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Wilderness Classroom: Expedition 2006
Is there any relief from the mosquitoes?
May 2, 2006
Update 12: Warren comes to the rescue! – Dave
We are trying to answer the question: how do plants, animals, and people survive in the flooded forest? We have learned a lot so far, but I know that it would be very hard for Ruben, Anna, Patrick, and me to survive here without Warren.
This afternoon Warren and I beached our canoe for a bathroom break on the first patch of dry ground we had seen all day. I stood up to stretch my stiff legs and went to grab hold of a branch as I stepped out of the canoe. Warren yelled, and my body froze as my brain tried to translate the frantic Spanish spewing out of Warren’s mouth. After a minute I realized that I was about to place my hand on a spiny, three inch long caterpillar, which Warren warned me was extremely poisonous. I sat back down, scrambled to grab my camera, and began photographing this beautiful, yet highly toxic insect.
It doesn’t matter what plant or animal I ask about-Warren knows what it is, what it can be used for, and a ton of other interesting facts. This vast knowledge helps Warren not only survive, but actually thrive in the flooded forest.
This afternoon a storm rolled in as we were scrambling to set up camp. The ropes for the tarp we were trying to hang over our gear were buried in a pack. Warren walked over to a nearby tree, and grabbed several vines that we could use in place of ropes. He later explained this was the same species of vine that people use to lash wood together to build their houses.
I would have accidentally brushed up against this poisonous caterpillar, but luckily Warren warned me just in time. All of the spines on this little guy are tipped with strong poison.
Every day I am learning something new and finding ways to make life in the flooded forest easier. Everything we need to survive is right here, but we still have a lot to learn.
The Squirrels of a Different World – Patrick
Wednesday’s Daily Dilemma was about how we should handle illegal loggers when we encounter them on our journey. I was overwhelmed by the number of responses we received from you! This is clearly an issue that many of you care deeply about. The responses were split between those who think we should talk to the illegal loggers and those who think we should report them to the park rangers. I also appreciate that you considered our safety when you were deciding how we should handle this issue. One class even had a suggestion for what you can do in the United States. The suggestion was to boycott the purchase of mahogany and other wood harvested from the rainforest. By eliminating the demand for such things, the value of these precious trees would decrease and put the illegal loggers out of a job.
Thank you for all the advice you have given us on this topic. We will definitely report any illegal logging activity that we see to park rangers. We will keep safety in mind and only talk to the illegal loggers if a safe opportunity arises to do so. I hope that you will also do your part to prevent the destruction of these beautiful trees and natural habitats by paying attention to where products you buy come from. Thank you again! Keep up the great work.
Seeing squirrel monkeys in the flooded rainforest is as common as seeing squirrels in your backyard. These playful little monkeys hop around from tree to tree much like the North American Squirrel (which is where their name came from). Just imagine if you had never seen a squirrel; you would probably be amazed at first, spending hours observing their behavior. Watching monkeys in the wild is amazing and alluring. Maybe it’s because they look like us and, truth be told, they act like us in a lot of ways.
Squirrel monkeys only weigh about two pounds and average about one foot in length. It would be easy for us to miss them if it weren’t for their noisy chirps of alarm and giant leaps. We usually come across a troop of 5-10 squirrel monkeys feeding in the vines and underbrush rather than high up in the canopy. They eat lots of fruits, insects, and even some leaves.
This is a full grown adult squirrel monkey- just over a foot tall without the tail. The squirrel monkey’s short thighs give them big jumping ability. They easily jump over ten times their height!
When baby squirrel monkeys are born, they spend the first few months of life clinging to their mother’s back. Baby squirrel monkeys are an easy prey, so the mothers are very protective of their young. A troop of 3-10 monkeys typically works together to raise the young. Observers have noticed that the home ranges of troops typically overlap, and the monkeys will often cooperate into a monstrous super troop of 40 or more monkeys!
Warren told us that many people in the rainforest have squirrel monkeys as pets. Apparently they are fairly quite, shy, and friendly with their human relatives. We have also learned that squirrel monkeys are often hunted to put meat on the kitchen table! Can you imagine making a meal out of such a cute creature?
What would your rainforest house look like? – Anna
We are so fortunate to have our friend Warren with us in the rainforest. Warren knows more than any of us about life in the flooded forest, because he lives here! Warren grew up in the town of Lagunas, which is right outside of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Today, he told us about the home that he built for his wife and three children.
Six years ago, Warren completed his home made of a type of wood from the rainforest called cumala. The house took him only one month to build, but he says that he and his friend could have built it in four days. Build a house in four days? In the flooded forest, houses are much more simple than most of those in the United States.
To build a house, one must first cut down the right trees in the rainforest. Most people use kapok, cedar, or cumala. They must then let the wood dry for fifteen days. After the wood has partially dried, they saw the trees into thin plywood strips. Then the construction begins. Warren used nails to build his house, but most people in the rainforest use a type of vine to tie the boards together. Warren says that vines actually work better than nails, because as the wood continues to dry nails sometimes split the wood, whereas vines won’t.
Warren uses a vine he found in the rainforest instead of a rope to hang a trap over our campsite.
Most houses in the rainforest are built small and simple. Warren’s house has three rooms: a main living room and two bedrooms. His kitchen is outside, since cooking is done over a fire. “Where’s the bathroom?” I asked. “Outside,” was Warren’s reply. They use a latrine. The latrine is a basic version of a toilet. A hole about 15 feet deep is dug in the ground and walls are built around it. To use the bathroom, simply squat over the hole. Most people pour ashes or diesel fuel into the hole every few days to control the odor and to encourage decomposition. Oh, and you might be excited to know that Warren got his first telephone ever, just one year ago.
Warren’s house is similar to most houses in the Amazon region. I can tell that Warren is proud of building his house, and he should be. Much hard work, time, and energy went into creating a cozy shelter for the family that he cares so much about.
I like to imagine what my house would look like if I built it with my own two hands. It probably wouldn’t be as solid as Warren’s, but it would have been built with my own special Anna style. What would your house look like?
Is there any relief from the mosquitoes? – Anna
As the sun sinks behind the trees and night closes in around us, so do thousands of mosquitoes. At dusk, we usually cook a quick dinner and then jump into the safety of our hammocks, where we think the mosquitoes can’t get us. Our hammocks are great little shelters for our tired bodies. They have mosquito netting sealed into them that keeps the mosquitoes out. Unfortunately, the screen doesn’t stop our hungry friends. I didn’t know that mosquitoes are as clever as they are, because when they can’t get us through the screens, they fly under our hammocks and bite us through the nylon. We are learning that nearly anything is possible in the Amazon!
Since we spend most nights outside in our hammocks, the mosquitoes are becoming quite a dilemma. They are keeping us up at night and disturbing our much needed sleep. Plus, the bites covering our bodies itch for several days.
Is there any relief from the swarms of mosquitoes poking us through our hammocks? Do you have any suggestions that might keep our bodies free from mosquito bites while we are sleeping?
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