Into the Moskitia

Truly one of the last frontiers of Central America the department of Gracias a Dios offers an immense amount of biological diversity. The entire department encompasses roughly 14,350 square kilometers and is comprised of a variety of biotypes. Lush tropical forest, lagoons and mangrove swamps along the northern and eastern coast, savannahs, and pine forest within the interior of the department providing contrast to the wet lowland rainforest that extend to the Rio Coco in the south. Given its richness of biological diversity, Gracias a Dios has become a region of great interest to several investigators.
 

Through pine forest, across the savannahs and into the jungles we hiked until we reached the base of one of the large hills just west of Mocorón. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful bromeliads festooned the branches and hallmarked our arrival into the jungle.

This is the collecting site for glass frogs.  Specimens and egg masses were found on the undersides of palm leaves that overhung the water.

This male Baudin's tree frog (Smilisca baudinii) emitted his trill call into the night for any suitable female that might be interested.

Visiting a patch of primary forest revealed this specimen of Smilisca phaetoa.

Mycological parasols continue the endless ritual of breaking down dead organic material.

A variety of interesting fungi and mushrooms was present for anyone interested.

Reef geckos such as this Spaherodactylus millepunctatus can be found near human dwellings.

Lifting a piece of tin revealed a recently laid clutch of eggs from the frog Leptodactylus labialis.

Moving other pieces of tin revealed these L. labialis tadpoles.  Although there was no nearby permanent source of water these tadpoles were capable of development due to the wet conditions under the tin.

This is an adult specimen of L. labialis

Although frogs are predators of several invertebrates they sometimes become the prey items.  Seen here is a recently captured adult being consumed by a large spider belonging to the family Cteniidae.

 

Roused from its daytime dormancy this forest dwelling marine toad (Bufo marinus) allowed a brief photographic opportunity.

One sturdy pot is all we had for cooking rice, plantains, beans and the ever important coffee.

Fried plantains were a welcome addition to our diet while afield.

A heavy thunderstorm knocked this large crassid egg from its nest in the rainforest canopy.  Although it could not be returned to the nest it was put to good use!

 

As the rain continued to fall we realized that returning to Mocorón was the safest option.  We hiked in the flooded forest for at least 5 miles. Oftentimes the water was above our knees. 

Each and every of the small idyllic forest streams were now swift moving rivers.  A 5 gallon bucket was used to float across so that a rope could be tied and we could cross.

Although we faced several challenges in our effort to return to Mocorón a positive attitude prevailed!

One stream had swelled to the size of a river and was simply too wide to cross with a rope.  Joaquin bravely faced the challenge and with the aid of the bucket made it to the other side where as luck would have it an unoccupied canoe was seen.  He returned with the canoe and we all safely crossed the river.

For a herpetologist there is often no more tempting an offer than the opportunity to explore lush tropical forest.

 

 

This is a typical milpa in its first year of use.  Milpas in the mosquitia are similar to those elsewhere in Latin America.  the trees are cut and burned and the space is used for planting crops such as rice, beans, bananas, tobacco, pine apple and yuca.

 

Due to a lack of roads, canoes are the primary mode of transportation for people living and working in the forest.  The canoes are poled and paddles are used mainly as rudders.

Oftentimes the canoes (which can weigh more than 300 pounds) have to be pushed over rocks against swift moving currents.

Fresh lumber recently cut from the forest is floated downstream for use in Mocorón.

 

Fitzinger's leaf-litter frog (Eleutherodactylus fitzingeri)

Here is another example of the color pattern displayed by Fitzinger's leaf-litter frog

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Hiking through the flooded savannahs revealed several specimens of mud turtles.  White lipped mud turtles Kinosternon leucostoma and Scorpion mud turtles Kinosternon scorpioides were both abundant and often found in the same bodies of water.  Several indigenous people expressed interest in consuming the specimens I had collected.  Pictured here is an adult specimen of a scorpion mud turtle bearing what appear to be machete scars on the carapace.

 

Snagged out of the Rio Mocorón and given to me by a local fisherman this slider Trachemys venusta is also considered highly as a culinary item among the indigenous inhabitants of the Moskitia.

Bird eating snakes (Pseustes poecilonotus) seek their avian prey in a variety of habitats from wet jungles to savannahs.

 

 

 

                                  

 

 

 

A female striped basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus)

This juvenile striped basilisk was found at night as it slept on a branch overhanging a pond.

Juvenile striped basilisk (note the umbilical scar).

Basiliscus plumifrons : Green Basilisk, Lagartija de Cristo (Spanish), Swain (Miskito) This handsome specimen was found at night while asleep on a branch overhanging a creek near Mocorón at 9:30 pm on June 18, 2003.
 

This female specimen was brought to the author by an inhabitant of Gracias a Dios, Honduras. The collector believed that the lizard was dangerous and potentially venomous. To ensure her safety she securely bound the lizard into its restraint as shown here.

 

Rhinoclemmys annulata Brown Wood Turtle: This specimen was discovered in a milpa in Mocorón and the unusual appearance of the shell and face are due to injuries the turtle received from a forest fire.
 

 

Another specimen was found two years later alongside this stream.
 

Although it was found near the water it still had ticks