Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Difficult access, continued

Having gotten to the other side of the mud hole, I met up with Professora Inez, who was walking out to the highway to catch a bus to town. Inez is a retired school teacher, well into her 70s, and she thinks nothing of walking the four kilometers from her home to the highway and back, at least once a day! Being a community spokeswoman, she has been after the government to repair the road for the last several months. She keeps getting promises, but so far .... As Inez started her wade into the mud hole, I remembered some humor told by a lady friend who lives in Cipoal that this mud hole was so deep that the women were having to remove their panties before crossing. We had all laughed about the story. Now, at lakeside, I decided that I wasn't going to stick around to see if it were true. I headed down the road and left the good professora do her thing, whatever it is.

Difficult access, continued

Looking at the mud hole from the other side, as a truck "surfs" through the water. Notice the hight of the motor above the surface of the water, compared to where the motor of a small car would be. The larger tires also help keep it up high.

Difficult access, continued

This is a picture of "lake" early on in the rainy season, when I was able to get through with my car. It's not a lot larger now, but some deep holes have developed within the body of water. The flow of traffic is fairly much restricted to larger vehicles, like trucks. A small car is at risk of getting stuck and also of flooding the motor. Then the owner is in big trouble.

Difficult access, continued

Once leaving Santarem for the Planalto area (highlands), we leave sandy savanna country and get into clay soils, which make for nasty mud holes during the rainy season. Our Bosque Santa Lucia is only 3 kilometers from the main highway, BR-163, but those 3 kilometers of dirt road have been a real challenge over the last 27 years. I remember only too well my first tour at the Bosque in 1987, when I took three visitors from Holland for an ecological tour. At that time it wasn't much more than a one-lane trail with the forest coming right to the edges of road. I left the car on the highway and we walked in the 3 kilometers, did the tour at the Bosque and then walked back out. Yesterday, April 29, 2008, I had to do the same thing because of a big mud hole located not far from the highway. The situation was much worse than in 1987! On getting close to the "lake" I stepped into a thin coating of mud that was slicker than you know what. Before I could think twice I went up into the air and landed on my left side into the mud. Luckily I had taken my camera out of my back pocket just before, or it could have been worse for me and the camera too. I got up without feeling any broken bones and nobody was round to witness the show, so it was on to the mud hole. The attached image shows more or less where I "hit it".

Difficult access

One of the most difficult problems we face in the Amazon is that of transportation. Access is difficult everywhere, especially this time of the year. Paved city streets are full of potholes and most of the non-paved streets are impassable. The municipality government gives high priority to fixing up streets, but the repairs are fairly much limited to filling up holes with asphalt, which doesn't last long. Even the federal highway, BR-163 is full of craters (attached image), which can dismantle a vehicle if hit at any speed at all. The solution is to zigzag from one side of the road to the other. When oncoming traffic presents itself, better slow down to almost a stop to get through the holes without tearing up a tire and the hub. People who use the highway on a daily basis know all the tricks of driving without destroying their vehicles. City folks going out to the barbecue restaurant on the weekend often find themselves stranded on the highway with two flat tires and damaged hubs from hitting an unsuspected crater in the road. Get off the highway, then things are really difficult. Take, for example, getting to Bosque Santa Lucia, our small forest reserve. Next post.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Orchid attracts insect

I'm almost certain that this orchid now in bloom is a Catasetum galeritum. I remember having misnamed it last year. Luckily the mistake was seen by an orchid collector, who notified me right away. I don't remember the flowers attracting as many insects as this year, but it was probably an oversight on my part.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Henry Ford in Belterra

Another old friend we encountered at the Book Fair was Henry Ford, founder of rubber tree plantations at Fordlandia and Belterra. I didn't pay a lot of attention to details, but I think this exhibit was sponsored by the Municipality of Belterra, which borders with the Santarem Municipality. I've never seen this painting of Ford before, although it's similar to a photograph that hangs on the wall of the ICBS Library.

Environmental education

One of the biggest events taking place here in Santarém this year is the Feira do Livro (Book Fair). Literally thousands of people circulate through the giant tent-like building that covers the street that divides Praça São Sebastião (Saint Sebastian Square). Áurea and I visited dozens and dozens of shops there this past Friday and to our surprise we ran into a booklet on environmental education at Bosque Santa Lúcia, as shown in the attached image. The book, translated into Portuguese, was written by and paid for by Alice Stein, an old friend from Buffalo, New York. It was printed by Instituto Cultural Boanerges Sena, otherwise known as ICBS. I'm down to the last few copies of the booklet, but evidently ICBS still has some copies for sale.


When Dr. Valdely Kinupp, professor at the Escola Agrotêcnia Federal de Manaus, visited Santarém and Bosque Santa Lúcia some weeks ago, he taught me the name of several plants and trees I didn't know before. One was ajuru (Chrysobalanus icaco), attached image. I gather from some research on the internet that the common name is indigenous for "parrot". The fruit looks like something a parrot would like to eat. The plant (leaves) is also classified as having medicinal properties in the combat of diabetes and rheumatism.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Copaíba tree

I don't expect anything less than a silent chuckle from my readers after they see this image. No "porn" meant. This is the real thing, a copaíba tree (Copaifera multiguga) that has been tapped for its oil and then plugged for another day. I took this picture in the Tapajós National Forest a few weeks ago. We have copaíba at Bosque Santa Lúcia, but none that are being tapped.

Vitaceae - cissus

I haven't come to a final conclusion as to the name of this plant/tree, but I think it's red milkweed. I know that the butterflies like it a lot and that it brightens up the forest green. Correction, date 10/09/08 - the name is Vitaceae, cissus. Thanks to Robin Foster at the Field Museum, Chicago.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Strange looking palm

Is it a strange looking palm, or isn't it? The local name of the palm is jacintara and the scientific name, Desmoncus sp. It's actually a native palm in vine form. At Bosque Santa Lúcia, I often find them climbing up into the lower levels of the forest. I'm told that once peeling off the thorny bark, the wood can be used for making furniture, much like the rattan vine.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unidentified butterfly

An unidentified butterfly contemplating the next move, i.e., how to get away from the crazy photographer.

Bauinha, the cow's foot

Leaves and flower of the genus Bauhinia, commonly referred to as the "cow's foot". There are several species at Bosque Santa Lúcia. I think this one is fortificata.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Unidentified eggs

I have yet to figure out what animal laid these eggs. Not a chicken, for sure. The eggs are about the size of a pea! Although the number of eggs vary from time to time, I've never seen anything hatch from them. I have never seen any animal near them. My wild guess would be that they are lizard eggs. Some day I'll discover the secret.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Termites, earth builders

For those of you who have followed my tropical biodiversity blog, you know that our soils are extremely poor. It's the litter on the ground that provides food to the forest. Termites play a big role in decomposing this litter into nutrition. I was overwhelmed to see the amount of organic soil left behind by the termites after abandoning their nests, per the previous post. We distributed wheelbarrows of it to new trees and plants around the reception center. I would say, "long live the termites", but there's no need. They will inherit the earth after we destroy it. And they will rebuild it!

Termites, earth builders

These termite nests were a favorite sightseeing stop for many visitors going to Bosque Santa Lúcia. Eventually the termites decomposed the tree stumps and all the nests fell over on the ground. We used the nesting material you see in the image for fertilizer. What surprised me was the amount of rich dirt under the nests. Next image.

Termites, earth builders

The termites in the image appeared almost immediately after I broke open the top of their meter high nest. The core of the nest, and the source of food for them, is the stump of a tree that was cut some 4-5 years ago. I predict that the tree stump is almost consumed and that the whole thing will fall over soon. Next image is of three termite infested stumps which fell over more recently.

Orchid looking lily, updated

My friend, Claúdio Serique, always comes to my rescue whenever I write anything about orchids. I'm pleased that he knows names of the lilies too. He tells me that it's Iris germanica and that he has this one at home. Thanks to Claúdio!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Katydid vs. Grasshopper

I've said it before, I'll say it again, "I take my hat off to the entomologists for being able to identify all those bugs." Even with the best of reference books and wonders of internet, I often find it difficult to venture forth names. The attached image is an example. I was ready to call the varmit a grasshopper, but then I hesitated. "I wonder if it's a katydid?" Sorting through a couple of books and endless images on the internet, I'm still not sure. My inclination is to go for katydid. What about you?

"Local" avocados

Sometimes I hear people referring to "local avocados", referring to the small ones, as pictured in the image. I gather the comparison is made between these and the large cultivars coming from other parts of Brazil. We buy the latter mostly in the supermarkets and these smaller types are produced regionally and sold at the marketplaces. Avocados are not native to the Amazon, as they originally came from Central America.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Genipapo fruit

I found these genipapo fruits (Genipa americana) washed into a depression by the rains. Wherever there's a genipapo tree, the ground is covered with fruit. They are about the size of an orange and the juice is excellent, at least I think. It's not a very popular juice but some folks make liquors from genipapo. I've heard that it is more popular in the northeastern part of Brazil.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Orchid looking

I don't know the name of this lily, but the flower is sure beautiful. Furthermore, many people refer to it as an orchid, which it isn't, of course.

Lacre, topside

The topside of the lacre (Vismia sp.) leaf is quite ordinary looking. Who would guess what's on the other side?

Life under the leaf

Autumn in the Amazon Forest? No way, this is the underside of a lacre (Vismia sp.) leaf, which is a beautiful copper color the year around. And on the other side? Next slide, please.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Superficial bamboo roots

Many years ago I planted a single bamboo shoot close to the bridge that connects the higher sides of the land on either side of the ancient creek that fills with rain water today. The number of bamboo shoots have multiplied many times over and it's always interesting to see the new ones coming up so fast. A few days ago I spotted a superficial root system coming out from the nodules of the new plants. I'm not sure what this means. Could it be that the bamboo is expecting higher than normal floods for the season?

Caterpillar on sacaca

I figure that this caterpillar must be looking for some medicine for a tummy ache. The tree is muirasacaca (Croton cajucara), noted for its antispasmodic properties. The bark of the tree has been used traditionally for menstrual pains, stomach aches and other ailments. In recent times, the chemical secrets of the tree have unveiled for the production of an over-the-counter medicine called Buscopan.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Death in the forest, continued

A closer view of our predator getting ready to dine on the grasshopper that I scared into its web. This isn't a common spider here. It's the second one I've seen.

Death in the forest, continued

Psychiatric orderlies could well take lessons from this spider on how to deactivate patients. Look at that straitjacket on the poor grasshopper!

Death in the forest

When I took a walk around the reception center Bosque Santa Lúcia two days ago, I didn't know that I was going to be responsible for the death of a grasshopper. The one I refer to was posing on the leaf of a young palm and I pondered whether or not to take a picture. Moving in closer to the insect, it flew off - right into the web of a rather large spider. My immediate thought was that the grasshopper is strong and fast and surely it'll get out of the web. Before I could give the situation a second thought, the large orange spider you see in the image moved from the outer edge of web onto the grasshopper. In no time at all insect was confirmed for dinner.


It's been awhile since I've seen this insect. So long, as a matter of fact, that I couldn't remember the name of it. In referring to Latin American Insects and Entomology by Charles Hogue, I discovered that it's a red-dotted planthopper, Lystra strigata. The common name certainly didn't strike a bell. I vaguely remember it as wax-tailed something or other. Well, I guess what's important is that it still exists.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Back to Mararu, continued

This old driveway has turned into a river of sand. The source is the sandy road which runs parallel to the Mararu Creek from the main highway. Erosion is so great this time of the year, four-wheel vehicles are the reliable mode of transportation.

Back to Mararu, continued

A walk around Mararu wouldn't be complete without seeing rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis). This one is quite old and well scarred from tapping for rubber latex in times past.

Back to Mararu, continued

This may be the first nightshade I've posted on this Tropical Biodiversity blog. I don't want to reinvent the wheel, so I've provided the link for detailed information on the Solanaceae family.

Back to Mararu, continued

I don't see the jambeiro tree (Eugenia malaccensis) blooming in the city, but I found this one flowering away in an area that has been abandoned for the most part. The jambeiro tree (rose apple) is an exotic from Asia, but greatly appreciated here in Brazil for its delicious fruit and heavenly shade.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back to Mararu, continued

Closer to the kitchen area of the house, I found some more new plants. Could it be that these are caladiums too? Really beautiful, whatever they are. Next time, I'll ask Zilma.

Back to Mararu, continued

In a more inaccessible area I found these plants, which I assume to be caladiums. I have to admit that I never saw any quite like these.

Back to Mararu, continued

Then in the middle of a forest of trees covered with vines, fungi, orchids, lichens and moss, I run into a tree that is bare and smooth as silk. It's goiaba, or guava, as we say. The genus is Psidium. I'm not sure of the species, but probably guajava. It strikes me as being a very hard wood, but I'm not sure that's true. I know one thing for sure, the fruit is delicious.

Back to Mararu, continued

... and how about this collage, also on a tree trunk? Algae and moss, I assume. There are miniature ferns, which look like moss, so I'm not sure. Regardless, they make for a fine scene.

Back to Mararu, continued

Nature's own floral arrangements are hard to beat. Check this one out, an orchid with a fern wrap. In addition some fungi for color.

Back to Mararu, continued

The most common way of removing the pulp from the cupuaçu seeds is to cut it away with scissors. Image, remaining seeds after the "haircut". They can be used to make white chocolate, commercially called "cupualate". To my knowledge, this isn't a common activity here in Santarém, but may be in the Manaus area.

Back to Mararu, continued

For those curious to know what cupuaçu fruit looks like, here's an image of one whole fruit and another that has been broken in half. The edible part is the pulp around the rather large seeds. It's used for making juices, ice cream, candies, cake fillings and a thousand other things.

Back to Mararu, continued

There seem to be endless things to photograph around the Pimentel place, so I took off after lunch to see more. As mentioned in last week's blog posts, Paulo and Zilma are cupuaçu growers and they have a small processing plant and freezers. Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) is one of my favorite fruit trees, so I never get tired of seeing them. Image, new leaves of cupuaçu.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back to Mararu, continued

Gene Whitmer in Goiania reminded me to include a picture of our Mararu hosts, Paulo and Zilma Pimentel. Sorry, I get carried away with things like trees and plants and forget to take pictures of people. As a matter a fact, I had to dig this pix out of the achieves. It was taken a year or so ago, but my friends are as beautiful as ever.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Back to Mararu, continued

Regional food in this part of the Amazon is never without pepper sauce. There are many different types. The one in the image is pimenta de cheiro, which translates into smell peppers. So called because of the aroma they emit when broken open. They are also very hot, especially if eaten or placed in oils. These are in vinegar, which reduces the flame a bit.

Back to Mararu

The road conditions going into Bosque Santa Lúcia are so bad this rainy season, we decided not to go there today. Instead we accepted a luncheon invitation from our friends, Paulo and Zilma, in Mararu. It was a real sacrifice, I must say. Both are great cooks and our appetites weren't let down. The menu was fried stingray for appetizers (attached image), barbecue, feijoada (black beans and pork), and some other regional foods. All of this washed down with excellent wine from Argentina.

Jequitiranamboia, continued

Now you may wonder how I came to conclude that there were two females and a male in this party. It was based on the fact that there was a lot of flirting going on by one of the insects. His playing around reminded me of a rooster trying to impress a hen. One of his wings would come up over her and flutter, much like that of bird. Impressive the flexibility of these big wings. I wish I'd had time to wait around for the rest of the dating, but I was on a tour. Next time, I hope. By the way, "jequitiranamboia" in the Indian language means the varmit with an empty head. That dragon-like projection that seems to be the head is actually false. You can see the beady eyes of the insect just behind this projection.


I don't see jequitiranamboias (Fulgora laternaria) every day, but we I do, they're always on the trunk of a large copaíba tree (Copaifera multifuga) on one of the outer trails of Bosque Santa Lúcia. This image, plus the next, are the closest I've been able to get to them. There were actually three of them together, I assume one female and two males. As I moved in to take pictures, one of them moved off to the side. Next slide, please.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Morning at Mararu, part 21

Our last stop on the way back to the city was at the Tapaiú Restaurant to eat fried fish, prepared by João do Mato, himself. We've been eating fish here for more than 20 years. It's a very simple round-house type establishment, but the fish speaks for itself. I enjoy looking at the plants too. This "comigo-ningúem-pode (Dieffenbachia picta) struck me as quite beautiful.

Morning at Mararu, part 20

On our way out of Mararu, we stopped by to see our old friend Didi Macedo on the other side of the Mararu Creek. I spotted this big leaved tree growing at the corner of his fence. The leaves are at least one meter in length! It's nearly three meters high and takes on the image of being a young tree. According to Didi, it wasn't planted. It just came up out of the ground and nobody knows the name of it.