Mexican Mammal Study in Coffee Farms

April 4, 2014 by Amanda Caudill


Things we don't tell our mothers

We just completed the field research part of this project! I have to thank my great field crew for all of their hard work and tireless efforts. I couldn't have done it without them! We surveyed 23 sites within 4 habitat types of Smithsonian Bird Friendly coffee, conventional shade coffee, conventional sun coffee, and forested areas.

Field crew, from left to right: Amanda Caudill, Megan Banner, Stephen Brennen, Caitlin Campbell, and Tim Lima

We saw approximately 19 species of mammals from a combination of the small mammal traps and camera traps. We will confirm the field identification of these species after processing the DNA in the lab. The next phase of this project will be analyzing all the data that we collected to see which habitat parameters are important to the abundance and diversity of mammals in this area. I am excited to see what the results tell us!

I saved the last blog of this field work series to uncover all the things that we have kept under wraps for fear of worrying those back home. The tropics are home to a high diversity of species including those of insects, arthropods, and snakes. We have all had our fair share of insect bites—this is only to be expected in warm humid areas and we have had a couple of large furry spiders that have found their way onto our front porch.

Spider, photo by Megan Banner

We have only seen a handful of snakes during this research. I always try my best to educate about the dangers of snake bites—especially when trapping a main item on their menu. Megan found a statistic that says 70% of snake bites are by non-venomous snakes and 50% of bites by venomous snakes are "dry bites", meaning no venom is released. However, snake bites are particularly disconcerting when living in isolated/mountainous areas. There is a very poisonous coral snake in this region dubbed the "20-minute snake," which is terrifying considering that we live 40 minutes from the closest hospital…in reality though, we have rarely seen snakes.

Scorpions though are another story. Let me preface this by saying that most scorpions cannot kill an adult by their sting…that does not mean that it isn't painful. We had a couple of scorpions living in our bathroom water pipes. I'm not sure how that one works, but every once and again a scorpion would crawl out of the sink. Another one was found drown in the bathroom toilet. Caitlin was stung by a tiny scorpion when picking up her field pants from the floor. Luckily because it was so small, it did not have the full blown effects of an adult scorpion, but she said that it felt like a wasp sting which is definitely not pleasant.

Scorpion in sink, photo by Tim Lima

We prop our hiking boots upside down against the wall (i.e. sole of the boot facing up)—in theory this makes it harder for spiders, insects, and other things to crawl up into them…in theory. Additionally, we shake out our boots each morning in hopes that if the upside down method didn't work, whatever is in there will come out. One morning, I shook my boots out as usual and put them on. About 5 minutes later when heading up the driveway to our hiking path, I felt like I had gravel on top of my toes…which was strange. I asked everyone to wait a minute, so I could get the gravel out. I took off my boots, shook it and a big black scorpion fell out and scurried into a hole. I had to take a minute to breath before carrying on…it must have been pinned in the boot so that it couldn't reach its tail up to sting me. Lucky day.

Coffee farm in the mountains

We are all pretty worn out from our intense 3 months of hiking and traversing through the mountains of southern Mexico in search of mammals—but everyone is happy and healthy, so all of you moms can breathe a sigh of relief ☺ We collected a lot of valuable data that will be used to aid in the enhancement of mammal habitat in coffee landscapes.

The field crew profile this week is of Tim Lima. He recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Wildlife Conservation Biology.

Why were you interested in doing this field work?

I wanted to gain experience doing international field work and I have an interest in applied conservation towards sustainable agriculture.

Favorite thing so far:

Being able to talk to the farm managers/owners about their different practices, seeing and handling animals that other people usually get to see, and exploring this unique landscape.

Special skills:

Meticulous mammal measuring, identifying tree species, and keeping spirits high around the house