First up, my favorite reptile encounter also happens to be the most potentially dangerous encounter. Credit goes to my girlfriend, Bri, who joined me in September and quite literally stumbled upon the Pit Viper, Bothrops atrox.
Commonly known as the lancehead, this snake claims the most lives each year in South America due to its deadly venom. We kept a safe distance while snapping photos until both us and the viper walked (and slithered, respectively) our separate ways.
My favorite rare mammal has to be a toss up between the Tapir and the Tayra. Both are quite elusive animals and are rarely seen, even by the locals. This counts as my second Tapir sighting - we were lucky to be so close as she was crossing the river at around 4:30 in the morning while we were on our way to the Chuncho clay lick in October.
The tayra is an omnivorous animal from the weasel family. We spotted this one in October near the Posada Amazonas jungle lodge while he was sneaking around searching for discarded apples.
While I have yet to spot a big cat in the wild, we have captured many amazing cats on a camera trap that I helped Jeff Cremer set up a few months ago, including Jaguars, Pumas, and Ocelots. (see more of Jeff's camera trap photos here: http://gizmodo.com/how-dslr-camera-traps-are-capturing-stunning-wildlife-p-1730499208)
Up next are my favorite bugs (of course). The Amazon rainforest contains the most species of insects on the planet, so as an entomologist it's really hard to play favorites. My top 3-way tie are surprisingly all caterpillars! I never considered myself to be a butterfly/moth guy, but the Amazon has quickly changed that. There seems to be no end to how strange caterpillars come in shape, size, color, and behavior in the jungle.
In March 2015, I accidentally stumbled upon a caterpillar that would become one of my most popular critter stories. We called it the "tentacled caterpillar", as it had four tentacle-like structures on its back that would "pop out" when alarmed by the sound of our voices (no, seriously).
You can watch the video: Crazy Tentacled Caterpillar in Tambopata, Peru
Next up, in my opinion, is one of the coolest discoveries I've come across in the rainforest. Several months ago, I found a tree with bizarre yellow outgrowths. Upon closer inspection, I realized there were caterpillars munching on these yellow "bulbs" and ants were taking care of the caterpillars.
Immediately, I knew this had to be an unusual observation and indeed, it turned out to be a never-before-seen relationship and life history for a rare butterfly.
You can watch the full video: Mystery of the Yellow Bulbs: Caterpillars, Ants & Parasitic Plants
Finally, we have the slug moth caterpillar. Not a very attractive name for a beautiful insect larva. Spotted in May near the Posada Amazonas lodge, I can only imagine what purpose the groovy color pattern serves.
My favorite tiny critters have been viewed through a handheld origami-style microscope that I was fortunate to test out in the Amazon rainforest starting in March 2015. Known as the Foldscope, we've observed all sorts of strange and interesting animals and structures belonging to the microcosmos including butterfly wing scales and unknown mite species.
|A compilation of butterfly wing scales I’ve sampled with the Foldscope|
You can watch the full video: Foldscope in the Amazon Rainforest
My favorite bird encounter has to go to the Harpy Eagle. These amazing apex predators are rare to spot in the wild, let alone view one of their nests. In May, Jeff and I climbed 100 feet up into the canopy to photograph and film the chick before it left the nest.
You can watch the video: Journey to a Rare Harpy Eagle Nest
I would be remiss if I didn't include a photo of the incredible gathering of macaws and parrots at the clay licks. No other place in the world like this!
My favorite fungus award goes to none other than the weird Clathrus ruber, which looks like something a 3-D printer messed up.
Finally, my favorite strange animal interaction has to be butterflies drinking turtle tears. They mob the unsuspecting turtles likely to gain extra nutrients such as sodium.
Overall, it has been a busy and incredible year to say the least. I owe a huge thanks to Rainforest Expeditions and the ecotourism that makes all of this work possible. While this post was about my favorite critter encounters, the people who joined me make these trips truly special. I've been joined by friends, family, researchers, science writers, photographers, and more, making every trip unique.
So last but not least, here's a quick shout out to my favorite human critters of 2015.
|Filming the Harpy Eagle nest with Jeff and Frank in May|
|On the way to the Tamboapta Research Center in May with my parents|
|Waiting patiently at the clay lick in July with Jason, Jeff, Fernando, and Cat|
|Hopping on the boat with Bri, Lucas, and Hayley in September|
|Exploring abandoned biological stations with Jeff, Nadia, Elizabeth, Cintia, George, and Zoltan in October|
|Last but not least, closing out December with Christina and Derek|
Thanks for reading! You can follow me for more updates on Twitter @AaronPomerantz