November 11, 2014

Uncovering a Glowing Mystery at the Refugio Amazonas Lodge

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A couple of years ago, wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer stumbled upon something very special during a night hike in the rainforest of Tambopata, Peru. While passing a bend on the trail, he noticed several glowing green dots embedded within a dirt wall. Curious and seeking more information, Jeff snapped some pictures and posted them to Reddit in a section where site users help to answer questions and identify species. It turns out, these glowing dots were likely due to some kind of insect larvae, possibly a beetle, but the rest of the story remained a mystery. What exactly was this strange species and why were they glowing in the middle the Amazon rainforest in a dirt wall? This past October, Jeff was accompanied by entomologist Aaron Pomerantz and his colleagues Mike Bentley and Geoff Gallice, who are graduate students at the University of Florida. Together, they hoped to “shed some light” on this glowing mystery.






Several green glowing dots can be seen on this dirt wall in the Amazon rainforest.

Animals that produce and emit their own light have been of great interest to biologists, chemists, and pretty much any nature lover who has had the privilege of encountering one of the many glowing critters out there. There is something mesmerizing and beautiful about an ocean lit up by glowing plankton or watching an open field come alive at night, illuminated with fireflies. The technical term for this glowing phenomenon is known as bioluminescence, and it has evolved many times in the animal kingdom. There are several different reasons that animals utilize this emission of light including: attracting mates, defense against predators, and luring in prey. And this last reason brings us back to our mysterious glow worms…

The larvae up-close, showing off the luminescence from the glands near the head.

As Aaron points out in the video, these larvae are sticking their glowing heads out of the dirt wall with their freakish looking mandibles outstretched. This immediately tipped off the entomologists that this appeared to be a sit-and-wait, or ambush, predatory strategy. You’ve also probably noticed that some insects seem to flock to your porch light at night; the glow worms may be taking advantage of this attraction to light phenomenon. That is, they may emit a green light and wait for a nice juicy insect to come right into that lure, and right into those powerful mandibles. This is not unlike the strategy that deep sea angler fish employ to lure prey. The light production in these glow worms is likely due to a molecule known as Luciferin, which is also the compound that many firefly species use to emit light.

Zoomed in on the mouth parts.

Mike helped confirm our predator hypothesis by presenting the larvae with a stick and then an ant. Sure enough they were voracious, clamping their mandibles shut and dragging their prey into the tunnels...never to be seen again. Due to their predatory nature coupled with the fact that these monstrous looking glow worms reminded us of the movie Tremors (a 1990 western film about killer underground creatures), we just had to take several close-up pictures for your viewing pleasure.
 
The glowing larvae with its freakish mandibles outstretched and waiting for the next unsuspecting victim.

So what species did we investigate here? We believe these belong to a family of beetles called Elateridae, which are commonly known as click beetles. But beyond that, we are not entirely sure what species this is or if it has been described yet (perhaps through the power of the internet we can get an answer). Elateridae is a very large family with around 10,000 described species in the world and only about 200 species have been documented to display bioluminescence. Some species of glowing beetle larvae in Brazil can be found in old termite nests where they attract and catch prey like ants and termites. The behavior that we observed where the larvae had utilized a dirt wall, as opposed to a termite mound, for their home and hunting ground could be a different niche not yet documented for this enigmatic group of glow worms.

Close-up of the glow worm head. Cute, huh?

So at the end of the day, why should we care about these critters? Aside from the fact that they are downright bizarre and extraordinarily cool looking, the science behind bioluminescent click beetles is still lacking. What role do they play in the complex environment and ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest? Why exactly did they develop the ability to produce their own light, and how did this trait evolve? What can they teach us about their biochemistry and the biodiversity of life on our planet? These questions are far from answered, but perhaps a curious naturalist will come along and help to solve this, and many other, Amazonian mysteries.

An infographic on our predatory glow worms. Click image to enlarge.

We hope that this story has sparked a little fascination in you, because it certainly did for us when we first laid eyes on them! We will investigate these amazing glow worms further to see what more we can learn while seeking to protect them and their environment.



-Aaron Pomerantz, Entomologist
November 03, 2014

How studying Macaws can save the Amazon

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How studying Macaws can save the Amazon

It’s one of the most stunning sights in the Peruvian rainforest. Every morning, just after sunrise, a riot of rainbows swoops down on the world’s largest avian clay lick in the southern jungle of Peru.

The rainbows are actually birds — large macaws, parrots, and parakeets, feathers colored in ultra bright shades of red, yellow, green, and blue.

Few visitors ever get to see this daily congregation of bird life. The clay lick, called the Collpa Colorado, is located more than 6 hours by boat from the nearest town. The Tambopata Research Center, a remote jungle lodge operated by the ecotourism company Rainforest Expeditions, enjoys a privileged location just 500 meters away.

Bird fanatics make once-in-a-lifetime trips out here specifically to witness this spectacle of sound and color. Researchers likewise flock here to study macaw behavior and to catalogue the extreme biodiversity of the surrounding Tambopata National Reserve.

But — cue the dark clouds, lightning, and thunder — this paradise for birds is in danger of destruction.

Macaw survival and rainforest conservation go hand in hand

There is gold in the river beds and oil in the ground of Peru’s jungle areas. Industries are keen to extract these resources no matter what the costs to wildife and the environment.

Macaws have already experienced habitat loss as a result of road building, tree logging, and clear-cutting for crops and cattle ranching.

In the early 2000s, conservationists and ecotourism allies lost the battle to halt construction of the Transoceanic Highway through the Amazon of Peru and Brazil. Completed in 2011, the road now cuts a swath through previously unaccessible areas of the rainforest.

We have not yet accounted for the impacts of the highway, but scientists believe that population fragmentation and extinction will be among the long-term consequences for macaws and other species.

The only way to save macaws is to keep pristine areas of the rainforest intact. The alternative — loss of wilderness areas, deforestation, environmental pollution, extinction of rare species found nowhere else in the world — is simply unacceptable.

The project to save macaws

Developed in collaboration with the ecotourism company Rainforest Expeditions and the NGO Filmjungle.eu Society, “The Macaw Project” is a documentary project that will showcase exclusive footage obtained by scientists on the front lines of macaw conservation research in Peru’s southeastern Amazon. The goal of the film is to bring attention to the problems facing macaws and to propose solutions for how to save them.

“The film will introduce the viewer into secret places of the rainforest never inhabited by any people and not visited by tourists,” says George Olah, PhD scholar at Australian National University and lead researcher for “The Macaw Project.” After a successful fundraising campaign through Indiegogo, Mr. Olah and his colleagues are currently in the script writing stage and expect to complete the film by April 2015.

Scientists are among the few outsiders allowed to enter the wildest parts of the Amazon, including the Tambopata-Candamo region where Rainforest Expedition’s Tambopata Research Center is based. “The Macaw Project” places us in their mud-splattered boots as they go about the work of documenting macaw life cycles.

The rainforest looks quite different from the perspective of a macaw and studying their behavior yields fascinating insights not only about macaws but also about broader trends affecting the rainforest.

Peru for Less (PFL) is a proud sponsor of the “The Macaw Project.” The decision to support the film project was a no-brainer for Peru for Less Director Richard Leon. “I remember going to the Amazon, to Iquitos, for the first time when I was eight-years-old and I can still recall how amazing it was,” Leon said. “We must do our best to save the same experiences for future generations.”

The survival of macaws, and the entire web of life that exist only in this part of Peru, requires that we continue to protect the last remaining areas of pristine jungle. By highlighting the links between macaws and rainforest conservation, “The Macaw Project” aims to inspire discussion and to spark ideas for how to accomplish this important work.

Can tourism save the Amazon?

At Peru for Less, we see a direct link between supporting ecotourism providers and contributing toward Amazon conservation. “Peru is a fascinating country with incredible biodiversity,” said Mr. Leon. “We believe in supporting partners such as Rainforest Expeditions because they are leaders in developing best practices for sustainable tourism.”

When travelers ask us about what to see and do in Peru (beyond Machu Picchu), our first recommendation is frequently the Amazon near Puerto Maldonado. It’s a short flight to get there from either Cusco or Lima, and it is also a hotbed for ecotourism projects. Rainforest Expeditions operates three eco-lodges here, including the already mentioned Tambopata Research Center as well as the excellent Posadas Amazonas and Refugio Amazonas, where guests enjoy unexpected amenities such as wireless Internet and hot water showers.

Ecotourism is just one avenue toward rainforest conservation, but it’s an important one. Terra Hall, Brand Manager at Peru for Less, was a recent guest at Posadas Amazonas. “It is the most salient example of the circle of life I have ever witnessed,” said Hall. “I've always been a conservationist but after visiting and seeing the jungle firsthand and seeing the interconnected of life there, it strengthened my belief.”

The Amazon is one of the last places on earth where Mother Nature still rules. We want to help keep it that way, for macaws, for countless rainforest species, and for future generations of travelers to be able to experience the shift of perspective that comes from being immersed in a different world. We look forward to the premier of “The Macaw Project” premiers and to learning more about what we — both as a travel company and as travelers ourselves — can do to save this previous species and the environment in which they live.

Peru for Less
Peru for Less is a leading agency for travel to Peru. Since 1998, the company has been working with travelers to craft best value Peru travel packages. From the Amazon Jungle to Machu Picchu, Peru for Less specializes in travelers who seek worry-free, fully customizable tours and services combined with personalized attention from Peru travel experts.

                                                                                                                                    
November 02, 2014

Expedition to Candamo: Venturing into ‘The Last Rainforest Without Men’

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For most people seeking a secluded part of the Amazon to spend their time, there are few places better than the Tambopata Research Center. And our team did stop at the TRC, but only to briefly charge up our electrical equipment before heading out…further and further on the rivers until we found ourselves deep in the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, which is one of the most remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon, and therefore one of the most remote places on Earth.




But there’s a reason why not many people go to this place, and a reason it is called ‘The Last Rainforest Without Men’. The area is incredibly remote and there have been no known settlers, even by indigenous tribes. And this time of year the rivers are low, which puts the river rocks closer to our boat and closer to our boat propeller…


A map showing our starting point, the Tambopata Research Center labeled as 'TRC' and the route we took deeper into the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park

“Al agua al agua!” Don Pedro, an old but spry native to the Amazon, would shout. Our conversations would come to an abrupt stop upon hearing these words, and in seconds we would be leaping out of the boat into the waist-high rapids. I quickly lost count of the number of times we had to jump out into murky fast-moving water, find footing on slippery riverbed rocks, and push. The thought of having dry clothing or shoes quickly faded for anyone in the group. But the rapids didn’t just pose a challenge to our navigation or comfort, the rapids almost took away the most important item we possessed: our boat. One particularly challenging rapid caught our boat in the current and our eyes grew wide as dinner plates as we saw our vessel start to turn sideways. We pulled and pushed with all our might and managed to save the boat from flipping, something that would have very quickly put a damper on our trip.





Without such a cohesive and experienced crew, we probably would have never landed on our destination: The Candamo River. It was beautiful. The forest mist had burned off by the time we pulled up to the rocky beach. The lush forest was pressed up on both sides against the Candamo Valley, one of the few remaining pristine rainforests on the planet. We were not the first group to explore this region, but there certainly weren’t many before us. This is not a tourist destination, it is not a site for field researchers, and it is not even a place where people who have lived their entire lives in the Amazon venture.


The crew swiftly set out to clear small sections of a bamboo forest nearby so we could set up camp. Geoff, Jeff, Mike, and I set out into the jungle to scope out a good tree to climb and check out the wildlife. We were not disappointed; Geoff found a tree with perfect conditions for setting up a climbing rig and we stumbled upon something even more unexpected: a lek of neotropical butterflies! To non-entomologists this may not seem like something worth celebrating, but to us this was one of the primary reasons for this expedition. Geoff has spent many many years researching neotropical butterflies, and we now had the opportunity to sample for species belonging to the family Nymphalidae and contribute to science in an area where no one had  investigated this amazing family of insects until now.


For the next couple of days this was our home. We woke early, hiked, explored butterfly and other animal biodiversity, climbed trees, and investigated a 100+ year old bridge constructed for rubber trade that had been abandoned long ago swallowed by the forest. The biting black flies were in full force in this region, and were slowly turning our hands other extremities into pulp. A night of rain caused the river to quickly swell and consume our camp site along the riverbank, forcing us to retreat deeper into the bamboo forest. But we pressed on and made full use of our time in the incredible region.

The view from our 30 meter tree climb. We can see what used to be our camp site on the rocky beach, which quickly got swallowed up by the rising water after some rain.


We shared cerveza with the crew as we gathered in a circle in the evenings and exchanged stories with one another. “Cerveza en Candamo…” one of the crew members mused with a smirk. We made cheers in several different languages and soaked up the moment as we realized what a special opportunity it was to be here right now.


Time seemed to fly by, and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and depart. After the boat was loaded we snapped a few group pictures and set off. This time it wasn’t pushing against the rapids we were concerned about, but riding with the rapids, now unable to stop and slow down even if we wanted to. Once more, if not for the amazing skills of our boat driver and navigators, we probably would have found ourselves quickly stranded in the middle of the Amazon Basin.


Our return was quick as we rode with the rapids and before we knew it we were back at the Tambopata Research Center. Seeing other boats and people felt strange, as the last few days made us used to being the only human beings around in an incredibly remote rainforest. We were fortunately able to stay in some vacant rooms at the TRC and caught up on some much needed sleep sans black flies, mosquitoes, and rocks for pillows.


The experience has left me humbled and appreciative of the region we were so lucky to spend just a few days in. The wildlife and biodiversity certainly lived up to the reputation. The remoteness and difficulty of entering the region itself makes me thankful that we had such an amazing team that worked so well together. If not for our skilled Peruvian navigators and crew members, we would probably still be trying to get past the first rapid near TRC.


We painstakingly photographed and filmed as much of the trip as we possibly could and we are working now to edit and share this material with you! I hope that you enjoyed reading about this adventure, because to us it certainly was a real adventure in every sense of the word. Challenges, danger, discovery, beauty and excitement come to mind when I think back to the Candamo expedition of October 2014. It may have only been a once in lifetime opportunity to visit this place, but I hope I’m wrong about that. Perhaps there will one day be a Candamo round two…

September 30, 2014

35 Awesome Photos of Rainforest Animals and Wildlife

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Lucas Bustamante recently visited our lodges in Tambopata, Peru for a few weeks and took these incredible photos of Amazon rainforest wildlife.   

Lucas is a passionate biologist and wildlife photographer from Ecuador. For seven years now, he has been dedicated to documenting Ecuador's biodiversity, particularly reptiles and amphibians. Lucas has lead innumerable field trips and workshops. He also has written several articles and books about tropical ecology and herpetology. 

Lucas' photographic work has been featured in National Geographic, Anima Mundi, Discovery Channel and many other magazines.


Enjoy!


Macaw

Giant River Otters


Howler Monkeys Playing


Capybara swimming in the Tamboapta River

A rare photo of a Tapir

Tambopata River At Sunset

Puddling Butterflies

Macaws in Flight

A Jaguar Swimming In The Tambopata River

An Ox Bow Lake

Boats Parked At The Tambopata Research Center

Peccary

Another beautiful landscape of the Tambopata River

Howler Monkey

Sunrise Over The Jungle

Peccaries

Squirrel Monkey

A Jaguar Getting Out Of The River


Burrowing Owls At The Tambopata Research Center


Giant River Otters at Posada Amazonas Lodge

Giant River Otter

A Family Of Giant River Otters

Giant River Otters

The Sky Reflected In The Water Of An Ox Bow Lake

Caiman



A Black and White Photo Of A Caiman

Giant River Otters

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Monkey Frog

Spider Monkeys

Macaws In Flight

 
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