The Laughing falcon a raptor bird that appears in the Popol Vuh
On our June field trip in Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre, part of the Reserva de Biósfera Maya, Petén; we were documenting savanna ecosystems -as we have been doing for the last couple years- and we get to hear a very peculiar sound. As we were getting closer, we get able to see it… A Laughing falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) in front of us! By its common name you can imagine the sound that produces.
H. cachinnas is a raptor species, inhabiting tropical and subtropical zones from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, in a variety of habitat types such as forest edges, riverine woodlands, savannas and secondary forests (Caldeira et al 2014).
Laughing falcon is not the only common name for this bird, it is also called snake hawk and the reason is that snakes comprise the majority of its diet, big and small, venomous and non-venomous, arboreal and terrestrial. The falcon pounces on snakes with great force, hitting the ground with an audible thud. When it catches a snake, it holds it just behind the head with its beak. Then it readily bites off the snake's head. However, it also will pray on lizards, small mammals, birds, fish, and large insects, such as grasshoppers (Caldeira et al, 2014; The Peregrine Fund, n.d.).
An interesting fact from H. cachinnas is that sometimes nests close to ants, because even if the ants doesn’t bother the falcons, the attack other animals that come close, helping the falcon protect its netslings from predator.
H. cachinnas in Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre, June 2022 Photographies by Emanuel Chocooj
The laughint falcon in the Popol Vuh
It is very impressive when you find some of the fauna that is part of the sacred book of the Maya, because you are in the authentically atmosphere was their worldview was conceive. Nicholas Hellmuth explained how does the Laughing falcon appears in the Popol Vuh:
The Laughing falcon is very important; it is also called the snake hawk. But this bird is the bird of the Popol vuh. In the Popol Vuh is considered to be a macaw and in Copan ruins in Honduras, the sacred bird is a macaw, in every aspect, kind of a symbol logo. But in other maya sites the bird that sits on the tree that has the calabash is the Laughing falcon and in my PhD dissertation I devote time for that and I showed and I incised the shell that shows two of the aspect again in the Popol Vuh, the grandmother gives a message to a flee, or an insect. The insect is eaten by a frog or a toad who carries it further, a snake eats the toad and carries the message further and the laughing falcon eats the snake. The when it gets to Xibalba the bird regurgitates the snake and regurgitates the toad but then has a little trouble regurgitating the flee.
We know the relevance of the Popol Vuh, but it was Michael Coe from Yale Univesity, he is the one who really showed the relevance of the Popol Vuh and the hero twins. And then in my PhD in the 1980’s at the Graz University in Austria showed more of the Popol Vuh that was not widely known, because every person knows a little bit about it – I don’t know everything – but Michael Coe introduce it and I was able to follow it up and find even more basis more plates, more bowls that shows the hero twins and shows the laughing falcon and I am also the one who notice on top of the tree, it was not a Macaw, it was a bird with a snake in his mouth and that’s the snake hawk which is the laughing falcon.
- The reptile hunter’s menu: A review of the prey species of Laughing Falcons, Herpetotheres cachinnans (Aves: Falconiformes). North-western Journal of Zoology 10 (2): 445-453.
- Laughing Falcon - Herpetotheres cachinnans.
Written by Vivian Hurtado
Giant green larva looks like an alien
Larvae of butterflies and moths come in amazing different sizes, shapes, and coloration. Yesterday Victor Mendoza found the green larva we show here. It is the largest I have seen in many decades of photographing larva in the rain forests of Guatemala.
We found this along the trail from Plan Grande Tatin toward the Cueva del Tigre, Municipio de Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala.
We will do a photo essay showing all our macro photographs by Nicholas Hellmuth and by David Arrivillaga (FLAAR Mesoamerica). But to start here are photographs with an iPhone 13 Pro Max, held within a few centimeters of this creature to get these views. Since most larvae are dangerous to touch, we did not touch it. And we left it in the same place that we found it (on the ground).
We now initiate library research to figure out what family and what genus this creature is.
If you want to study insects, Guatemala is a great place.
Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) sighting in Livingston
Watching dolphins in the sea is an incredible spectacle, something beautifully unmatched. It makes you feel peace, excitement and joy at the same time.
On April 7, the FLAAR Mesoamerica team made an express fieldtrip to Livingston. It was on this trip where we had the opportunity to watch this incredible moment, we were heading to Tapón Creek crossing Amatique Bay when suddenly we observed that the dolphins jumped next to our boat, they could be seen to the right and to the left.
The species that we observed in Amatique Bay is Tursiops truncatus, commonly called bottlenose dolphins or locally called “Toninas” in Livingston. Dolphins belong to the order CETACEO of the mammalia taxonomic class, this means that dolphins are certainly marine mammals.
Video by Victor Mendoza. April 7th 2022. iPhone 11. Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) sighting in Livingston.
Bottlenose dolphins are social animals known for their playful behavior. Many times, they are found living in groups called pods. These groups can contain just a couple of members, or hundreds of members when different pods join. Bottlenose dolphins hunt in groups, taking turns chasing schools of fish or catching fish against mud or sand banks (NCEAS, 2004).
FLAAR Mesoamerica has had the opportunity to document several sightings of these amazing marine mammals. This time it was possible to observe them on the coast of Punta de Cocolí around 10 in the morning. Regarding their physical appearance, they were approximately 8 feet long, so we deduced that it was a pod of adult dolphins. Alexander Cuz, our boat captain told us that they were feeding according to their behavior. They were light gray in color and we could see how one dolphin jumped on its back and we appreciated its white chest.
If you are very lucky you can live this incredible experience if you visit Livingston, Izabal!
- Delfín Nariz de Botella. Mamíferos merinos del Proyecto: Kids Do Ecology
Written by Lic. Roxana Leal & Ing. Victor Mendoza
Video by Ing. Victor Mendoza
Introduction to Mammals and the 5 Felines of Guatemala
Do you want to know more about the mammals and the five felines of Guatemala? These conferences are what you were looking for.
Sign up here to receive the ZOOM link:
We are waiting for you on Wednesday May 25th and Thursday May 26th via Facebook Live or ZOOM at 6:00 pm (Guatemala Time). *CONFERENCE FOR ALL PUBLIC.
- MSc. Pilar Negreros - Knowing the Mammals
- Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth - The five felines of the Mayan Culture: Attributes and physical differences.
- Vivian Hurtado
- Victor Mendoza
Organized by: FLAAR Mesoamerica, MayanToons and FLAAR USA
Black insect focuses on flowers of Vanilla insignis, Peten, Guatemala
During May 2022 field trip in Peten, Guatemala, we found a black insect wandering around the fresh open flower of a wild Vanilla insignis orchid vine. This insect was not a bee. Since wild vanilla orchid flowers bloom only 3 hours once a year, to have an orchidologist or entomologist in front of the flower and see this insect is statistically unlikely.
We are preparing FLAAR Report on this orchid where the insect can be seen on the outside and on the inside of the open flower. By late June the report should be ready.
What species of owl is this?
I saw this “owl face” while hiking along a dirt trail through the seasonally inundated bajos that surround the tasistal savannas we are searching for. Fortunately seasonally inundated also means seasonally bone dry, so hiking these many kilometers was realistic in late March this year. FLAAR has a 5-year project of cooperation and coordination with CONAP to study flora, fauna and ecosystems of the entire Reserva de la Biosfera Maya. We are focusing on studying all the varieties of savanna: low grass savanna, high sawgrass savanna (cibal), and tasiste palm savannas (tasistal). Also are making lists of all of the wild plants in these habitats that are edible (which means the Classic Maya had these plants available as food thousands of years ago).
Is this a buho or lechuza or tecolote? Those are the words in Spanish to distinguish between kinds of owls. Tecolote is derived from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Lots of towns including in Guatemala are named Teculutan (which I assume means place of the tecolotes). I drive through the town of Teculutan (Zacapa, along CA-9) a dozen times each year to reach where we are doing field trip research to find interesting flora and fauna. (ps, the shape of the area around the eyes is more like that of a buho than a lechuza).
Next step is to learn what causes these tumor-like growths to form on this particular tree. I usually see galls on trees in the Maya Highlands. On this trail we are in the Maya Lowlands. Hope this “owl face” was entertaining for you.
Written by Nicholas Hellmuth