Frogging in Oaxaca

I was lucky to get to go back and do some fieldwork in Oaxaca again this fall! This time, I was mostly helping Anne Chambers out again catching leopard frogs for her dissertation research. It was a really great follow up my summer fieldwork where we spent the entire  time working our way along the coast and perimeter of Oaxaca, since this time we were working throughout the inland valleys and mountain ranges of the state. We had a great field crew including Britney White (Anne’s labmate at UT), Levi Gray (a good friend and postdoc at the University of Kentucky), along with several graduate students from UNAM.

We flew into Oaxaca City and drove straight towards the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to sample near Santa María Jalapa de Marqués. This was a pretty low elevation site, but is a particularly neat area because Mexican beaded lizards and giant horned lizards are known from the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to herp during the daytime on this trip (we spent that mostly preparing specimens and driving between sites); most of our herping time was at night catching frogs in streams. The trip started off successfully: we caught a bunch of frogs at two different sites near there (one even lower down at the Rio Tehuantepec).

One of the cool parts about being in Oaxaca at this time of year was that it was during the Dia de Muertos celebration, so the next day we drove back to Oaxaca City to spend an evening enjoying all the decorations and parades that were going on in the city. One of the coolest examples of these were the elaborately decorated altars that people create to honor the memories of their loved ones.

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Another fun aspect of the trip was spending that evening enjoying the celebration with local herpetologist Luis Canseco-Márquez. The next day we drove north over the Sierra Juarez to San Juan Bautista Valle Nacional. The drive over the mountains was gorgeous, and we ultimately ended up down in Caribbean lowland rainforest where it was raining pretty intensely. You can see how much water was in some of the creeks we were herping because of this.DSC_0529.JPG

The next couple days were a little frustrating since we had trouble actually finding leopard frogs, though we did see some other really cool herps, for example, the first Thorius (a diminutive species of salamander) I’d ever seen and a beautiful Craugastor (rainfrog) near Llano de las Flores.

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Our next great success was back near central Oaxaca, where were able to find a bunch of Rana spectabilis at several sites around the valley. Supposedly this is the same species of leopard frog that we found at high elevations in Hidalgo on the trip Anne and I took last year, however, these populations are clearly in a disjunct biogeographic region, it will be cool to see what Anne finds in her studies of these frogs! The last leg of our trip was south across the Sierra Madre del Sur, where we ended at San Pedro Juchatengo. The trip there and back was interesting because the highway was full of bikers and elaborately decorated vehicles making a religious pilgrimage to Santa Catarina Juquila. This part of the trip was highly successful, and we got leopard frogs at several sites. Another cool species we saw that co-occurred with the leopard frogs at most places was Rana sierramadrensis. These frogs are bigger, and have really interesting flaps of excess skin on their sides (unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures) that are obvious when they are sitting in the water. Presumably these provide increase surface area for oxygen absorption from the water, as similar structures do in other amphibians? Along the way we also got some excellent roasted chicken and found some entertaining swing sets…

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The trip ended with a bus ride back to Mexico City to visit UNAM and drop off specimens at the museum. It was a really fun and successful trip, can’t wait to go back!


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