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Vertebrates in den treetops....


Phyllomedusa tarsius - Makifrosch - HylidaePeru Rainforest Amazon Pachitea Panguana Species Diversity : Wirbeltiere in Baumkronen

One sees many frogs only during the rainy season, when they climb down from the crown of the forest to breed in the ponds. The maki frogs (Phyllomedusa) spend most of the year in the treetops. Here, where the sun's rays are especially strong, they protect themselves from sunburn. They stroke their front and hind legs over their entire bodies to cover themselves with a wax-like substance containing lipids. This substance is created in the skin's pores. Several species protect themselves from the intense sunshine by taking on a lighter color during the day and thus reflecting the light.

Where frogs live and young birds can't yet fly snakes are usually not far away. Several species have made themselves into climbing artists, which is particularly amazing for creatures that have lost their limbs in the course of evolution. The slender snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) is one of the climbing artists that hunts tree frogs and small lizards such as geckos and anoles. Leptophis ahaetulla, This green colored snake is perfectly optically adapted to its environment and has weakly poisonous saliva that probably only works on specific prey. It does not live exclusively in the treetops, but rather wanders through all levels of the trees. When in danger it opens its mouth wide and hopes that this threatening posture will be a deterrent. It seldom actually bites.

Tree snakes are usually quite thin and seem pressed in at the sides. Most of them are green, such as the green boa (Corallus caninus), which is the only giant snake of the Amazon that lives in the upper regions of the trees. With its long, pointy, fish trap-like teeth that point towards the back, it hunts primarily birds. Its close relative, the brown boa (Corallus hortulanus) that also feeds on birds, hunts at night in lower regions near the river.

Norops (Anolis) punctatus - IguanidaeHere where the branches of trees tower over the riverbank, one frequently sees the big green iguana (Iguana iguana). These animals lie on branches in the sun with all four legs dangling. One often notices the well-camouflaged lizards that have a body length of up to one and a half meters when they let themselves fall from a height with a splash into the water after having been surprised by the arriving boat. Adult green iguanas are vegetarians that eat leaves, flowers and fruit, while young animals eat mostly insects and spiders.

 Norops (Anolis) - IguanidaeThe green iguana has many small and very talented climbing and jumping relatives. The anoles (Anolis) are lizards that hunt mostly insects. They have a well-developed territorial behavior. With a yellow or red gill lobe spread out and luminous, the males warn their neighbors against crossing the territorial border. At night the lizards usually sleep on leaves of thin branches, where they easily fall victim to many predators. The same is true of the small, colorful geckos of the genus Gonatodes, which are also active during the day.

Iguanas like Plica plica and Plica umbra look somewhat absurd with their lichen pattern as they sit on tree trunks with their heads down looking for their favorite meal in termite tunnels.

Whoever expects an army of singers from the shining colors of the many tropical rainforest birds will be quickly disappointed. In contrast to middle Europe, most birds in the Amazon are squawking loudmouths. A perfect example for this is the parrot, above all the Ara. The large, colorful birds, of which the Hyazinth Ara (anadorhynchus hyacinthicus) is the largest with a meter long body, are the most impressive parrots in the Amazon. Those who only know parrots from pet shops will be amazed to see the flying feats of which they are capable when this magnificent bird is free. Mostly in small groups, but always in pairs, they fly shortly before sunset squawking up to their sleeping places.

Parrots are also a very old animal species seen from a historical perspective, which scientists have gleaned from their dispersal in the old and new world, including Australia and New Zealand. Their strong beak serves to crack open hard fruits and seeds, but is also like a third foot and helps them climb. Aras get their minerals by eating dirt in certain places in the rainforest. Knowledge about the location of these mineral sources, usually on riverbanks, is passed on by the Aras from generation to generation. As hole-nesters Aras lay two to three eggs is tree holes, but unfortunately the eggs are stolen by parrot dealers as soon as a nest is discovered.

Toucans, also garishly colored and living in the treetops, grab one's attention with their loud, simple call. In small groups these social birds careen through the forest in search of fruits and berries as well as insects, spiders and young birds that they steal from nests. Their colorful beak, besides being good for cracking hard-shelled berries and beetles, is a signal for species recognition. Anyone who has held the huge yet feather-light beak of toucan in their hand can hardly imagine that it doesn't break when cracking open hard fruits, yet the ribs of a ship with a similar construction are particularly stable.

Up here where flowers of every color shine in the unobstructed sunlight, the hummingbirds are incredible. Their tiny nests into which they even weave spider web threads are often located on the tips of leaves that are often unreachable for their predators.

The harpy (Harpia harpyia) is an eagle that can weigh up to seven kilograms and is located, along with the jaguar, at the top of the food chain. Besides hunting other birds, they also hunt mammals such as monkeys, sloths, coati and aguti, which they grab with their extremely long talons. Like its companion at the top of the food chain, the jaguar, harpies have a huge hunting ground and are seen very seldom. Their sloppily built nests, in which they raise a chick only every two years, is usually built on kapok trees that tower over the rest of the forest by 10 to 20 meters.

On one of my nightly searches for amphibians I discovered the excrement of a sloth in the bushes. Somewhere up above in the crown it was probably hanging and sleeping. Sloths descend every eight days or so from the treetops to rid themselves of their waste. This is only one of the many absurdities that are known about sloths. The three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) belongs to the ancient mammalian class of edentates (Xenarthra).

 Cecropia - Zekropie - One day around noon we heard something large fall to ground with a crash. We hurried to the site and found a somewhat confused three-toed sloth. Beside him lay a freshly broken branch from an ant tree (Cecropia). http://www.panguana .de/Panguana/Okologie/Koexistenz/koexistenz.html The tree wasn't high, yet we hadn't seen the animal all that day. The green shine of his hair had camouflaged him perfectly among the leaves of the cecropia. The structure of the individual hairs is in itself a specialty of the animal kingdom. They are covered with a layer of cells that build a loose, wrinkled structure. Algae and cyanobacteria (Cyanoderma, Trichophilus) settle there and give the animal its green shine. Its fur is another specialty. Its hair parts not on its back like other mammals, rather on its stomach so that rainwater can run off of this hanging animal without a problem.

There are several theories to explain the extremely slow movements and sleep phases of up to 18 hours of the sloth. We know that sloths have specialized in the consumption of 20 different species of tree leaves, of which the ant tree (cecropia) is the most common. The leaves of many rainforest trees are equipped with poisonous substances to protect themselves from being eaten, but leaves that are difficult to digest stay in a sloth's stomach for long periods of time, until they are broken down by bacteria. The extremely slow digestive process gives the sloth very little energy, which means that it must conserve energy through its movements. While the sloth is hanging in the tree huge amounts of excrement build up, which are then deposited on the forest floor once a week.

Sloths play host to many organisms that live in their fur. The small pyralid moth (Pyralidae), a butterfly about which some scientists have theorized that their caterpillars feed off of the algae in the rough fur of the sloths. The caterpillars attract ants that feed of them. In addition, the algae provide trace elements that the sloth takes in with its tongue.

Sloths can turn their heads 180 degrees. This is advantageous for them in order to pick the leaves all around them without having to move their bodies.

When calculating the biomass distribution in the Amazon, scientists came to the surprising conclusion that the sloths make up a particularly large portion. The fact that one rarely sees them because of their peculiar habits may be deceptive in regards to their actual numbers.

The quiet lifestyle of the sloths makes quite a contrast to the highly agile and often very loud presence of the monkeys. Squeaking, clicking or shrieking, the monkeys wander through the treetops in search of fresh leaves, fruits, buds, nuts and sometimes insects. Nowhere in the world is the adaptation of a life form in its evolution so perfect as in the neotropics, where they have perfected acrobatic arts by using their tail to grip like the fifth arm. The muscular grasping tail, whose rolled up end makes a hook, is used when the animal swings to a branch or fruits. All of the monkeys with a grasping tail come without exception from the American continent. A fifth climbing arm is used by other animals as well, such as the mouse possum (Marmosa), kinkayou or nightwalker (Potos flavus) and the branch ant bear (Cyclobesdidactylus). The best acrobats of the treetops are the thin and adroit spider monkeys (Ateles). Other trapeze artists are the woolly monkeys (Lagothrix), the spider monkey (Brachyteles) and the little capuchine monkey (Cebus). All of them have a gripping tail as an extra climbing arm. This is also true for the talented howler monkey (Alouatta). Spider monkeys (Cebidae, Atelinae) live mostly in larger groups and often socialize with other species of monkeys.

Having a horde of red howler monkeys directly above one (Alouatta seniculus) is an impressive, and above all loud, experience. Most of the time, before the midday sun burns down on the tree crown, you can hear the howling of the monkeys from far off. The swells in volume sound like a storm is coming. The males make the sound in their bubble-formed, expanded, ossified larynx, formed into a special organ. It is a deep tone, with a frequency of 200 Hertz. This frequency travels better through the forest than a high tone would.

Although the spider monkeys (Cebidae, Atelinae) are especially adroit, they have natural enemies. The greatest danger is from the Harpy (Harpia harpyia), which hunts mostly monkeys and sloths.

Text und Fotos © Andreas Schlüter 2003-2004