Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter egg hunt!

The tinamous are nesting on BCI, which means there are large, aquamarine eggs hidden throughout the forest tempting the capuchins.  Eggs are high quality food, and all the monkeys are spending a lot of time staring at the ground or following adult tinamous around, hoping to find a nest.  A couple of days ago, three females cooperated to chase a male tinamou off his nest and steal his eggs.  The birds nest on the ground at the bases of trees, so Claudia climbed down the tree and scared the male off his nest, and while Mimi and Betty kept him distracted, she stole all his eggs.  After all their help, you might think that Claudia would share her booty.  Actually, she did, but not with either of the females who helped her out.  Instead, she and Cheverul sat side by side on a palm frond, happily dipping their hands into the opened egg and licking the yolk and whites off their fingers.  

The capuchins aren't the only ones who like tinamou eggs, either!

All the activity we've seen in the last few weeks surrounding these eggs (and especially the food sharing we've observed), got me excited about an art and crafts project and I went on an epic search for easter eggs dyeing kits and white eggs.  Surprisingly, given that the easter bunny doesn't visit Panama, it was easier to come up with the kits than the white eggs.  I have been to every grocery store and every market in the city, and discovered that only brown eggs are sold in Panama.  Everyone seems to remember a time when you could find white eggs, but not any more.  Luckily, it turns out that using the blue dye tablet and brown eggs more or less turns a chicken egg into a reasonably convicing fake tinamou egg.  

I've spent the last three weeks teaching the Princeton semester in Panama class on tropical vertebrate biology, and we used these eggs to create fake tinamou nests.  We wanted to know how close monkeys had to come to see the eggs, and look at the role that dominance and social relationships played in determining who actually got to eat them once they were found.  It was quite funny, actually, as soon as a capuchin saw the 'nest', they immediately started scanning the trees around them to see if any of their group mates were visible, and only then, moving very slowly and quietly did they start moving down to the ground to pick up the eggs.  If one of the adult males saw a female or juvenile moving towards a nest, he'd immediately rush over and take all the eggs, so stealth was key!

Alfredo, taking the eggs that Oldemar found.


Anonymous said...

Glad to read about your adventures in the rain forest! Did the monkeys eat the ersatz eggs? Mom

Meg Crofoot said...

Loved them!

Jenny said...

Wow that is amazing, I would love to have your job! I've wanted to do something like that since i don't know.. FOREVER!