Argentina

Spot the beast 44

The final beast from Salta as we are now moving to Africa again. It was spotted on some tree bark that stayed on the ground after collecting some firewood. See if you can see it.

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I do not think that it was too hard… I should do better next time.

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Forever in doubt!

This event took place in August 2008, when I was not aware of the existence of blogs and even less that I would be writing one! It took place at our farm in Salta.

It all started with the death of a steer at a neighbour’s farm on the 17th of that month. The animal’s hide was removed on the 18th and left to rot. Over the next couple of days a number of Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus), Southern Crested Caracaras (Caracara plancus) and Chimango Caracaras (Milvago chimango) were seen feeding on it during the day. On the 20th we saw a fox and a tawny wild cat on the road, near the carcass but we were not able to identify them. As things were getting interesting and as we were used to waiting for hours for predators and scavengers at carcasses in Africa, we made a point of returning that night to see what could spot.

At about 21:30hs my wife and I drove to the area and pointed the car headlights towards the carcass, as unfortunately we did not have a spotlight. While I was maneuvering to get the best illumination of the dead animal, my wife -already known for her keen eyesight- said almost shouting with excitement “There is a large cat feeding!” I stopped the car and brusquely moved towards her seat to get a better angle.

What I saw left me amazed. At about 30 metres from us a large cat was crouching on the other side of the carcass, apparently feeding on it. It looked at us three times and bounded off towards the bushes. As we could not follow it with our lights, we could not see if it was spotted or not. What we both agree is that it was a large cat (at least the size of a large leopard) with a rather sizeable and rounded head that we saw clearly as it stared at us. That was it! Although we both knew that seeing a jaguar (Panthera onca) in this area was extremely unlikely, we were both convinced that this was what we saw.

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We knew that the chances of seeing it again that night were not high and, after a while, we returned to the farm, about 1.5 km away. We were so excited that we invited relatives staying with us at the time and our children to come back to the spot with us but failed to see it again!

The following morning we checked the area around the carcass for footprints but the soil was too hard and we failed to find any around the carcass or in the area we saw it moving towards, where there was a small stream.

When I spoke to our neighbor about this, I had the feeling that he thought I was joking but finally the concept sank in and he considered it as an impossible occurrence. After searching on the Internet I came across a publication that dealt with the distribution of the Jaguar[1] and decided to contact the author.

Below I translate our exchange.

4/12/2008

Dear Mr. Perovic,

Maybe this message surprises you but I have a farm in El Gallinato, Salta and wished to consult you about the possibility of having seen a Jaguar in this area. The coordinates of the place are: 24°40′ 23.10″S and 65°21′ 35.99″W.

In this place in August of this year a cow died and, aware that in Africa carnivores are spotted many times feeding on dead animals at night, we went with my wife to see what was feeding on it and we were surprised to see a large cat with rounded ears and green eyes that looked at us a couple of times, ate a bit and left. Regrettably we only had the car lights and a small torch that did not help us much to see the body. It looked rather dark but we do not know if melanistic specimens are present here or not. Around this area we have already seen wild cats and a puma but we do not publicize this to avoid hunters finding out and finishing off the few that may be around. Of course we returned to the carcass the following night but we only saw dogs feeding.

As I found your work on the distribution of the jaguar in the Argentinian North West, I thought that you would be interested in this information. I would also like to know if what we saw could have been a Jaguar or if it is that we are too old and having visions!!! Maybe some day when we are in Salta we could meet.

Kind regards.

His answer came the following day:

Dear Julio,

Many thanks for your message. Regarding your query, regrettably, I must tell you that is unlikely that it was a jaguar, I do not say impossible as one should never loose hope that their distribution will increase again to its original area which included the El Gallinato. But I do not think that nowadays it could have been a jaguar.

Regarding the article you mention, (although old) you would note that sites close to El Gallinato are mentioned (the mountain road towards Jujuy). These are data on footprints and some other signs, but regrettably 8 or 9 years have passed during which we cannot find new evidence.

I reside in Vaqueros and travel frequently to Jujuy (I am from there) in the mountain road. At the moment I work with jaguar and other cats (that are just as important as the one you saw) in several places, but mainly in the Yungas and Andes highlands.

If you wish when you pass through Salta, you could write and we could talk about this, about things that need to be taken into account about the predatory attitude of the different species, and I could also give you some useful material.

I thank you for your interest and initiative.

Many thanks and I remain at your disposal for any doubts you may have.

Greetings.

Pablo

Although we had a couple of additional e-mail exchanges, I have not yet met Pablo. I was in Rome at the time of the exchanges and in the past and present our visits to the farm were (and are) always short for time as there is always other more urgent and or important things to do!

Thinking back, perhaps the situation called for the probably first and last use of my “yaguareté” (jaguar) caller that I had acquired earlier in the Beni of Bolivia with the absolute guarantee (from the seller!) that it would attract jaguars! Luckily, the contraption remained forgotten in a corner of our farmhouse!

Incredibly ten years have passed since the sighting and, although I take in what Pablo said, writing this post brought back the memories of the large cat we saw that night whose identity will probably always remain unexplained for us!

 

[1] Perovic, P.G. and Herrán, M. Distribución del Jaguar en las Provincias de Jujuy y Salta. Noroeste de Argentina. (http://www.jaguares.com.ar/datos-personales/distribucion/distribucion-noroeste.html)

Spot the beast 43

Although winters at our farm in Salta are mild, sometimes we have cold nights and the occasional frost.

We buy some hardwood for our fireplace and also use fallen trees and branches to complement it.

The picture shows a pile of pine wood getting dry for next year. It also hosts an inhabitant rather tricky to spot.

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Here it is, revealed for you. It was quite difficult, I know! A real master at camouflage!

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Alien

This year Salta has been unusually wet and we still have warm weather and rather heavy rains in April. This has created a true green revolution accompanied by an insect explosion. The moths are still coming in numbers to our outside lights and midgets and mosquitoes are still around.

We found a cicada that had been attracted to the verandah lights. It was rather quiet and, unusually, stayed after daybreak. I collected it without much difficulty to have a look at it as there was clearly something wrong. While having a look, my wife noted pinkish silky filaments where its abdomen should have been! In addition, it was opening its wings from time to time but not making any effort to fly.

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Dorsal view of the cicada.

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The parasitoid larva can be seen at the joint between the thorax and the abdomen.

It was during one of these wing movements that she also noted a protuberance on its dorsal area that, after some careful inspection became a small pink worm-like creature apparently lodged in it. It was about 3 mm long and somehow it reminded me of a small warble fly larva.

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The pink parasitoid seen from above with a size reference.

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A close-up of the parasitoid larva.

Further inspection revealed another couple of worms also lodged on the cicada’s flesh. The larvae were still alive as they moved when I touched them!

We decided to keep the “sick” cicada under observation. As expected it died the following day but the larvae were still there so we left it undisturbed.

It is now about one month after the find. One of the larvae that detached soon after the death of its host has apparently built a small cocoon attached to the glass jar but the other two that stayed on the dead cicada turned grey and are apparently dead.

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What I believe hatched from the cicada and made a cocoon in the glass jar.

I am afraid that the outcome of the cocoon will probably have to wait until our next visit, hopefully in 2019. In the meantime I can only speculate that, as it happens with caterpillars and other arthropods, the cicada was the victim of some parasitoids that have somehow colonized it. It is likely, as we other situations like this, that the larvae had eaten the cicada slowly until the damage created caused it to perish but not before the parasitoids, or at least some, were ready to leave the body and develop.

I will venture that these are larvae of a parasitoid wasp but I cannot be sure until the small cocoon hatches, if it ever does. However, having seen such an interesting interaction, I will watch for another cicada showing similar signs and follow it up.

 

Postcript: In the internet I learnt that some flies are important parasitoids of cicadas and that they locate them through their sound. It is also possible that the silky, pinkish filaments could be a fungal infection that follows the parasitoid’s damage of the host.

 

 

80, 89…

Why nature decided to make butterflies so colourful defeats me. I can understand the role colours may play in predator protection, easy recognition among conspecific individuals, reproductive behaviour and all sorts of other properties that colours may have but, still, why being so outrageous with butterflies?

So, you would think that Nature would have been content with allocating them the whole colour spectrum? Not so, some of them have also been numbered! These are some of the members of the Diaethria genus and I do not think that this was done to help the taxonomists!

You know from earlier posts that the Yungas region where our farm is located host a great many colourful butterfly and moth species and to take a walk on a sunny summer day is a true challenge to your eyes!

I have probably photographed over one hundred butterflies (and perhaps double that number of moths) and I had covered the butterflies issue earlier in this blog [1]. Despite having seen most of the available butterflies, I am still surprised at what I find!

One of the posts deals with one of the numbered butterflies: the 80 (or 08) , depending how you look at it. It is known as Diaethria candrena.

P1130769 copyP1130829 copyP1130858 copyVery recently we briefly saw a new and strikingly iridescent butterfly flying very fast and we soon lost it. Luckily the following day we found it again and, with lots of patience, I managed to take a few reasonable pictures of it. To my surprise it also carried a number: 89 (or 98) and I believe it to be Diaethria neglecta, also known as the 89 butterfly!

89 butterfly copy89 butterfly 2 copyP1190177 copyI then learnt that the numerals which appear on the underside hindwings of these butterflies are present in the twelve species of Diaethria but vary in colour and shapes, some of them do not show recognizable numbers.

There is also the 88 butterfly that would complete the numbered ones: Diathria clymena. I have not yet found it although I believe that it is also in the area. To find the third butterfly numbered by Nature adds another motive to continue with my daily walks.

 

[1] https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/flying-gems/ and https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/80-zig-zag/

 

 

 

 

 

 

A WWII relic

On the way back from our macaw walk [1] Oscar mentioned that there was an old truck parked nearby. Curious we agreed to get there and -as usual- do a bit of “controlled trespassing” to investigate.

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First view.

The truck was still there and it still showed its original painting as well as its make: Ford Canada.

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P1190013 copyP1190015 copyAlthough the truck showed the signs of time, it still was quite well preserved. Surprised, I took a few pictures and went to the Internet in search of answers. This is what I found mainly via Wikipedia [2].

I believe that it is a Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) truck. This truck was produced in large numbers and several types in Canada during World War II. Standard designs following British Army specifications for use by the armies of the British Empire and allies were prepared before the beginning of the war coincident with the rise to power in Germany of Hitler and the Nazi party in 1933.

By 1939, mass production in Canada of CMP military vehicles was on the way and the Canadian-built vehicles were to serve widely in the forces of other countries. At the outbreak of World War II, Canada’s large and modern automobile industry was shifted over to the production of military vehicles out-producing Germany. Truck production was focused on a broad range of medium-capacity vehicles.

Over 500,000 CMP trucks were manufactured in Canada. They were right-hand drive and they formed the basis of a wide variety of different truck types and armoured vehicles.

All the CMP cab designs had a short, “cab forward” configuration that gave them a typical boxer-nosed profile, a design required for a more efficient transport by ship. Internally the cab had to accommodate the comparatively large North American engines and it was generally cramped.

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Eight cylinder engine.

P1190021 copyNewly manufactured, or as modified war surplus, CMP trucks were widely used after 1945 in several European armies and around the world, among them in Argentina. CMP trucks were adapted after the war for a variety of civilian roles including forestry, grain transport, fire-fighting trucks, and snow-ploughs.

Focusing on our find, while I wait for a response from the experts available in the web (if it ever comes!) I would classify our find as a Ford CMP truck of the cargo type as its back part was resting nearby.

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Summary of technical specifications:

Ford F15. 3 ton 4×4 Cargo produced by Ford Canada. Designed in 1936–1940. Produced in 1940–1945. Service history: From 1940. World War II. Engine: Ford 239 239 cu in (3.9 L) petrol V8, 95 hp (71 kW). Wheel 4×4. Speed 50 mph (80 km/h)

Now, how did it get to Itiyuro?

Although the Argentine Army is listed among the world armies that got CMP trucks [2] they would have been re-painted with the proper livery and they would have had special Army number plates.

The answer to the origin of the truck relates to oil prospection work in the area [3].

Oil had been detected near Tartagal (Northern Salta) in the 17th Century although interest for its extraction only started in the mid 1920’s through the arrival in Salta of the Jersey Standard Oil Company (SOC), attracted by the area’s potential.

The SOC finally started to extract oil industrially from 1926 but soon slowed down its intervention as the Government YPF moved in. During 1938-9 extraction by SOC declined as the YPF’s increased and by the late 1940’s, in view of the poor production of its wells, the SOC withdrew from Salta.

It is possible that the truck is one of the few remnants in the Itiyuro area left by the SOC or one of its engineers that brought the truck as a war surplus. I am not sure that we will know but, anyway, it was an interesting find.

 

[1] http://www.bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/safari-to-itiyuro/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Military_Pattern_truck. Consulted on 6 April 2018.

[3] Benclowicz, J.D. (2011). Aportes para la Historia del Norte de Salta. Conformación y desarrollo de las localidades de Tartagal y General Mosconi durante la primera mitad del siglo XX (Contributions to the History of Northern Salta. Formation and Development of the Towns of Tartagal and General Mosconi in The First Half of the Twentieth Century). Andes vol.22 no.1 Salta ene./jun. Consulted on 6 April 2018.

 

Spot the beast 40

This took place while walking up the hill in Itiyuro in search of the macaws. See my earlier post.

For a change I spotted this little fellow running and then lost it when it stopped. After a while searching it moved again at the time that we were almost about to abandon our search.

I am sure that you will find it.

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Just in case you did not spot it, I took a couple more pictures as it was really a nice youngster although we could not identify it.

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Jaguarundi

A Herpailurus yaguarondi known locally as yaguarundi run in front of our car on the way to the Itiyuro-Yuyunti dam. Although I will soon describe the actual “expedition” that too us to that most northerly part of Argentina, I thought that t”he jaguarundi that crossed the road” offers a good opportunity to focus on this species that I ignored until a couple of years back.

This small cat, also known as eyra is native to southern North America and South America. It is, so far, doing quite well according to the information from the IUCN Red List that gives it the Least Concern status. However, its long-term future only seems assured in the large reserves of the Amazon basin. [1]

The jaguarundi stands low on the ground with a body length of 50-70cm and a rather long tail (30 to 60cm). The ears are short and rounded and the coat varies from blackish to brownish-grey (grey phase) or foxy red to chestnut (red phase) and litters can have individuals of various colours in them.

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Picture credit: Halvorsen, Gary [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike other cats found in the region, jaguarundis are mainly diurnal and therefore more likely to be spotted. Although they can climb trees they spend most of the time on the ground where they hunt for almost any small animal they can catch such as rodents, reptiles and birds. They are, however, able to capture larger prey such as rabbits and opossums and they had seen also feeding on fish.

Mostly solitary their home range is very variable, from a few to almost one hundred square kilometres. Their call is also variable and they can purr, whistle, yap and chatter! They can even chirp like birds!

 

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Drawing credit: Wyman & Sons Limited – Lloyd’s Natural History: “A hand-book to the Carnivora. Part 1, Cats, civets, and mongoose”[1] by Richard Lydekker.

So, a very little known but not less interesting small cat that has been observed in the area of our farm although we have never seen it. No doubt that after this brief sighting we will keep our eyes open for them.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaguarundi. Consulted on 7 April 2018.

 

Spot the beast 39

After a quiet spell in South America, enjoying social and rural life, we traveled to the very north-eastern tip of Argentina to a place called Itiyuro-Tuyunti dam, invited by our farm neighbours.

While I write a couple of posts about the trip, I thought interesting to present you with this easy “Spot the beast” to keep you busy…

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We came across this rather beautiful beast while walking through the subtropical forest and it was often feeding on this particular plant that has these interesting flowers. The butterfly is probably Anteos clorinde or Sulfur spot. While the external part of its wings resembles a green leaf, its interior is white with a yellow spot on its upper part. The internal coloration is mainly seen while flying as it closes its wings when landing.

It is a fairly large butterfly of about 85mm that flies strongly during the times of sunshine over open spaces and forests. It is often observed near wet areas where they congregate to drink and get mineral salts.