Little Devil Poison Frog (Diablito) ~ El Pangan - head, Rio Ñambi, Colombia
For this day, we only have a single observation, yet it is a beautiful one and a much needed happy ending of an "interesting" day.
In the morning, we exited the Rio Ñambi Reserve, which took us about 2 hours. We didn't take any photos on the way out, the goal was to transit instead. After a cold coke and salty chips (always great when reconnecting with civilization) we happened to be near a security council meeting, where local organizations were discussing the security situation of the area and how to improve its reputation. We were invited into the meeting and gave our impression of the situation, from a tourist perspective. They were happy to learn that we did not feel unsafe here.
After that, we made way to an elementary school full of kids. They looked a little shocked to see us pale smelly giants that just came out of the jungle. The classroom was plastered with posters and marketing material of one stunning frog. A specific morph of Oophaga sylvatica. The morph is named "El Pangan". Yet even this morph has an amazing variation and the one shown on the posters in particular was only to be found here. The kids were contributing to the conservation of this frog by selling handcrafted toys that resemble the frog, as a way to counter poaching.
We had no idea about this frog, and only at this point we learned about the plan to try and find them nearby, it was not described in the programme. We made way to a corner of a highway where we parked. The place looked like a dump, full of trash, yet it had an entry path into the forest.
Armed with the frog's call on playback, we had Manuel (our main guide) and Miguel (local herping guide) trying hard to find it. The path was extremely muddy and narrow. We immediately came across several workers in the forest, carrying big wooden planks out of the forest.
After an hour or so, still no sign of the frog, and at this point, one of the worker's charged us an entrance fee, claiming they own this land. A tiny extortion, but one I found very upsetting. Even more upsetting was the workers' waste littered all over the forest, tons of plastic bottles everywhere. Since I suck at finding poison frogs, I decided to collect them in a plastic bag.
With no frog in sight anywhere and not a single call returned, we gave up and turned around. Just before we were back to the car, Manuel claimed he thought he did hear it further back, and returned into the forest, asking us to wait by the car.
The wait took forever. We were in a smelly, hot place, rain hammering down and insects had no mercy on attacking us. The longer we had to wait, the more paranoid I became. What if these workers are creating new plans to rob us? We're practically begging for it by staying here so long and given a car full of valuables. I even took my memory cards out and put them on my body, just in case.
I started to get worried about Manuel and Miguel as the wait took longer. I called Manuel. Luckily, he was fine. Five minutes from meeting us again, yet they did not find the frog. We packed up our gear and sat in the car, waiting for him to appear out of the forest.
I saw him appear, approaching the car. Good, we can finally get out of this shithole. He walked strangely slow. He didn't look defeated at all, smirking instead. And why would he have his hands behind his back?
Wait...no...my brain already knew what happened but I was so upset that it took a few additional seconds to connect the dots. He found diablito! Between me calling him and him taking the final few steps out of the forest, it jumped right in front of him, directly on the path.
Needless to say, this saved the day. All credit to Manuel Espejo, who never quits and always knows how to turn the worst of days into a highlight.
Afterwards, we returned to the children in the school. They were all like "ooohhhh" and "ahhhhh" and "bloody hell you stink, get away from me".
The dramatic color variation of Oophaga species is well known, yet still poorly understood. Oophaga sylvatica is absurdly diverse:
This is the best study I could find trying to explain this phenomenon:
The short conclusion: the combination of climate gradients, within-population sexual selection and natural barriers (typical of the Andes) likely all play a role, yet no clear conclusion on why the variation is so spectacularly strong.
''Oophaga sylvatica'', sometimes known with its Spanish name diablito, is a species of frog in the family Dendrobatidae found in southwestern Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. Its natural habitat is lowland and submontane rainforest; it can, however, can survive in moderately degraded areas, at least in the more humid parts of its range. It is a very common frog in Colombia but has disappeared from much of its Ecuadorian range. It is threatened by habitat loss and agricultural pollution. It is.. more