Amphibians are creatures that typically spend a good portion of their lives in the water. Species in this class include frogs and toads, newts and salamanders and the worm-like caecilians. Most of these animals begin their life in the water using gills to breathe, then later become terrestrial and use their lungs.
Discussing (and avoiding stepping upon) tree frogs, frogs and toads has taken up a large part of our trip. These species are all anurans and members of the taxonomic class amphibia. Scientists believe there are about 4,000 identified species of anurans in the world, and as high as 1,600 of these species occur in the neotropics.
|"Local people we encountered told us tales of anacondas...."
The frogs in the Pantanal come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, and are everywhere once night falls: The small perereca frogs are drawn by the humidity in the Fazenda rooms and the abundance of mosquitos; the medium sized toads seem to be attracted to the porch lights outside the rooms and the humongous marine, or cane, toads come in from the marsh to eat the other amphibians and insects that have already arrived.
Marine toads are the largest toads in the world and can thrive in almost any habitat. They will eat anything they can catch, and make poor prey for other species as their skin emits poisonous venom when they feel threatened. In some parts of the world, like Australia, introduced cane toads have become a serious problem for native species.
One of the researchers found a ringed caecilian in a prey trap one afternoon. These legless animals resemble huge fat worms, and are not often seen by humans as they exist mostly underwater or underground. Caecilians use the tentacles located below their eyes to pick up the odor of their prey: worms and other invertebrates.
>> Learn more about techniques for finding reptiles and amphibians in the wild on our Cambodia Rapid Assessment Survey
With the exception of the reptiles we released from the animal rehabilitation center, we have seen very few turtles, tortoises, lizards or snakes in the area. However, we know they are out there.
The neotropics have many species of snakes including notorious ones such as the fer-de-lance pit viper, boa constrictors, coral snakes and the giant anaconda. Anacondas are a type of constrictor snake, and are not only the heaviest of all snakes (weighing up to 550 pounds) they can also reach a length of over 30 feet.
Anacondas are well suited for water, and frequently ambush mammals when they come to the waterside to drink. While it is probably rare, local people we encountered told us tales of anacondas that have killed and eaten humans sleeping or passed-out along waterways.
We did see many, many caiman while driving around the lakes and marshes of the Pantanal. Caimans – which more closely resemble alligators than crocodiles – have suffered due to over-hunting by humans, and as a result, can only be seen in large numbers in a few remaining areas of South America, such as the Pantanal. The common, or spectacled, caiman is the species we see most often here.
Caiman usually feed on fish, amphibians, reptiles and waterbirds, although, the larger black caiman species has been known to attack mammals – including humans.
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