Not quite Russell Crowe in the titular movie, but still a champion in its own right. The Gladiator Frog (Hypsiboas gladiator) is a survivor, a survivor of the Bd epizootic that wiped out many other species of amphibians in this region of Peru. In fact, the Gladiator was so successful in defeating chytrid that it could actually be helping the fungus. While Gladiators don't seem to die from Bd, they can be infected. Brandon and Alessandro have proposed that this species may be a supershedder, a spreader of the Bd fungus and a reservoir to keep infection continuously moving through the amphibian community here in Peru. For more information check out Brandon's research on our lab webpage.
As I’m sure you have all noticed (because you check our blog daily), we’ve been absent this week.
It’s because we’ve been trying a new diet, la dieta derrumbe, aka the landslide diet. This week started off great, we took a trip down to Villa Carmen (~500masl) to change out some temperature sensors and survey some awesome lower elevation amphibians (more on those later). Villa Carmen is an amazing location with a huge diversity of amphibians, reptiles, and all those other unimportant species of plants and animals. Despite the persistent sandflies threatening to give us leishmaniasis we had a fairly productive night and found our 300th frog.
The silence on the road the next morning was foreboding, no cars had passed down the mountain since the night before, but still, we began our trek back up.
It became clear by nightfall that we weren’t going to be returning to Wayqecha, no cars had passed all day. So, our first (actually, second if you remember our earlier car troubles) fitful night of sleep in Shigella began.
The next morning still brought no cars down the mountain, and so, we waited. Thinking we would pass by nightfall we ate the little food we had in the car, some apples and passion fruit.
By nightfall the road was still silent. We decided to approach what we knew would be a large, road blocking, landslide to assess the situation. At this point Mike smartened up and decided to pass on foot and hitch a ride on the other side. Alessandro, Alex, and me (Alex) decided to wait it out in the car, figuring morning would bring passage.
No such luck.
I began to regret not passing with Mike (and by began I mean I really regretted it).
And so, we waited. There was little food on our side of the landslide, Alessandro managed to find us a bowl of soup for breakfast. Pasta, potatoes and yucca in salty water never tasted so good.
We began to have hope as the cleanup progressed, but each time they would make a path the rocks and dirt would come crashing down again.
By evening the road was clogged with cars and people who had travelled by taxi expecting to walk across. As rocks crashed down around them people scurried across. Again, I considered crossing, until someone slipped down and another person got hit in the eye with a bouncing pebble.
And so night 3 began. We had exhausted our supply of movies, music and grant proposals and so we decided to search for frogs. Amidst the traffic jam of trucks and buses we found about 30 frogs, including a new species for the trip (Gastrotheca testudinea). This night brought even less sleep, and the sinking feeling that we may not return to Wayqecha for several more days.
But, the next morning was a beautiful day. We had been spared the rock moving rains overnight, and by early morning it appeared passage was imminent. After waking Alessandro and dragging him to watch what I expected to be the triumphant clearing of the last rocks, we arrived just in time to watch the entire landslide fall once again. The rest of the morning continued much the same way, with large boulders and tons of dirt tumbling down each time success seemed near. With the arrival more people came more food, and we were able to drown our sorrows in some meat and rice.
As hope of passage began to fade (as did hope of submitting our NSF in time) we watched as drivers ran back to their cars. The line of cars lurched forward, and as we rounded the final bend, stopped. Once again it had fallen. At this point I resigned myself to sleeping the rest of the day away. Just as I began to doze off the trucks once again roared to life, and in one of my happiest moments in the last few years, we were able to pass. The sense of elation was a little ridiculous, but the excitement as we once again began to climb to Wayqecha was palpable.
So, if you were keeping track, that was about 3 days stuck behind a landslide. And during that time we (and we were fortunate) each had a bowl of soup, some fruit, and a single meal of rice and meat. I was hoping to lose weight on this trip, but not quite in this manner.
As a more important note, although I never want to be stuck behind a landslide for 3 days again, this was an amazing cultural experience. All of the stranded passengers became a community. Despite our rather annoying, sometimes dire straits, everyone was jovial. There was laughing and joking, cheering and sharing. Had this happened in the US there would have been rioting and misery, a state of emergency and food drops from the National Guard.
Never again do I want to spend 3 days sleeping in Shigella with little food or water, no bathrooms and nothing to do, but never have I enjoyed such a miserable experience more.
PS – Stay tuned for more blog updates. Now that we have internet I’ll post about the rest of our trip (you know, frogs and stuff).
PPS - For a sense of scale, that yellow in the back of the image is the top of the huge bucket loader clearing us out.
We haven't been able to update the blog because we were trapped between landslides! we waited for three long days, frogged at night, and tried to find food during the day. Now back at the station....more soon
Our lab blog is now featured by AmphibiaWeb! Visit this amazing resource on amphibian biology, systematics, ecology, conservation:
Mike is estimating resting metabolic rate of frogs from the Amazon to the Andes. Here he is measuring CO2 concentrations in two sealed chambers (Valenti ice cream jars) containing one frog each. At Wayqecha he is taking advantage of our enhanced mobility (our beloved 4x4 Shigella) to expose foothill and cloud forest frogs to some relatively low temperatures (how low they can get I'll explain in the next post! this is something I've just finished doing and that's why I'm writing this post at 2am...). Mike has already done these measurements with many more species at Villa Carmen (another biological station of the Amazon Conservation Association) and at campsites along the slope. We will actually be moving down to the almost lowlands of Villa Carmen tomorrow, that is if we can drive past a huge landslide at 2000m, and install frog agar models to measure temperature and water loss along the way.
Meet Rhinella manu, a pretty special frog. This toad is named after the park in which it is endemic to, Manu. Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is larger than the great state of Connecticut by more than 1,000sq miles. It encompasses lowland Amazonian forest, high Andean peaks and everything in between. This wide variety of habitats contains an even larger variety of animals. In fact, Manu has 155 known species of amphibian and 132 species of reptiles, making it the most herpetofaunally diverse protected area in the world. (For more about Manu's incredible herpetofaunal diversity check out Alessandro's paper cited below) However, being named after an awesome park isn't the only cool thing about this toad. This small toad is arboreal and, quite unusually for a member of the family Bufonidae, appears to be direct developing. No tadpoles or eggs of this species have ever been found; and given the morphology of studied specimens, it appears that the eggs of this species may develop into small froglets within the egg (like members of the Strabomantidae). If correct, this would make Rhinella manu truly unique.
So not only is this frog named after and found in a herpetologist's paradise, but it's fascinating biology makes it one of the coolest species we've found so far!
CATENAZZI, A., LEHR, E. & VON MAY, R. The amphibians and reptiles of Manu National Park and its buffer zone, Amazon basin and eastern slopes of the Andes, Peru. Biota Neotrop. 13(4): http://www. biotaneotropica.org.br/v13n4/en/abstract?inventory+bn02813042013
This is a view of Kosnipata shrouded in fog, the highest peak of Manu National Park was visible for a few seconds. It was a brief break after clouds again took entire possession of the place.
As promised, here is full day (well, almost full day) time lapse of the clouds moving at Wayqecha.
This Hyalinobatrachium bergeri is one of the most common glass frogs here. The genus Hyalinobatrachium can be distinguished (in part) by it's transparent peritoneum, allowing full view of its organs. The frogs breed on leaves overhanging streams. The male will guard clutches to prevent predation (and possibly desiccation) until they hatch and drop into the water below. The tadpoles are pink and often elusive, living at the bottoms of fast moving sections of the stream.
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