Amazon Trip: The Rainforest

August 18th, 2007

As I mentioned, we just got back from the Amazon Rainforest, about 10 hours by boat from Iquitos, Peru, on the Rio Orosa. The river and forest here is beyond breathtaking. The biodiversity of trees and plants is probably impossible to catalog. There are plants growing on plants, which are covered in lichens, and attached to trees. Our tour operator told us that they recently invited a Ph.d. student down to complete their thesis work, and with approximately 650 trees surveyed, over 500 species of trees were identified, including one tree, “Lonely Jorge,” which is the only known living tree of its kind in the world. They don’t know how it got there, or if anymore of the species exist. Amazing stuff.

Two Trees come Together

The preserve where we stayed has caretakers, who maintain a number of trails through the forest, putting in log stairs such as the ones below. Most of the trails, however, are not are nicely established as these, which is probably a good thing to get a more authentic feel.

Stepped Path in the Amazon Rainforest

Sometimes, our trails would take us right over top one of these huge ant hills. Some of the larger anthills that we saw would be several feet high, and could fill a large living room in your standard American home. Fortunately, walking over these mounds did not seem to invite any punishment from the ants. Maybe we just got lucky, finding the “friendly ants?”

Huge Anthills in the Amazon Rainforest

Down the Rio Orosa a little ways, there is a small tributary where huge stands of banyan trees stand. We were not able to reach the largest of these due to low water, but our guides told us that there exists a single banyan tree that stretches over an entire acre of land by itself.

Banyan Trees in the Amazon Rainforest

All throughout the rainforest, little creeks and streams flow toward the larger rivers. I didn’t get a chance to survey to many of these for fish, but I believe our guide pulled out a few killies from one creek similar to this.

Stream in the Amazon Rainforest

As I mentioned before, nothing exists by itself in the forest. Every tree trunk shares itself with any number of plants or lichens. There’s at least two species growing on this trunk below.

More Lichens on Trees

Below is just another example of the ferns/mosses that grow on these trees.

Lichens all over the trees

I just liked this picture because it shows a number of different trees, all growing within close proximity to one another. I don’t remember if this was in one of the “devil’s gardens” or not, but it’s quite possible since there does not appear to be much undergrowth. A “devil’s garden” is created when a certain kind of ant decides to take up home among a particular group of trees. These ants produce and inject citric acid into every “unwanted” plant that comes into their garden, thus killing it. Tasting an ant, they taste like lemons — I wonder why?

Amazon Rainforest

The sun comes and goes very quickly near the equator. I watched the sunset in a tower overlooking the canopy of the trees.

Sunset in the Amazon

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Amazon Trip: Collecting Fish

August 17th, 2007

Yesterday, I just got back from Peru, where my wife and I spent about 2 weeks – 1 week in the Amazon rainforest, and another in the Andes. We went on a “photography tour” with Margarita Tours, which is an excellent company that I would highly recommend. Our photography leader, Dr. David Schleser, also leads subsequent fish collecting trips, and when he learned of my interest, he scheduled a sample fish collecting expedition to let me see what the week-long expedition is like.

Waist Deep in Mud, collecting fish

I must say, that collecting in the Amazon is a little bit different than our Florida collecting trip. Take away the boat ramps and add a lot of mud; like waist deep mud. On the plus side, in a single seine attempt, we probably pulled out 20 different species of fish, including some beautiful angelfish, and even a red-bellied piranha. There were plenty of catfish, who spines invariably poked your hands, and got tied up in the nets. There appeared to be a few different types of characins too.

Boy we were muddy!

This is really the only aquarium-related part of my trip, but as I gather together some of my pictures, I think I will deviate from the aquarium theme, and just post some of my rainforest experiences that I think will have a broader appeal. Keep posted for more soon.

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1952 Aquariums Weren’t So Primitive

August 13th, 2007

After coming home from an often-frequented thrift shop, my wife announced that she had bought me an aquarium book. Immediately, when looking at the cover, it’s obvious that the book was dated, but with plants on the cover, I figure it’s at least worth a look.

Indeed, published in 1952, the author describes how to build a tank from scratch using plywood, glass, and various “cements.” Then, he describes heating your tank using gas and oils, and describes setting the proper flame height to establish the proper temperature. Wow, and I thought I had it hard with my equipment!

Despite this, I continue reading, and to my surprise, there’s a whole chapter on aquatic plants. Plants reproduce by photosynthesis, true. Builders sand is not a good substrate because it compacts, true. Light is important, true. Fertilization will be taken care of by the fish, okay not entirely false, but still reading. Then I come to a section listing possible plants for an aquarium.

As you would expect, they were growing Cabomba caroliniana, but they also grew Cryptocoryne cordata, C. griffithii, Riccia Fluitans, and Utricularia, among others.

Then, the chapter continues on to describe how to layout an aquarium, using rocks and plants to form a aesthetically pleasing look. Use rocks that are well weathered, and avoid different types of rocks in the same aquarium, as it will not look natural. Don’t position the rock in the center of the aquarium, instead offset the rock a little bit to the right or left. Then, use plants to form an nice background around the rocks.

It seems that we’re not as advanced as we think we are in the aquarium hobby today. Sure, we might have the luxury of flow-controlled canister filters, fine tuned in-line electric heaters, and an assortment of manufactured substrates, but at the end of the day, we’re still in the business of making a tank that looks nice using a variety of plants and hardscape materials. Our plant selection may be larger than our grandparents’, but it seems appropriate that the art form of aquarium keeping are continuing from generation to generation.

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2.5G – Updated Photo

August 7th, 2007

Here’s an updated photo of my 2.5G. As you can see, the Crassula helmsii is really starting to take off — maybe too much so. The downoi is looking good, and I’ve removed the Blyxa japonica from the back right. I’m debating whether or not it needs something back there or not. Let me know what you think! 🙂

2.5G - Updated Photo

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Giant Frogbite

August 2nd, 2007

As I’ve mentioned this spring, I put frogbite out in my pond to help cover the water’s surface. An interesting thing happens out in the pond, that doesn’t usually happen inside in my aquariums — it gets huge! The roots burrow into the substrate, which when supply all the nutrients it needs to propel the leaves off of the water’s surface, and into the air. Usually, in the aquarium, the leaves have very little stem, and form a tight circular group at each node stretching across the surface. I’ve got stems that 4-5 inches long, standing upright with huge leaves on the end out in the pond.
Frogbite Emersed

Also, on the water surface, the underside of the leaves has a bulbous growth near the stem. When out of the water, this seems to disappear somewhat. There are still leaves growing across the surface, but as they age, they appear to extend toward the sky.

This, of course,  doesn’t seem to bother our newest inhabitant shown below, as he uses them for cover. Unlike his larger bullfrog cousin who is commonly seen sitting on the pond’s edge, he is a smaller frog, much like the ones I used to catch and release when I was growing up.

Frogbitten Frog

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