Friday, October 28, 2011

The Prodigal Son

The day started off relatively normal.  GN’s male and female vocalized, as usual, towards GE, and then advanced across the fence of Yvaga Guazu.  This has become the typical morning routine.  Wake up…talk a little bit with the neighbors…maybe eat a Lauraceae fruit or two…then head off to where Leanna can’t follow.  So they lost me right around 7:30 AM.  Only 15 minutes later, my male, female, and juvenile all came back into Yvaga Guazu and moved towards one of their favorite resting trees (dubbed Lazy Tree #1).  Seemed a little soon to be back in the park, but these monkeys are always throwing me for a loop.  At 7:55, only ten minutes after arriving back within view, a strange monkey approached the group.  Now, we’ve encountered strange monkeys before, but we have NEVER encountered strange monkeys here.  All the other titis tend to stay towards the back of the park in the more forested area (minus GE), whereas this individual approached from the exact opposite direction.  At first, my female merely arched her back, but then she chased the strange monkey at full speed to a tree about 50 m away, with the male and juvenile following close behind.  By the time I got to this new tree, all four monkeys (male, female, juvenile, plus the stranger) were all sitting in close proximity and showing no aggressive behavior.  Weird.  Since just like ten seconds ago I was witnessing the titi equivalent to a high-speed chase.  I’ve honestly never seen my monkey family run so fast.  About a minute or so later, the group of four made their way back towards Lazy Tree #1 to rest.  At 8:10 AM, all four were tail twined.  It was at this point that I realized this strange monkey had to be one of GN’s subadults.  Why else would the group dynamic change so quickly?  There’s no way a total stranger would be accepted into a quadruple tail twine in such a short time period.  So if this is one of my GN subadults (most likely the younger of the two older offspring, 3 year old Jasy), which I really believe it is, how/why was he on the other side of the fence?  My normal family – male/female/juvenile – crosses that fence almost every day, and not once have I seen this other monkey nearby.  The only times I have seen the two older brothers, I was in the back of GN territory, which is the complete other extreme to Lazy Tree #1.  Also, why did the female react aggressively at first?  Was she just caught off guard by the unexpected approach or did she not even recognize him? 

Around 8:30 AM, all four were resting close, but nobody seemed very relaxed.  You could cut that monkey tension with a knife.  Occasionally the subadult would move away temporarily, and the juvenile would follow him.  The juvenile would then spend the next few minutes going back and forth between the subadult and the male, as if he was unsure whom he was supposed to sit by or where he was supposed to go.  It was during one of these momentary family separations that the juvenile, who was carrying the infant, moved towards the subadult and passed off GN’s newest addition to his older brother.  Even further confirmation that this was, indeed, a member of the GN family.  The subadult carried the infant for only a minute or so before bringing it back to the male.  The notes from my field book accurately describe the situation as an “awkward family reunion.”

At 9:00 AM, completely out of the blue, my male and subadult began to fight.  The male chased the subadult all throughout Lazy Tree #1 and then across the fence to a group of taller trees.  The female followed closely, arching her back as the male and subadult battled it out relatively high in the canopy.  The brawl was momentarily suspended when the subadult fell out of the tree FROM LIKE 15 METERS UP.  Needless to say I was sure I had a monkey carcass on my hands.  A brief, but triumphant Type 1 vocalization from the male and female, and then they made their way back to the lazy tree.  The subadult followed.  More fighting from the male and subadult – hitting, tail pulling, etc. – and a little more chasing, but each time the male tried to call it quits, the subadult would follow.  After about 10 minutes, the whole group was back to resting.  Just like that.  The male, female, and juvenile all tail twined, with the subadult only 5 m away.   An approach by the subadult, now touching the juvenile, but no aggression from either party.

9:20 AM.  Ten whole minutes of hostile-free behavior.  Subadult approached and initiated a quadruple tail twine.  No big deal right?  They totally did that earlier.  Well this time the male was not having it….at all.  Just seconds after the twine, the male once again chased the subadult across the road towards the taller trees, once again they fought, and once again the subadult followed the male back to Lazy Tree #1.  The subadult then tried to fight the female, but the male intervened.  Good for you!  Defending your lady’s honor.  Fighting, chasing, fighting, chasing, fighting, and then they were done.  At 9:25 AM, the subadult slowly moved near the male and female, to within about 1 m of the duo.  Then it got weird. 
            9:26 Subadult slowly laid down on the branch at the feet of the male/female
            9:27 Subadult arched his back and squeaked at the male/female
            9:28 Subadult slowly laid down, again right at the feet of the male/female
            9:29 Subadult arched back
            9:30 Subadult slowly laid down
9:31 Subadult arched back
            9:32 Subadult slowly laid down
What is this?  Is he showing aggression and then immediately performing submissive behavior?  Whatever it was, it was repeated multiple times.  The family then rested for another 20 minutes, with the subadult tail twined with the juvenile.  Speaking of the juvenile, during each of these “instances,” he hightailed it out of there.  Probably his best bet.  Definitely don’t want to get in the middle of that family drama.  It was also during this 9:20 encounter that my female injured one of her front feet.  She spent the next half hour limping through the branches, struggling to keep close to her man. 

As 10:13 AM rolled around, I witnessed a third chase scene from GN’s male and subadult, who again ran to the taller trees across the road.  The female did not follow this time, most likely due to her wounded foot.  The male returned, with the subadult behind at a reasonable distance.  This seems to be a trend. 

10:27 AM another male/subadult chase performance.  This time, however, they remained in the lazy tree.  Guess it’s not so lazy anymore.  The female also got in on the action, fighting with the subadult.  Hand-to-hand titi combat at its most intense.  The female and subadult then fell off of their branch, momentarily catching themselves on a large limb, before falling the rest of the way to the ground.  My male was freaking out.  He immediately descended the tree, calling to the female, and waiting for a response.  A few seconds later, the female and subadult came racing up a nearby tree, where the male took over chasing duty from the female.  The male held the subadult in a monkey headlock for about 30 seconds before releasing him and returning to, and then tail twining with, the female.  Another few repetitions of the subadult arched back/slow lay down routine, and then at 10:37 AM, the subadult approached the male and female and remained in close proximity. 

A few minutes later, the juvenile returned.  And all four rested, tail twined, and most likely napped for the rest of the morning.  I mean seriously…these monkeys had to be exhausted.  Their normal schedule calls for mid-morning naps even without multiple scuffles, so I imagine even after I left them around 12:30, they remained on that branch for a few more hours. 

Moral of the story: not every prodigal son is welcomed with a fatted calf. 

FUN SCIENCE FACT #18: The water bear (Tardigrade) can survive environments extreme enough to kill any other animal - with temperatures as low as -273°C (close to absolute zero) to as high as 151°C.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

These are not the monkeys I'm looking for...

Last week, I thrice encountered an unfamiliar titi group.  The first two times I saw them, there were two individuals: one larger and with more red coloration, the other smaller and more grey.  Then on Saturday, when I located them for the third time, I noticed an additional group member.  As previously mentioned (see True Life: I’m a Scientist), my original thought was that I had come across the remaining GN offspring.  But I ruled against that due to the display of aggressive behavior.  And now, with the appearance of a third strange monkey – similar in size to the larger individual, but much less red – I’m even more confident in saying that this group is not my GN leftovers.  My second thought was that this group might be G4, GN’s neighbors towards the back of Yvaga Guazu.  We know that G4 has a baby this season, so when I didn’t see any of the individuals carrying an infant, I opted out of the G4 theory.  Other than GN and G4, there really aren’t any other titi groups that occupy that area.  So who are they?  That’s a very important question.  That’s also a question for which I do not currently have the answer.

Today, when I couldn’t find GN, I decided to seek out these unknown titis, hoping to gather some photographic evidence to support my non-GN claim.  And I found them.  Resting atop a viney thicket in their most recent vocalizing vicinity.  There are definitely at least three members in the group.  Maybe four, but because of their location and the position of the sun, it was difficult to judge accurately.  I also noticed an infant climbing in and around the vines.  It’s possible that I just didn’t notice the infant when I saw them last week, but it’s also possible that the infant was with this fourth group member (that is, if I’m correct in my assessment).  They didn’t seem scared or timid or bothered by me at all, with the smaller monkey - definitely a juvenile – even coming down to a lower limb to get a closer look at me.

Just a few of these unfamiliar titis.

These past two days have been afternoon shifts, which tend to be quiet and relatively uneventful (lots of resting, little bit of foraging).  Tomorrow morning I’ll be interested to see if GN and these other titis engage in another vocal bout similar to last week.  Maybe this group is why my GN family is spending more time away from that area.  But then, why would I just now be noticing this strange group?  And why would the aggressive behaviors have just started?  Now that I’ve seen an infant, is this actually G4?

FUN SCIENCE FACT #17:  Porcupines float in water.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

True Life: I'm a Scientist

Spotted my monkey family right away this morning.  A quick meal on some Cecropia fruits, then a few jumps across one of the main trails before moving deeper into the foresty half of their territory.  Typical AM routine.  Today, however, my male and female ventured further than's not unheard of for them to visit these trees, but I typically find them much closer to the trail.  After following them for only a few minutes, a strange male (I'm assuming it's a male due to it's copper coloration) titi approached my group, followed closely by another smaller, grayer individual.  The reddish male displayed an arched back - a classic sign of titi aggression - and my male, female, and juvenile hastily retreated.  Around 6:10 AM, the two unidentified titis began to vocalize, and GN's male and female responded at 6:15 AM with a little "waka waka" type call.  Only a few minutes into their vocalization, my male began to move towards the strange monkeys.  The female followed, but the juvenile stayed behind (which was to be expected...since my juvenile rarely, if ever, vocalizes with his parents).  Both groups terminated the bouts around 6:19 AM, ending only about 5 m from each other.  A arched back from my male sent them running.  Clearly these titi groups are staking claim to their territory, but who are these two other monkeys?  I actually ran into these two yesterday morning while on the search for my own group.  I've mentioned before that GN's two older offspring are normally separate from their parents and baby siblings, so naturally my first impression was that I had come across GN's lost boys.  After today I'm convinced these two are not them.  Why would there be aggressive behavior displayed within the family unit?  The few times I have seen the subadults interact with my normal group (male, female, juvenile), the behaviors were anything but aggressive.  In one instance, they joined forces to vocalize and defend GN territory.  If these two are my other offspring - which I still very much doubt - it would be strange to witness such a drastic change in temperament in such a relatively short time.

For about the next thirty minutes, my male/female duo and my nameless monkey pair vocalized back and forth.  And evidently they worked out all that needed to be worked, because long about 6:45 AM, my female led her male and juvenile back across the main trail towards the landscaped portion of their territory, away from these intruders.  Vocalizing along the way, GN led me to the other territorial extreme, where my male and female continued to call in the direction of GE (a neighboring titi family).  Before this week, I would've told you that was weird.  But after a brief scuffle with GE on Wednesday, I have a feeling GN vocalizing in GE's general direction will become the norm.

Male, juvenile, and female

After securing all borders, my male, female, and juvenile settled down to feed on some Lauraceae fruits and some red Fabaceae flowers.  A busy morning full of odd encounters and twice as much vocalizing is exhausting, so my titi family spent the rest of the morning lounging around in some of their usual resting trees.  The female nursed the infant, the male groomed the female, and the juvenile played with the male.  Just another day in the life.  Also, watching my male and juvenile play is absolutely precious.  Our little infant even got in on the playing action.  Slowly, but surely, that tiny monkey is becoming more and more curious and independent.  It's no longer unusual to find the little one resting on the branch next to mom and dad (as opposed to resting on the male's back), or climbing around and exploring the nearby branches.

Male with infant

My days are full of monkey adventures.  I love it.  Well...I don't love not being able to find my monkeys some days, and I also don't love the 40+ bug bites I found on my legs this afternoon.  Just another perk of field work!  Today is my official 7 week-iversary...which means I have reached the halfway point of my Bolivian journey.  Time is flying.  To my titi family - let's savor these last few weeks together.  I'll miss your furry faces when I'm gone.  And to my beautiful basset Rosie - I miss you so much!  But don't worry, I'll be home soon.  And then we can cuddle, and go on long walks, and cuddle some more, and eat string cheese together.  And then after that we can cuddle.


FUN SCIENCE FACT #16: The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds. It's okay chickens, you're good at other things...

Friday, October 14, 2011

What's in a GName?

The other day, whilst meandering through my territory, I became increasingly aware of the fact that I've been blogging on and on about GN (my monkey family), and I've never even taken the time to introduce you to them.  My apologies.  So here it goes....a brief introduction to all the members of the GN clan.

GN is the official name of my titi monkey group.  Don't ask me how or why they're called that.  I honestly don't know.  What I do know is that they are adorable and I love them.  There are six individuals that make up GN: Daniel (male = daddy), Carmen (female = mommy), Kuara (subadult = oldest offspring), Jasy (subadult = next oldest offspring), Esperanzo (juvenile = last year's baby), and of course our almost-named little infant titi.  All the monkey have meaningful names.  Daniel and Carmen were named after photographers/dear friends of the Titi Monkey Project, whose names, clearly, are Daniel and Carmen.  Kuara and Jasy were named after a pair of brothers from an old Guarani legend.  I'll let the project's blog ( explain it..."In one version, the brothers, having grown tired of their adventures on earth, one day sought to touch that expansive ceiling that hung so far above them - that is, the sky.  At this early point in time, there was no difference between day and night.  The sky was white, and everything was grey, and life was difficult for humans.  Undaunted, the clever siblings shot a series of arrows upward, one by one, until it formed a long rope with which they could climb.  Their father, who had created them and was watching them from above, was quite impressed with their antics.  When little Jasy, who had climbed first, reached out to touch the sky, he was immediately transformed into the moon.  In trying to rescue his brother, the elder Kuara reached out and in that moment was transformed into the sun.  The brothers have chased each other across the sky ever since, though neither one will ever catch up to the other."  So yeah that's that.  Esperanzo (Spanish for "I give hope") was named by a previous research assistant, who followed GN last fall.  And then we have this year's baby....whose name is up to me.  It's nearly official.  I'll keep you posted.  

One big happy titi family

Even though GN is a relatively big titi monkey family, these past few weeks it has become a rare occurrence to see all five (six, if you include the infant) together in the same place at the same time.  It is, however, very common to see the male, female, and juvenile - Daniel, Carmen, Esperanzo - hanging out and relaxing and foraging together at most times of the day.  And I would say with confidence that the male carries our new infant about 85% of the time.  Other times, the infant is nursing with the female.  Plus there's also the few random occasions when the little baby climbs onto the juvenile's back.  But that never lasts long.  That baby may be tiny, but the juvenile isn't much bigger...little Esperanzo usually passes younger sibling back to dad after only a minute or so.

Daniel carrying the infant

The GN male, Daniel, is by far my favorite of the group.  At the beginning of the season (when we were unsure if GN was G4 and vice versa), I started calling him Mufasa because of his red color and fluffy "mane."  Also I just really like "The Lion King."  At first, he didn't trust me.  At all.  He would do everything in his power to steer clear of me and my binoculars.  His favorite trick was to climb down to a lower level in the canopy and disappear into a viney thicket...clearly out of my visual reach.  Eventually, I gained his trust.  Or his apathy.  Not sure which exactly.  But either way, he doesn't seem to mind me or my binoculars or my camera now, even coming down to rest on a relatively low branch.  Perfect photo op - thanks Dan!

Taking a break on a low limb

Carmen is a different story.  She still doesn't seem to like me too much, despite the fact that we've been spending so much time together recently.  5-7 hours a day, 5 days a think she would've warmed up to me by now.  I'm sure I'll win her over eventually.  She spends the majority of her time with her male and juvenile, but it's not unusual to find her foraging solo in a Cecropia tree.  Hey girl, I totally get it - a woman needs her alone time, especially with a new baby in the house.  Do what ya gotta do, Carmen.  We'll be besties by December.

Carmen and her juvenile 

Our little titi juvenile, Esperanzo, is always curious.  Coming down from the tree tops to look at me, jumping back and forth between branches right above my head, staring at me for extended periods of time.  Such a cutie.  Always wanting to play with mom and dad, never wanting to sit still and be groomed, this little monkey has a big personality.  Most times, he sticks pretty close to the male and female, but there have been a few times of solo exploration...never straying too far though.  There was one instance, when our male/female/juvenile trio was foraging on some Lauraceae fruits, and Daniel and Carmen continued down the trail without the little juvenile noticing.  They went all the way down past the soccer fields and across the fence before Esperanzo realized his parents were gone!  Pobrecito!  After a few desperate vocalizations on the part of the juvenile, mom and dad came back over the fence into Yvaga Guazu, and the reunited family happily rested in one of their favorite trees.

Crazy little Esperanzo...

The two GN subadults, Kuara and Jasy (known in my field notes as Kahlua and Jazzy J), are still a little bit of a mystery.  I barely ever see them!  I've probably seen them only 2-3 times with the rest of the family.  Most days they are off on their own doing their own thing.  I've seen them sneak off into G4 territory a few times, but I haven't followed them yet to see what they're doing over there.  During the morning vocalizations, I can often hear the subadults close by, calling simultaneously with the male and female.  One time, I witnessed what I have now dubbed 'tri-vocalizing.'  So this 'tri-vocalizing' occurred during the peak of YG monkey chatter.  I could see all my monkeys - a rare occurrence in itself.  They were all relatively spaced out, my male and female about 20 m from my oldest subadult and about 20 m from the other subadult and juvenile.  A titi triangle, if you will. ALL the other groups were vocalizing - G4, GE, G1, G2, and all those other G's back there.  My oldest subadult, Kuara/Kahlua was the first to vocalize from GN, followed shortly thereafter by the male/female, and then by Jasy/Jazzy J (our little juvy Esperanzo stayed quiet).  One family vocalizing from three different locations -- tri-vocalizing.

It's only been four or so weeks of official data collection, but I'm already in love with GN.  Even though I don't get to see everyone all the time (Kahlua and Jazzy J - I'm talkin' to you), who and what I do get to see is both highly entertaining and educational.  Plus I can't wait to watch my little baby monkey grow up.  Because that little baby is absolutely adorable.  

After a long morning of foraging...

FUN SCIENCE FACT #15:  There are 60,000 miles (97,000 km) of blood vessels in the human body.  Woah buddy that's a lot of blood vessels.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's raining, it's pouring...the titi monkeys are boring.

Okay, so it's not exactly pouring, but it's definitely raining.  And I definitely can't find my monkeys.  I'm sensing a trend here.  It rains -> no monkeys.  This probably won't be good come November...since that's the start of the rainy season and all.  I mean, they've got to be here somewhere.  I guess I'm just not looking in the right tree at the right time.  I've checked all their usual hangouts.  Lazy tree #1?  Not there.  Lazy tree #2?  Not there either.  Favorite viney patch near papaya tree?  Nope.  Semi-favroite/frequented tree near that other tree over by where they sometimes rest on Monday and Tuesday afternoons??  Yeah, no.  Thye're not there.  I don't hear them (or anyone) vocalizing.  I don't hear them scurrying about through the canopy.  Yvaga Guazu is actually eerily quiet this afternoon.  I don't hear much of anything, minus the pitter patter of rain drops on the forest floor.  And the occasional bird.  But those birds are always making noise....and giving me headaches.  They aren't like the nice, springtime chirps of adorable little songbirds.  No, they're more like the irritating squawks of larger - not cute - avifauna that make you want to pick up the closest rock and chuck it towards that feathered friend's general vicinity.  So the headaches are totally understandable.  As is the rock throwing (I promise I've only maybe done it once...or twice).

The past few days have been pretty normal in the GN titi monkey world.  No unusual new and unusual resting or feeding trees.  I think I've finally figured out their rhythm.  Even when I can't find them, I usually know when and where to wait, and they just come to me.  Except for today.  Today's rainy day is definitely an exception.  My little baby titi is getting so big now!  It's finally starting to spend more time off the male's back, exploring the nearby branches, trying solid foods, playing with big brother.  Plus I think I've finally settled on a name for GN's newest addition.  Well, at least if it's a boy.  I don't have a name if it turns out to be a little girl.  And I don't really even know how I'm supposed to know if it's a boy or a girl by December, but I guess it could just be a girl with a boy's name.  That seems to be pretty popular these days.  You know, Morgan, Charlie, etc.  Boys name...but for girls.  But this particular boy's name that I've picked out isn't exactly on the list of unisex titles.  But then again, it is just a monkey.  And I don't think a female monkey would mind too much if its name didn't accurately correspond with its chromosomes.

So this rain.  I'm kind of loving it...which is weird.  Usually I hate the rain.  Like hate hate the rain.  However.  When the rain takes the daytime temperature down about 25 degrees (from 95 to 70), I have to admit that it's kind of the best thing that could've happened.  I mean really....I'm wearing a jacket right now.  WHAT.  I know.  It's crazy.  I love jacket temperatures.  And these past few weeks have not been jacket-worthy.  The only not good thing about this weather is the clear absence of my titi family.  And thus a clear lack of data on my part.

FUN SCIENCE FACT #14: A large swarm of desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) can consume 20,000 tons (18,160,000 kg) of vegetation a day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Monkey Real Estate

I talk lots about Yvaga Guazu and my titi territory, but I've never really taken the time to explain our field site.  Yvaga Guazu is an ecological/nature park located only a few kilometers outside the city of Santa Cruz, and although it's not very big, and although it's surrounded by busy roads/chicken farms/houses, it's still home to about 5 or 6 Calicebus donacophilus families.  The park is kind of divided into two halves.  The first half is completely landscaped and full of walking trails and beautiful flowers.  This is the home to one titi family - GE - a family much more habituated than the others, given their close proximity and constant association with humans (both Yvaga Guazu workers and Yvaga Guazu visitors).  The second half, home to all the other titis, possesses a more 'natural quality.'  And by that I mean everything is overgrown and following monkeys means constantly tripping over vines.  There are a few main trails that surround the majority of the territories, and a few trails that we cut through the territories, making it possible to observe and follow our monkeys from a respectable distance.  The two halves of Yvaga Guazu are unofficially divided by a soccer field.  Lots of school groups visit the park during the week, and while I'm all about educating the next generation, bunches of running/screaming children do make it a little difficult to track down our monkey groups.  Right next to the soccer field is a small hut with a few tables and chairs.  The perfect lunch spot.

I may be slightly biased, but I think my monkeys have one of the best, if not the best territory.  The GN group occupies an area close to the soccer field and they rarely encounter other groups.  Most of the other families have overlapping territories near the back of Yvaga Guazu, close to the mango patch.  Monkeys love mangos.  And I don't blame them.  Mangos are awesome.  But if I were a monkey, I'd much rather hang out in a much less populated least until the mangos are ripe.  Even though it's rare to see another titi family in my neighborhood, I do, on occasion, encounter other monkey species.  Last week, I ran into a small group of Saimiri (squirrel monkeys), and earlier this morning, I noticed a few Aotus (night monkeys) hanging around near one of my favorite, freshly macheted trails.

Yvaga Guazu is a beautiful place and I am very much enjoying my time here....even though the 30 minute taxi/bus commute leaves much to be desired.  The buses are usually crowded or hot.  Mostly both.  And our taxi driver sometimes doesn't see those impending speed-bumps, resulting in a few bumps and bruises from inside the cab.  But minor transportation inconveniences are a small price to pay to work everyday in a place like this.  I'm currently sitting at the far northwest corner of my family's territory, patiently/not so patiently waiting for them to re-enter Yvaga Guazu over the fence they crossed about an hour ago.  Sneaky little monkeys decided to go the one way I couldn't follow them.  So here I will sit.  And here I will wait....comfortably reclined against one of my new favorite trees.

FUN SCIENCE FACT #13:  An iguana always lands on its feet.  Take that, Felidae.