Herping in Peru

Stalking Reptiles in the Amazonian Jungle
By Philip Samuelson, courtesy of GreenTracks
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A pair of red-bellied macaws (Ara manilata) flew overhead just minutes after leaving the dock. My cabin was small but comfortable. But I spent every minute I could on the top deck, which was the best place on the boat for spotting birds, freshwater dolphins and other wildlife.

The macaws were the first of many parrot species I was to see on my one week boat trip up the Peruvian Amazon and its tributaries. Looking back, I find it fitting that my first hit of Amazonian wildlife would be birds. I was travelling with Russ Cass, managing editor of Reptiles magazine, on a tour lead by Bill Lamar of GreenTracks, an ecotourism company. And even though the focus of our trip was herping, or reptile watching, the trip was really a journey into the whole environment of the Amazon region of eastern Peru. We experienced the birds, the amphibians, the flora—and the people—as well as the lizards and the snakes.

The next morning found us in Nauta Caqo. This also signaled the real beginning of our explorations. From here on, we would go on early morning jaunts in small boats equipped with outboard motors, which was great for spotting various bird and monkey species. Afternoons were spent on hikes through the rain forest. Following the afternoon hikes, we would head back to the Delfin for dinner and relaxation, before heading out into the jungle again for night hikes.

Just yards into the forest on our first afternoon hike, we spotted our first snake, a fer-de-lance (Bothrops atrox). This was the first of five Bothrops we would eventually find, but it paled in comparison to the extremely large specimen that Bill Lamar found tightly coiled on the forest floor a few hours later. Nearly everyone in our group had passed this snake without seeing it, much to Bill's amusement. The second snake species of the day was a Chironius fuscus. This tropical frog-eater had the typical cryptic coloration of its species, and was found near the base of a large tree.

Deeper into the forest we came upon the remains of a large matamata turtle (Chelus fimbriatus). The matamata had apparently drowned while the forest floor was flooded.

The real score this day, however, was a pair of gorgeous hylid frogs. We came across a tree stump filled with rain water, and at the water's edge were two fantastic specimens of Agalychnis craspedopus, with an Agalychnis egg nest hanging from a twig just inches above the water-line. Also known as the Amazon leaf frog, this species was first described some 40 years ago, but has been observed by only a handful of lucky herpers and ecotourists. It spends its time high in the trees and descends when rain-filled logs and stumps offer a place for breeding and egg laying. The amazing dermal fringes and lichenous pattern found on Agalychnis craspedopus most likely serve to camouflage this species when it rests on leaf surfaces. In all of his Amazonian travels, Bill had yet to locate one—and here we were with two, complete with eggs.

After moving farther upriver, another afternoon hike took place on the west bank of the Rmo Maraqon. We ventured into the swampy forest behind a residence (friends of our guides) to find a variety of interesting species, most notably a few beautiful specimens of Dendrobates reticulatus, one of the most spectacular poison dart frogs (in my opinion).

These living gems were in stark contrast to one of our other finds that day: the interesting skink species Mabuya nigropunctata. Although this skink is drab in comparison to poison dart frogs (what isn't?) it was a welcome find. A variety of anoles were also found, although not all on this afternoon. These included Anolis fuscoauratus, A. ortonii, A. punctatus, A. trachyderma and the beautiful blue-eyed A. transversalis.

The prize catch of the evening hike that day turned out to be a splendid example of the nominate race of rainbow boa, Epicrates cenchria cenchria, commonly referred to as the Brazilian rainbow boa. This specimen was quite large and robust. In fact, it was in flawless condition, except for a few piranha bites to its tail. Like several other herps we found, we bagged the rainbow boa to photograph in a more controlled environment and then released it. Unfortunately, it was in the very early stages of ecdysis, or shedding its skin, so some of the screaming iridescence was not as apparent as it would have been post-shed.

Also collected that night was a gorgeous specimen of Pseudoboa coronata. The vivid reddish orange of this animal, combined with its grayish black head, make this a most attractive species. The coronata we found was extremely docile and easily handled.

Special thanks to GreenTracks for providing this article.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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