22 January, 2010

"Treefrog at Noon!"

.a tree frog watches the world go by from behind the kitchen clock"I can hardly wait..."
Photo: © Daniel De Granville, 2010

A popular field tip among tour guides who lead wildlife enthusiasts is the so-called “clock technique”. Probably inspired by military orientation strategies, it aims at facilitating the location of a bird or any other animal on the surroundings by creating an imaginary clock, using its hands to point out the critter. The “clock” can be used both vertically or horizontally, on a tree or in the horizon, for example.

That way, we end up getting used to expressions that sound senseless at first, like “toucan at three o’clock”, “monkey at noon”, “macaws at five thirty”. But what does this have to do with today’s story?

the clock technique using a tree
clock technique using the natural landscape
Clock technique using a tree (L) or the natural landscape (R)
Photos and artwork: © Daniel De Granville, 2008

It happens that we have a Milky Treefrog (Trachycephalus venulosus) who is a frequent visitor at our house, but now decided to lodge behind the wall clock. Almost every morning, at around 10:30 AM, it shows up and just sits on top of the kitchen clock, watching our routines and inspiring photos like this... Now, take a look at the first picture and tell me: shall I say “treefrog at noon” or “treefrog at ten to eleven”? :-)

Milky Treefrog perching on a branchThe same species, but this time in the gallery forest
Photo: © Daniel De Granville, 2003


06 January, 2010

Termite Pizza?!

Photo: © Daniel De Granville, 2009

Termites are almost unanimously considered as a pest, both in cities and in the countryside. They can cause enormous damage in urban areas by attacking wood and even concrete structures in buildings, whereas in crops and cattle ranch pastures they can proliferate to such an extent that they bring problems to landowners. For these reasons, termites are systematically eliminated in cities by specialized pest control companies, and in rural areas their mounds are sometimes poisoned and removed by tractors.

Pasture taken over by termite mounds
in the Brazilian Savannas
Photo: © Daniel De Granville, 2009

Here at home it is not too different. Every now and then we find a part of our entry gate being eaten by them, so we decided to make a “pact”: they eat my wood, I benefit from their home. This is how we created a pizza-baking oven inside a termite mound in our backyard. We had heard similar stories of this use from old-time Pantanal folks, but without much detail. The internet also had very few information, so that we had to do it the way we thought it should be (it is worth remembering that, together with a group of friends, we built a similar oven four years ago, but unfortunately it was taken down).

"Sorry for the inconvenience, we are
working to serve you better "
(building the first oven)
Photo: © Rakka C., 2006

Enjoy the results of this new invention, that I am prone to call “ecorecycling”.

Job done, just waiting to be officially inaugurated!
Photo: © Daniel De Granville, 2009

Today’s lesson
: like everything in nature, these insects also have their good and useful side. Probably the first thought that came to your mind were our beloved anteaters, who feed mainly on termites, but these bugs also perform another very important task on soil nutrient cycling. As the world famous naturalist David Attenborough mentions on this documentary, “probably a forest will not miss much if every human disappeared from the surface of Earth, but would sure suffer a lot if the millions of termites were eliminated from the area”.

Ready for the pizzas!
Photo: © Daniel De Granville, 2009

And the help from termites is not limited to nature: besides this rustic oven, in the past it was common for Pantanal people to make the flooring in their houses with mud taken from termite mounds, sometimes mixed with the hard seeds of the Acrocomia Palm to replace gravel. I heard that nowadays engineers are studying the amazingly efficient airflow system in termite nests to come up with cooler buildings that are more energy-efficient by diminishing the demands for air-conditioners.