Nearly every time I walk on the jungle trails in the Tambopata region of the Amazon rainforest I come across awesome wildlife.
The rainforests of Tambopata are teaming with it. It is always very rewarding seeing some of the elusive animals that reside in the Peruvian jungle such as the jaguar, the giant anteater, the river otters, the anaconda, the sloth or the harpy eagle, to name a few. But witnessing animal behavior in action right in front of you is always the most fulfilling thing that anyone can experience, irrespective of whether you are watching a rare species or not.
The Jungle of Tambopata with the mountains of Puno in the background.
Part One: The Stolen Eggs
After a long and painful morning trek, I was returning to the Refugio Amazonas jungle lodge for lunch at 1 pm. I was tired, thirsty and hungry so wasn’t walking quietly anymore; in fact, I was stomping through the jungle. At the rate I was going, I would be back in 15 minutes, leaving me enough time for a quick shower before lunch. I’m ten minutes away from the lodge when suddenly a Brown Capuchin Monkey (Cebus apella) jumps onto a tree right in front of me. Because it is so close to me, I decide to stop and photograph it. A couple of shots later, the rest of its troop arrive and start foraging for food around me. This seems like a good opportunity for some monkey shots so I remain with the troop and keep taking photos of the first capuchin that jumped in front of me. Even though this individual wasn’t the largest in size and strength, it seemed to be the leader of the troop as all the other members were following it.
Some wise looking capuchins.
After following them for about twenty minutes I remember that lunch is nearing so I had better get going again. Just as I start to walk away, I hear a big rustling in a nearby tree and see a Spix’s Guan (a kind of jungle turkey) fly out of the tree in a very agitated manner. Seconds later, all the capuchins rush to where the guan flew out from. It turns out this was its nest! It is commonly known that bird eggs and other small animals such as lizards constitute part of the capuchin’s diet. The first individual to enter the nest was the capuchin leader. As quickly as he entered the nest, he exits it…
But it is not empty handed: it is carrying two of the guan’s eggs, one in each hand pressed up against its chest.
Brown capuchin monkey with two stolen Spix’s Guan eggs held up against its chest.
While the other monkeys are distracted by the discovery of the nest, the thief tries to make a break for it. Except, how can you be quick jumping from tree to tree when you are a monkey and you cannot use your arms as you are carrying one egg in each?
So the capuchin starts hopping awkwardly from branch to branch on its two hind legs. If it wants to eat both eggs, it must get to a safe place away from its troop, as they will not hesitate to mob it to steal its treasure. To its dismay, the other monkeys quickly realize that the nest is empty and start pursuing it. The chase is on! It starts running away again. As it does it cracks a hole in one of the eggs and starts eating it! Just as I’m wondering how greedy this little capuchin is, it suddenly drops the half-eaten egg…
Was it an accident? Did the egg slip out of its hand? I think not.
Brown Capuchin with one Spix’s Guan egg. (Notice the yellow egg yolk on its mouth!)
Dropping the egg doesn’t only free up one of its hands, thereby increasing its agility and ability to escape but also diverts the chasing pack: the capuchins suddenly have an easy meal right on the jungle floor. They all rush to the ground and fight between themselves to try and claim the egg. This diversion, the lower load and the freed up hand gives the capuchin leader just enough time to finish eating the second egg before the others resume the chase.
The benefits derived from dropping the egg make me believe that this action was purposeful: the leader escapes from the other capuchins (avoiding potential injury) and manages to consume one and a half eggs.
Part Two: Capuchin Monkey Feeding On Wasp Larvae
Capuchin monkey and angry wasps.
As shown in this photo, a brown capuchin monkey can be seen amongst a swarm of angry wasps. In fact, when taking this photograph I didn’t notice the wasps: it was only after looking over my photos and zooming in on this one that I saw this interaction. Capuchins are known to attack and destroy wasp nests in search of the nutrient-rich wasp larvae that reside in the nest.
Once they empty the nest from the adult wasps, they can then pick out the larvae from the hexagonal cells in the nest and eat them. It does seem like a risky thing to do but capuchins have thick hair to protect them from the wasp stings, they are also able to escape from the wasps thanks to their agile speed in the trees.
The benefit these larvae bring to the capuchins outweighs the risks: they obtain a rich snack with a very high protein and fat content. Although I didn’t see the capuchin destroying the nest it is very likely this is what is happening.
If this story inspire you, Tour Tambopata and visit the Amazon jungle lodges of Rainforest Expeditions.
I am a wildlife photographer studying zoology at the University of Bristol, UK. In 2016-17, I worked on a research project on parasitic wasps at the London Natural History Museum, reporting to the Head of Entomology, Dr Gavin Broad. In summer 2017, I volunteered for the Tambopata Macaw Project and fell in love with the area. I took many photos during my time as a volunteer and learnt much about jungle life. I was sponsored by GoPro and shot videos and photos for them, which feature on my Instagram page. I returned to Tambopata in summer 2018 as the resident wildlife photographer at the jungle ecolodges of Rainforest Expeditions.
You can contact me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep an eye out for my next blogs.