With the metal antenna held above the head and the receiver close to one ear, we the “seed-trackers” meander through the rainforest in the Barro Colorado Island, encountering numerous impressive webs of golden orb weavers, hopping over lianas and vines that braid each other making it impossible to trace their start and end, stooping under palm fronds that curve as if to touch the ground beneath, walking down fast the ravines sometimes slipping due to the wetness of the fallen leaf litter and slippery mud, and then gradually walking up the slope one step after another with a mission to trace the transmitter and recover the seed whose fate remains a mystery until it is found.
Every week brings with it numerous surprise, seeds in our experiment are either taken by red squirrels to the safety of the tree canopy, or cached in the stream bed. Some are eaten and some are detached from the fishing line. This past week, things were even more interesting.
1) While carving her way through the lianas and vines in the process of checking the Lake route, one of the seed-trackers caught a freeze-banded agouti in action. At a distance of about 10 meters, the freeze-banded agouti passed with a seed in its mouth and was dragging a pink flagging attached to the seed! The agouti stopped, lifted its front feet, grabbed the seed and turned the seed in different directions against its mouth. After about 20 seconds, it held the seed firmly by its mouth, put its front feet on the ground and started marching forward and soon vanished among the green vegetation.
2) One of the streams cuts a narrow ravine that is about a meter high. We have been following a seed that was cached at the bottom of the ravine with a camera. Yesterday the seed was moved close to a hole in which lived a terrestrial crab (we can say this because we have a picture of the crab exiting the hole). Today the seed along with the transmitter is inside the crab’s burrow. The camera revealed the identity of the seed thief. Only this time, it was neither the agouti, nor the spiny rat and red squirrel.
3) About 5 meters off the Balboa trail; a seed has been taken under the ground through a hole on the ground’s surface. We narrowed the seed’s position with a 900 MHz receiver. “Thud” “Thud” the shovel went into the red clay. A hole about a foot deep and a foot wide was dug. Then suddenly, a bullet ant appeared from about 50 cm away from the hole. Then another one and then another one. As more bullet ants began to appear, we aborted the seed excavation.
While we wait to excavate the seed out of the hole of the mysterious animal, the forest awaits for us with more surprises in the coming weeks.