September 22, 2013

What the heck is going on in this picture?

Peru Tambopata

This toad appears to be a fan of star wars... or is it using blinders...? or does it have giant ears...? or what is that sticking out of its mouth!?

Look closely and you'll realize that this is a rare, and perhaps first, sighting of a cane toad feeding on a bat. Yes, this happened.

This photo was taken at a remote guard station in Peru by park ranger Yufani Olaya at Cerros de Amotape National Park. He gave us permission to write about the photo, but we're waiting to hear back from him on more details about where exactly he found it, and how he thinks a ground-dwelling toad could have captured a bat. 

We're unsure how common this is, but we do know that this is probably the first photographed record of a cane toad feeding on a bat.  Cane toads are notoriously opportunistic feeders, and while they are native to South America this trait has made them infamously invasive in places like Australia.

Without more information about this photo it can be difficult to guess how a ground-dwelling toad and a flying bat could ever cross paths, unless the bat had fallen.

My best guess? I have seen bats and toads use similar locations in the rainforest, just not at the same time. Both are known to use small holes along streamsides, so it's possible this bat decided to roost in a hole that was inhabited by a hungry toad, which after some difficulty swallowing took a walk to get its photo taken by Olaya.

Here in the Tambopata rainforest we often run across cane toads- but from now on we'll keep an extra close eye out for what's in their mouths. 

We'll keep you in the loop as we get more information on this odd and fascinating sighting.

Update: Sept 23, 2013 10:00am

We finally got in touch with Olaya. As was suggested by John Scanlon in a comment on a repost of this story on Why Evolution Is True, it appears the bat was flying a bit too close to the ground. Many bats will feed on insects flying near the ground or will glean insects that are actually on the ground (pallid bats in the US are a great example of the latter).

Olaya described the toad's success as "out of nowhere the bat just flew directly into the mouth of the toad, which almost seemed to be sitting with its mouth wide open." With toad-like reflexes, this cane toad was able to snatch the unsuspecting bat right out of the air as it flew too close to the ground, and apparently directly at the toad's awaiting mouth.

So, did the toad finally get those wings in its mouth? According to Olaya, no. The toad finally gave up and spat it out. While Olaya at first thought the bat was dead, he said it slowly recovered and was able to fly away. I'm sure it won't make that mistake again.

Update: Sept 24 5:00pm

We were sent a paper which describes a related toad feeding on a bat, which you can find (with images) here.

Special thanks to A. Ruesta for bringing this photo to our attention, and for getting in contact with Mr. Olaya.

September 17, 2013

Scientists Stumped: What Is This Strange Web Like Structure?


Grad Student Discovers Unexplained Web Structure
Resembling “The Unicorn in Captivity”
At Tambopata Research Center in Peruvian Rainforest

LIMA, Peru, Sept. 19, 2013 – Peru’s visionary leader in sustainable tourism, Rainforest Expeditions, reports that deep in the Peruvian rainforest near its Tambopata Research Center an as-yet-unnamed insect or fungus has been discovered that weaves an intricate funnel-shaped cocoon surrounded by approximately 30 “posts” that are positioned vertically, connected by woven “mesh,” and evenly spaced to form a “fence” measuring some 2 centimeters around the cocoon.

Thus far entomologists are stumped as to what it is.

Troy Alexander, a graduate student visiting the center in early June was the first to discover the structure this past summer, first on the underside of a tarp and then on tree trunks.

“I do not know what organism made it. Never seen such a structure before,” said Jonathan Coddington, who studies spiders and is associate director for science at the National Museum of Natural History.

Suggestions range from the structure being a spider egg sac to an incomplete cocoon. Other suggestions are funnier.  “I have seen people say that it’s been built by a spider from Mars, that it's a navigational aid built by mosquitos for navigating the dense jungles, to alien communication arrays built by local arachnids under the influence of alien mind control.” Jeff Cremer, spokesperson for Rainforest Expeditions.  “Some people even say that it looks like the insect (or fungal) variation on the theme of the Late Middle Ages tapestry, The Unicorn in Captivity,”

Tory Alexander’s favorite theory, described on Facebook, is that “there are spider eggs in the base of the pole, and the spiderlings climb the pole and sail away on silken parachutes, protected by the fence the whole time.”

 This region is no stranger to new species. In early 2012 the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reported on 365 previously undocumented species found in Bahuaja Sonene National Park in the Tambopata River region of southeastern Peru. More recently in September, 2012 a new spider species that created “false” decoy spiders as protection was found at the center.

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