One thing that’s puzzled me about the rainforest is that I have seen very little evidence of death here. I guess that’s not strictly true, as I spend a good portion of my time scrambling over tree falls, decomposing logs, and exclaiming over impressive funguses. But I don’t see a lot of dead animals. In the desert, we stumbled across skeletons of a variety of animals (fossils notwithstanding). I guess that makes sense too, as there are a lot more things here waiting to eat up whatever has died. So leaving that aside, the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t see dead animals a lot.
When Mini and Gideon trapped and identified the group of monkeys I follow frequently now, FC, they also trapped a solitary male named BBO. Back in November, BBO was old. He had a tumor in his prostate and his teeth were very worn down. He’d pop in and out of camp, and disappear for a while, then come back to eat some bananas or anona (another soft fruit). He’s been hanging around here more frequently for the past couple of weeks, more and more dependent on bananas to eat. He looks more and more frazzled, hair sticking out everywhere, stomach expanding from malnourishment. He has pretty bad eyesight, doesn’t seem to be hearing very well, and is moving slowly. We were all wondering how he hadn’t yet been eaten by some bird of prey or other. We haven’t seen BBO for about a week, and it’s been raining very hard for the past week. I suspect that my last memories of BBO will be nearly stepping on him as he unconcernedly eats banana on the wooden planks outside the lab (having bypassed the older banana pieces as not up to par).
Along similar lines, I watched a lizard dying in agony yesterday. Probably one of the ickiest things I’ve ever seen. I may have mentioned bullet ants in passing – big insects, about ¾ of an inch long, with both a stinger AND a pincher. Some person who makes a living deciding these things has said that bullet ants have the most painful stings of the entire insect world. I’ve yet to experience this firsthand (keep your fingers crossed), but they’re probably the only thing in the rainforest that truly terrifies me at this point in time. There are also these teeny tiny anoles that live here – maybe three or four inches long at the most. Yesterday morning, I was stopping and looking over a Mirador – an overlook – when an anole caught my eye. Then I realized that what had attracted my eye to it was the writhing and twitching it was doing. Then I saw that there was a bullet ant with its pinchers embedded in its neck. Karina and I watched, horrified, as the lizard struggled with the ant for several minutes. At one point in time, we lost all shred of scientific objectivity and Karina tried to separate the pair with a stick. It didn’t work, and, slightly nauseated, we watched as the lizard just … stopped. Then several more bullet ants descended. At that, we decided it was time to move on. I don’t know about Karina, but I had dreams about writhing lizards last night. I’m usually okay with watching predator-prey interactions, but usually it’s not quite so protracted. The lion takes a big bite out of the gazelle, the owl flies away with the mouse, the tamarin bites the head off the katydid, and that’s the end.