French Guiana 2015: As well as the frogs…

Meeting the locals on a night out
Meeting the locals on a night out

Quick introductions first – I’m Pria, a Research Assistant on the Emperor’s New Clothes Leverhulme Project. The field trip to French Guiana was my first foray into primary tropical rainforest, and an incredible one too. It was an extraordinary place, where everything was much more intense and on a grander scale than any environment I have encountered before – the rain, the heat, the size of the trees, the sheer volume of life and activity going on at the tiny scale of fungi, bacteria insects and of course, frogs. The tranquillity of patches like the slow running rivers and at the top of the Inselberg was breathtaking.

IMG_6300The first huge excitement for me was getting to go in a helicopter for the first time – made all the more exciting by flying really low over the trees and rivers, and the pilot turning the helicopter on it’s side to turn around the meanders of the river!Untitled design (1)

As a biologist it doesn’t get much better than being let loose in a primary tropical rainforest, and it was a real privilege to be able to see for myself some of the truly stunning and fascinating rainforest creatures and plants (not just the frogs!). Seeing a wild Morpho butterfly for the first time, darting over a rainforest stream, was a definite highlight even though it moved too quickly to take a photo! I’m still not sure what a lot of the animals, plants and fungi I’ve photographed are, so if anyone does know, please share their names with me! On our way up to the top of the Inselberg we were lucky enough to catch sight of Coq of the Rock (photos to follow). This is a shy, beautiful bird that is really hard to catch sight of, despite it’s bright orange plumage. At Nourages, however, there is a known Lek area where the birds were gathered. Walking back to camp after sampling in the evening always resulted in us spotting some brilliant, if occasionally slightly unnerving, rainforest inhabitants. Snakes and tarantulas were about, and the howler monkeys, which sound really otherworldly and are incredibly loud, would break out into singing day or night.

Some bonus fauna and flora 1) Cordyceps fungus growing from a moth 2) Fer de Lance snake 3) D. tinctorius with 3 tadpoles 4) Leaf cutter ant trail
Some bonus fauna and flora 1) Cordyceps fungus growing from a moth 2) Fer de Lance snake 3) D. tinctorius with 3 tadpoles 4) Leaf cutter ant trail

Being immersed in such an amazing environment was fantastic – but it came with challenges I wasn’t necessarily expecting. I think the most alarming noise in the forest was what sounded like a huge roll of thunder but was in fact a large tree coming crashing down somewhere, sometimes a little too closely for comfort! The rain had to be seen to be believed. After the first few drops begin to fall you have about 20 seconds to run to get your waterproof before it’s like a bucket is poured over you, for up to several hours. This means that between the rain, sweat and humidity it’s almost impossible to keep yourself and your kit totally dry – most of my stuff had a gentle scattering of mould by the end of the first week! With so much flora and fauna around scratches and bites were inevitable, but I also managed to acquire a mysterious jungle rash covering all my arms which has taken two weeks after leaving camp and some serious steroid cream to beat. I think it bought a bit of interest to my South London GP’s morning – by the time I left 3 doctors had been called in to have a look!

I’ve been pondering on what are the biggest things my first tropical field trip has taught me, and these are my top 5:

1) It may sound silly, but an umbrella is a wonderful thing and useful kit when you need to write in the field in the rain

2) Watch where you sit, you never know what your bum may meet (in my case, a wasps’ nest!)

3) Take photos of EVERYTHING, you’ll regret it when you’re back if you don’t

4) Make sure your bag is waterproof before you get on the plane

5) You can never have too many plastic bags

Nothing beats an umbrella
Nothing beats an umbrella
My mouldy leather purse
My mouldy leather purse
Pretty gross looking mysterious rainforest skin
Pretty gross looking mysterious rainforest skin

Since getting back I’ve been working on trying to get Bd out of the toe clips and tadpole mouthparts we bought back – the odds are low but a couple of samples are looking promising, now for the delicate job of keeping any Bd in there alive and happy.

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