The Yellow Rat Snake Spilotes pullatus, a semi-arboreal species, which feeds on small rodents, amphibians, lizards and even other snakes, is easily found in forests, in open areas such as pastures and trails and can even be seen around human constructions in search of food. Despite being a large snake, reaching up to 3 metres, it’s very agile and not venomous, with yellow and black colors.
Recently, an old skin left after shedding (the process being called ecdysis) was found at the research accomodation, Casa Pesquisa, which in adult individuals occurs on average once a year. This process occurs when the outer layer of the skin, formed by keratin, is replaced by a new one. This exchange takes place when snakes, in general, grow or when the outermost layer is damaged. Ecdysis lasts from 5 to 7 days and during this period the snake becomes more vulnerable to predators as vision is reduced due to fluid accumulation between new and old skin.
This diurnal snake, was seen by a group of visitors on our Green Trail, whilst walking in the forest with Adilei.
Although not venomous, they can still give a nasty bite if threatened. Adelie knows how to deal with this sort of situation as he has spent all his life in these forests. One of the group got this amazing footage, standing at a safe distance.
These snakes lay eggs and are active on the ground and in trees. Their prey are mammals and birds, including eggs and nestlings.
Their defence strategy is to puff up their forebody and shake their tail. This individual seemed quite relaxed and only shook the tail as it left the group by slithering under a nearby fallen tree.
REGUA’s Keeper of the Wild ranger Rildo da Rosa Oliveira funded by the World Land Trust found this banded lizard on the red trail at around 600 metres above sea level. This lizard has very short legs and if were not for the scales on its body, one could mistake it for a salamander, but salamander are not currently known to be further south than Roraima, Northern Brazil.
We had help to identify this individual from Canada’s naturalist Mike Patrikeev who stated it was Banded Galliwasp, Diploglossus fasciatus of the Anguidae family.
Indeed this example measured close to 30 centimetres in length, and Rildo said that in all his years as a ranger, he had only once seen this species before.
There is a similar Banded Galliwasp (Diploglossus lessonae) endemic to Brazil’s Northeast region, rated “Least Concern” by the IUCN, but I wonder whether it’s Atlantic Rainforest cousin is as common? In fact, we all wonder when we shall see another one.
Volunteers Fiona and Colin Daborn report on their second week at REGUA.
We’ve now come to the end of our second week volunteering at REGUA and there has been plenty of work on trail maintenance, tree planting and nursery tasks. We’ve also chalked up a surprisingly extensive species list. We love the outdoors and all things nature but we wouldn’t classify ourselves as serious birders. At home in the UK we love seeing birds when we are out and about hiking or camping but we don’t normally keep a log. Life at REGUA is different. Whilst doing our volunteering we have so far seen an incredible 48 species of birds not to mention numerous butterflies and moths. My favourite bird is the bright red Brazilian TanagerRamphocelus bresilius, easy to spot and still breathtakingly colourful even after a few sightings.
But there is more to REGUA than just birds. Our volunteer shared house backs on to the wetlands and most mornings before breakfast we have been down to the water’s edge to watch the group of 12 or so Capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris who have made a small island their home. It has been a real treat to see them so close and they are great subjects for photos because they stay relatively still.
From the same location you can sometimes also catch a glimpse of a Broad-snouted Caiman Caiman latirostris gliding slyly through the water, keeping a low profile and watching out for his next meal. Sometimes the only part showing is a bulging glassy eye. Just once so far we have been able to see a sloth up high in the bare branches of a tree – standing just outside Casa 3 (another volunteer/visitors house) with binoculars it was great to watch him as he moved at glacial speed down the trunk.
We’ve also had the privilege (?) of seeing two snakes this week. We disturbed the Tiger Rat Snake Spilotes pullatus while clearing debris on the Brown Trail – it must have sensed us coming and the first indication was a steady rustling noise as it slithered away through the leaves and then up a tree. Obviously feeling safe at that point it stayed still watching us watching him/her! Our other sighting was whilst walking back to the truck after tree planting as we followed a small stream, I glanced down and saw a venomous Jararacussa Bothrops jararacussu coiled on a rock on the lookout for lunch. As we were up on the bank at a safe distance there was plenty of time to study the impressive patterning and triangular head.
Most evenings around 5 pm you can find us sitting at the top of the observation tower, reclining in the comfy chairs and having a definite sense of being “on top of the world”. The view from there is amazing (you must come and see!) and truly hopeful – there are trees as far as the eye can see. We’ve spotted lots of hummingbirds from this viewpoint but on the walk back from the tower to our house we’ve also been lucky enough to see tapir. REGUA is in the midst of a Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris reintroduction programme so it has been fascinating to learn about that but even more exciting to see the tapir themselves snuffling around in the undergrowth rediscovering their native landscape.
We’re looking forward to exploring more of this landscape ourselves in Week three of our volunteering adventure. Coming soon!
Follow Fiona and Colin’s adventures at REGUA on their blog.
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.
The reputation of REGUA as a safe place for wildlife is spreading within the local community. When faced with a caiman in a drainage ditch on a building site in the town of Cachoeiras de Macacu, instead of shooting the unfortunate creature the site manager called the Fire Brigade who called the Três Picos Park office, who trapped it and brought it to REGUA for release. The wetlands already have over 30 Broad-snouted Caiman that have arrived by themselves without help, but there is always room for a few more.
A few days later a Brown-throated Sloth was found beside the main road heading away from the forest towards some houses. With some difficulty the sloth was loaded into a sack and driven to the reserve where it was released in the lodge garden. Over the course of the next hour before dusk this sloth posed for numerous photographs, but by the next morning had disappeared into the forest.
During November 2008, REGUA had a visit from Cambridgeshire zoologist, Chris Knowles. For his four week visit, five camera traps were used to photograph and film as many species as possible. Mostly Chris was looking for snakes and other reptiles and with this he had much success. Fifteen species of reptiles were identified and within this number three were new for the reserve: the Atlantic Coralsnake Micrurus corallinus, Pale-necked Whip Snake Chironius laevicollis and the extremely rare Small-headed Worm Lizard Leposternon microcephalum. Finding these species indicates that there is really a huge diversity of species that are rarely seen at the Reserve. In addition to the reptiles, Chris was able to film Capybara, Paca, Crab-eating Fox and several opossom species, although unfortunately the heavy rain in the forest claimed a few of his camera traps!
On 7 November 2008, guests walking the Waterfall Trail discovered a new species of snake for the reserve – a beautiful, but deadly, Atlantic Coralsnake Micrurus corallinus. While photographing the snake, the group noticed that the snake had killed an earthworm-like creature. Suspected to be an amphisbaenian – a reptile related to lizards and snakes – the identification was confirmed by Chris Knowles of Shepreth Wildlife Park, Cambridgeshire, UK, as being a Small-headed Worm Lizard Leposternon microcephalum.
Amphisbaenians are rare and poorly known because they spend most of their lives burrowing underground. There are about 150 species, found mainly in South America and Africa. They have reinforced skulls and loose skin which enables them to burrow, are blind (their eyes are covered in skins and scales), and carnivorous, using their hearing to locate prey. This discovery has not only increased our knowledge of the biodiversity of the reserve, but has enabled us to learn about one of the more mysterious animals that make up the Atlantic Forest ecosystem.