The cloud forests of Alta Verapaz are a hotspot for Central American amphibian and reptile species
Many are endemic to the region. Our work here is helping to conserve these rare and endangered species by monitoring populations and the disease status of the frogs and salamanders that we find, as part of our amphibian conservation work.
In April 2017 our field team headed into these mysterious forests once more for 10 days of survey work. For the first few days we experienced rain every afternoon which helped bring animals out from hiding – it has been a long dry season this year. The second half of the expedition was dry and hot, not so good for frogs, but great for sun loving lizards!
In total we found 20 species of amphibian and reptile over 10 days of expedition. That may sound quite low for a forest with high biodiversity but three years of short wet seasons, and long dry seasons is taking its toll on activity levels. So finding 20 species was an achievement.
There are many favourites to choose from, both amphibians and reptiles. My snake finds were the four Rax Bolay (Bothriechis aurifer).
Of the lizard finds two in particular stand out, both were found during hot sunny days after hours of searching for them. Both are also only found in highland regions. The first of these is the keeled helmeted iguana (Corytophanes percarinatus). This individual was the first adult female we have found. Keeled helmeted iguanas give birth rather than lay eggs, and this young lady was full of babies. She was found at the bottom of a log pile possibly looking for somewhere to give birth.
The second lizard is a real specialist of Alta Verapaz. The brilliant alligator lizard (Abronia fimbriata) is a cloud forest endemic that is almost fully arboreal and very rarely ventures onto the ground. This male was found in the nook of a tree that was covered in moss, lichen, and bromeliads. What amazed me the most was watching this little dragon bury through and under the moss on the trunk of the tree as it moved. Amazing!
There are many amazing frogs in the highlands of Alta Verapaz, but for this expedition one is the real highlight. The black-eyed treefrog (Agalychnis moreletii) is much larger than its more familiar relative, the red-eyed treefrog (Âgalychnis callidryas). To my mind the black-eyed treefrog is also more striking too. The contrast of the bright green upper surfaces and bright orange sides, belly, and feet is just amazing. The male we found was near a small pool that had four eggs masses placed on overhanging vegetation. I guess he was waiting for more females to visit that night.
One of the most memorable wildlife experiences was not in fact an amphibian or reptile, though we were surveying for them at the time. One night we donned rubber boots and headed for the river. It is a fast flowing but shallow mountain stream, and is, for the most part, easily walked in. The vegetation on the banks is the perfect place to look for amphibians at night. We had been surveying for about 30 minutes when a paca (Cuniculus paca) swam across the river in front of us, That wasn’t, however, the exciting part.
A little while later, Adam, one of our volunteers, exclaimed “I have just seen a cat.” From his description, we were able to work out that he had just been the first person to see a margay (Leopardus wiedii) in this location.
Margay’s have been recorded by camera trap there before, but no-one had ever seen one physically before. To have been standing so close to one and hear it moving through the vegetation was amazing. I love seeing wild cats, there is something very special about the experience.
It’s not just all about amphibians and reptiles on Indigo Expeditions!
I always find the combination of mountains, tropical forest, and fast flowing water truly inspirational. It is an honour to spend time in such places and to get to know them. It is a wonderful experience to introduce Indigo’s assistant researchers to. Not only the animals of the Alta Verapaz highlands, but also to the landscapes in which they dwell.
A huge thanks to Rowland and Indigo Expeditions for yet another incredible experience. This is the third time I have been out to this amazing country and spent it not only with a good friend, but a great teacher in fieldwork and practical herpetology.
The accommodation and food at the research site was amazing and to absorb the essence of this part of the world has seriously made my year.
This trip in particular was important for me to learn the techniques of amphibian disease sampling and the continuing and “vital” conservation work Rowland is achieving.
I couldn’t recommend this experience more!
Rowland, Amy, and myself certainly made a great team.
Until the next time
Many many thanks to Rowland for your tireless effort and enthusiasm and for imparting your knowledge of this magnificent habitat.
My expectations have been blown out of the water in every respect. We have spent 10 days in the most awesome of places, in great company, with exceptional food and have found some truly amazing creatures.
To be able to be part of such important work is a truly gratifying experience. To have found four Bothriechis has just been amazeballs! I was over the moon at finding one on the first night, but to have gone on to find three more was beyond cool.
I have learnt new skills in terms of the chytrid and biometric work as well as brushing up on my field survey skills. The whole experience has been one of inspiration and personal enrichment, truly, truly unique. I cannot wait to return to Alta Verapaz (hopefully before the year is out).
The two days in the Motagua Valley were also awesome. Really great to see the beaded lizards. Great to be able to compare two very different habitats.
Altogether, an absolutely awesome two weeks. Couldn’t recommend highly enough.
Many thanks to all involved, especially Rowland and Adela.