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.

I showed that trail building in an around the wetlands is almost exclusively done by the Capybara, who 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 exists a network of minor “social” trails.

Katja Seehawer with Capybara (© Klaus Seehawer)

The Capybaras’ stronghold 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 all the major routes still existed. There was no change in the trail network although there was an obvious change where the Capybaras stay during daytime.   The object of my stay was to to determine how the Capybaras live in the wetlands.

Based on different counts I estimate that there were 50 – 70 capybaras 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 Capybaras and they were apparently present everywhere in the wetlands. This was not the case this year.  There was only one group left and other individual Capybaras were scattered.

In 2015 I also noticed that many Capybara had wounds and cuts especially on their rear body parts.   Some Capybaras were seriously wounded and were noticeably limping.   I could witness several moments when Capybaras bit each other.   They seemed to be quite aggressive between 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.

Katja with curious Capybara (© Klaus Seehawer)

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 to 30 Capybaras would gather on an island and look after the new born and young less than six months of age and 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.

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 Caimans (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.

Katja Seehawer

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)

 

Professor Proudfoot’s Work!

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.

Dobsonfly Corydalidae (©Andrew Proudfoot)

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.

Witch moth Thysania agripina (© Andrew Proudfoot)

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.

Volunteer Researchers (Lee & Peter) in the forest (© Andrew Proudfoot)

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.

Andrew Proudfoot
REGUA Volunteer

REGUA Ranger receives joint Conservation Award

Sometimes one feels that there seems to be a lull like the wind has dropped leaving the sails slack.   This year appeared that way; fewer visitors and reforestation grants contributing to the lack of needed momentum at a precious time.

Admittedly land purchases have been tough and it’s been hard to close the available areas with their respective owners.   I guess socio-economic conditions are constantly changing and these naturally affect the efficiency of our proposal.

Muriqui Research Team André and Rildo centre left and right resp. (© REGUA)

Then I received an email that the Global Conservation Leadership Programme winners had been announced and found the page to seek the name of those prizewinners.

The Young Conservationists is a great programme that seeks young researchers in Biology and provides them with a grant to continue with their studies.   I have often been asked by friends to submit a proposal but I do consider I am in the correct age range to compete.   Imagine my delightful surprise when checking this year’s prizewinners to find the Muriqui Monkey Project in SE Brazil.

The picture of André Lanna and Rildo as winners of the 2017 prize gave me a huge confidence boost. Well done André, REGUA ranger Rildo and Muriqui Team!

André had mentioned that REGUA may be the last bastion of the Southern Muriqui primate and suspect that there could be three populations here.   May their project continue to enjoy the success it deserves and place REGUA healthily on the map.

The wind is picking up my friends!

Warmly

Nicholas Locke  

http://www.conservationleadershipprogramme.org/project/muriqui-serra-do-mar-brazil/

 

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!

Longhorn Beetle identified

In September 2011, I photographed a long-horned beetle, which has been recently identified by Everardo Grossi, a friend of Isabel Miller.

Hypsioma inornata (© Michael Patrikeev)

According to Everardo the species is Hypsioma inornata (Hypselomus inornata).
There is a specimen in the Paris National Museum, labelled simply “Brazil”.

I have little familiarity with Neotropical Cerambycidae. Perhaps there are more recent records in recent entomological literature.

Michael Patrikeev

 

A Volunteer’s Story

Thor Smestad looks back on his time at REGUA.

“Well I am back in Canada now .. after six fantastic weeks at REGUA.

I accomplished what I went there to do – to learn as much as I could about their reforestation program, and also have a great time.    I had the opportunity to collect tree seeds in the forest, help with the process producing seedlings from these in the REGUA nursery, and even plant some trees too. I plan to go back .. for the tree planting season – this was only the beginning for me.    

Thor Smestad Planting Terminalia acuminata (© Nicholas Locke)

The constant stream of researchers that stay there too, looking at everything from bats to frogs and owls .. made things even more interesting.

For anyone interested in tropical reforestation and ecology, I highly recommend spending some time at REGUA. Thank you to all the people at REGUA, you were wonderful – and so was the food and accommodation, I think I even put on a little weight.
Thor”