Yellow-footed Tortoise…Chelonoidis denticulata. Amazon Tortoise.

Yellow-footed Tortoise Scientific name: Chelonoidis denticulata

The Yellow-footed Tortoise was a frequent walker of the Rainforest trails. In some areas in the Brazilian Amazon the tortoise is becoming rare and is endangered, because they are considered a food delicacy by the locals, but in my forest they could be frequently seen.
These reptiles can grow to 94cm, but the tortoise I saw were much smaller. They fed on foliage, fruit, carrion and small, slow moving animals such as worms, beetles and snails.
The rainforest is thickly wooded, damp, hot and humid. The tortoises thrived in such an environment.
One sad encounter I had with a tortoise, was after a bonfire. We had cleared the area around the lodge. The piles of leaves were set alight in the evening and the next day, whilst digging in the ashes to enrich the soil, I found an empty shell.
Somehow, I don’t think the living tortoise got caught in the fire. Large Tegu lizards lived around the lodge and they are tortoise predators, so I think the shell was empty already. That’s what I told myself, but I was careful to dig around the piles of leaves next time we had a bonfire.
The first two photos are of a Yellow-footed Tortoise seen on a forest path. Note the mites embedded in the tortoise shell. The next two photos are of the Northern Tegu Lizard.
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Northern Tegu and Ameiva Lizards versus Silver-beaked Tanagers.(Ramphocelus carbo..Tupinambis and Ameiva Ameiva)

Nesting in the dragons mouth. Silver-beaked Tanagers..Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards (Ramphocelus carbo..Tupinambis and Ameiva Ameiva)

Sunrise would see me sitting in my rocking chair on the verandah of my Amazon rainforest home, a Brazilian black coffee in one hand, a slice of honey and manioc cake in the other, camera on lap.
I waited to see what new discoveries would present themselves and never was I disappointed.
This particular morning it was the Silver- beaked Tanagers who would surprise me.
Close to the lodge, just a few meters away was a low, thick bush, surrounded by tall grasses. The tanagers decided to make a nest there.
The tanagers were regular visitors around the lodge. I saw them several times a day. There were five or six females and a male. The male was smartly feathered, with smooth black plumage and a contrasting silver beak. The females were slightly bigger, with reddish brown, untidy plumage.
The male often perched above the females and called with a high pitched peep, as loud as his little body would let him.
I had noticed him acting differently as the dry season came to an end. He would peep, peep, peep and shake his feathers vigorously as he did.
On this morning I could see why. A mate had been attracted and they were nesting. The female seemed to be doing all the work making a cup shaped nest, while the male perched above peeping in encouragement.
There was a problem though. Beneath the chosen bush two species of lizard crept. The Northern Tegu and the Ameiva. It seemed the tanagers were laying their eggs straight into the dragons mouth
The Northern Tegu is a rich brown and black striped lizard, heavily muscled and handsome. The much smaller Ameiva lizard is a beautiful lizard, turquoise blue and pale green. Both equally able to crush and eat the two eggs laid by the tanagers.
The nest was finished over the next few days and the little eggs laid, but sadly I had to leave before seeing the final outcome. Silver-beaked Tanagers often nest in low bushes so must be aware of the dangers, it would have been interesting to see how they protected their tiny clutch.

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Reptiles of the Amazon Rainforest. A fifth of worlds reptiles at risk of extinction.

Research by the Zoological Society has found that a fifth of the worlds reptiles are at risk of extinction. The thought fills me with despair.
The Amazon Rainforest alone has three hundred and seventy eight species of reptiles, including varieties of; Caiman, lizards, geckos, skinks, tortoise, turtles and snakes. These fascinating creatures are necessary for the healthy ecology of a forest. They are an essential part of many food webs providing food for big predators as well as being hunters themselves.
Below are my personal observations and experiences.

Reptiles seen as food:
Yellow-headed sideneck turtle (Podocnemis unifilis):The turtle in the photo was being readied for the cooking pot. That is one of the problems with being a turtle or tortoise in the Amazon. Apparently these animals are tasty and that is leading to their demise in many areas. I frequently saw much larger turtles being openly killed, sold or prepared for the pot.
The Yellow-footed Tortoise( Chelonoidis denticulata): too, is at risk of disappearing thanks to local appetites.
There are laws in place to protect these animals, but the Amazon is a mighty huge place and trying to implement the law is virtually impossible. Only education and community awareness and self-regulation can work.

Reptiles-Lizards, at risk because of changes to their environment caused by deforestation and agriculture:
Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards.(Tupinambis and Ameiva ameiva)
Already an Ameiva lizard, Ameiva Vittata, only found in a small area of Bolivia, is now thought to be extinct. Ameiva lizards are often beautiful. They come in a variety of colours, the aqua-blue and leaf-green variety are stunning. They are appropriately known as jungle runners. They race through the undergrowth at great speed when disturbed
I could hear them daily about the lodge area. A rustle of leaves, a movement of grasses and suddenly they would tear across the ground and disappear beneath a shrub. As they got used to me they became much calmer and would stop and listen when I spoke to them.
The brown and gold lizards, skinks, that spent a whole day copulating in my bedroom took no notice of me at all. Even when I lay in my hammock for an afternoon siesta and watched them, the male continued to cling to the leg of the female in an amorous embrace.
Their confidence in my harmlessness was not misplaced. I was only too happy to leave them in peace.
Geckos, Hemidactylus frenatus.
These tiny geckos used to stand stock still if noticed. Their bulbous eyes held a look of surprise. When their courage failed them they would shoot off into the shadows.
Amazon lizards are generally not harmful to people, but snakes all to often are. So I gave snakes a wide berth. I often saw Feu-de-lance. These deadly little snakes seemed to like the corner of my bedroom. They were quickly removed by locals, but their favourite corner was always the first thing I looked out for when I entered my room.
Most reptiles eat insects, fruit, vegetables, birds eggs, birds, worms, grubs and caterpillars. Caiman and snakes eat smaller animals. The Northern Tegu, a heavily muscled and handsome lizard, hung around like a dog after lunch waiting for meaty tit-bits from our plate.
I cannot imagine the rainforest without its many reptiles. It would appear barren. Devoid of life. It is a frightening vision.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/15/reptile-species-face-extinction

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Yellow-footed Tortoise. Chelonoidis denticulata + mites.

Yellow-footed Tortoise Scientific name: Chelonoidis denticulata

The Yellow-footed Tortoise was a frequent walker of the Rainforest trails. In some areas in the Brazilian Amazon the tortoise is becoming rare and is endangered, because they are considered a food delicacy by the locals, but in my forest they could be frequently seen.
They can grow to 94cm, but the tortoise I saw were much smaller. They fed on foliage, fruit, carrion and small, slow moving animals such as worms, beetles and snails.
The rainforest is thickly wooded, damp, hot and humid. The tortoises thrived in such an environment.
One sad encounter I had with a tortoise, was after a bonfire. We had cleared the area around the lodge. The piles of leaves were set alight in the evening and the next day, whilst digging in the ashes to enrich the soil, I found an empty shell.
Somehow, I don’t think the living tortoise got caught in the fire. Large Tegu lizards lived around the lodge and they are tortoise predators, so I think the shell was empty already. That’s what I told myself, but I was careful to dig around the piles of leaves next time we had a bonfire.
The first two photos are of a Yellow-footed Tortoise seen on a forest path. Note the mites embedded in the tortoise shell. The next two photos are of the Northern Tegu Lizard.
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Skinks-Mabuya Bistriata, day long copulation. Lizards mating in Amazon forest.

The Lizards. Mabuya Bistriata Skink.

I noticed early one morning when I had just woken, a pair of golden brown lizards mating on the right hand side of my bedroom, against the far wall.
The male had climbed on to the back of the the female. He held her left, front leg, gently but firmly in his teeth. His back leg held her tail down, so she could not escape and run off.
Later that day, early afternoon, I went to my hammock for a short rest in the intense heat. The lizards had moved along and were now in the centre of the far wall. They were unconcerned by my interest in their copulation and carried on, hardly moving as I watched.
As the sun descended in the late afternoon, turning the sky into a pink and purple vision, I took a peek into my room. The lizards in the fading light, were now at the far left side of the room. The male still lay across the females back and still held her, now limp leg, between his teeth.
An hour or so later when I went to my hammock, the lizards had gone.
I was surprised that their mating had taken a full day. I always thought lizards, as with most animals, were quick to copulate. I would have thought that a whole day spent mating in the forest would be, to say the least, risky.

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