The Big Bad Clash

Written by R. Ellis

It isn’t often that New World monkeys depart from the safety of the towering trees they call home. In fact, when studying Neotropical primates, researchers spend most of their day looking up 20-30 meters into the canopy, watching the animals go about their lives in the skies.  Some monkeys, like spiders and howlers, will come down to eat the mineral rich clay of salt licks, but it is very uncommon to see a woolly come down deliberately (falling out of the tree on accident, on the other hand, is a different story). Accordingly, it’s always exciting to see any arboreal monkey plant its toes into the terrestrial environment, but on this day, it was an extraordinary and exhilarating experience. Continue reading

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Primatologist’s Field Gear Guide For TBS

Written by: K. Ellis

Prior to each long field season, I send out an email to my research assistants covering the clothing items and gear that they will need for a successful trip to the Amazon. To save myself time looking for that email over and over again I decided to keep a modified version of it posted here. Keep in mind that this post is tailored specifically to our field site (the Tiputini Biodiversity Station), a remote field site in Amazonian Ecuador with some key amenities (i.e., laundry is done at least once a week and we generally have access to electricity for several hours each day).

Necessary Field Items

  • Day Pack. If you already have a day pack that you don’t mind getting covered in mold and monkey poop, bring that…We really only need our packs to carry our food, water and telemetry equipment. I currently use a 24 liter pack and that seems to fit everything well. I also prefer packs that are able to accommodate water bladders (e.g., camelback, platypus) so that I can drink whenever I want and don’t have to stop to grab my water bottle.
  • Water bladder or water bottles that can hold at least 2 liters of water (this seems to be the average amount of water people go through in a day when following the monkeys).
  • Rubber boots. These can be purchased in Ecuador if so desired, however, there are often boots of various sizes that we can loan from the station for field work.
    • In-soles (optional) if you tend to get achy feet.
  • Binoculars. Waterproof binoculars, with 8 to 10X magnification and 40 to 50 mm forward barrel diameter are preferred.

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Entry #7: The Woolly Monkey – A Symphony of Sounds

Written by: R. Reeder

One of our tasks this field season was to try and define the vocalizations from the diverse vocal repertoire of woolly monkeys. After six months of data collection we have been able to name and define thirteen distinct vocalizations. The majority of these vocalizations are some sort of variation of two main types: a chirp and a trill. A chirp is a single, short vocalization, whereas a trill is a longer vocalization that has more vibrato. These two main calls can vary in length, strength (loud, quiet, or regular), or number of times per unit time. Each variation has a different meaning. Stevenson (1997) notes that the vocalizations of woolly monkeys at Tinigua National Park in Colombia can be grouped in to three general types: contact, alarm, and social interactions. The chirps and trills that I described earlier are contact calls. A woolly usually produces them when they are trying to say, “I’m over here” or “where are you?” The shorter length of a chirp restricts this vocalization to closer distances, whereas a trill is more often used when, for example, the group is spread apart over several hundred meters and they are trying to coordinate their movements. Continue reading

Entry #6: Just Hanging Out

Written by: R. Reeder

Woolly monkeys don’t simply walk along branches to get from tree to tree. These arboreal monkeys also climb, leap, and even suspend (hang from the arms, legs and/or tail). Woollies, as well as spiders, howlers, and muriquis, are the four monkey species in the entire world that have prehensile tails, which means that their tails act like a fifth limb, making them extremely mobile in the canopy. Although they share this anatomical trait, all four species otherwise differ slightly in their anatomy and dominant modes of locomotion, giving each other a little more space as they move about in the forest. Continue reading

Entry #5: The Trek to Maquisapa

Written by: R. Reeder

Well, time is winding down. We are in the final stretch, as much as we are trying to deny it. One of our fellow researchers, Sebastian, was the first to leave the station, after working with the spider monkeys for a year. To make the most out of his last day, we all took the day off and hiked the Maquisapa trail. None of us had ever done the entire trail before. It is four kilometers, the longest trail here in the trail system. It’s a beautiful trail, with high elevation points where the forest thins out a little more so you can see further into the distance, and low points where the trail can flood if there is a substantial amount of rain. The trail meets the Puma plot on the eastern and western sides, which is a well-known area for the spider monkey researchers, as it is an area the spider group MQ-1 frequents. Sebastian was hoping, of course, to see some spider monkeys along the way to say one last goodbye. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found. We heard woolly monkeys; saw some sakis, and also some howlers, but no spiders. It wasn’t a big deal though; Sebastian had visited several members of the group in the days prior to this last day and had said his goodbyes. Once we reached a lagoon, which touches the southwestern side of the trail, we decided it would be a great adventure if we could canoe out of the lagoon to the Rio Tiputini, and then float down to camp. The other option was simply to walk back down the Lago trail, about another two kilometers, to camp. It should come as no surprise that we thought about the options for maybe a minute, and in the next minute all seven of us were all clambering into the rickety wooden canoe tied to the dock. Continue reading

Entry #4: Perks of Working in the Amazon

Written by: R. Reeder

There are often high expectations when traveling to the Amazon to see the amazing and exotic creatures that you can’t see anywhere else in the world. People hope to spot jaguars, giant otters, caiman, and the myriad of other species that call the Amazon home. The reality is that you would be extremely lucky to see one of these beautiful creatures. The inhabitants of the rainforest survive not by standing out, but by blending in. But wait, you might be thinking, you follow monkeys in the middle of the jungle every day from dawn until dusk, you must see all sorts of awesome animals! One of our co-workers here at Tiputini has worked here for a year now, and has yet to see a giant anteater or wild dog, let alone any sort of cat. Some people are luckier than others, but the general impression gathered from all of our experiences here is that the forest is generally a pretty quiet place, if you don’t include the ever-present racket of the monkeys. Well, I was lucky enough to see one of these amazing animals the other day, and the encounter definitely made me reconsider the rather comforting belief that I am more or less alone in the forest.

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Entry #3: Group C in the Big Fig

Written by L. Millington

When you study arboreal primates you learn to deal with the fact that almost everything they do will be at least 20 m off the ground in dense forest canopy. This means that most of our time is not necessarily viewing the monkeys but dancing around on the forest floor until we finally locate the tiniest of windows in the understory affording us equally tiny glimpses in to the lives of the monkeys above. As you can imagine, the arboreal lifestyle of our study species doesn’t leave us with too many chances to get up close and personal with them, so when we had the opportunity to watch them feed in a large fig tree from the canopy walkway (one of the most amazing places at Tiputini) we were truly lucky. We had followed group C all day…

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