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El Tucuche: The Quest to Find the Golden Tree Frog

The second highest mountain of Trinidad, El Tucuche of 936 meters above sea level, lies in the Northern Range close by our home. Our adventure was to seek out the elusive Golden Tree frog, Phyllodytes auratus, which is endemic to 2 mountains in the whole world!  We prepared ourselves for a brutal hike through the jungle in high humidity as we set off at 8am through the Maracas Valley to the foot of the mountain. Well equipped, we trekked up the rocky, crystal quartz filled path, accompanied by expedition friends Mike Rutherford, Steveland Charles and Reptile Enthusiast – Adam.

The steep incline proved to be a mental and physical challenge, but comforted by the knowledge we had survived the Ben Nevis climb earlier in the summer, we powered through! The path soon became a tangle of tree roots which we crawled over. The fauna changed drastically as we ventured higher up the trail. Leaving the invasive bamboo and young saplings behind and moving deeper into the forest where native bamboo surrounded us and vines hung like curtains from the towering ancient trees. An assortment of coloured fungi scattered the trail – bright oranges, coconut shell like ridges and small yellow primrose shrooms. Sharp razor grass and ferns grew in abundance and hairy lichens and moss drooped from the trees as we reached the fresher air.

Fallen trees blocked our path which we hurdled over or crawled under. The trees dwindled to few as we emerged out of the canopy, to see we were higher than the surrounding hills. Close to the peak, we walked through the clouds – the rain started to pour, cooling us down. We reached the summit before we knew it – Though we could not see much but the clouds, bushes and wild green and purple orchids! After collapsing and having some jam sandwiches we celebrated in true Trini Family style by creating a pyramid – Becky, who is now home, we left space for you on the top of our tower!

Feeling accomplished for reaching the top we set out to find the Golden Tree Frog who lives in the water tanks of the giant bromeliad, Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora, which thrive on the tree trunks and branches.  As we were soon to discover they are home to a range of beasties… Our chances of finding the Golden Tree Frog were slim, as the species is critically endangered and rarely reported in its only habitat on the peaks of the El Tucuche and El Cerro del Aripo. We had previously been permitted by the Trinidad Wildlife Division to collect samples from El Tucuche. Using gardening gloves for protection we dissected 20 Bromeliads and found one Golden Tree Frog (!),  3 tadpoles and a teeny Flectonotus fitzgeraldi  frog in total. This was alongside many a deadly scorpion and centipede. Tityus trinitatis scorpions rushed out from between the leaves of the bromeliad – when stung by these critters they inject a toxin into you which causes pancreatic degradation…

The walk home was easier for some and trickier for others – we recommend sliding down the hill on your bum! More photos to follow!

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