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sábado, 18 de febrero de 2012

Amphisbaenas bite! (Luckily the coral snake didn’t!)

Yes you guessed it guys, we caught another amphisbaena and yes it was me that got bitten! They look so docile with their little dog-like faces and tiny eyes, who would have thought that actually they have a very strong beak and aren’t afraid to use it? I now have two holes in one of my fingers where it drew blood. Actually it wasn’t very painful but was pretty amusing as it bit in and I couldn’t get it off. Being doubled over with laughter with a 40cm amphisbaena attached to your finger is not conducive to getting it photographed and back in the bag! Fortunately we know that they are not venomous but it was worth cleaning the wound with antiseptic once I finally managed to unhook it! (And yes typically I had an audience for the whole event!)

One thing I am really glad didn’t bite me was the coral snake JP found in the Atlantic forest. JP is a volunteer who joined us a week or so ago and shares my passion for herps. He is unstoppable and is always off hunting for snakes (or running around after butterflies – his other passion). Normally we don’t allow volunteers to go snake hunting on their own as it can be pretty difficult to identify a lot of them in the field. However JP has a vast amount of experience in snake surveying back home in South Africa and knows what to bag and what to leave well alone. So you are probably wondering why, if he is this experienced, he brought back one of the deadliest snakes we have in the reserve. The reason was that it wasn’t actually a coral snake. It was a mimic. The coral snakes we have here are a very brightly red with black and yellow stripes. The mimics are also these colours, but there are some subtle yet significant differences. The corals have virtually no neck and their head is not unlike a sausage, whereas the mimics have a clearly defined head and neck which makes them a touch prettier, (in my opinion at least). The markings are also much more fuzzy on the mimics where as the banding is clearly defined on the true corals. And, should you be confident enough to check their bellies (!) the bands stop on the underside of mimics whereas the true corals have complete banding across their ventral side. JP’s ability to correctly identify the snake he found meant that not only did he avoid handling an extremely venomous animal but he was also able to bring us another specimen for the museum. Good work JP.

This last fortnight has also been a sad one for us as we have had to say goodbye to two wonderful long term volunteers. Becky has now completed her research here and has left to spend a month exploring South America (very bravely on her own) and according to her last email she is currently freezing in Peru! Gemma our botany volunteer from Australia has also finished her work and is heading back to Australia in a few days time after taking in some of the museums and culture Asunción has to offer. It was great fun having them here and now they are gone the male to female ratio has switched and it’s just me and Augusta in the house with 3 boys!!! More girls please!

The burrowing owls are all doing well but are spending less and less time with us these days. We thought they had flown the nest (or burrow I should say) a few days ago but then they reappeared again. We are all bracing ourselves for the day they don’t return. However this is a happy/sad event. Happy, that all 5 have made it to adulthood and such a privilege for us to have them living so close to us, but obviously sad for us as we have become so attached to them. Good luck to the burrowing owls hopefully one will return with a mate next season to occupy the burrow again.

And finally if you want to see for yourself what Laguna Blanca looks like and who we are why not check out our new youtube channel Admittedly most of the posts are of me getting very excited about the animals we catch here but I am trying to persuade more of the volunteers to get involved and talk about their projects on camera. They are still a little shy though! So apologies that it is a bit “Helen heavy” at the moment but I hope it will give you a taste of what we are up to and who knows might even persuade you to come out here and volunteer with us ;O)

Thanks for reading folks, until next time

Helen (aka the next David Attenborough!!!)

viernes, 17 de febrero de 2012

Introducing Carlos

Hi All,

I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Carlos and I’ll be working at PLT Ecological Station under the title of Research Scientist and Intern Coordinator.
I’ve only been here for a few days and I’m amazed at the natural beauty of this place. The people here are certainly special, including those associated with PLT in a staff/volunteer/intern quality as well as the locals in and around Laguna Blanca. Paraguay is certainly an interesting and poorly-known country and provides a unique experience which I doubt you’ll find in any other South American country.

The reserve itself has the potential to support a wide-range of projects in biology/ecology, physical (and even human) geography, due to the different biotopes present within it. In the few days that I’ve been here I’ve become familiarized with at least 7 different types of habitats representing both aquatic and terrestrial systems.

In addition to helping interns and volunteers with their projects, I’ll also be carrying my own research and I’m planning to set up a research project involving aquatic systems present at the reserve. Laguna Blanca provides the opportunity for the study of both lentic and lotic systems. The Lake is certainly an interesting system and is the source of a stream that runs beyond the boundaries of the reserve. There are additional riverine systems nearby which might be useful for replication. More specifically, I’m planning to study the invertebrate community of the lake and stream and its association to different physico-chemical parameters.

I already started doing some Geographical Information System (GIS) work, mapping the different habitats present at the reserve. In this context, Laguna Blanca is also a good place for those interested in honing their GIS skills as part of their project or even basing their entire project in the application of GIS techniques.

Evidently, terrestrial and transitional environments also interest me and I’m very looking forwards to establish projects in these systems and work with individuals interested in them.

I’ll discuss this further in the near future.

I’ll be writing regularly in this blog so keep reading for updates on life in this amazing place and how our research efforts fare!


Quería aprovechar esta oportunidad para presentarme. Sé que generalmente en este Blog no sé que escribe en Castellano, pero a partir de ahora va a ser más común. Mi nombre es Carlos y estaré por los siguientes meses trabajando con PLT como Investigador y Coordinador de Pasantes (Interns).

Solo he estado por pocos días acá en Laguna Blanca y la verdad que este lugar es una preciosidad. No solo eso, la gente acá es muy especial, incluyendo a los que están asociados con PLT en calidad de personal/voluntario/pasante, así como la gente autóctona alrededor de Laguna Blanca. Paraguay es un país muy interesante y muy poco conocido. Yo creo que pocos países en Sur América ofrecen una experiencia tan única en términos de cultura y belleza natural.

La reserva presenta una excelente base para desarrollar una cantidad variada de proyectos en diferentes campos incluyendo biología/ecología, geografía física (e incluso humana), gracias a la variedad de diferentes biotopos presentes en la misma. En los pocos días que he estado aquí me he familiarizado con 7 diferentes tipos de hábitats en la reserva incluyendo sistemas acuáticos y terrestres.

Además de ayudar a los pasantes y voluntarios con sus proyectos particulares, yo estaré desarrollando y poniendo en práctica mi propio proyecto(s). Estoy planeando hacer una serie de estudios en los sistemas acuáticos de la reserva. Laguna Blanca ofrece la oportunidad de estudiar sistemas loticos y lenticos y siendo más específico planeo estudiar la comunidad de invertebrados en el lago y el rio que se desprende del lago y va más allá de los límites de la reserva. Hay sistemas de ríos adicionales alrededor de la laguna que ofrecen la oportunidad de replicación. Por lo que veo los dos sistemas son muy interesantes y han recibido casi ninguna documentación en materia científica.

Ya he empezado a trabajar con Sistemas de Información Geográfico (SIG), mapeando los principales hábitats e información relevante sobre la reserva, en este contexto Laguna Blanca representa una buena oportunidad para aquellos que buscan poner en practica sus habilidades con SIG usándolo en su proyecto, o incluso desarrollando un proyecto orientado específicamente al uso de SIG.
Por supuesto, proyectos basados en sistemas terrestres son ciertamente interesantes y busco emprender proyectos en esta área y estaría encantado en ayudar a cualquier pasante interesado en el área. Este aspecto lo discutiré más por este medio en el futuro.

Yo estaré escribiendo regularmente en este blog así que estén pendientes para nueva información sobre investigación y como es la vida en este curioso lugar!


jueves, 2 de febrero de 2012

New records walking straight in the door

Actually to say “walking in the door” isn’t very accurate. Firstly because I am referring to 2 bats and an amphisbaena, neither of which walk! Secondly because we found the amphisbaena outside and the bats probably came in through the windows! What am I talking about? Maybe I should start at the beginning.

It was a few days ago that I was just settling down for bed when Jonny called out “Um Helen there’s a bat in my bedroom”
“That’s quite exciting” I thought and went over to the boy’s dorm to have a look. And sure enough there was a large bat with enormous ears sitting on the wall looking most perturbed. We decided the best course of action would be to try and catch it with a butterfly net and then transfer it into a pillow case, and low and behold we managed to bag it within about half a minute (another example of how easy things can be when there is no one around to witness it!). We waited until the next morning to identify it and were delighted to discover it was Lophostomia silvicolum; a new species for Laguna Blanca. Interestingly it is a high flying species (which probably explains why we haven’t caught it during our surveys) and has a preference for nesting in termite mounds. And, best of all, 3 days later we had another one fly into the house – I wonder if this species is like buses, can we expect a third?

However even more excitingly than the bats (or maybe I’m just biased because I love herps…) Karina caught a big fat amphisbaena by the water tank. Amphisbaenas are a type of fossorial lizard that have no limbs, scales over their eyes and move like an accordion. They are extremely difficult to survey as they spend so much time underground so this is a really great find for us. The one we found is one of the biggest species in Paraguay reaching up to 45cm in length!

I’m currently sitting at my window over looking the horse coral and I can see 4 of our burrowing owls all sitting in a row on the fence shaking the rain off their feathers and looking like they are quite enjoying the novelty of rain. They are getting so bold now; the other day one flew into our porch and grabbed a preying mantis from the light. Plus they are also learning to hoot now which is really rather sweet, especially as they are not quite there yet resulting in some rather amusing noises.

See you next time folks