Vatoharanana - The land of the leeches ( and some awesome frogs :) )
When a boa 2 meters long falls from a tree at your feet, the night resounds with the chirps, trills, and clicks of over 100 frogs species, fist-sized snails glide over the forest floor and insects of any shape, color and size crawl and buzz around, you know you are in the rainforest, one of the most magnificent habitats on earth (in my opinion). In the rainforest of Madagascar you are also greeted by blood thirsty terrestrial leeches, that somehow no matter what you wear find a way in. Serge and I spent 2 nights in Vaoharanana a site in Ranomafana National Park. The hike in had some unforgiving ups and downs but the dense canopy of the rainforest sheltered us from the afternoon sun which was nice. We all made it to the site in one piece and the cook had already started lunch. After lunch we started searching for frogs in the leaf litter and along the stream.
The stream was teaming with Mantidactylus cowani “small,” which was really cool! We found 8 different species the first day sampling. Around 4 PM the clouds rolled in and the sky began to rumble with thunder. Serge whispered to me as we waited for dinner “I bet we will have over 50 frogs tonight.” The rain began to pour down and didn’t let up until 8 PM but we sampled anyway. Within seconds I was drenched from head to toe. It was almost pointless to wear a raincoat. The leeches were ever so relentless with the rainy night. Every minute or so I would feel there suckers inching their way up my leg or neck. I had even duct taped my pant leg down to my skin to prevent them from crawling in but somehow they found a way in. We ended the night with 9 new species and many new ones from our last trip in August, including a Platypeli grandis – a truly amazing frog. Its toe pads are so big, almost too big for its body, sort of like when a dog’s paws seem too big for it when it’s a puppy. We processed the frogs with the help of the guide. Serge has mastered a one-handed frog hold, which is great for saving the gloves we use for sampling. We went to sleep in our tents, which were luckily safely set up under tin roof structures to keep us happy and dry
By the next morning the rain had past and the sun danced through the trees and across the stream, giving it a magical sparkle. The cook prepared us some coffee and breakfast- i.e. a huge portion of rice and some fried zebu. In the morning we collected along the small tributary streams and the forest floor upstream from the camp. We found 6 new species in addition to some of the ones found the previous day. We had lunch and the processed the frogs in the early afternoon. Serge and I have become rather efficient at sampling the frogs so it goes pretty quickly. The rest of the afternoon we rested and organized for our second and final sampling night at Vato. Packs of lemurs noisily rumbled through the forest making quite a ruckus, but we were unable to seen them. The thunder and rain rolled in earlier around 2 PM, but by 6:30 PM it was more of a light mist which was preferable to the torrential rain the previous night. This was the night were a huge boa fell from a tree just beside me as I searched for a calling Guibemantis liber. When it fell I jumped and charged full force away from it stumbling over logs and getting tangled in lianas and bamboo grass, not knowing was it was. I creep back over to find a 2 meter boa now resting on the forest floor. With my heart still racing a bit, I decided to venture to another section of the forest near a small stream away from the big snake.
Along the small stream, the Boophis quasibohemi were calling from every direction. I saw one male proudly grasping the back of his new mate, and probably soon they would deposit and fertilize some eggs dangled above the stream. The night ended with 4 new species.
We had sampled 108 individuals of 30 different species by the end of our 2 days at Vato, and the terrestrial leeches had sampled us many times (33 for me!). We also saw many metamorphs hopping around the forest floor and tadpoles darting around the small tributaries and heard many more species calling from high up in the canopy. The frogs here seemed happy and healthy!
Working to save the frogs,