Notes from the Field: Bats and Frogs in Peru

Buenos dias from northeastern Peru. Paul and Marcy in PeruI’ve been here for several days with Marcy Sieggreen, the Detroit Zoological Society’s Curator of Amphibians, to investigate the potential for bat conservation projects and to see the sites being used for our amphibian conservation studies. There was a quick turn around from my work with snow leopards in China – I left Detroit less than a week after returning from the chilly mountains of China, so I was looking forward to the 80-degree temperatures of the tropics. I was thrilled to visit Peru for the first time, and it’s been a wonderful and productive trip thus far.

Our first stop was the city of Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon River to meet with a Peruvian researcher. We had a very productive meeting discussing the potential for bat baseline inventories and the availability of weather data. These data on temperature, rainfall and other factors will be essential to better understanding changes in the amphibian diversity.

Next, we headed up the Amazon and Napo Rivers. Although bats are the focus of my trip, it was great to have the opportunity to see pink river dolphins. Because it is the high water season we were able to visit the flooded forest to see an overwhelming diversity of birds including Amazonian umbrella birds, kingfishers, toucans and even ospreys which also live in Michigan.

Bats seem to be common here, flying in our rooms and flying by our faces on night walks to find frogs and toads. During these night walks I have definitely gained a new respect for the work of amphibian researchers. I am used to walking transects slowly – perhaps 1 kilometer per hour to sight monkeys or look for deer and/or carnivore tracks or scat. But the amphibian pace seemed glacial at first – at a clip of 1 kilometer in four or five hours – because the well-camouflaged frogs and toads are hard to find.

When a frog or toad is found, the delicate dance begins. My task is to catch the squirmy frog and hold it ever-so-gently so Marcy can rub a cotton swab on its belly and feet to test for chytrid fungus – a fungus that has been devastating amphibian populations in many parts of the world.

Between frog finds we can enjoy the incredible diversity of tarantulas and other spiders as well as insects such as katydids, walking sticks and even a beetle that lights up like a lightning bug.

I’ll be here for several more days, visiting more sites and searching for frogs in the flooded forests. I’m also meeting with a Peruvian bat researcher about the potential for future collaboration before returning to Detroit.

Hasta luego!

– Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the Director of Conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

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