Author Archive | Margot Fass

24. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – El Crater – Part II

24. Sunday, June 18thEducation, Advocacy 

After an early dinner at Restaurant El Crater, Michael led a talk about what we could do when we got back to our respective homes.  Here are some of the things we discussed

Education 

Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of my personal heroes.  A book, The Frog Scientist, by Pamela S. Turner and Andy Comins, is about him, and what goes on in the worlds of politics, money and health, and is great for children. (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-frog-scientist)

Dr. Hayes originally was contracted by Novartis (later Syngenta) to prove the safety of Atrazine. Hayes was quickly cut off from research funding when he found quite the opposite, and reported hormonal and anatomical abnormalities due to this chemical, such as eggs in males, gonads in females, and extra legs in frogs.

The Swiss manufacturer (Syngenta) and a corrupt Australian Pesticides and “Medicine Authority” (quotes mine) has spent billions of dollars to discredit Hayes’ research. So far, the research prevailed in a multi-million dollar settlement by Illinois Water bottling companies against Syngenta. The US Environmental Protection Agency sided with the corporation by finding Atrazine “safe”, but fortunately, it was banned at least in Europe in 2004.

Dr. Hayes blames Atrazine for a large part of the global loss of amphibians, as well as for health issues in humans. He has spent his life as an educator and advocate for the review of the use of chemicals to prevent health consequences to humans, has published hundreds of papers, and traveled extensively to talk about his findings.

Victor H. Luja, our own SAVE THE FROGS! advisor and group member, is an educator/advocate in Mexico, and he was with us the whole time! His professorship in the University both allows and requires publications, one of which has a title longer, probably, than the frog he is writing about, La Rana Arbolica

Victor recognizes that the real hope for frogs lies as much or more with the people of the land rather than within university walls. Therefore, with the help of SAVE THE FROGS!, the book is designed for the ranchers of the oasis, with information on biology and the natural history of Rana Arborícola written in a way to make the science practical and accessible to those who need it most.

While I haven’t discussed it with Victor yet, as an educator, I think it would make a really interesting research project to compare the awareness and specific protective actions by the residents of this area both before and after the distribution process.

Habitat Development: Wetlands

Kathlyn Franco Osagie wasn’t with us on the trip, but she was a presenter with Kerry Kriger about wetland construction as part of our SAVE THE FROGS! 90 Day Challenge in 2015. She has worked closely with wetlands ecologist Tom Biebighauser.

The amazing thing is that wetlands are like highways; build them, and they will be populated. Ten Tips to Give Frogs a Landing Pad

The creation of wetlands is one of the most important activities of SAVE THE FROGS! and as of February 2017, the organization had assisted in the construction of twenty nine.

                                         Art

Nick Gustafson is a good SAVE THE FROGS! friend, who does his advocacy and teaching through art. Nick is a big supporter, providing a number of frog posters, paintings, and photos. Artwork and Photos.

Nick has helped with and sometimes won my favorite SAVE THE FROGS! event, the Art Contest. When I go into schools, I leave a poster in each classroom I visit. The children and teachers always love them, and I have heard reports back that certain schools have whole units designed around the contest. The Core Curriculum includes The Life Cycle of Frogs in 2nd grade and Frog Diversity Threatened in 3rd. Two posters stapled together made a great sign for me this year Earth Day, attracting attention, admiration, and picture taking.

                                                                

23. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – El Crater Part 1

23. Sunday, June 18th, To the Middle of the World

Aargh! Last night was our last frogging! How can I bear it?

Goodbye, Casa Divina jungle!           Goodbye, Casa Divina forest!                Goodbye, my special stream guides!

At 10:30 am we were at the circle to take the bus back towards Quito. We arrived at El Crater at the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. When we put our luggage in our rooms, we saw that one could view the landscape sitting at the head or foot of the bed. What a way to wake up!  There also was a great view from the other side, steadfastly guarded by an elegant llama.

Fortunately, the sun held out for us for the afternoon, although it was a little chilly. Our faithful bus driver took us to Mitád del Mundo. Faithfully, I took a photo (see yellow circle and yellow line) from the top of the monument, that I sent to my faithful husband. He was quick to point out (faithfully) the truth that the equator line is really not the equator.

So much for thoughts of fixing it: plans were stalled to rebuild the world’s tallest assembled structure (5,000 feet) 800 feet to the north to the ACTUAL equator, for a mere $250 million. Hopefully the architect, Rafael Viñoly, will be able to afford his life in New York without this contract; Ecuador is not a wealthy country.  

Most people don’t care and love to have their pictures taken on the current equator line anyway. Brian and Chris, and Katie and Michael apparently preferred the back of the monument.

We left at closing time with a few more souvenirs to take home.  By the time we got to El Crater, it was too late to get that stunning photo of the landscape sitting at the head or foot of the bed.

 

22. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Casa Divina Part IV

Saturday, June 17th, Full of surprises.

Finally we got back to the head of the trail at the top of the cable car line. The others, surprisingly, were still waiting for us. The original plan was to take the cable car back, go into the village of Mindo to join the butterfly farm group for lunch and wander around the town.

Instead, we were met with the news that the cable car was stuck in the middle of the ravine, and that it would probably be 24 hours before it was operative again. The workers were fashioning a rescue mechanism for the stranded individual suspended in space. While we felt compassion, we felt no envy for his situation.

Ours was challenging enough: We would have to walk all the way down into and up out of the deep chasm.

At the end of the hike, way past lunch time, Michael’s Fitbit reported the following:
Total miles walked: 8.5
Total steps climbed: 20,852
Total flights of stairs 149
Total hours on foot: 6

No wonder we were more than a little tired!

Time for a bath, stretch, rest, dinner, and photos of Molly, Efraim, and their younger daughter. This was our last evening together.

I told their assistant Gabrielle very firmly not to laugh, and of course, she did not.

Alas, this was our last night for frogging. The group had gotten permission through Efraim, who came with us, to go to land owned by another ecolodge. We were led down a rocky, slippery and narrow stream, with high banks on both sides, and only occasional flat (wet) ground on one side or the other.

Our guides that night were Ephraim, his assistant Alex Luna, our Paolo, Chelsea and Michael, and a guide from the property we explored. Alex, as kind and helpful as any true leader, was the person who volunteered his shoulder, hand and arm during our walk down the stream.

Ephraim used my pitiful old cracked  I phone to get some better photos for me.

Hanging lizards were a common site on our Frogging nights.

What was less common was to see a helpless lizard being used to demonstrate his throat pouch, and I worried.

The absolute best photo, though, and which made the whole evening worth a trip back to Ecuador any time, left me with a question of whether these two will co-exist, or will Liz eat Frog?

We saw two good egg sacks, one on a leaf, and the other hanging. Maybe the second one was like the one that yielded its treasure to my back earlier in the day.

This was a night for more frogs and a few toads.

     

“Look to the left! Look to the right! Look straight ahead!  Move on!”

                     

And please help SAVE THE FROGS! Donate!

21. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Casa Divina – Part III

Friday, June 16th, Froggy Finds

Another frogging night, better than the last.  Yes, I saw some interesting things, such as a round black snail, a round tan fungus, and some green and white spiral and striped leaves, more intensely colored under headlamp light.

There were clusters of spiky orange flowers, little white flowers and a spider nicely silhouetted on a red blossom.

But that’s not why I came to Ecuador!  This Friday evening started out with a tiny green frog that landed on Victor’s arm, a perfect SAVE THE FROGS! poster child.

Except, of course, we were in Ecuador.

The frogs are soooooooo small that one really has to be alert not to accidentally step on or otherwise injure the miniature creatures.  They are made very much like ourselves, but are far less aggressive. Try to find the frog on the leaf. 

And, they are darned cute!!!!!  Same frog, front and side:

The cloud forest is so alive.  This was definitely a better night for me than any of the others, but the best was yet to come.

Saturday, June 17, Bravo River Reserve Hike

Again, I happily slept in, and vicariously got to enjoy Melvin’s and the other bird fiend’s crazy 5 a.m. expedition.

Andean Cock of the Rock
Rupicola peruviana sanquinolenta
Adult male at lek.
Mindo, Ecuador                                            Photo Credit Melvin Grey

Apparently Ecuador was a little put out that Peru chose the Andean CockoftheRock for its national bird, and got the Andean condor instead. However, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru and five other states have used the condor as their national symbol as well. Is it a case of “what’s mine is mine, and what’s your’s is mine also”?

Many of the group that had gone zip lining the day before, todaywent to the Butterfly Garden.  Our adventure at 10 am was to take a cable car across a long ravine.

We hiked an intense (our guide called it “easy!”) trail with plenty of muddy spots and steep steps and many many ups and downs (our guide called it “flat!”)

Of course, I lagged behind the group, but, bless his soul, Michael stayed with me and helped me in the usual way, with a hand, a wrist, a shoulder, a pull or a push, as required.

There was plenty to see. Nature’s art and how many of our archetypal images and creative combinations form have always intrigued me.

As a precursor for a BIG surprise later, Michael scooped up a little friend to introduce us briefly before putting it back in the stream where he found it.

Our destination: Esperanza waterfall.  Michael and I were comparatively so late arriving that we only got to see it for a few minutes before turning back.

The absolute piéce de resistance however, was what Paolo, walking behind me, spotted.  It was literally no bigger than a spot on my shirt, much enlarged for detail.  

What spiritual meaning could there be for this gift?  Did it fall at just the right (or wrong) moment? Did I brush up against a branch where it was hanging ready to fall? When we got to the edge of the stream, Michael carefully transferred it to a leaf, and tenderly carried it to the water where there was a quiet pool. Good luck, little tadpole! 

20. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Casa Divina Part II.

Friday, June 16th – Bedazzling Butterflies

 

Chelsea took us on a walking Spanish lesson.  Here is an attempt at putting her words into a Spanglish paragraph.  See if you can figure out the meaning of the Spanish from the context.

Before I went on a walk, I put on my (ropa de campo), my shoes, and (gorra o sombrero).  I used my (repellante) because I did not intend to touch any wildlife.  All of my (equipo) was in my (mochilla).   I carried my (baston) for stability.

We walked by (arboles) with very rough (cortesa) and covered with (musco).  Sometimes it was difficult to trek along because of the (palos) from the trees, and branches with (hojas) in our faces.

 In the orchard there were (limos) and (citrico) trees.  At first I was worried, because I could only see the bed of an (arroyo seco), but soon we came to a small rivulet which became a (rio) that fed into a (charco). Just past the pond was some flooding that created some nice (humadales).  It was so wonderful to hear the sounds of the (ranas) that I didn’t even care that I had a sore (rodillo), a scratched (pierna) and a stone in my (zapatos).  The stone hadn’t damaged my (pie) when I removed it with my (dedo), which did get cut, so I bit my finger with my (dientes) until it stopped bleeding.

After lunch we had a choice of ziplining or going to the Butterfly Farm. It seemed to be the better part of wisdom to skip the former, and I thought I would get some fine photos at the latter. It was definitely a good hike to arrive there and an enchanting place to relax inside.

The display was very well organized, and showed the stages of development, a great variety of caterpillars and pupae.

When the larvae hatch, the butterflies hang on for some time to dry.

They move a short distance  away, dry for another 24 hours, and then are on the wing. Some are let free into an outer, bigger, area, and some are kept for breeding.  We didn’t get to go outside, because it was raining hard and it was the closing hour.

By the time we were supposed to go, the pair on the gravel were still at it.  I called the attendant, because I was concerned that they would be stepped on.  She carefully put something under them and moved them to a bush.  She said sometimes they stay locked for a day or more.

Also I asked her about one red butterfly dive bombing another of somewhat different markings and colorings. The interpreter said that the in flight butterfly was flirting with the sedentary one. Whenever I came near a red butterfly, it would close its wings, as if it knew what I wanted and was playing coy.  

My last question had to do with a yellow morpho butterfly who was wildly flying from place to place in a very frantic way.  She said they get that way when they are trying to find a place to leave their eggs.  After they do, staff members carefully collect and incubate them until they hatch.

In the meantime, an owl butterfly sat on Levi’s hand the whole time we were there.  If you were Levi, would you have even breathed, let alone move away?

None of us were in a hurry to leave.

Our guide from Casa Divina decided to call a cab for our ride home because of the rain, and I had time for a nice bath and some stretching before supper.

 

19. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Casa Divina Part I

Thursday evening, June 15th, Divine Cloud Forest

Around 4:30 pm, we arrived at Casa Divina. It seemed that each place we stayed got better and better. Our stay was for 3 nights, and I could have stayed for 3 weeks, happily.

A Cabin for Crystal, Stephanie, Katie and me.

A Really Good Omen. Welcoming frog on the window, sighted from the supper table.

All of our boots were sterilized with a small amount of chlorine greatly diluted with water for our evening frogging walk. Melvin continued to sport his fancy white rubber boots, and I acquired some red ones. All the others were black. SAVE THE FROGS! had purchased some boots at the beginning of the trip, and were kind enough to leave them behind at Casa Divina when we left 3 days later.

Best Frogging to Date.

 

Other sights lit up by our headsets included yellow fungus, green bamboo, and yellow orchids.  

Friday morning, June 16th, A Love Story

While I happily slept in, some of the crazier members of our group got up for 6 am bird watching from the open second floor and around the reserve.  After breakfast, we met up in the lovely airy space upstairs the others had started from.  Efrain and Molly told the story of their love and partnership.

Molly was 21 years old when she came to Ecuador as an exchange student. Here she met Efrain, and was impressed with his passion for preserving the environment and organizing the people.  

After several years of being good friends, they had the opportunity for a long discussion on a bus ride to another part of the country. By the end of the trip they had decided they ought to marry.  

Within two weeks they did just that, and now have two lovely daughters, as well as their beautiful home that they built and share with guests. We were so fortunate that they did!

Efrain is an owner naturalist who actually went out with us for our walking adventures.

Frogs Are Bioindicators. What Happens to Frogs Happens to All.

Michael followed Molly and Efrain with some Frog Facts. He pointed out that children often don’t know the word bioindicator, or the concept of a “canary in a coal mine”, but they do understand the idea of a thermometer. As the world, and harmful practices literally and figuratively heat up, the frog population diminishes.

  • Chytrid fungus is the disease responsible for decimating amphibian species worldwide.  
  • The fungus affects the ability of an infected frog to breathe by attacking and thickening the skin.
  • The fungus also attacks tadpole mouthparts so they are unable to eat.
  • Frogs are like little sponges that suck up toxins.
  • The pet trade hurts frog populations by taking frogs directly.
  • Eating frogs is a bad and harmful habit.
    • In Florida, in one festival day the participants eat a million frogs.
    • Indonesia is the biggest importer and consumer of frogs legs.
    • France is next, then the United States.
  • There are no regulations for frog farming.
  • Many imported frogs are infected and let go, contaminating and/or eating native frogs
    • Coqui frogs are valuable in Puerto Rico, but invasive in Hawaii
    • Bullfrogs are invasive in 22 countries
    • Cuban frogs are invasive frogs in Florida
  • In California, 1/3 of all wetlands necessary for frog life are dry because of climate change.
  • Life for a frog is dangerous in all its stages.  Putting their feats into perspective:
    • The first thing a tadpole hatching from an egg does is take a sky dive of 40 ft
    • Poison dart frogs tadpoles flop onto their parents back, one at a time.  The parent carries it up the equivalent of the Empire State Building to find the perfect bromeliads, and go back until they have carried every tadpole to their new home. 

Brave little creatures!  Why are we so mean?

18. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Papillacta

Thursday, June 15th, From Jungle to Cloud Forest

During a short break at our morning presentation in Anaconda, I saw this on the floor of the lodge. What kind of bird, just from the beak, do you think it is?

Ha ha! The beak isn’t a beak at all, but you probably guessed it is a  _ _ _ _ _ _.

The gladiola like plant was growing in front of the modest staff house near the lodge.

The beautiful red, pinks, orange and yellow of the flowers must have inspired a lot of the colorful costumes in South America.

Coincidentally, the gold and white butterfly was one I already had selected for my next Froggy Family book.

Lunch time before our departure from Anaconda Lodge was emotional, as Francisco was crying. While he might say this to everyone, his claim was that we were the best group he ever has had.

The motor canoes landed right in front of the lodge to take us back to Puerto Ahuano, to meet the bus for our 3 hour ride to Papallacta.

 

 

 

We were in for a treat when we arrived at Papillacta, with a thermal pool soak in the misty cold weather, as well as a fine dinner, where my imagination was working overtime. Who recognizes this strange insect?

In the morning, we walked to and stopped briefly at a small interpretive center at the head of the trail into the ecosystem at Papallacta, called Paramo, near the hotel. Theoretically Paramo is connected to the Cayambe -Coca National Park, but according to staff at the desk, that preserve is many miles away.

If others made it all the way up the trail, I certainly did not. The elevation was getting to me, so I walked more slowly and less far than the hotshots. However, I rather enjoyed being alone, as it reminded me of the many happy times I had walked by myself as a child through fields and forests in Vermont, and in some spots the landscape was actually similar.

Do you see a scopolamine (borrachero) tree? Scopalamine is very powerful, preventing the formation of memory of events during its presence in the body. It is harvested for medical purposes in Ecuador, and in small doses has many uses, including for sedation, motion sickness, and to treat Parkinson’s Disease. In Colombia, sadly, it is used for theft, human trafficking,prostitution, rape and murder.

My husband and I are fond of Kurt Weill, and one of our favorite operas is “Lost in the Stars”, based on Alan Paton’s book “Cry, the Beloved Country,”  based in South Africa.   Even the tree stumps cry in Ecuador.

After a lunch of vegetables, rice and beans at a local restaurant, we had a 3-hour drive to the cloud forests of Mindo. At a bus stop in Quito, we said goodbye to Jaime, and hello to Paolo. Coincidentally, Melvin had been on a previous wildlife photography trip in Ecuador with Paolo, so he was quite excited to see him.

Paolo is definitely quieter than Jaime, very sweet and thoughtful. Paolo also is working on a field guide, which he thinks will be more user friendly than the comprehensive book The Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo  istarting his own business of ecotours. The website is not developed yet, but take a look at the instagram photos on the link Neo Selva, the name of his new company.

 

 

17. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part VI

Wednesday, June 14th, Lessons in Life and Photography

Photo Credit Katie O’Donnell

Until I got home, and looked up information on Jaime Culebras, I didn’t know how lucky we were to have him with us for the jungle part of our tour.  Jaime is a professional wildlife photographer working on an Ecuadorian Amphibians and Reptiles field guide.

It turned out that he has been involved in the discovery, description and photography of six new species of frogs this year alone. Two of them are Pristimantis ecuadorensis and Hyalinobatrachium yaku.

Information about Pristimantis ecuadorensis was first published in Plos One, although the news found its way to National Geographic and to Science Daily  as well as other news sources.

A few interesting facts about Pristimantis: their eggs yield fully formed Froglets, skipping the tadpole stage, and the little creatures scream when frightened. They are endangered, because their range is small and local, and serve to convince conservationists that the northern coast foothills need protection as much as the rainforests.

Another “Jaime frog” is a kind of glass frog, Hyalinobatrachium yaku reported initially in ZooKeys, and elsewhere (eg Phys Org).

Juan M. Guayasamin, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, lead scientist in these discovery projects, described Hyalinobatrachium yaku as distinguished from other glass frogs by a more visible heart, and dark green spots on its back.

                                 

                                                                             Pristamantis Ecuadorensis                                         Hylinobatrachium yaku                                                                                             Photo Credits Jaime Culebras

Photo Credit Kerry Kriger

On Wednesday morning, Jaime gave us some tips on the best way to photograph life in the wild.
-Have a waterproof camera.
-Use a wide angle lens to more effectively show the planes of the landscape,
-Know how to set shutter speed and aperture to obtain the best detail.
-Use a white background for more subtly colored wildlife, and black for strongly colored animals
-To take videos, hold the camera in the horizontal landscape view.
-With a frontal view, it is fine to break the off center rule of composition.
-Focus on the eyes of your subject.

After Jaime’s presentation, Chelsea talked about conservation. Speaking of crying frogs, and empathy for the helpless, she told us about a job she had in the field that required toe clipping for species description and the expression of morphology through genetics and epigenetics. One frog screamed in her hand, and she quit.

The frog demise has been described as “the perfect storm”, defined by Wikipedia as “an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.”

As such, frogs are essential bioindicators, as I first became aware through a chapter in the New Yorker magazine.  This was an excerpt from Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History.  The ominous and serious subtitle is “There have been five great die-offs in history. This time, the cataclysm is us.”   New Yorker 2009.

According to Chelsea, we cannot protect what we do not know, and therefore identifying and understanding species is essential. Aspects of conservation she mentioned as being important include:
-buying and protecting land
-education and employment in environmental jobs
-advocating against the use of poisonous pesticides and fertilizers
-sustainability
-money is still the belly of the beast. How can conservation benefit humans economically?

Photo Credit: Humberto Castillo

With Chelsea and company on board, all of humanity will benefit economically, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

 

16. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part V

Tuesday, June 13th, Caimans, Snakes, Frogs

We lingered at the Caiman pond just at sunset, and listened to the 11 baby dwarf caiman bleating.
    

A butterfly on a camera pack seemed almost surreal:
  Back at the lodge, Melvin was busy trying to photograph a poison dart frog on some leaf litter which he raised up in a most creative way. Including his matching boot in my image was more fun.

Resting quietly before dinner, we got a peaceful view of the river:

Suddenly the quiet was broken with a thundering sound across the wooden porch.  From there, out toward the water in the grass, Jaime had spotted his prize of the evening, a yellow snake, and was running towards it!  

Photo Credit Katie O’Donnell

Victor found a purple caecilian.  There was quite a long and ongoing struggle as Victor tried to get and keep it in one place on a leaf.

We went back on the same path we had taken the night before. 

This time I was better prepared with mosquito netting over my head, and it felt much better having seen in the daylight the swamp that I had waded through, nearly blindly, the night before.

This was another time when I felt intensely ambivalent regarding my desire to see whatever was being found, and the need for the creature to be held for a better view for all.

The little caiman that Jaime caught off the pier made me feel saddest. S/he was emitting little eheheh sounds.  When Jaime put it back, it just sat immobile in the water for a while, until it finally swam away.  What would YOU tell your mother if your head had been held in a giant hand that could go all the way around your neck?

But I would go back again on another SAVE THE FROGS! Ecotour in a heartbeat.

 

 

15. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part IV

Tuesday, June 13th, More Lessons in Medicine and Eco-rape

After lunch and a short rest, the remaining half of us went on the two and a half hour walk with Cesar that the others had taken the day before.   Because of perpetually running out of charge or of storage space on my phone, I don’t have photos of the many  plants he pointed out, such as false garlic, false ginger, and false banana plants. 

The flowers in a false banana plant point up like the beak of a bird, and of a true banana plant, point down like the beak of a parrot. 

Ecuador is known as the natural pharmacy of the world.  There is a small region of the Amazon (País de la Canella) that boasts a special cinnamon tree.  The leaves are used as infusions for altitude sickness, and for soaking. The bark is used for making cinnamon sticks and powders. 

The juice from squashing a termite acts as a natural bug repellant! 

Even during the daytime, Cesar was able to spot a tiny frog on a leaf, and pick it up. 

We heard a few conflicting stories about oil drilling under the Yasuni National Park, a pristine Amazon rainforest UNESCO biosphere reserve, first by Americans and now by Chinese in Ecuador.  In August, 2013, the same president Raphael Correa, who had managed to obtain $200 million from the international community to make Ecuador a major pioneer in the conservation of this park, then received $3.6 billion for abandoning the plan. 

Twenty three thousand barrels of oil a day are extracted by a state company, “Petroecuador” from under the rainforest, with the government claiming that with advanced technology and strict oversight, there will be “minimal damage” to the environment. Park Drilling 

It often requires serious bending of the mind to buy into such company or government party lines.  On my visit to Passport Health before the trip, I learned that the only areas where Malaria is a risk in Ecuador is at or near the mining sites.  Mining, of course, kills frogs and other mosquito eating insects, and mosquitos carry malaria. 

We visited a native Quichuan (spelled by Francisco as Kichwan) farm and house. While waiting for other visitors to leave, we practiced blowing a really heavy and difficult dart gun, aiming for an image of an owl. I couldn’t even hold the shaft, let alone blow a dart to the owl. 

Removing our shoes, we climbed some steps and sat on simple stools on the bare open upstairs platform under a thatched roof.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo credit: Humberto Castillo

There was a hearth fire on an elevated slab, and as had been done in the community near Suchipakari, the woman of the house made and served us a ceremonial drink.  After the presentation, the woman served warm soft 100% organic chocolate on a leaf.  Cesar, polite, considerate, and environmentally conservative as ever, then collected our “plates” to give back to our host.  We took our time walking back to the lodge. 

The outpost dragonfly caught my eye, as did the colorful leaves and leaf cutter ants up close: 

          

Leaf cutter ants are also in Costa Rica, where I learned about the division of labor that takes place among them. The smallest (minims)  tend the underground garden and take care of the babies.  Some are the carriers.  The next in size (minors) surround the nest, are the inspectors of leaf cuttings, and will make a porter drop unsuitable cargo to go back for something more passable for food and the nests. The next to largest (mediae) are the ones who do all the work of cutting the leaves and bringing them back to the colony.  Finally, the largest (majors) are soldiers, fending off enemies, keeping the ants from wandering off the beaten path, getting lost or starting a new colony.  Majors carry the heaviest material, and help clear the path.  Which seemed to be precisely the function of our various tour guides. How very like ants we are!

(The wikipedia entry about leaf cutter ants is well worth reading in its entirety) 

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