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Cristalino Reserve

When we decided to go on a holiday to Brazil, we looked for nice areas where we could find poison dart frogs and so we came out at Cristalino. In this area you can find besides the striking yellow and black frog, Adelphobates galactonotus (or a new species, as some Brazilian scientists say), the Adelphobates castaneoticus, Ameerega flavopicta, Ameerega picta and another Colosthetus species can be found.

 

From Cuiaba we flew to Alta Floresta, in northern Mato Grosso. Here begins the southern Amazon region. As the cows in the Pantanal were quite skinny, their bones often rushed through their skin, here huge parts of the Amazonian forest were burned down and now covered with lush grass, so the cows here looked quite healthy. Alta Floresta was established in the thirties of the last century as a town on the edge of the Amazon to promote products from the Amazon as the Brazil nut and several other fruits, coffee and cacao plants and utility products. Brazilians were able to obtain free land to cultivate these natural products. For years this went well until the gold fever broke out. Many residents of the Alta Floresta region went away looking for gold when the gold rush was 6 to 8 years later over, the most returned down and out back to their land. But there was not much left of their lands, the rainforest had taken it back and everything was overgrown. Meanwhile the wealth in Brazil and the demand for meat had increased considerably, so it was much easier to burn down the rainforest for grasslands and to keep livestock. Rapidly large parts of the Amazon disappeared. Meanwhile in Brazil 1/3 of the Amazon is cut/burned down.

 

A good 20 years ago, Vítoria Da Riva Carvalho, the owner of the Cristalino Lodge www.cristalinolodge.com.br purchased about 30,000 acres of rainforest to protect this area against deforestation. Her father was a founding member of Alta Floresta and with pain in his heart he had seen his last years the rainforest near Alta Floresta turn into grasslands. Vítoria established a foundation, the Cristalino Foundation to protect the rainforest and to promote environmental awareness and sustainable use of natural resources of the Amazon. Meanwhile, besides the Private Rainforest Reserve Cristalino, the Cristalino State Park the originates, a nature reserve of nearly 500,000 acres. Together with some other protected areas and Cristalino forms a green corridor in the southern Amazon. In the private reserve  an eco-lodge is built with the following goals, conservation of natural resources and biodiversity, responsible ecotourism activities, promoting sustainable tourism and to support research of natural resources. The educational project, School of the Amazone, an educational program destined to increase environmental awareness of participants, originally created for scholars and students from the region, but they come now from all over the world, enabling them to investigate all elements of the rainforest. This project has received in 2007 the English Whitly Award, in recognition of the valuable work. We were impressed what she has achieved. So you see that conservation projects can be accomplished in many ways and that you as an individual can contribute.

 

At the airport of Alta Floresta we were picked up by someone from the lodge. First you drive a good hour through grasslands full with cows. As the road gets worse and worse, you see the first pieces of rainforest and al little later the road ends in the rainforest along the Cristalino river. Here was a boat waiting for us, to bring us to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge. In late March, the end of the rainy season, the water level is highest. It is also low season, which had the advantage that we did not have to share our guide with other visitors, or you would have to hire a separate guide. For your own safety, it is not allowed to go unaccompanied into the rainforest.

Upon arrival, they always ask what are your interests, this to tune a little the excursions. But that we especially came for these frogs, sounded very strange in their ears. They send for a local guide, who knew slightly more about reptiles and amphibians. He said that the  flavopicta and picta are relatively easy to find, but that due to the high water the picta area currently is not attainable. The yellow frog was hard to find, 20% chance to see them and the chance to see castaneoticus was even more difficult. He had this frog just 2 times in the past year, there was not much known about this frog. About the yellow frog he could tell that a few months ago 3 scientists came here to catch a few frogs for further investigation, it would be a new frog specie. With 6 men, it took over 2 days to find and catch 4 frogs.

 

The first day we went to the area of flavopicta. To get there, we would cross the territory of the yellow frog, so we also could search in that area. By boat we went upstream. Going ashore, we saw dozens of young Bufo castaneoticus jumping away, a good start. The first part was quite flat part, here we would not find the yellow frog and flavopicta , the yellow frog area begins at the slopes of a granite hill and at the top the flavopicta. When we reached the slope we eagerly start searching and searching, along with our two guides, but unfortunately nothing. Meanwhile, we approached the top of the hill. Here are several granite plateaus connected by pieces of vegetation. At the top of the first plateau, we saw our first frog, a flavopicta, he was sitting at the highest point, in full sun, overlooking the rest of the plateau, as if it was his kingdom. We had not expected that his colors would be so bright and beautiful. The flavopicta is a lovely frog.

 

The Ameerega flavopicta is found in different Brazilian states, in the southeast (Mina Gerais, Gois and Tocantins), in the northeast in Maranho, in the north in Para and in northern Mato Grosso (where we saw them). Also in neighboring Bolivia, an isolated population in eastern Santa Cruz they occur. At 400 to 1500 m above sea level. 
The flavopicta occurs especially in some open areas, preferably rocky areas and adjacent forest edges. Often you can find them half under rocks, in rock crevices or in the layer of leaf litter.

 

Females can get 30.5 mm, the males are slightly smaller. Their ground color is black. A yellow dorsolateral stripe from the tip of the snout to the groin and yellow dots on the dorsal and lateral sides (often in a stippled manner like 2 interrupted lines) and at the legs. Orange flashmarks under the armpits and groin up to the upper legs. The belly is yellowish white, often with a black marbled pattern. In the Bolivia the flavopicta has often brown legs.

 

Egg clutches comprise 15-18 eggs and are deposited on leaf litter in rocky areas during the rainy season from December to March. Males deposit the larvae in nearby streams or puddles. The flavopicta hunts insects, especially ants, termites and spiders. It is an opportunistic hunter and tries to catch even flying insects.

Excursions at Cristalino are not too heavy. In the early morning, after breakfast at 6 o'clock, before the weather becomes too warm, you leave for your first trip and at the end of the morning you get back. You have time to take shower and then lunchtime. In the heat of the day you see less animals, so after lunch there is time to relax in a hammock with a book or at bed under the fan if it is too hot. And in the late afternoon, another excursion.

In the afternoon we went to the area were last year the castaneoticus was seen. A tour along several major Brazil nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa). The name of the castaneoticus is derived from this tree ‘Castanheira Brasil’ in Portuguese. In English the name of this frog is Brazil nut frog'. They would especially occur near these trees. They mostly deposit their larvae in water-filled bowls of Brazil nuts. They told us to look in and around these nut shells. We saw hundreds of nut shells, indeed often filled with water, but we saw only mosquito larvae in the water and no castaneoticus.

The next morning we went by a different path to the hill of the flavopicta. Here a yellow frog was seen a few weeks ago. Our local guide led the way since it was hardly a path and scattered branches were cut away. Halfway up the hill he cried, a yellow frog! There he sat in the middle of the path, what a beauty!

 

First we took some pictures from some distance and then we moved slowly closer by. Then the frog jumped way, Han let drop himself fully stretched and could catch the frog. Carefully with a little open hand I took some more pictures, than the hand away, but as a real model he stayed at the same spot, a couple of times he jumped a little away, but remained in full sight. However, it was quite dark at this part of the rainforest, so it was difficult to make good pictures, we had to use the flash as well.

The Adelphobates galactonotus is found in the eastern and southern Amazon region, in the states, Para, Maranho, Gois and in northern Mato Grosso (where we saw them). In primary  lowland rainforests (15 to 300 m) and in slightly altered forests.

 

They like to congregate in sun-exposed clearings. The galactonotus is primarily a bottom dweller. Females can get 40 mm, the males are slightly smaller, the females are usually stouter in their built. The galactonotus has a wide variety of colors, the ground color is dark brown to black, dorsally fully or partially red, orange and yellow, often with dark speckling. There is a variant that is almost completely white/beige. A few years ago, a blue and orange variant is discovered. Egg clutches comprise between 5 and 15 eggs of a light grey color. During the rainy season, deposited on leaf litter. Males deposit the larvae in nearby streams or puddles. 
The galactonotus hunts mainly on ants and termites.

 

The next day we went again in search of the castaneoticus, maybe we would have more luck in the early morning. Again a few hours searching but unfortunately again no castaneoticus. 
But luckily there is so much more to see than just frogs. Cristalino is known for its large variety of birds, birders come here from all over the world. The Amazon region has about 1000 different bird species, of which about 600 are found in the Cristalino region. Near the lodge is a high (55m) tower. It is a unique experience to be here at sunrise, to see the rainforest get awake. First you see the smoke rise up from the rainforest, then birds fly to their fixed locations and the monkeys who start with their morning breakfast. This is not a place for people who are afraid of heights, at that height the tower moves a little.

  

In the Cristalino region are various types of monkeys, some are endemic, like the 'white whiskered spider monkey'. Mostly you can spot them high up in the trees. The brown capuchin monkey you saw almost everywhere and at the lower branches of the trees, palm trees and Brazil nut trees are their favorites. You often saw them with all their strengths trying to open Brazil nut shells. But these are very difficult to open, but they are real stayers, they can spend hours trying to smash the nut, nice to watch. But the palmfruits next to our cabin were also favorite.

 

In the afternoon we again went looking for the yellow frog, but we were not lucky to see one again, but again another dozen flavopicta. On our way back to the boat, our local guide said we can have a look at the picta area to see how high the water level still is, perhaps it can be done. We saw a large area still flooded. Our English-speaking guide said, unfortunately, is cannot be done. But our local guide had become very excited by hearing all of our stories about frogs and said it can be done, if we use a small canoe for luggage and walk self through the water. We said YES, of course, we go for it!

The next morning we went to the picta area. Of course was the flooded part deeper than expected, it came to our umbilicus, but we got through. And who cares to get wet? Even if you don’t walk through the water, you still get wet, if it is not by rain, then you’re soaked by sweat.

 

 

The picta was found at a similar granite hill top. The granite plateaus at this top were more united with just a little vegetation. This granite hill was on the other side of the river. The river ensures that these two species remain separate. This hill seemed a little more arid. Again, it was again reversing stone after stone. Under various rocks we found picta. We mostly saw adult frogs and a few young ones. In a small puddle we found many that tadpoles that had already legs and were almost going ashore. By reversing stones, you have sometimes nice surprises, besides frogs we found lizards, bats, a scorpion and a snake.

 

At day-time it gets over 30º C, and at the top there is no shade, so you sweat a lot. At the top you have many ‘sweat bees', if you sweat a lot they come with hundreds at you. Quite annoying when you're taking pictures and your hands and face are fully covered with these bees. But you want to have nice pictures, so you try to ignore them. Luckily they did not sting. Once you're back in the woods, they will disappear, to make room for mosquitoes. As long as you walk, they hardly bother you, but if you're taking pictures, you really get stung. Than you think, what is worse now, mosquitoes or sweat bees, sweat bees at least do not sting.

 

The Ameerega picta you find in several Brazilian states, in Acre, Rondônia and Matto Grosso (where we saw them). In the lowlands of neighboring Bolivia and in Peru in Ucayali and Madre de Dios and in southern Colombia. The picta is native to a number of habitats, ranging form savanna-like open landscapes to moist lowland and premontane rainforests at 200-1200 m altitude. Like the flavopicta you find the picta often find half under rocks, in rock crevices or in the layer of leaf litter.

 

The picta is slightly smaller than the flavopicta. Females can get 23 mm, the males are slightly smaller. The upper sides of body and limbs are dark brown, flanks black. A golden  yellow dorsolateral stripe from the tip of the snout passes the eye above and continues to the groin where it widens in a bright orange flash mark up till the hollow of the knee. A yellowish white stripe runs from  the snout to the armpit, here they have another orange flashmark. The belly and lower half of the flanks are marbled black and white. The top of the legs are light brown and the bottom of the limbs are often black and whitish/bluish marbled pattern. Chest and throat are nearly black. Egg clutches comprise 10 to 14 eggs, deposited during the rainy season from December to March on leaf litter in rocky areas. Males deposit the larvae in forest streams with sandy banks or at puddles. 
The picta hunts insects, especially ants, termites and spiders.

 

As we walked back from the picta area, we were only a few meters back under the trees, when our local guide dived fully stretched aside, shouting ‘another frog'. He had indeed caught the frog and what sketched our surprise when he carefully opened his hand, a castaneoticus, what a gorgeous frog! He put him gently at a small open spot and our photo sessions could begin. He was very co-operative, jumped a few times away to sit on even a better spot for taking pictures. After five minutes he had enough of everything and jumped away. When we looked around, we saw also some picta here on the forest edge. A hundred meter further down, we saw a second castaneoticus, this one went right away and was gone. A little later a third one, this one had also no problems with a photo-shoot. Great to have seen this frog as well, especially at a place where he was not seen before. Where the river ensures that the picta and flavopicta remain separated, the castaneoticus thus occurs on both sides of river. The previous observations of the castaneoticus were on flat ground, here we were much higher, just under the hill top.

 

The Adelphobates castaneoticus is found in Para and Mato Grosso (where we saw them). At primary lowland rainforest (200-1000m), especially on the ground, but occasionally it ascends on objects (trees, roots, rocks)  up to 2m. 
Females can get 22.7 mm, males 20.3 mm. His dorsal side and flanks are back, with a variable pattern of white spots and strikes. Large golden/orange flash marks on the upper sides of the arms and thighs and on the calves. The belly is dark gray to black with white spots. The legs and arms are brown, the under parts can have white spots as well.

 

Egg clutches comprise 2 to 6 eggs (once a clutch of 12 eggs was observed) mainly deposited in water-filled bowls of Brazil nut during the rainy season from December to March. Larvae are individually deposited by the male. There are nut shells found with tadpoles in various stages. The tadpoles are quite large and aggressive, they feed on mosquito larvae and other insect larvae. Young frogs can grow rapidly and mature in 7 months.

 

Sometimes we are so busy taking pictures that you forget the surroundings. When I got up from a castaneoticus photo-shoot, less than 2 meters away a green snake was also waiting for a photo-shoot. So I went back at my knees to take pictures of a beautiful Liophis tyhlus, a velvety swamp snake.

 

We also found a Colosthetus specie, but we do not know which specie exactly. 
What surprised us, that we did no see nor hear any tree frogs. At the beginning of the rainy season you can see many tree frogs, various types, but now at the end of the rainy season nothing. We made twice a night excursion, but you heard really nothing. But then you see fortunately something else, like a hunting tree boa.

 

Back in the Netherlands we approached the Brazilian scientists who did research at the yellow frogs. Although they are very certain that this is a new specie, they could nor would convince us why they think this is a new specie. So we must be patient and await their publication. But it does not matter, a new specie or not, it's a beautiful frog and we are very glad that we could admire this frog.

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