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Is the skin of feline jungle predators protected against ants?

Is the skin of feline jungle predators protected against ants?



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I was watching a video of a jaguar stalking along a riverbank, killing prey, climbing up the muddy bank, then laying in thick brush to eat. My first thought about this is that there must be tons of ants. I've never been to a jungle but on muddy river banks around where I live if you crawled around near the water and on the forest floor in general you'd be sure to get attacked by ants and it would result in hundreds of bites which cause swelling, major discomfort, and perhaps infection.

This seems like it would be a problem for large mammal jungle predators that kill prey in that kind of river bank area and then plop down and eat it. Does the fur make them immune to ant bites, or ants more rare in the jungle than I imagine, or they do get bitten but they just have a high tolerance for pain?


Predator/Problem Identification and Solutions

It's a cruel world out there. About 55-84% of Eastern bluebird nesting attempts fail (Radunzel et all 1997.) But we usually don't get to witness it first hand like we do in our backyards or on a bluebird trail.

It is virtually impossible to prevent all problems and predation. However, there are some things you can do that will dramatically increase the odds that birds you invite to nest in your yard will survive and thrive.

When something does go wrong, it's important to try to figure out what happened so you can try to prevent it in the future. Methods that work really well for some predators (e.g., sparrow spookers for House Sparrows) will have no effect whatsoever on other culprits (like House Wrens.)

The following can cause problems in a bluebird nestbox: ants, blackflies/gnats, blowflies, cats, House Sparrows, fire ants, House Wrens, mice, nestbox design, pesticides, raccoons, rats, red squirrels, snakes, starlings, starvation, wasps, cold or hot weather, and woodpeckers. Bolded predators/problems are the most common.

When trying to identify the culprit, consider the method of nestbox mounting (e.g., tree vs. pole), whether there is a predator guard properly installed, entrance hole size, distance from bottom of hole to nest cup (predator reach), competitors (e.g., starlings, House Wrens, House Sparrows) or predators (snakes) in your area, immediate environment around nestbox, and general environment of the surrounding area (e.g., agriculture involving pesticides), the type of damage done, time of year, and other clues (claw marks, fur, feathers, disturbed nest). In some cases without a video camera trained on the nest 24/7, you will never be able to determine what happened.


Lizard

What is a lizard? Lizards are part of a group of animals known as reptiles. They are most closely related to snakes. In fact, some lizards, called sheltopusiks, look like snakes because they have no legs! Many lizards today resemble the ancient reptiles of the dinosaur era. Their ancestors appeared on Earth over 200 million years ago.

In general, lizards have a small head, short neck, and long body and tail. Unlike snakes, most lizards have moveable eyelids. There are currently over 4,675 lizard species, including iguanas, chameleons, geckos, Gila monsters, monitors, and skinks.

Geckos, like this banded-knob tailed gecko, have clear membrane shields over their eyes in lieu of eyelids.

Most lizards have eyelids, just like we do, that clean and protect their eyes when they blink. But some lizards, like geckos, can’t blink! Instead, they have a clear membrane that shields their eyes from dirt or bright sun and use their tongue to clean their eyes. Many lizards, such as iguanas, can see in color. Their colorful body parts allow them to communicate with each other and help them tell which are male and which are female.

Blue-tongued skink using his eponymous tongue to smell.

Lizards smell stuff with their tongues! Just like snakes, a lizard sticks out its tongue to catch scent particles in the air and then pulls back its tongue and places those particles on the roof of its mouth, where there are special sensory cells. The lizard can use these scent “clues” to find food or a mate or to detect enemies.

Lizards don’t have earflaps like mammals do. Instead, they have visible ear openings to catch sound, and their eardrums are just below the surface of their skin. Even so, lizards can’t hear as well as we do, but their hearing is better than that of snakes.

Lizards have dry, scaly skin that does not grow with their bodies. Instead, most lizards shed, or molt, their old skin in large flakes to make way for the new skin growth underneath. The exception to this is with the alligator lizard, which may shed its skin in one piece, like a snake. The scales on lizards vary, depending on their habitat. Skinks have smooth scales so mud won’t cling to them some lizard species have bony plates, called osteoderms, under their scales for added protection against rough terrain.

Lizards are popular prey for many types of predators, from birds of prey to snakes and carnivorous mammals. Their camouflage and ability to stay still for hours helps keep them safe. Several types of lizards are able to escape from an enemy’s grasp by breaking off part of their own tail. The tail has a weak spot just for this purpose. If a predator grabs the lizard by its tail, the tail easily comes off. It can grow back over time, although the tail won’t look quite the same. Still, it’s better than being someone else’s dinner!

Other lizards have different ways to stay safe. Horned lizards are able to squirt blood from tiny blood vessels in their eyes to scare away or confuse a predator. The armadillo lizard has sharp, spiky scales and can roll up into a tight ball to protect its soft belly from attack. The sungazer lizard has impressive spikes that cover its body, including the tail. The alligator lizard bites, thrashes about to get loose, or voids foul-smelling feces. The tropical girdled lizard darts into a crack, expands its body, and lodges itself in so tightly that a predator can’t remove it.

Which end is which? Shingle-backed skink showing off its tail.

The shingle-backed skink is the reptile equivalent of Dr. Doolittle’s two-headed llama, the “push-me-pull-you” with its fat, wide tail that resembles the head. If confronted by a predator, the skink bends its body into a C shape, which confuses the predator because it appears as if the skink has two heads. The Australian frilled lizard has a “frill” of loose skin around its neck that can stick out when the lizard is frightened. This makes the lizard look much bigger than it really is, and a predator may decide to look for something smaller to eat. If that doesn’t work, the lizard runs away on its hind feet!


What about real-life ants?

This is what a more typical encounter with army ants looks like. Eciton army ants in Panama.
Picture courtesy of Smartse, via Wikimedia commons.
License info: CC BY SA 3.0

The video above was taken in Ecuador, where Nancy and I had our own encounter with army ants. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll definitely notice them. However, the typical encounter with the South American variety is a lot more tame than Stephenson’s descriptions. Unless you’re the size of an insect, you’re pretty much safe.

That’s not to say, however, that real life encounters with ants can’t be dangerous in certain specific situations. Anybody can be allergic to insect stings, and ant stings are no exception. People who are immobile, such as infants and nursing home patients, can also be harmed by ants due to an inability to fight back. However, healthy adults such as the ones in Stephenson’s story, could easily fight back against the ants and are unlikely to be attacked as badly as described in the story above. If you’re capable of walking at a normal speed, you can outrun the ants.

In real life ants do have some consequences for agriculture, but the relationship is a lot more complex than simply eating crops. There are a lot of ants which are quite useful for biological control because they eat crop pests. Some cultures even divert army ants into their fields, and let them take care of pest control.

Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword because ants also have very well known associations with some types of crop pests such as scales and aphids. The ants eat the honeydew the aphids and scales produce, and protect them from predators and parasitoids. Unfortunately, they can protect them from the predators and parasitoids we use to control these pests. So they might not eat crops, but they definitely make it harder for us to control some pests. In the video below, you can watch ants drive off a ladybird beetle which was trying to eat their aphids.

Pharaoh ants in a light switch. Picture courtesy of University of Nebraska Entomology Department.

Ants can also be household pests, as well. Pharaoh ants, for example, are really well known pantry raiders in some areas. They don’t sting, but people can become allergic to their leftover corpses. They’re also notorious for breaking into hospitals, where they can spread diseases while looking for food. So Pharaoh ants can still cause medical problems, but not in the way that other ants can. They’re problematic in many unique ways.


Natural Enemies

Monarchs become toxic to predators by sequestering toxins from the milkweed they ingest as larvae, and are brightly colored in both the larval and adult stages to warn predators of this toxicity. Despite the fact that milkweeds are assumed to convey some degree of protection from generalist predators and parasitoids, monarchs of all life stages are vulnerable to predation and disease.

Parasitoids

Parasitoids are specialized insects that lay eggs in or inside other insects and develop by feeding in or on a host organism, causing its eventual death. Both fly and wasp parasitoids lay their eggs on monarch larvae, but the most important larval parasitoid is probably a fly species in the family Tachinidae. This family includes about 10,000 species, most of which parasitize Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), although they also parasitize Hymenoptera (ants and bees), Heteroptera (true bugs and their relatives), Coleoptera (beetles), Diptera (flies and mosquitoes), Dermaptera (earwigs), Orthoptera(grasshoppers and crickets), Chilopoda (centipedes), as well as some scorpions and spiders.

The best-studied monarch parasitoid is the tachnid fly Lespesia archippivora (La), which attacks larvae, resulting in the death of late-instar larvae or pupae. Research in the Monarch Lab suggests that this species is the most important monarch tachinid parasitoid. It is widespread throughout North and Central America, has been found in Brazil, and was purposely introduced into Hawaii for biocontrol in 1898. Monarch larvae in the continental US and Hawaii are frequently parasitized by La, and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project documented an overall parasitism rate of

13% (Oberhauser et al. 2007). Female La lay eggs on the host integument (skin), and the fly larvae hatch and bore into the host soon after oviposition. La complete their larval development within the host, the maggots emerge from late larvae or pupae, and then pupate in leaf litter and eclose within

10-14 days. Fly maggots drop to the ground on long, gelatinous tendrils that look like white strings hanging from the monarch.

Less is known about the extent to which other parasitoids attack monarchs, but at least one wasp in the family Braconidae has been reported in monarchs (Arnaud 1978). The closely-related queen, Danaus gilippus is parasitized by two Chalcid wasps,Brachymeria annulata and B. ovata (Prudic and Olson 2005), as well as L. archippivora (Arnaud 1978). Research in the Monarch Lab demonstrates that the wasp Pteromalus cassotis (in the family Pteromalidae and the same superfamily, Chalcidoidea, as the two Chalcid wasps found in queens) could be an important pupal parasitoid (Oberhauser et al.). P. cassotis wasps are tiny, and over 200 can emerge from one monarch pupa. Research has also shown that a closely related generalist parasitoid (Pteromalus puparum) will attempt to parasitize monarch pupae under lab conditions, but their offspring fail to develop in monarch hosts. We are currently investigating the role of monarch's sequestered cardenolides in these host-parasitoid interactions (Stenoien et al.). Recent studies have documented a pupal parasitoid of monarchs, Pteromalus cassotis. These tiny wasps lay eggs inside a monarch chrysalis, which emerge as adult wasps from the monarch pupa casing a few weeks later. More research is needed to understand P. cassotis and the effects this species has on monarch populations. Parasitoids, such as those mentioned here, are often introduced as biological control agents to rid an area of unwanted pests. Bio-control agents often have harmful non-target effects on beneficial species, like monarchs or other pollinators.

Parasites and Disease

Parasites are smaller organisms that live and multiply inside their hosts, taking nutrients and resources. Parasites can be unicellular microbes such as viruses and bacteria, or larger organisms like mites and nematodes. Not all parasites kill their hosts, but parasites almost always have negative effects on host survival and reproduction. Many parasites and disease-causing pathogens are known to attack insects, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoans, nematodes, and mites. Several viral and bacterial pathogens can infect monarchs, including a nuclear polyhedrosis virus and Pseudomonas bacteria (Brewer and Thomas 1966, Urquhart 1987). Protozoan parasites such asOphryocystis elektroscirrha and a microsporidian Nosema species have also been identified in wild and captive monarchs (McLaughlin and Myers 1970, Leong et al. 19921997, Altizer and Oberhauser 1999, O. Taylor, personal communication).

The infective stages of most insect parasites must be consumed orally, although some can invade though pores or membranous joints in the insect cuticle. Many researchers are currently exploring the role of parasites and infectious diseases in regulating insect population size (E.G. Faeth and Simberloff 1981, Bowers et al. 1993, Jaenike 1998).Monarch larvae are generally found singly on milkweed plants, unlike the large aggregations of adults in overwintering clusters. Lower larval density in milkweed patches reduces the chance of diseases, such as nuclear polyhedrosis virus and Pseudomonas bacteria, spreading between larvae. These diseases are often fatal to monarchs.

Ophryocystis elektroscirrha

Perhaps the most-studied parasite of monarchs is a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroschirra (OE). This parasite cannot be transferred between larvae or adults simply by contact. New infections occur when larvae ingest parasite spores that fall from the abdomen of an infected adult to the surface of milkweed leaves. Most spores are transmitted from infected adults to their offspring (vertical transmission), although horizontal transmission may also occur. Following ingestion, spores lyse in larval guts. Emerging sporozoites then penetrate the intestinal wall, enter the hypoderm, and undergo two phases of vegetative, asexual replication. After host pupation, the parasite undergoes sexual reproduction and forms dormant spores around the scales of the developing adult butterfly (McLaughlin and Myers 1970). Most spores form on the adult abdomen, although spores also develop on the wings, head, and thorax (Leong et. al. 1992 S.M. Altizer, personal observation).

While it is often not fatal, OE can have negative effects on survival, mass, and life span of monarchs. Heavily infected adults have difficulty emerging from their pupal cases and expanding their wings, although adults with low parasite loads appear normal (McLaughlin and Myers 1970 Leong et al. 1992). High parasite doses decrease larval survivorship from hatching to eclosion, and heavily captive adults are smaller and shorter-lived than uninfected adults (Altizer and Oberhauser 1999). Researchers in Sonia Altizer&rsquos lab at the University of Georgia are studying rates of parasitism by OE and its effects on monarchs. For more information about this disease and how you can join in this research, visit monarchparasites.org.

There is a higher occurrence of this parasite in populations that do not migrate, such as the one in southern Florida. The eastern migratory population has the lowest occurrence of OE, likely due to the fact that infected monarchs are less likely to make it to their overwintering destinations in Mexico and therefore will not reproduce and spread the parasite. Recent studies about OE and exotic milkweed describe how the year-round presence of tropical milkweed in some parts of the US may be facilitating the spread of this parasite. For more information, please read our Potential Risks of Growing Exotic Milkweeds for Monarchs flyer.

Predation

Invertebrate predators such as ants, spiders, and wasps attack monarch larvae on milkweed plants (Prysby 2004). Only about 5% of monarchs reach the last larval instar. Wasps have been observed feeding on monarch abdomens at a California overwintering site (D. Frey, personal communication), and fire ants have been suggested as a major predator of monarch larvae in Texas (Calvert 1996). Other research suggests that wasp predators may be sensitive to the chemical defenses of monarch larvae, and that wasps fed monarch larvae with high cardenolide concentrations had lower reproductive potential and more deformities in their nests (L.S. Rayor, personal communication) than wasps that preyed upon less toxic caterpillars. In a laboratory experiment, one lacewing larva was observed consuming 40 monarch eggs. Chinese mantids and paper wasps have also been observed preying on immature monarchs.

1) A spined soldier bug preying on a monarch larva (photo: Duane Miller) 2) Ants have been known to predate monarchs (UMN Monarch Lab)

Adults face less danger of being eaten by predators during the breeding season, but there is a much greater risk of being eaten by bird predators in overwintering locations. Birds such as black-backed orioles and black-headed grosbeaks are common predators at monarch overwintering sites. These species can eat large quantities of monarchs without getting poisoned. This may result from the decay of toxins inside the monarchs&rsquo bodies during the many months of migration and overwintering, or from the specific feeding behavior of the birds. Orioles slit open the monarchs&rsquo abdomens before feeding, avoiding most of the toxin-rich cuticle. Grosbeaks, which eat the entire abdomen, can tolerate higher levels of cardenolides in their digestive tracts. Research has shown that predation by these two bird species accounts for over 60% of the total monarch mortality during overwinter (Calvert et al. 1979). In some colonies, up to 9% of the butterflies are eaten by birds during the winter, and this number can be up to 15% when the forest is disturbed by logging, making it easier for the birds to reach the branches on which monarchs cluster.

Predation by birds is one of the most important natural causes of monarch mortality during the winter. Two bird species, black-headed grosbeaks and black-backed orioles, are the main predators. (Photo: Lincoln Brower)

Monarch Defenses and Warning Coloration

Many prey species have mechanisms to avoid predation, including camouflaged coloration or bright eye-spots to confuse predators. Bright coloration in insects and other animals (typically yellow, orange, or red) can act as a signal, warning other animals that they are poisonous or distasteful. Such color patterns are called aposematic. When an animal attacks, eats, or encounters such a brightly colored animal and gets stung, bitten, or poisoned, it learns to associate these warning colors with a bad experience. Monarchs have a chemical defense that is toxic to many natural enemies -- they can sequester poisonous compounds from milkweed called cardenolides, or cardiac glycosides (Zalucki et al. 1990, Ritland and Brower 1993, Brower et al. 1994, Frick and Wink 1995). Thus, when an animal eats a monarch and gets sick, it learns to avoid potential prey with similar coloration. However, research has shown that these toxins break down over time in adult monarchs, and by several weeks of age the butterflies are much more palatable to predators (Fink and Brower 1981, Brower and Calvert 1985, Brower 1988, Alonso M. and Brower 1994, Sakai 1994). In addition, the role of sequestered chemicals in defending monarchs against parasitoids and pathogens has not been explored.

1) Monarch larvae display bright warning coloration as a signal to potential predators (photo: Barbara Powers) 2) Adults retain the toxins allowing their aposematic coloring (photo: Fred Ormand)


Health and Safety in the Jungle

This page has been written so that you know about the potential hazards of the jungle, and how to deal with them. The purpose is not to scare you, but to make you aware of the new environment that you will be entering, just the same as a health and safety briefing is given when starting work in a building and learning about the danger of fire etc. Don’t be scared, just be aware. Remember, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be in a dangerous situation with wild animals and a loud noise will scare off anything.

1.) Tropical Diseases in the area

a.) Lieshmaniasis

Up at TRC there is a small biting fly that carries a disease called Lieshmaniasis. Only a very small percentage of the flies carry the disease, but it is possible to get. It is curable but the treatment can be long (21 days) and somewhat painfull. While in the field you should always work in long pants and long-sleeved shirts. This fly does come in to the lodge, so you should wear long sleeves and long pants at all times up at the lodge. The one exception is midday on hot days, the flies don’t fly during such conditions, at this time you can wear shorts and a T-shirt.

b.) Yellow Fever

Yellow fever immunization is required for travel to the area. Go to a travel doctor and talk to them about what other shots to get. You can also get a yellow fever shot in the airport at Puerto Maldonado when you arrive. If you need to do this you must do it immediately when you get off the plane before you get your luggage (look for the person dressed like a nurse and ask for your shot).

I cannot and will not give legally binding advice. All I will say is that I don’t know anyone that has contracted Malaria at the lodges and I do not take malarial prophylaxis. Evacuation by boat to Puerto Maldonado can be done in 1 day (less than 5 hours if need be).

2.) Dealing with Wildlife

a.) Jaguars or Pumas

Should you be lucky enough to encounter one of these incredible beauties, there is no reason to panic. Although locally pumas have a reputation for being vicious, they invariably run away when encountered. In some areas Jaguars (Panthera onca) can be a bit unphased by people…. But it is important to remember that they do not view people as food. Most big predators have a “prey image” – animals that they have grown up eating, and we do not form part of that image.

Should you encounter a big cat, stay very still and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you run. This triggers the predator-prey instinct in them and you will get into big trouble. Enjoy the moment and try to get a photo… Louise Emmons, author of The Field Guide to Neotropical Mammals, once faced a Jaguar walking down the path towards her. She calmly remained where she was and took photos of the animal as it walked past her. I have encountered jaguar face to face 3 times on transect, remained calm every time and the cat has always eventually moved on.

If you encounter a big cat on a night walk and find yourself being approached, make sure you are not shining a bright light into its eyes, as it will not be able to see you and may be approaching to investigate the noise you were making. Alert the cat to your presence by making some verbal noise, or stamping your feet.

b.) Peccaries, Tapir and Deer

The small, Collared Peccaries (Tayassu tajacu ), found in small groups, bolt in the presence of people. White-lipped Peccaries (Tayassu pecari ) area a lot more intimidating when encountered as they are found in huge groups and make a lot of scary squealing, barking and teeth clacking when scared to frighten away potential predators. They too try and avoid people, but are potentially a problem if cornered, or if frightened from another direction, in which case they could run towards you. If this should happen shout and wave, or bang a machete against a tree to alert the animal to your presence. You might want to do this from the safety of a raised level – like a fallen tree, or from a low hanging branch… just so long as you are over the level of their heads, which is less than a meter off the ground. Don’t run.

Tapir (Tapirus terrestris ) and Red brocket deer (Mazama americana ) will only run towards you if frightened from another direction. Should this happen, stand behind a tree and let them run past, as these are large animals and could potentially knock you over if you get in their way.

Similarly, I once frightened an armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) on a night-walk. As they have very poor eyesight, the animal ended up running straight at me, and I had to leap over it at the last moment, and it ran beneath me while I was in midair!

Related to armadillos are the nearly blind anteaters. Both the Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) and the smaller Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) are short-sighted and fairly slow. If you attempt to get too close they can slash with their powerful claws that they use to rip open trees and termite mounds. It is said that the Giant Anteater is even capable of killing jaguar according to jungle legend, but they will only react in self-defense.

Wild monkeys will never pose a danger to you. Capuchins (Cebus apella) and Spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth) can try and intimidate people by shaking branches and throwing sticks, but their aim is atrocious. These monkeys, along with Howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus), will also urinate and defecate when frightened, so it is best not to view monkeys from directly beneath them.

At some of the lodges there are habituated monkeys, and people in town keep monkeys as pets. Beware of handling these, or of handling food around them, as they can bite. There are “Monkey Islands” in the area, where monkeys are kept and fed for display to tourists. Some of these have a reputation for being aggressive.

d.) Smaller Mammals

The only time you may be approached by any of the smaller mammals like coati, tayra, ocelot, jaguarondi or bush dogs, would be if they were unaware of your presence or young, curious animals. However, rabies is said to occur in the area, so if a sick animal that is obviously salivating approaches you, do your best to avoid it or chase it away and get beyond its reach.

Some species of bats also carry rabies, so try not to handle them, or use gloves if you have to, especially if caught in mist nets. If on a night-walk you will see bats hurling themselves kamikaze style along the paths towards you. They always avoid you, even if sometimes at the very last instant. Sometimes they may do a lap around your head to catch a moth or insect attracted to your light. They are nothing to worry about.

Dealing with a snake bite

Should any snake bite you the most important thing to remember is NOT to panic. One needs to do everything in ones power to keep your heart rate down to avoid the spread of poison. Secondly, it is very important that you try and get an identification of the type or species. Try and avoid walking. If walking is unavoidable, it should be done as slowly as possible, remember to keep heart rate down. Use your venom extractor within 3 minutes of the bite occurring. The use of a tourniquet, a strip of bandage or material tied in a tight knot above the wound to cut off circulation, can be considered, although this is a last ditch resort and advised against by some professionals. It should only be considered for a bite by a coral snake. A tourniquet should be loosened every 5 minutes to allow some circulation. A crepe bandage, a bandage wrapped tightly along the entire limb, can be applied should you be in possession of one. Inform someone in a position of authority immediately to organize evacuation to Puerto Maldonado.

Of the 100 or so species of snake in the area, only 4 types are considered dangerous to man, so this makes the rainforest a lot safer place than almost anywhere in Australia!

1. Amazon Bushmaster, or Shushupe (Lachesis muta)

A viper growing up to 4m long. As they are vipers that use heat to detect their prey, they have been known to approach people, and are thus killed wherever encountered. Some people say that they are territorial and that they will chase people if encountered within their territory. However, I know of people who have walked past them as they lay next to the path unnoticed, protected by their camouflage. One tourist, unaware of what he was viewing, poked one with a stick after taking a photo of it without getting bitten. They are rare and it is unlikely you will encounter one. If you do, do not frighten or disturb it, leave the area slowly and quietly.

2. Fer-de-Lance, or Jergon (Bothrops atrox)

Another smaller viper (1m) that relies on its camouflage to remain concealed. This snake is a good reason to keep an eye on the path whenever you are walking anywhere.

3. Green Tree Viper, or Loro Machaco (Bothriopsis bilineata)

A green viper with a yellowish belly that is arboreal. They are relatively small, growing to about a maximum of 80cm. They are a good reason to look where you are chopping if clearing a transect. To make things confusing, locals call nearly all green snakes, including the more common and harmless Parrot Snake, Loro Machacos.

4. Coral Snake, or Nyaka-nyaka (Micrurus sp.)

The venom from this snake is neurotoxic, and can be deadly. However, they have very small teeth and are not aggressive. The protection provided by your boots should be adequate to protect from a bite. Generally, only people handling these snakes get bitten. There are a range of false coral snakes too, and you may want to stay on the safe side and not handle any bright red, black and yellow snakes.

In addition to these snakes, the largest snakes in the area are boas and anacondas. Although not poisonous, they are capable of giving a nasty bite that stands a chance of becoming infected. The anaconda is very rare as there seems to be a local market for their heads, which are said to bring money if kept in a business.

All frogs secrete substances through their skin, partially to aid their respiration, which can be potentially toxic. However, the poison arrow frog found here, the Epipidobates, is not lethal as long as you wash your hands after handling one. You should wash your hands after handling any frog, and in addition, you should wash your hands before handling frogs as the DEET insect repellant you use is potentially lethal to them as it will be absorbed through their skin.

g.) Ants, Wasps and Bees

Dealing with insect bites and stings

– Firstly, calm the person.
– If it is a bee sting, and the sting has remained behind, gently remove it by scraping it off using something like a pocket-knife or plastic card.
– Apply cool or cold water to reduce irritation and spread of the poison. A venom extractor can also be used if available. Keep an eye out for allergic reactions. If these become visible, for instance, rapid breathing, cold sweat, dizziness, nausea, give the person an antihistamine and seek medical assistance as quickly as possible.
– An antihistamine cream can be applied in normal circumstances to reduce pain and itchiness.

Isula Ant – This is a large (3cm), black ant that is normally encountered alone. It has the most painful sting of any insect in existence, with the pain lasting many hours. In addition, some people have reported allergic reactions to the sting, so advise someone as soon as you know you have been stung so that you can be monitored. They are a very good reason to look at where you are putting your hands while walking, and to check any area before you sit down. This is a very important ant to learn – make sure you know what it looks like:

Tangarana Ants (Fire Ants) – A very important tree to learn when you get on the trails is the Tangarana tree (Triplaris spp). This tree is the home to a colony of ants that nest inside the tree in hollows that extend from the main trunk to the ends of the branches. The ants feed off a secretion from a certain type of insect that also makes its home in the tree, and are looked after by the Tangarana ants. The Tangarana ants fiercely protect their tree and food source by swarming over anything that lands on, or touches the trees, administering very painful bites. The ants also clear a circle with a radius of up to 1 meter around the tree, which is a helpful way of recognizing it. The tree has pale, mottled bark, and large leaves. These are not the only stinging ants in the forest, so beware when disturbing any ant nest. Another stinging ant called the Aztec ant, lives in Cercropia trees.

Army Ants (Eciton sp.) – A familiar sight to any who use the trails regularly in the jungle, are long, thin trails of rapidly moving ants. Army ants range in size from a few millimeters, to about 2 centimeters and none make permanent nests, instead the queen is kept in a living bivouac of her colony. Among the worker ants are the impressive, large soldier ants, with their large, often pale heads, and huge mandibles. It is said that some indigenous people use these ants as make-shift stitches for cuts – holding the ant so that it bites both sides of a wound, the body is then broken off and the head remains attached with mandibles holding together the cut. Unless you are standing on one of their trails, they are unlikely to bother you. Should you find yourself in the middle of one their hunting expeditions, where the army ants cover the ground and vegetation for many square meters, move rapidly onwards until you are out of their reach. An army ant raiding party is a spectacle in itself, as all the insects in their path try and scurry for safety, making them easy targets for the variety of birds – antbirds, antthrushes, antwrens and antshrikes – that follow.

Leaf Cutter Ants (Atta sp.) – These ants are another incredible spectacle of the jungle. More commonly seen at night along the trails they clear between nest and their target tree, highways of ants carry leaves like sails above their heads, cut by specialized ants that purely cut the leaves. Soldiers guard them, and a caste of tiny ant rides upon some of the leaves to protect against parasitic wasps. In the nest, another caste of ant tends the fungus, which the ants eat, that grows on the leaves. So how could a vegetarian ant possibly be a problem? The ants are highly experimental in what they eat, and it is not unusual for tents, clothes and bags to be cut up and carried away by leaf-cutter ants, so be careful of where you leave your items should you know they are about.

Wasps – There are many, many species of wasp in the jungle, from small, to very large, some that give irritating stings, and some that sting as badly it is like having a hot knife driven into you. No wonder there are some moths that imitate wasps so well, that predators and the average person would never be able to tell the difference. They are fascinating creatures in themselves, making all variety of nests, from paper nests, to fancy, beautiful, mud sculptures. If a wasp lands on you and you do not want it on you, wave it away, or flick it off. Away from their nests, they are fairly docile and nothing to worry about. One place to look out for wasps is under the banana-like leaves of Heliconia plants and various palms, which often over grow the trail. If you disturb their nest you will hear the sudden swarming noise of hundreds of angry wings emerging from the nest. Should you disturb a wasp nest – RUN. Once you have reached a safe distance (often as little as 10m away), you may want to remove your shirt, as often they attach themselves, in which case they will continue to sting repeatedly. Luckily for those who may be allergic to wasps, it appears that people with allergies to European wasps do not react to Tambopata wasps.

Africanised Honey Bees or Ronsapas – Many years ago the African honey-bee, Apis melifora, was introduced into some parts of South America due to the good quality honey they produce. Inevitably, they escaped, and have now colonized most of South and Central America, up into some parts of the United States. They have a reputation for being very aggressive. They are attracted to sweat, but only sting if seriously disturbed. They are very protective over their nests, which they tend to make in natural hollows in trees above ground level. Should you disturb a hive RUN until you are sure you are not being followed. If you are allergic to bees, you should inform the coordinating team. Unlike a wasp, the bee leaves its sting in you along with most of its internal organs as it is barbed. The best way to remove a sting is to scrape it off with a knife, so as not to inject any more poison, or you can pull it out gently using tweezers.

h.) Spiders and scorpions

Generally speaking, South America does not have a host of poisonous spiders and scorpions compared to Africa and Australia.

The most dangerous of the spiders is the Wandering Spider, which is occasionally found inside human dwellings. These spiders can be aggressive, and the bite is potentially fatal. Treat with care.

The spiders you are most likely to encounter are a variety of smaller orb-web spiders that love to make their nests across trails at head height, so that it is not uncommon to end up with a spider web wrapped around your head. The spiders are usually small and harmless, and run away when their webs are disturbed. There is a yellow orb-web spider with spines on its abdomen, so if brushing away a spider web and you feel a little stab, you have probably not been bitten, but rather just poked by one of these spines. Spider bites are generally not felt. They can occur at night when the sleeping person squashes the spider against them. A spider bite is two small red puncture marks close together, surrounded by an inflamed area.

Tarantulas are the big daddies of the spiders in the area. The “Chicken Eating Spider” is said to have a diameter of nearly 30cm. The more commonly seen Pink-Footed Tarantula makes a web-like nest, often in the thatching, where they can be regularly viewed. Although Tarantulas can bite if disturbed, their venom is very mild. They are nocturnal, and will occasionally wander around – they are a good reason to use mosquito nests, and to shake and check your boots before putting them on in the morning – although anything from frogs, cockroaches to scorpions have also been known to seek shelter in boots that have stood neglected for a while.

i.) Caterpillars

With more than 1200 species of butterflies in the area, there are going to be that number of caterpillars crawling around too. This does not even include the moths!

Many of the caterpillars in the area have stinging hairs, which are capable of doing anything from making you feel like you are on fire, to giving you a rash. A lot of the bigger species are brightly colored to advertise their toxicity, while others rely on camouflage. These are the ones you have to watch out for when leaning against a tree or putting your hands anywhere. Some caterpillars, called procession or army-worms, travel in large groups, and often sleep together in a huge camouflaged mass, so watch what you are doing, and where you put your hands when grabbing anything for support.

j.) Chiggers, Ticks, Mosquitoes and Sand Flies

Chiggers are tiny, basically invisible mites that are found often in grassy areas (like around lodge clearings). They crawl up people’s legs and then burrow under the skin to get at your blood. Their favorite areas are around the sock zone, bra zone, or around the belt zone around the waist. The results are a series of very itchy, mosquito like bumps that can last for several days. People sometimes scratch them raw. Try not to do this. Treat the area with alcohol and anti-histamine. To try and prevent chiggers, wear boots, and your socks tucked into your trousers. Take a shower when you get back from a walk.

From afar, the beaches during the summer along the Tambopata look very inviting. Sitting on them for a period of more than 5 minutes will reveal why they are not covered in bronzing bodies reminiscent of the beaches of the Mediterranean. Tiny, black flies (called sand flies by some) soon congregate around exposed ankles or other areas of skin and proceed to bite and suck blood. They leave a characteristic pink circle with a bright red dot in the middle after they have finished. Wearing repellant fends them off. Be sure to reapply after emerging from a swim.

Black flies are diurnal, while the real sand-flies are a nocturnal, delicate, small, pale fly that resembles more a moth. The Phlebotomus fly is the carrier of the Leishmaniasis protozoan. Uta, as it is locally called, forms nasty ulcer type sores that need a 20 day treatment of anti-biotic to cure. If left untreated, people noses and lips have been known to rot off. Avoid getting bitten by wearing repellant or covering up with long sleeve shirts and trousers, and wear socks if you are wearing sandals.

A larger biting fly will sometimes buzz around you in the forest. Horse-flies, or Tabanids, give a very painful bite, and the best defense against a persistent individual is to swat it.

k.) Cockroaches

These critters tend to be very large in the jungle. There are many varieties, the most common being a large brown cockroach, present at all lodges. They do not pose a threat, but will eat any food left out overnight. They also have a taste for toothbrushes, so leave yours inside your wash-bag.

So how could these stationary objects possibly pose a danger you ask? Well, for starters, I bet that during the course of your stay you are going to trip over at least one exposed root that line the forest floor competing for the nutrients in the top couple of centimeters of soil. Secondly, falling branches and trees are considered to be one of the most dangerous things in the forest. Old branches can snap unexpectedly at any time, or some trees may finally have one liana too many growing on them, which could pull them over. Mostly, trees are inclined to fall over in the strong winds associated with the thunderstorms that pass through the area. Should there be a thunderstorm, you should stay at the lodge or make your way to the lodge or a clearing as quickly as possible should you be on the trails.

Spines and thorns… watch out for the acacia-like liana with hooked thorns on the stems of the feathery leaves. A bit more dangerous than this are the very obvious black thorns covering the stem and leaves of some of the palm species e.g. Huicungo. Many immature, innocent looking palm leaves have nasty black spines on the underside. In addition, the spines on the roots of the walking palm can also cut, so don’t lean on them, or mistake them for the erotic palm.

m.) Parrots and Macaws

Very popular pets in the area are Parrots and Macaws, which are capable of giving nasty bites. Especially watch out for the Scarlet Macaw at Explorer’s Inn, which was a pet and is now free flying. It is very aggressive towards people.. Other than that, unless a Harpy Eagle mistakes you for a sloth, you have nothing to worry about from birds.

3.) Rivers and Lakes

Most of the transport during the duration of the research will be in long boats with outboard motors. It is compulsory by law to wear lifejackets for these journeys, and we recommend that you do, as boating accidents have been known to happen and the results would be comparable to having a car accident and not wearing a seatbelt.

Although most of us regularly use the rivers or lakes for a refreshing dip to wash away the sweat and to cool down from the heat of the day. There are several hazards you need to bear in mind when going for a swim, and as a result we recommend you NEVER SWIM ALONE or unattended.

Sting Rays – These are brown, flat fish often found concealed at the bottom of sandy streams or lakes. They bury themselves under the sand, where they lie in wait for prey. They are thus very hard to detect, and should you stand on one, the tail of the Sting Ray will shoot up and impale the sharp spine that it contains, into your leg. I am told the pain is unbelievable. Should you be entering a river or lake with a sandy bottom, splash the water in front of you and move your feet through the sand as you move forwards, as opposed to stepping forwards, to frighten them away.

Electric Eels – These snake-like fish can grow to be several meters in length. They are considered to be slow moving, and use their electric capacity to stun prey and scare off predators. They move away from areas of disturbance, but their shock can knock a person unconscious, where upon an unattended person could drown.

4.) Getting Lost

With little opportunity to orientate oneself with the sun, and in a world that blurs into a mixture of tree trunks and endless green, getting lost by just walking a few meters off the trail is a possibility. Try never to go off the trail, unless you have to as part of data collection. Always inform someone as to where you are going, and when you plan to be back.

On a new trail system, if you are going out by yourself, or for the first time, always carry a map and a compass. Marking tape is also a good idea to mark intersections that you are not sure about. It is a good idea to carry a compass with you at all times, especially at night, where if your torch should fail, it is very easy to wander off the trail and get lost.

Should you find yourself lost, bang repeatedly on the buttress root of a large tree, and wait until you are found.

Many areas around the small communities are subject to burning, when a chacra is cleared, left to dry and then burnt during the dry season to make the area available for planting. The fires are generally restricted to the areas that have been cut down, and it is unusual for fires to enter primary forest unless it is very dry. Fires tend to be very smoky, and could potentially lead to respiration problems if one is prone to asthma or other related ailments.

Most of the lodges use candles or kerosene lamps to some degree. As the lodges are all built from wood, extreme care should be taken that you do not knock these over or leave candles unattended. Explorer’s Inn was burnt to the ground in 1985, for instance.

Always extinguish candles upon leaving a room, and do not go to sleep with a candle burning!

These are the very sharp cutting instruments that we will be using to cut transects, prepare trails, and which one also has the option of carrying while on walks. Normally, these are very sharp, and care needs to be taken when using them. Some basic tips:

  • Before swinging a machete, make sure there are no other people in the way.
  • Make sure that you do not have any body parts behind/beneath the object you are cutting, i.e. in the line of cutting, as often branches cut easier than expected and the momentum of the machete could then easily proceed to carry the blade into a leg or foot. This has happened to even experienced machete wielders, so be careful.
  • Be extra careful when handling a machete in wet weather, as the blade can easily slip from one`s hand.
  • When cutting a transect, look before you cut. You do not want to cut into a wasps nest, or anger a sleeping Loro machaco (Green Tree Viper).
  • Do not carry a machete on a bike with blade exposed.

Should someone be cut, apply pressure to the wound by pressing down hard with bandage, towel, shirt or other clothing item. Should none of these be available, use just a hand. Get to medical help as quickly as possible.

7.) Dehydration

Due to the amount of sweat that you will loose even just while sitting and doing nothing, one must make a constant effort to drink lots of water and keep hydrated. If you are dehydrated, you will loose energy and often develop a headache. Severe dehydration will lead to disorientation and more severe situations. Always carry water with you and drink it! It is a lot harder to rehydrate than to dehydrate, so avoid the situation in the first place.

Generally, Peruvians are very friendly, especially in the small towns and communities of the rainforest. However, sometimes the men can be a bit too friendly when it comes to the ladies. If you are not interested in a relationship, then it is best to be firm with unwanted attention from the start – the Western attitude of “don’t want to offend” is not helpful in these situations. “Jungle Fever” is such a well known phenomenon that Peru’s famous author Vargas LLosa even wrote a book on the theme – Pantaleon y las visitadoras.


These Are the 25 Toughest Animals on Earth

In June, we cast our critical eye at America in search of the toughest animals you least want to encounter in the wild. But the world spoke up and we listened. There are other countries beyond America, and even tougher animals abroad. So we assembled a panel, crunched the data, and looked at lots of scary pictures to determine Earth's most badass animals. Since we already tackled America, native fauna is ineligible. Ditto the oceans.

The good news about the deathstalker, which skitters around the deserts of the Middle East flexing its vicious little pinchers, is that its name is mostly marketing. Sure, the Deathstalker's sting is the worst of any scorpion on Earth, but it very unlikely to kill you. The bad news is that a Deathstalker sting is still going to hurt&mdasha lot. Does that mean people do the sensible thing and avoid these green and yellow varmints, which can reach 4 inches in length? Nope. Oddly enough, many people actually keep Deathstalkers as pets.

Here's an animal that wouldn't stand a chance against much of this list on flat ground, or even in your typical mountain environment. But just try to hunt a mountain goat on the highest, rockiest peaks and see how well that goes. These are the world's best rock climbers and thus some truly elusive prey. Their cloven hoofs have a padded bottom to grip on snow, ice, and especially rock faces, even ones that appear to be impossible to climb. Mountain goats (which, by the way, are actually more closely related to antelopes than goats) can jump 12 feet and are acclimated to both high-altitude and low temperatures. They also have cool beards.

Really, any one of the many poisonous snake varieties could have cracked this list, since they're all capable of killing large animals (like, for instance, us humans). But we're going with the Black mamba, so called for the color of its mouth, which just seems evil. The mamba is fast on land and in trees and has one of the most toxic venoms on the planet. If one bites you, you're likely to lose consciousness within an hour. Without anti-venom to counteract the powerful neurotoxin, you've got at most 15 hours to live. The best of luck to you.

This New Zealand bug looks like a prehistoric grasshopper and is one of the world's largest insects a particularly huge variant was found to weigh more than a sparrow. Wetas aren't particularly aggressive, though they will bite and scratch with their spikey legs if threatened. But that's not what makes them so tough. No, what makes the weta such a formidable animal is that it's like something out of a sci-fi novel: One variety has evolved an ability to go into suspended animation. The so-called Mountain Stone Weta can be frozen in ice for several months and then just resume regular life when it thaws, as if nothing happened. How? Well, because of a protein that prevents the formation of ice crystals in its blood-like fluid.

Camels live in withering, dry environments in which virtually nothing else can survive and are actually quite comfortable in them. A camel is untroubled by 110 degree temperatures, even when carrying 200 pounds or more on its back, and can go up to 8 days without water and a month or more without food. Because of that, a camel's urine is the consistency of syrup and Bedouins don't even have to dry the feces in order to burn them for fuel. Camels are so well adapted to heat and lack of hydration that they can drop 40 percent of their body weight without serious consequences.

"King of the jungle" is a terrible nickname for a cat that doesn't actually live anywhere near the jungle. The lion's primary habitat is the grassy savannahs of Sub-Saharan Africa&mdashat least the "king" point makes some sense. Lions are the unchallenged apex predators of the continent, and are particularly effective hunters because they work in packs, sneaking up on and then ambushing antelopes, zebras, warthogs&mdashpretty much anything on four legs that isn't an elephant, rhino, or hippo, and that includes cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas, which lions will kill to eliminate competition. Fortunately for most of the things that lions like to eat, these cats are lazy. They prefer napping to just about anything, sleeping up to 20 hours a day, and get up to half of their diet by scavenging carrion.

What's most interesting about these insane looking birds&mdashthe world's largest eagle, by weight&mdashis that the females, which can reach 22 pounds, weigh almost twice as much as the males. Harpy's natural habitat stretches from Mexico down into Argentina and unlike the esteemed bald eagle&mdashwhich looks great on a motorcycle jacket but is actually rather work-shy, preferring to scavenge for lunch&mdashharpy eagles are relentless hunters, and particularly enjoy killing and eating sloths and monkeys. When those animals aren't on the menu, harpy eagles will hunt small deer, but since those are too heavy to fly with, they have to tear them into pieces first. That's pretty tough.

Siberian and Bengal tigers are more or less the same size, between 350 and 700 pounds, but the Siberian wins out for living in a harsher climate. These cats are canny hunters, and will patrol huge territories spanning hundreds of miles through a variety of terrain in order to find prey. Like all big cats, tigers prefer ungulates (various deer species, as well as caribou and moose), but when food is scarce, Siberian tigers are opportunistic and brave. They can and do hunt both black and brown bears, which is pretty much reason alone to put them on this list.

The case here is simple: the dung beetle is the strongest animal on earth compared to its body weight. Dung beetles, which live all over the world, regularly push balls of fresh animal poop that weigh more than 200 times their body weight, and researchers have documented one individual pushing a ball that was 1,141 times his body weight. To put it in terms you might understand, that's like a 150 pound person moving 80 tons. They're also tiny astronomers. Scientists observing beetle behavior in South Africa now think these little poo rollers find their way back and forth to nest by using the Milky Way to navigate.

Being one of our closest living animal relatives, the gorilla, (which is largest of the four so-called "great apes") possesses a formidable mix of strength and smarts. These are very social animals, with large families, sophisticated systems of communication, and an ability to make and use tools. None of which makes them tough, only formidable. What's tough is that gorillas are the bodybuilders of the animal kingdom. Science can't seem to agree on the precise number &mdash for one thing, it's a hard metric to measure &mdash but an adult silverback is at least 6 times and perhaps as much as 20 times stronger than a human.

Here's the world's biggest snake, by weight, and a fearsome predator that can eat basically anything it can overpower, including livestock that happens to wander too close to a river where an anaconda is lurking. Anacondas aren't poisonous, which is kind of a relief. Instead, they kill by constricting. Contrary to popular belief, though, an anaconda doesn't crush its prey. Instead, its not-very-tender embrace cuts off blood flow to the prey's critical organs, causing the animal to pass out and eventually die due to lack of oxygen.

Neither a tarantula nor a hawk, this giant flying insect is actually a wasp that hunts spiders. If that last phrase didn't terrify you, consider this: the tarantula hawk is one of two insects to score a 4 the "Schmidt sting pain index," developed by entomologist Justin Schmidt to measure the severity of bug bites on a scale of 1 to 4. Here's what a biologist told Wired about some advice he'd read on how to treat a sting. "Their recommendation&mdashand this was actually in a peer-reviewed journal&mdashwas to just lie down and start screaming, because few if any people could maintain verbal and physical coordination after getting stung by one of these things. You're likely to just run off and hurt yourself. So just lie down and start yelling."

If we're going to salute the Tarantula Hawk, we have to also include the bullet ant, the only other insect to score a 4 on Justin Schmidt's pain scale. The bullet ant roams the floors of Central and South American rain forests and is named for the feeling of its sting &mdash which, apparently, is so incredibly painful that you feel like you've been shot. Schmidt himself has described it as "Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a three inch nail embedded in your heel." Worse, the venom lingers in the body and the pain can last up to a full day. One tribe in Brazil uses the ants in a rite of passage ritual. When boys reach a certain age, they must put their hands into a set of gloves made from leaves that have been filled with hundreds of bullet ants and keep them inside for as long as they can stand it. To complete the initiation, they must complete this act 20 times, which is insane and means that if we ever do a list of the 25 toughest groups of humans, these boys are definitely making the list.

The planet's third largest feline, after the tiger and lion, the jaguar (aka panther) is South and Central America's most capable hunter. Jaguars are solitary animals, and hunt via stealth, surprising prey and then overcoming whatever's being stalked with a rare mix of speed and power. Jaguars have the greatest bite force of any large cat, the strength to pull a 500-pound deer up into a tree while climbing, and are excellent swimmers. Black jaguars, by the way, are the same species&mdashthe lack of markings is due to a mutation that occurs in approximately 6 percent of the wild population.

There are five types of rhinos, three in Africa and two in Asia, and all of them are tough. Rhinos weigh at least 2,000 and sometimes as much as 4,000 pounds, have a thick almost armored skin, and a large horn that's capable of goring any animal that makes the unwise decision of mounting an attack. For those reasons, adult rhinos have no real natural predators&mdashexcept, sadly, humans. Due to demand for those horns in Asia, rhinos are among the most endangered animals on earth, with the African varieties vanishing at an especially rapid rate, and if we can't solve the problem fast, they won't be around to make this list in a decade.

Technically, crocodiles are aquatic animals, and thus ineligible for our list, but they spend a good chunk of time on land&mdashand often prey on land animals&mdashso that's plenty good enough for us (after all this entire list is purely subjective). Whether they're tough is unquestionable. Saltwater crocs are the largest living predator on land and in non-ocean environments, growing up to 17 feet and 2,000 pounds, and possessing the most powerful bite ever measured in a laboratory&mdashstrong enough to crush a cow's skull in one chomp. Being huge and aggressive and native to places with large, crowded human environments (like India, China, Bangladesh and Malaysia), saltwater crocodiles will sometimes target people as prey, though the number of actual deaths per year is still very low.

If this were a list of adorable things that you should actually be terrified of, hippos would probably be number one. Not because hippos are innately angry or aggressive&mdashthough they can be both&mdashbut because they kill more humans in Africa than any other animal. Why? Because they're huge and unpredictable, and like to sit submerged in the same rivers that people fish, bathe, and play in. Male hippos can be territorial, while females will raise hell to protect their young, but often hippos wreak havoc by accident, by surfacing under boats, knocking people overboard, and creating a panic that can turn ugly when a 3,000-pound animal with 20-inch teeth that moves well in water and can run up to 20 miles-per-hour is suddenly freaked out. Hippopotamus, by the way, is Greek for "river horse," which makes absolutely no sense.

This is the closest thing we have to a dinosaur&mdasha gigantic lizard (the world's largest) with armored scales that roams certain islands of the Indonesian archipelago, hunting anything it can catch and bite with huge, bacteria-laced teeth. Komodo dragons grow up to 10-feet-long and 150 pounds, giving them free reign of these islands, with no predators except for humans, who have historically killed dragons because they feared them&mdashto be fair, komodo dragons have killed humans on numerous occasions. A komodo's mouth is rife with bacteria, so its bite can be septic, and the dragons will eat up to 80 percent of their own bodyweight in a single meal, then regurgitate all of the indigestible parts (bone, hair, feathers, scales) in a foul-smelling "gastric pellet."

Being the world's largest carnivorous marsupial is more specific than impressive, but the devil&mdashan ugly-cute animal that lives only on the Australian island of Tasmania &mdash does have some legitimate bragging rights. According to a study, the devil has the strongest bite on earth of any carnivore, when adjusted for size. Devils weigh about 20 pounds on average but can exert up to 94 pounds of pressure, for a "Bite Force Quotient" of 181, which is nearly twice as strong as a hyena and some 60 points higher than a lion. It's enough to crush bone and even bite through metal traps. According to National Geographic, the Loony Toons character inspired by the Tasmanian devil is not that much of an exaggeration. The animal, Nat Geo says, "has a notoriously cantankerous disposition and will fly into a maniacal rage when threatened by a predator, fighting for a mate, or defending a meal."

There's a reason the Cape buffalo (aka African buffalo) has never been domesticated. It's a mean, unpredictable animal, unafraid of confrontation and responsible for as many as 200 human deaths a year in Africa. Hunters prize the buffalo as one of Africa's "Big Five" but also fear it more than most any other animal, because having bad aim can make for an interesting afternoon. A wounded buffalo often runs toward and not away from its attacker.

Size matters here, and no living land animal is larger than the African elephant, which can stand up to 13 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh nearly 14,000 pounds. Elephants are generally gentle giants when it comes to other animals, but they are hell on habitat, knocking down trees and devouring more than 500 pounds of leaves and branches in a day. When angry or frightened, an elephant is probably the single most dangerous animal alive, since it can run 15 miles-per-hour and easily overturn a car or truck. Its trunk alone can lift 700 pounds. If all of these animals were crammed into a boxing ring, it's hard to imagine the elephant not being the last one standing.

Polar bears are the world's largest and most carnivorous bears, as well as the largest land carnivore period, though much of what makes them so tough is that they don't actually spend much time on land. For much of winter, polar bears live on the Arctic pack ice, sometimes wandering thousands of miles in a single year in search of their favorite snack: seals. If the occasion arises, polar bears will also hunt walrus and even small whales, and when especially hungry, have been known to swim up to 100 miles through frigid Arctic seawater in pursuit of prey.

This is not a CGI monster from Star Wars. The tardigrade is one of the world's smallest animals&mdashrarely longer than 1.5mm and visible only in a microscope. Though more than 900 species of tardigrades exist, occupying nearly every corner of the globe, in every possible environment, and that's what makes these little guys so tough. They survive at the bottom of the ocean, inside hot springs, and even at the top of Mount Everest. To test just how hearty tardigrades are, scientists threw a bunch of them on a satellite and launched it into space. When it came back, many of them were still alive, despite having endured a trip into an environment that would kill a human in a matter of seconds. How do they do it? Tardigrades, like yeast, can survive extreme drying. They can shed nearly all of their water and go into a kind of suspended animation until they're rehydrated&mdashwhether that's a few hours or many months later.

Sure, the emperor is the tallest and heaviest penguin, a fact that by default makes it the toughest of these beautifully weird, flightless birds. But weighing 80 pounds and swimming like a torpedo is hardly enough to offset awkward waddling and a lack of teeth or claws, so why is the emperor penguin so high on this list? Because emperor penguins live in Antarctica, the world's harshest and most unforgiving environment. During the breeding season&mdashwhich is winter, of course&mdashemperor penguins walk up to 75 miles over ice just to mate. Males then sit vigil for weeks over a fertilized egg, enduring frequent blizzards and 100 mile-per-hour winds, not to mention temperatures that drop as low as -40. Meanwhile, their ladies are off hunting in below freezing waters (the water temp, generally, is just under 29 degrees), diving up to 1755 feet in search of snacks that they'll then bring home by trudging back across that ice, through the wind and snow. Try and argue against their position now.

The Guinness book has declared the honey badger as "the world's most fearless animal." It looks like a weird skunk or, from the front, like a tiny bear wearing an old man's toupée, and it's got the personality to match. These are the psychopaths of the savannah&mdashsmall-ish omnivores that live in holes. If you were to cast Goodfellas using only African animals, Joe Pesci would definitely be a honey badger. These ferocious weasel cousins will kill and eat anything their size or smaller (rabbits, rodents, lizards), but they're also famous for attacking anything that steps on or near their dens, including horses, large antelope, and even Cape buffalo. Honey badgers have been observed chasing lions away from prey, will kill and eat cobras, and don't like to waste anything &mdash they've evolved to digest entire animals, including bones and feathers. And of course, they DGAF.

* This article is part of The Code, an editorial partnership between Esquire and Ford F-150.


Animals in Belize

Below you can find a complete list of Belizean animals. We currently track 127 animals in Belize and are adding more every day!

Belize is a small Central American country with a rich concentration of wildlife. Before the arrival of Europeans, it was once a part of the Maya Civilization. It later gained independence in 1981 from the United Kingdom. Situated against the Caribbean Sea, the country shares a border with Mexico and Guatemala to the north and west. The land is dominated by mountains, swamps, and tropical jungle ecosystems. It’s also known for the spectacular coral reef system just off the coast.


Panther Relationship with Humans

The world’s Big Cats have been hunted by people as both trophies and for their fur particularly over the past couple of centuries. This caused enormous declines in population numbers of both Leopards and Jaguars with them having actually completely disappeared from some areas of their historic range. Panthers have also been subjected to severe habitat degradation throughout much of Asia, Africa and America which means that these elusive predators are now even rarer. They are very rarely seen by people who are only really ever aware of a Panther’s presence by their tracks left on the ground and scratch marks on trees. They are in fact so sneaky that Panthers are often referred to as ‘the ghost of the forest’.


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Ants and Vinegar

Because ants are attracted to so many items in your home, many people wonder if these insects will actually be repelled by a vinegar solution. Luckily, the answer is a resounding yes. Unlike sweets and proteins, ants cannot stand vinegar, meaning that using this substance is a great way to kick ants out of your home for good.

The reason that ants are turned away by vinegar is that they cannot deal with strong smells. In addition to vinegar, ants hate items like lavender, garlic, and essential oils. Basically, anything with a strong odor can turn ants away.

Understanding why strong odors can get rid of ants requires learning a little bit about biology. When ants encounter vinegar, it can influence their behavior by interfering with the pheromones that ants use to communicate. Ants leave a trail of pheromones so that other ants can find food sources. The pungent odor of vinegar covers up these pheromones, preventing them from being detected by other ants so that they cannot find their way into your home.

Is Vinegar Dangerous?

If you’re interested by ants but don’t want them in your home, it’s important to find a pest-control solution that will leave these critters unharmed. In this regard, there is almost no better option than getting rid of ants with vinegar.

While it’s true that vinegar changes the way that ants behave, it poses no actual threat to these insects. Unlike pesticides and insecticides, using vinegar will not kill ants. The only thing that vinegar will do is cause ants to leave your home while preventing future infestations. This means that you can safely use vinegar without worrying that you’re hurting these mostly harmless creatures.

Basic Vinegar Treatment

Now that you know you can effectively get rid of ants, it’s time to learn about the most effective vinegar solutions for your ant problem. Because there are so many different options, you may need to mix and match before you find the solution that works for you. Let’s start with the basics.

The easiest way to use vinegar to get ants out of your home is to mix a basic solution of white vinegar and water into a misting bottle. Generally, you will mix these substances in equal parts. Once your solution is made, you should spray it in the areas of your home that are most vulnerable to an ant infestation, particularly your kitchen.

Homeowners who want to be certain that their home is ant free can forgo using water and simply spray pure white vinegar around their house. Spraying just vinegar will result in a much stronger smell that will be more likely to turn away ants.

Like most pest-control solutions, you should be aware that your vinegar will wear off over time. To make sure that the smell remains strong enough to keep ants away, you should make sure that you are regularly spraying white vinegar around your home.

Responding to an Infestation

Image via Flickr by paulscott56

In some circumstances, such as during a serious infestation, white cider vinegar may not be enough. Fortunately, you can make a much stronger solution using apple cider vinegar. For this solution, you will need a spray bottle, apple cider vinegar, and water.

Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water into your spray bottle. Then go around your home and spray everywhere that you’ve noticed ants. For example, you may need to spray around your window sills and baseboards, both of which are places where ants will typically enter your home. You should also make sure to spray this solution on your counters and in your cabinets.

If there are large numbers of ants in your house, you can spray your apple cider vinegar spray directly onto the ants. However, in terms of long-term prevention, a spray made out of white vinegar is usually the better idea.

Other Household Items to Prevent Ants

In general, vinegar is the most effective item you can use to get rid of ants, and there are a variety of items in your home that you can employ in a pinch to stop ants in their tracks.

For instance, if you notice ants are attracted to an item in your kitchen, such as a sugar jar, you can use adhesive tape. Simply place the tape around the object with the sticky side facing up. The ants will get stuck to the tape and then you can carry them outside.

Another easy way to keep ants out of your home is to use chalk. All you need to do is place chalk around your home in the areas where ants can enter. The chalk’s calcium carbonate content will repel the ants so that your home will stay insect free. You can also use regular flour in the same way.

If you’re looking for an all-natural solution for getting rid of ants, all you need is a little citrus juice. You can squeeze lemon juice in the cracks and crevices in your home to turn away ants. Similarly, by blending orange peels and then spreading the pulp along the exterior of your house, you should be able to prevent ants from entering your home in the first place.

Other items you can use to get rid of ants include salt, pepper, and common herbs and spices.

Get Rid of Ants

If you want to get rid of ants quickly and easily, there are several items that you probably already possess that will fit the bill. Getting rid of ants with vinegar, for example, is very effective, particularly if you use your solution regularly. For full advice on ant prevention, it’s best to consult with a trained professional.


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