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Army Ants & Pirannas...and a dash of alligators...

Our jungle walks provided us wonderful opportunities to see how is rain forest actually works.  I never really had to use the word "symbiosis" very often, and now we were getting to see it in action...

For example, we stopped our walk one afternoon to watch a column of ants carrying pieces of leaves into a mushroom like area.  Franziska told us that the ants could not digest this leaf until it was partially decomposed by the mushroom, and that the mushroom needed the ants daily activity in order to survive.

Another story involved the walnut sized fruit of a tree that was eaten by birds, seeds and all, and then excreted by the bird in the normal digestion process.  This "bird dropping" would sometimes land in a tree, or below it. and eventually the seed would open and send out tendrils, one up for the light 150 feet overhead, and one down to the ground for nutrients.  Over the years, this seed would become a vine like tree that was so large that it would smother and kill the host tree, and become a huge tree in itself, as the host tree withered away inside it.

As huge as the rain forest seems to be,   to people who view it from a distance (and to the oil companies), it is really a very fragile ecological system.  The foliage requires nutrients from the soil, and light from the sun...just like we learned in third grade.  What makes the rain forest unique is that the nutrient base  is only about 3 inches deep, and there is an incredible demand for those nutrients.  In fact, when all of these green leaves you see have had their day, they fall to the jungle floor and are reassimilated in about 7 months, instead of the two to three years it takes in other areas. This is because of the heat and humidity, and because nature knew it had to be done to keep feeding the insatiable need for more nutrients.  And the way ,how the plants and animals depend on one another to get food and light, is truly remarkable.  I know I am presenting some fractured examples here, but you get the idea.  Each vine, leaf, root, dropping, digestive enzyme, drop of water, and ray of sunshine  has a share in keeping the jungle healthy and thriving.  The jungles die when some of the parts of the process are disturbed.

 

Two terrible examples involve the intervention by humans.  One is by the indigenous people hoping to survive...and this is called the the slash and burn method of farming.  They burn several acres of jungle, the ashes fall the ground, provide fertilizer for a crop, but only once, and when the crop is harvested, the acreage is ruined for additional crops...and the tribe moves on to another fresh area and burns it, and the cycle begins again, except that the burned areas are ruined for good.

And even worse, the oil companies "explore for oil" by planting powerful explosives in the ground every 100 meters or so.  They then ignite these charges to chart where the pools of oil lie under the ground.  They map their findings and move on...but they have killed some of the more sensitive roots of some of the important trees and plants with the extreme vibration.  It is not apparent at first, but the symbiosis has been altered so badly by the death of integral plants, that wherever they "test", they kill the forest.  This doesn't even count the massive destruction done by actual drilling, road building, oil splils, construction of everything needed to sustain an oil drilling operation, and the like.

 

Now for the fun stuff...we had a great afternoon lolling about the boat after the jungle walk described previously--dodged a furious downpour while we were warm and dry eating lunch, and then were told that we were going fishing and would be in the jungle 'till after dark.  This was because we would only see some species when they came out to hunt.

During one of our walks, we were told that since the natives wore so little, that they sometimes needed to weave baskets from leaves for carrying items they needed.  Fran showed us how it was done by cutting a palm tree leaf into two one foot slices, bending them at a 90 degree angle, and weaving them back on each other, tying up the ends, and viola! a new suitcase.  She gave it to Rox, and we have it hanging up in our apartment.STA71940.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an example of why they need a suitcase...native%20standing.jpg

As we were fishing in a little lagoon, we were entertained by lots of forest sounds and birds flying by, but no pirannas wanted to eat our chicken baited hooks.  Franziska caught one and after letting us photograph it, threw it back to grow a little bigger...here it is...STA71911.JPG

 

A couple of ant stories...as we were walking along, we stopped near some inch and a quarter long ants, and our guide and Fran both warned us not to let them touch us as they both stung and then bit you when they could...made you hurt a lot and also sick.  We moved on quickly.   On another stop, there were a huge number of ants crossing the trail, and Fran observed that these were the famous Army Ants of the movies.  They were a little smaller than the movies made them out to be, but we hoped about on one foot for a minute.  They could kill small animals and birds, however.

A little aside...I am writing this in my bathrobe at 4:00 am our time, and was just going to say that I survived our jungle trip without a bite at all, (Rox got a wasp sting on the same hand twice in two days--but was very brave & toughed it out), when a stupid biting fly nipped me in the calf and made me jump off the stool.  So much for bragging...sprayed a little DEET on the area...

Moving on...dark fell on us after the fishing was over, and we started cruising slowly up the winding bayous with a powerful light scanning the water's edge.  All of a sudden you could see colorful eyes staring back at you.  We were looking for alligators, spotted a four foot one, and continued along when we saw eyes from about 200 yards out...slipped up on them and eventually spotted an eight foot alligator...he didn't seem much interested in us, as he just sat there with the light on him.  Made our day...

 

 

 

Posted on Mon, December 3, 2007 at 03:03AM by Registered CommenterBob & Roxanne | Comments Off