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(No hairy spiders in this post.)

Industrious Ants

There are a couple of other critter characters we’d like to introduce you to that we met in South America. The first is the leafcutter ant. According to Wikipedia (so you know it’s true), leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on earth next to humans. Another article on Mother Nature Network explains how scientists are even studying these ants to find solutions to complicated people problems like finding new forms of clean energy.

I was fascinated hypnotized by the ants because they were just so darn productive. Check out this video of the industrious little suckers:

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We first ran into leafcutter ants in Paraty, Brazil. Simon, the owner of our pousada, told us when a colony decides to goes after a particular tree that tree is toast. We saw them again in Rio and followed them up a street and all the way around a corner to a park where they disappeared behind a fence. I shot footage of the ants in this video both in the Amazon and at Tayrona National Park in Columbia. In Tayrona, colonies of these ants striped the jungle trail to the beach. As we hiked along, whoever was in front would yell back, “Ants!” as a warning for the other not to step on our friends.

Big-Beaked Bird with an Even Bigger Personality

We met our share of birds in South America. (Remember Tina, the macaw parrot that lived at the guesthouse in Buenos Aires?) Juanito, the toucan who lived at Otorongo Expeditions’ lodge in the Amazon, just cemented our impression that many birds have big personalities.

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When I brought the camera out, Juanito was mostly subdude. But I was able to capture a few moments where he chased the staff around the property. My favorite Juanito staple though was when he would hop up the stairs to the lodge common room and stare at us through the screen and attempt to peck his way in while we were having breakfast. He had an entitled determination that didn’t quite fit his small stature but was pure comedy.

~ Molly

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Having spent 3 months in South America, we had come across a veritable menagerie of animals. I thought it would be a good idea to share my favorite combinations of interesting creatures & interesting photographs.

Here are the top 10:

#10. Amazon Tree Frog

Nellu Mazilu, Amazon, tree frog

A cute little Amazonian tree frog, which secretes a neurotoxin when threatened.

#9. Amazon Stick Insect

Nellu Mazilu, Amazon, stick insect

I nearly walked past this little creature, mistaking it for a branch.

#8. Colombian Leaf Insect

Nellu Mazilu

I thought I had leaves stuck in the insect net of my hammock at El Cabo in Tayrona Park….. it wasn’t.

#7. Tarantulas (many of them)

Nellu Mazilu, tarantula,

The Amazon was full of them. This photo was the best of the lot, showing a tarantula hiding/guarding it’s nest in a palm tree hole.

#6. Butterflies….also many.

Nellu Mazilu, butterfly

One of many butterflies, but was the only one who stayed still long enough for a photo. I wish I could remember what kind it is….

#5. Giant Amazonian Moth

Nellu Mazilu, moth

Encountered a couple of giant moths feeding on some stale fruit during one of our night treks.

#4. Tractor Millipede

Nellu Mazilu

It’s fun watching them crawl all over you. No really.. it is.

#3) Weevil

Nellu Mazilu, weevils

Weevils wobble, but they don’t fall down. This one did….

#2. Spiders…. so, so many of them.

Nellu Mazilu, spider

Upside-down transparent, orange daddy long-legs?

#1) Praying Mantis

Nellu Mazilu, praying mantis

What’s more bad-ass than a mantis up close??

Click here to see all the candidates for the top 10.

Ok, I have to admit this post is mostly another attempt to share with you how cool it was to ride around all day on a boat in the Amazon. On the day that we went to go visit the big ceiba tree, we took the boat into the thick of the jungle to get to the right spot. It was very Indiana Jones.

Our guide Osmar explained that the changing levels of the Amazon River during the dry and wet seasons can create and destroy islands. The place where the big tree stood would soon become harder to access because of the falling water levels. You can see in the video and some of our pictures how high the water line used to be just a few weeks before we arrived.

The tree itself was probably one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in real life. But since its wood is good for boats, this species often fall to loggers. Otorongo Expeditions along with a nearby village worked to protect this one, which already had one scar from a logging attempt.

Osmar was also nice enough to climb high into the big tree to provide this wonderful perspective shot that shows just how big the big tree really is.

Oh and on the way back from our big tree visit, Nellu got the opportunity to play Tarzan.

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~ Molly

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