Gallinato

Spot the beast 23

A difficult one this time. I doubt that you will manage it without hard work… Or maybe you see it?

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Another amazing beast revealed:

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Great camouflage of the moth on pine bark! Below are some other pictures of the insect for you to appreciate it better.

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Homely bats

In my earlier post I mentioned that we built some bat houses. The idea started with my daughter that somehow is very partial to bats. Together we had observed these unique mammals flying around in the farm at dusk and we thought we could attract them into small houses to avoid them getting in our roof.

We Googled for bat houses or bat boxes and found a large number of ideas. Finally we settled for a simple design taken from a page such as http://picphotos.net/plans-for-building-a-bat-house-to-control-bugs/ and built one as a test case adding our own modifications such as the addition of an inner layer of cork for insulation against the cold and a piece of cloth at the bottom as a landing pad.

A few months later when we returned to Salta, we were delighted to note that about half a dozen bats had moved in! Being ambitious I built a second house following the same concept and the well-known premise “if it works, do not mend it or improve it”! Again, it got inhabited fairly soon after opening its doors to the bat community.

After a couple of years I noted that the first box only had one bat left in residence and I thought “they are clever and moved to the newer house and probably a grumpy old bat was left behind!”

Then a few days ago I noted that the last resident bat of the old box had gone. Its inner cork lining had detached from the sides and it was probably interfering with the bat movement so I decided to remove it to have a look and re-position the box at a better place in relation to the house and the prevailing winds. While unhooking it I noted that the bat was still there but hanging on outside the box and that for this reason I had missed it.

After opening the box, when I pulled the cork lining I disturbed a number of bugs that, when I exposed them to the light, rapidly withdrew to the darker recesses of the box. “Hmm, I thought, negative phototropism”, remembering my high school days!

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The old box opened for servicing. One of the walls have been removed to show the cork lining. The bugs were underneath.

Thinking that the situation was worth further investigation I prepared to catch some of them to identify them at a later stage, if possible. While rummaging around the house finding some alcohol, a catching jar, forceps and a brush I was thinking that I had found a colony of pseudoscorpions, really interesting arachnids that I have found earlier living in the bat guano at the Suswa caves in Kenya. I still have the memory of entering the cave with my wife and Paul and finding thousands of bats inside while we walked on their soft guano that was truly hutching with pseudoscorpions!

In the opened bat box there were many bugs but without pincers! I could see clearly different instars, from reddish brown adults to yellowish showing a darker gut content that reminded me of old blood. After a while I could count their legs and decided that I was watching insects and then I realized that they were bugs of some sort! I confirmed my suspicion when I took pictures of them and even saw the eggshells like those of animal or human lice.

I was lucky that my children had given me a set of VicTsing Clip 12 X Macro+ 24 X Super Macro lenses that enabled me to take the 12X to 36X magnification pictures of the bugs with my cell phone.

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I then realized that the bug infestation in the box had reached such an intensity that the bats must had felt very uncomfortable and decided to move out, away from their tormentors!

All this is still hypothetical, as I have not yet identified neither bats nor bugs with any degree of scientific rigour! However, my educated guess is that the bats are Big brown bats (Eptesicus furinalis), based on work done in the area[1].

The identification of the bugs was more difficult as not much is known (and available to me) on bats’ ectoparasites in Argentina! Again Google’s existence proved very valuable. Bat bugs do exist and one species that has been described for the Americas is very similar to the ones I observed. These are the Eastern bat bugs (Cimex adjunctus).

They are closely related to the infamous Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius). So what? you would ask. Well, I made the mistake of informing my wife about this close bat bug -bed bug relationship and she was not amused that I had been “playing” with them. As a consequence I had to shower carefully before I was allowed in bed!

 

[1] Moschione, F.N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato, La Caldera, Provincia de Salta. Informe Relevamiento 2013-2014. 55pp.

Murder in the verandah

I have placed a number of “man-made” bird nests at strategic locations in our farmhouse so that we can get those birds “friendly’ to humans to find good places to lay their eggs and raise their families.

Despite this initiative, some birds decide that these are not good enough and still choose to build their own, sometimes next to the ones I offered so I have realized that some birds’ thinking differ from mine!

So it was that a pair of Sayaca tanager (Thraupis sayaca), defined by my bird book as “tame” and inhabiting populated areas, decided to nest under our font verandah about four years ago. Luckily their breeding was successful and, eventually, young birds were seen leaving the nest. The same birds (although I am not sure that there were the same individuals) built another nest on top of the existing structure but the mummified remains of their offspring were the evidence of some kind of tragedy.

Last year, a pair of Saffron yellow finches(Sicalis flaveola), also keen on inhabited areas, added their own contribution to the already untidy grass mass and this year, the same bird species yet again completed the structure by adding more straw and deciding to breed there.

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The untidy nest today. The original nest is the palee straw structure on the top left.

For the past couple of weeks the female had sat on the nest and the male was also seen nearby but not actually incubating and we did not observe any sign of hatchlings.

One afternoon, a couple of days ago, we returned from Salta town in mid afternoon after running some necessary errands there, and soon after arrival we heard loud shrills coming from the verandah. As expected my wife discerned what was happening. The nest was under the attack of a snake!

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We knew that a snake lived on the roof of the house as it had been spotted sunning itself coiled and I had seen it slithering away by the side of the verandah. So there it was, its front end on the nest and its rear holding on to the roof timber.

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P1170483 copyThe birds were mobbing the snake while chirping loudly and flying very close to the intruder but not actually pecking it (see videos below). However, they were clearly too small to have an impact on the aggressor and eventually they just perched nearby to watch the tragedy!

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P1170493 copyOur arrival and photographic efforts disturbed the action taking place and the snake started to abandon the nest and eventually slipped down the stem of a climbing plant and, once it got into the thick of the plant, it immediately change direction and climbed back towards the roof of the house where we lost sight of it. I am not yet sure of its identity.

While the snake was moving, I caught the sight of a bulge in its otherwise slim body that was a signal that the attack was successful and that it had either eaten the eggs or the nestlings. (confirm what it ate when the snake is identified). ALthough the parents remained for a short while next to the nest, they have now abandoned it, another indication that the young are no longer there.

We wait and see what happens next as the Saffron yellow finches are known to lay eggs throughout the year and they may try again on the same nest. As I told you earlier, I do not understand the way birds think!

Regret the video quality but things were happening very fast and we were lucky that my wife was ready with her phone to record it!

Gallinato butterflies (1)

Our farm is located in the northern part of the Gallinato gorge in the La Caldera Department, Salta province. It is a transitional area between the Yungas and the Chaco. It rains abundantly during the summer months and it is dry during winter and spring.

It is still a forested area that offers not only interesting trees and plants but a varied and interesting animal life. A study carried out in 2013-14 in the adjacent farm[1] found 14 spp of Amphibiae, 23 spp of reptiles, 28 spp of mammals and 216 spp of birds. Both mammals and birds are rather difficult to observe but this is not the case of the 152 spp of butterflies found as well as an amazing number of moths and other critters that are easier to see. In other words, our farm is an insect paradise!

As our life evolves around avoiding the winter by commuting between Zimbabwe and Argentina and Uruguay we are in Salta during the summer, warm and humid, ideal conditions for the development of insects, particularly butterflies. Aware of this fact we have planted “butterflies-friendly” plants that attract a good number of these beautiful creatures to the area around our farmhouse. However, it is over the 5 km of the access road that butterflies are really amazing and we record most of what we see.

Over the next few posts I will present you with pictures of butterflies, moths and other “beasts” that we are finding this year during our morning walks when the rain allows us to walk.

I start with the butterflies. I have omitted their names as I am not yet sure of a definitive classification and also because I think it is a question of beuty rather than scientific facts. However, unable to escape my technical background, I will be naming them when I am sure of their identity.

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[1] Moschione, F.N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato. La Caldera. Provincia de Salta. 55p.

Flying Gems

When I saw jewels flying I thought that hypoxia had accentuated my natural brain decay. Even under these circumstances I was quite surprised!

It all happened while practicing the “walking to keep fit” arrangement that my wife and I performed daily, weather permitting. Of course you have already guessed that they were butterflies and that unlike García Marquez in his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, I failed to convey the proper message. For this reason, this post is mainly about the photographs I took of what was flying around during a few days walking in and around our farm at the Andes foothills[1].

The first one that caught our attention was the Crimson-banded Black (Biblis hyperia nectanabis), very mobile and tricky to capture. These are the best I got:

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Crimson black 1 small

We could also not fail to notice a few others that, with their fair share of beauty, immediately attracted our attention. These are shown below:

Dark Malachite 3 Dark Malachite 3 crop Dark Malachite 2 Dark Malachite 2 crop Dark Malachite 1 crop

Five pictures of Dark Malachite (Siproeta epaphus epaphus)

Yunguena Sapphire and hooked small

Yungueña Sapphire (Doxocopa cyane burmeisteri) on the right and Hooked Small (no Latin name)

Fuegan Fuegan open Fuegan open crop Fuegan -2- crop

Fuegian (Mechanitis lysimnia elisa)

Once the most obvious (and larger) species were noticed, a number of others were noted such as a large number of very small black and yellow ones lying flat on wet areas. Closer inspection revealed two similar types occurring together as well as a rather delicately ornate orange one, also sharing the wetter and shady areas.

Black and yellow unknown cropped Black and yellow group Black and yellow different from each other small Orange small unknown crop

Several other species were noted. The following ones are the most colourful, although as the video below also shows, there are large number of others that we had not had time to photograph at this point. Regarding their identification, what I know about them is included in the caption of the pictures.

Leopard 1 crop Leopard 2 crop Dark brown and white small Catula other Catula brown crop Brown and white crop Black wing folder crop Black and orange cropped Beige cropped Ashgray

After a few days of rambling along our roads, we thought we had seen most of what was on offer and we were just checking for the odd one that had escaped our attention so far, mainly small ones. Wrong again! After a rainy night, sunshine greeted us the following morning. Clearly the conditions for butterfly (and other insect) activity were optimal and they were out in numbers. Close to the start of our walk we found fresh faeces, probably from a pig (regrets to the fainthearted but this is nature’s “reality show”) that had a mixed population feeding on them. But what really caught our attention was a rather large and hitherto new winged creature, with iridescent blue wings with red markings.

Various insects attracted by faeces. The obvious iridescent blue butterfly/fly called our attention.

Various insects attracted by faeces. The obvious iridescent blue butterfly/fly called our attention.

A close-up of the butterfly/fly.

A close-up of the butterfly/fly.

Although at first sight we mistook it for a butterfly, its direct flight and red bulgy eyes made us suspect that it is probably more related to flies than butterflies. Further investigation on this weird and beautiful creature is on its way and it will be reported.

In the meantime, in the rare moments of calm between more research, blog writing and farm chores, I am reading García Marquez to see if I can find the precise words for the next post as butterflies and moths are still being found!

[1] I regret to inform the readers that I am only able to identify a handful of them as there is no available guide and no Internet access. I will follow up when possible and complete the information later.