) Noctuidae with a huge wingspan.
December to Febuary is the Brazilian summer and usually a hot rainy season and time of maximum plant growth. This is, of course, an excellent time for all insects and amphibians. Whilst August to November is the Brazilian Spring and busy for birdwatching, it is also good for insects. Only March to July are a little quieter.
There is a profusion of wonderful butterflies. Some, like the 88, (Diaethria clymena) are very common. The most famous neotropical butterflies belong to the Genus Heliconia, with their distinctive strap-shaped wings and bright colours. These insects were shown to have co-evolved with their food plant, the different species of passion-vine (Passiflora). The vines put out new shoots irregularly and the butterflies must live a long time to be able to search out new growth and lay a full complement of eggs.
Another spectacular group of insect are the various species of huge Morpho butterflies which flit through the forest under-storey.
Diptera are interesting and diverse. There are three common sources of food that can provide for a profusion of flies: dung, carrion and some species of freshly emerged fungus. Parasitoid ichneumonids and tachinids search out the larvae of butterflies and moths whose living tissues they will feed on until they finally cause their death.
Ants are predators, roaming leaf and shoot for opportunities or different species will farm leaves with the help of fungus.
Spiders must guard against predatory wasps and some of these are very large indeed.
Beneath the placid exterior of the forest, termites work to undo the conversion of CO2 to sugar; every now and then a crash is heard acr
oss the forest as another giant tree succumbs to their tiny jaws.
There is much work to do to find out how many species of arthropod exist in these rich habitats. We are only in the earliest of stages investigating how all these myriad species interact in Mata Atlântica.