Tour to Neocene


97. Feathered esthetes


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Chapter is based upon the ideas proposed by João Vitor Coutinho, Brazil

In Neocene South America has turned again to isolated continent like it had taken place during the significant part of Cenozoic before the occurrence of humans. The reason of it became a going on spreading of Atlantic Ocean and tectonic processes in Central America due to movement of small lithosphere plates. It had kept a connection with North America via the faltering land bridge of Antilles, which largest landmasses are Cuba and Great Antigua. From time to time between various islands in this island chain land bridges appeared and the representatives of ground fauna got an opportunity to overpass one more part of their way to the north or to the south. However, only few representatives of continental flora and fauna set out on such travel and the continent actually appeared isolated again. Only migrating birds succeed easily cross Panama Passage or fly along the chain of Antilles during their migrations to wintering areas from North America, and Drake Passage during the migrations of South American birds to Antarctica, which in Neocene became inhabited again, though it is still not always hospitable.
The significant part of South American continent is located in tropical latitudes, and this area is covered with evergreen rainforest known as selva. Storing water like a sponge, forest supports the existence of extensive river system of Amazon and Hyppolithe. As a result, this place is one of the global centrums of biodiversity.
The most part of biological diversity is concentrated in rainforest canopy, closer to the sun light and heat. Here branches of trees grow actively, conquering the living space. They bear heavy burden of “epiphytic gardens” formed by numerous species of epiphytic orchids, ferns and bromeliads. Lianas, spreading their shoots from one tree to another, link forest canopy together, enabling arboreal animal to move free between trees, not climbing down to the ground and not crossing small forest rivers murmuring in the shadow. Forest canopy percolates with diverse animal life. Sparkling their wings, motley butterflies flit, and the sunlight glimmers in metal colouring of their wings. Above bright tree flowers wasps and bees of various species hover, drumming deeply. From time to time dragonflies rush promptly in air; their nymphs develop in the forest rivers. The diverse beetles, frequently decorated with freakish horns or sparkling metal shine of elytra, creep on tree branches or eat leaves lazily. Among vertebrates, the most numerous inhabitants of forest canopy are birds. Flocks of parakeets fly among branches and cry shrilly. Numerous passerine birds enliven the forest with elaborate songs or, on the contrary, with monotonous, but resonant calls. Cries of monkeys join the bird chorus from time to time. Sometimes the wood turns silent, when above tree crones the feathery predator soars, having stretched its wings majestically. When the danger is over, forest inhabitants return to habitual vanity.
In tropical forest life bubbles and sparkles in brightest colours. Sight sense plays an important role in life of inhabitants of forest canopy. Plants invite their pollinators with the help of brightly coloured petals, and animals of various species submit actively visual signals to relatives and to representatives of other species.
Large leaf beetle has crept out on leaf of epiphytic bromeliad. It looks very nice – its shell has golden-yellow colour with red spots and metal shine. In ray of sunlight shining through tree branches, it shimmers and opalizes in the sun. However, its bright colouring is well visible not only to its congeners, but also to enemies. Now it did to an insect a disservice: too appreciable beetle draws attention of one local bird.
From the top branch a bird is looking on the beetle – as against the majority of local birds, it is coloured very imperceptibly. It is a bird approximately equal in size to a crow of human epoch, with black head, grayish chest and stomach, and bluish-grey wings. Having looked round, this bird whirred from the branch and flied down to thickets of bromeliads. Under its weight branch swayed a little and the beetle turned on alert: it has drawn its legs under body, being ready at any moment to fall down from the branch and to vanish from enemy’s field of view. Bird keeps its eyes on insect and is ready to attack it at any moment. It has made a clumsy jump sideways, getting closer to an insect, and, having felt it, the beetle has drawn its legs under body. However, the primitive behaviour of an insect has failed it: the beetle has slid from leaf surface not downwards, but into the middle of bromeliad rosette, into the rain water gathered inside it. Grey-and-black bird in one dexterous movement snatched out this insect from bromeliad, dropped it on the branch, pressed by toes against the bark, and in one movement pulled out beetle’s abdomen and swallowed it. Nevertheless, it would not drop its remains down – it just was a main target of bird’s searches. Amount of soft tissues of this bug is too small to sate this rather large bird, but the shining shell is a desired find. Having cautiously taken remains of the beetle in beak, the bird flied up and directed to the tree where it lives, hiding under forest canopy. In flight, the bird behaves carefully and chooses shady places in order to prevent attracting of its congeners with shine of its find.
The home of this bird is a large tree with smooth grey bark and dense crone of trifoliate leaves. Existence of this tree in forests of South America is a result of human activity many millions years ago. This tree is a direct descendant of Brazilian rubber tree cultivated in human epoch at the extensive plantations. During the decline of civilization, when oil stocks were exhausted, demand for natural plant raw material has sharply increased, and tropical forests were cut down already for the sake of organization of plantations of tropical cultures, including rubber trees. As a result, to the moment of human extinction in tropics of the Earth there were extensive plantations of the tropical trees becoming ancestors of new forest plants of Neocene. Descendants of rubber tree represent an important component of tropical forests of South America in Neocene epoch, and one of their species has a special importance in life of this surprisingly dim-coloured bird.
The bird perched on the tree trunk, got its claws caught in the almost invisible cracks of tree bark, and put beetle shell into the bush of epiphytic fern attached into the deepening of the trunk. Then it flied up higher and perched on the branch sticking out near rather strange area of bark on the tree trunk. Here tree bark was pecked through for many times, and from under damaged bark latex oozes slowly, gradually hardening in air. Drying up latex becomes sticky soon, and with its help right on the tree trunk various small objects are pasted. Among them there are fuzzes of seeds of tropical trees, flower petals and leathery leaves of lianas of various degrees of freshness. The central part of this spot represents a circle approximately half-meter in diameter, on which dead beetles of various species are pasted profusely. These are mainly insects with bright shining elytra; therefore, in sunlight this area of tree bark shines brightly and is clearly seen from apart. All these beetles were caught any time ago by this bird and eaten, and their shells were added to this extensive collection. Among the collected beetles there are some items of impressing size and appearance – large black staghorn beetle with huge head and frightening hypertrophied mandibles and very large capricorn beetle with bright blue elytra and the broken off antenna. They are surrounded by shiny beetles of smaller size, mainly reddish and orange ones, or having red spots on their shells. Having examined a collection of insects, the bird torn off modestly appearing dried leaf and thrown it out, and then by several strong impacts of its beak pecked bark through. In one minute from an aperture lacteal latex began to ooze. The bird gone down to the fern, took remains of the beetle from the bush and returned to penetrated bark, holding it in its beak. It brought beetle shell to the drop of fresh latex, dipped into it, having moved it by beak in sides, and pasted onto the free place among other trophies. Flying up on the branch growing beside, the bird looked on its collection by one eye, having bent its head to the side. However, it appeared dissatisfied with result of its work. Having dexterously pulled out the pasted beetle, it rearranged trophy to another place and flitted on the branch again. This time it appeared quite pleased with the result. Such bright trophy beautifully shining in sunlight represents an excellent updating of the collection. For the habit of gathering of bright shining objects, this bird species is named as Amazon decorator bird. A tree with sticky latex, on which the collection of its trophies is placed, is named as rubber cement tree.
On trees with sticky sap, it is frequently possible to see such bright spots of the finds remarkable in bright colouring or in freakish shapes pasted by decorator birds. A bird flying above the forest can notice how they shine in sunlight. Creators of these ornaments also expect for it – these are decorator birds, which paste on branches bright objects for many generations to impress females and to display themselves against the background of lovingly arranged bright collections. Pasting of objects to tree bark with sticky sap is an instinctive behaviour. As against it, the selection of objects for collecting is actually a cultural skill passing from one generation to another already for millions years. Young birds study it at adult individuals, simultaneously introducing something new into the art of creation of collection.
Amazonian decorator bird male flied to the tree, holding in its beak the next updating – bright red feather. It is a valuable find – it does not fade like flowers, and can decorate a collection for a long time. However, duration of the presence of objects in collection depends not only on their durability. The possession of bright objects develops into the true passion, and the aspiration to catch an attractive exhibit drives decorator birds to do unseemly things.
Having pasted a feather above beetles, decorator bird male flied up on one branch growing near it and looked to the collection from the outside with one eye, having bent its head in side. It seems he likes the impression, which his collection makes. Having rearranged two other trophies, and having thrown out faded leaflet from the side, decorator bird male flied on the next tree for food. Near rubber cement tree the robust fig tree towers – it is the best possible neighbourhood for decorator bird. A basis of a diet of this species is made of fig infructescences, which this bird swallows entirely, dispersing seeds of this plant in forest. The whole crop of this fig tree ripens on large old branches and trunk, and ripe infructescences hang down from bark of the tree in small clusters – it is very convenient for birds and monkeys liking to relish them. Due to keen sight sense, decorator bird male found out some clusters of ripe infructescences and began his meal. Hard beak is capable not only to peck through bark of rubber cement tree – it easily picks and squashes fig infructescence and bird swallows it entirely. While enjoying his meal, the owner of the collection should not lose vigilance: if he will leave for a too long time, his collection will make strictly different impression.
In branches of rubber cement tree the bird jumps – it is one more decorator bird. As against male assembling lovingly his collection and selecting exhibits according their color and impressiveness, this individual behaves differently: the bird obviously would not like to be noticed, though in air terrible silhouettes of feathery predators are not visible. The reason of care of this individual is quite different: it is another male, which decided to fill up his own collection for another’s expense. Larceny of beautiful objects from each other’s collections is a routine for this species. To make the intended, it is necessary to try not to get spotted by the owner of the collection. Therefore, the feathery thief hides in rich foliage and freezes for a long time, having seen a silhouette of any bird flying by. Quickly flying from one branch to another, he has reached the site of tree trunk, where the magnificent collection of shining and bright objects is placed. It gleams seductively in sunlight, and the thievish stranger will hardly resist against the temptation of stealing anything from here. He flied down cautiously on the branch, from which the owner of territory admired the collection very recently, and his greedy eyes began to wander on another’s treasures. He does not know what is better to steal: large staghorn beetle or brightly shining red shell of any smaller beetle. Maybe, is that red feather set up on the top of collection by its owner better? The thief jumps along the edges of the collection and tries to tear off one object or another by beak. One beetle shell crackled in his beak and was destroyed. Another bug appeared pasted too long time ago and too thoroughly, and it would hardly be torn off without destroying. However, feather is quite worthy trophy for such foray. To get it, he needs only to fly up from the branch and to hook by claws accurately against bark on tree trunk.
Thief hadn’t managed to do it at all. From the side of fig tree menacing chirring came, and from foliage the owner of the collection fluttered out – rather annoyed and ready to resolute actions. He has directed right to the pilferer, and his chirring replaced with abrupt threatening calls – he is ready to protect his collection from the impudent relative in every way and lets it know him unambiguously. Now he is in his own territory, and with other things being equal he has the “moral” advantage and the right on punishment of the thief. Alien male begun to panic. He has made one serious mistake – instead of choosing a trophy for himself at once and stealing it quickly, he has wasted some time to looking over other bird’s collection. Now he will hardly manage to fill up the list of his own trophies. Seeing approach of the owner, he has made a last attempt to get hold of a trophy: already flying off, he has pulled a red feather for its tip, trying to drag it off. However, the owner of collection has thoroughly pasted it, and latex has a lot of time to stiffen well. Therefore, the feather is left in place, and in thief’s beak only few casually pulled out barbs stayed, being not suitable for anything. Pursued by the owner of territory and collection, the thief moved in its own way, and the owner returned to his treasures soon and began to survey them, estimating the damage.
Losses from an impudent stranger appeared insignificant – in fact, only one old beetle shell was destroyed and from it only thorax and head remained – elytra simply come off and fell downwards. Decorator bird male left them intact, but cautiously picked open tree bark by beak to get some fresh latex. When milky-white tree sap appeared from an aperture in bark, the bird separated accurately a shell of the small beetle from the edge of its collection, smeared latex on it and pasted it in the damaged place. Now, if you do not know what has happened, it is possible to overlook defects in exhibits of this open-air museum.
Spectators do not bring him to wait for a long. In branches of the next tree, decorator bird female perches. She flied here for rather long time ago, being attracted by shine of the collection, but she is afraid to expose herself to the owner of territory: at decorator birds both males and females are similar to each other in colouring, and during the conflict the owner male can casually misidentify female as another thief and to attack her by mistake. Therefore, female flied out to the male not at once, but waited while he will examine and will readjust his collection.
It is better to begin acquaintance cautiously; therefore female vocalized at first, having uttered the characteristic sound signal designating her sex, and began to observe of male’s reaction from the safe distance. Having heard this signal, male instantly takes the place near his collection, having perched on thick branch aside from it, and uttered an identification signal meaning also the readiness for female meeting. Thus, he looked in sides anxiously, trying to see, where she hides.
Flapping her wings and marking thus her presence, the female flew to rubber tree branch and perched near the collection. Having caught sight of her, male began to shake his whole body and to fluff feathers, trying to show himself at his best. At the presence of female, he feels the greatest excitement and begins to jump on the branch impatiently, inviting her in every way to closer acquaintance. Right now in his art museum the visitor has appeared – probably, the most captious and exacting one. While male expresses delight and excitement in all features of his appearance, female examines the collection of bright knickknacks collected by him. She cautiously touches beetle shells by beak, examines some orchid florets picked today in the morning and still had not time to wither, and flutters from one branch to another, as if estimating a general impression from the collection. All this time male continues the display intended for her: he trembles half-opened wings, having seized claws in bark on tree trunk above the collection and having hung headfirst. Finally, the female makes what the male tried to get from her: she perches on the branch, having bent her head down as a sign of humility. Male immediately flies down to her and finishes the founding of the family with pairing. As against many other corvid species, at decorator birds family bonds are not so strong – usually female raises posterity alone, but at any moment she can expect for care of male, which from time to time visits her nest and feeds her. In addition, male gathers food for nestlings, though he prefers to hand it over to the female, which is directly engaged in feeding of posterity. Despite of apparent ephemerality of marital bonds, male and female frequently keep fidelity to each other for many years in succession, and in the next nesting season meet each other again. However, relations of the male with one or two more females, which also get their share of care from his side, are equally constant.
Gathering of a good collection is a kind of art that needs to be learned. Some birds prefer to accumulate and to improve their own experience, and others willingly adopt skills of neighbours – decorator bird is a representative of corvid family and its level of intellectual development allows acquiring another’s experience through the onlooking. Inexperienced birds, in which with the age the instinct of the collector of bright objects wakens up, simply paste heaps of dim-colored casual objects to tree trunk or branch.
One young male of decorator bird has made his first collection. He still ineptly makes apertures in tree bark, frequently makes them too small, widely smears latex on bark and pastes the found objects to it feebly. His finds also appear very unattractively. These are feathers, pieces of bark, moss fibers and petals of flowers – dim and poor looking, quickly withering and turning brown. Some of the petals collected by him had already withered and now look not so attractively. Passion to paste objects on bark is determined by a hereditary pattern of behaviour and is controlled by sexual hormones. When young male matures and wins its own territory, in the bird the passion to “creativity” as if bursts. In this behaviour decorator birds resemble bowerbirds of Meganesia; in addition bowerbirds represent a bird family related to corvids. As against bowerbirds, decorator birds do not build freakish constructions on the ground, but collect bright objects, selecting them according their colors, place them on tree branch and display near the collection. However, the eye for composition and the skill of combination of colors come only with age, and only personal experience allows creating of true masterpieces. The collection of young decorator bird is decorated only with one bright beetle, which gleams among a heap of randomly pasted objects. Any female would hardly like such unshowy collection, and too young groom does not have chances yet. On the contrary, its more skilled relatives create the works of art amazing with their brightness.
Young male of decorator bird works diligently on its collection. He torn off and threw out some withered petals, and re-stuck instead of them a bright rusty-red with black cross strips plumelet picked up in air. He feels an obvious pleasure while working on the collection of bright objects. For now, he cannot boast of brightness and riches of ornaments, but all those things will come gradually by trial and error method. In addition, there should be a good luck in his favour – either in search of new exhibits, or in stealing of them at luckier, but less vigilant congeners. Now he has simply not enough experience in all these affairs.
Engrossed with the perfection of his collection, young male of decorator bird has not noticed, that his occupation became a focus of increased interest of one of his congeners. One adult male living in vicinities of his territory has decided to search for any beautiful updating to his own collection. Like an experienced thief, he does not rob the nearest neighbours, but prefers to make distant forays, flying across territories of his congeners. He observed silently the work of young male for some time, and then decided to get a closer acquaintance with his collection. Appearing of an unfamiliar adult bird came as a surprise for young male of decorator bird. His first reaction was the fright, but then the young bird turned to threatening pose, having fluffed up feathers and having its wings slightly opened. Moving towards the stranger, young male utters loud warning signals, but it is clearly visible that he is afraid of a stranger. This congener is larger and stronger, but psychological advantage favours the young male – it is his own territory, and the stranger instinctively feels the present situation that equalizes a little their chances in case of fight. Therefore, young male, while losing in force, all the same tries to frighten off a stranger. However, the adult male is not going to enter fight – he is interested not in the owner of territory, but in his collection. Having almost pushed away young male threating to him, the adult decorator bird male has flown to the tree trunk, on which the collection is arranged, and has looked at it from the nearest branch. Probably, at this moment the feathery thief has felt something, which may be described by a word “disappointment”. He examined for a long time a pity bunch of the rubbish pasted to the tree, bending his head in side and almost not moving. Even young male stopped aggressive display, seeing that the congener admires his artwork. Having examined a collection, the adult bird has only absent-mindedly torn off badly pasted piece of tree bark, has thrown it and has flied out. Maybe, adult experienced female of his species would react to his collection in similar way. For now, there is simply nothing to steal and nothing to admire here.
Decorator birds frequently “visit” each other, not going to plunder another’s collection, especially if an owner is near it. Young birds keep especially cautiously: they do not fly to skilled males too close to prevent causing their aggression and prefer to examine their collections from apart. If the owner is far from his collection, young bird can fly closer, remembering graphic techniques of more skilled relative. In any case it behaves very cautiously, being ready to seek safety in flight at any moment. Such birds would hardly venture to plunder the owner of the collection.
Adult decorator birds represent an embodiment of art skill. On the contrary, young ones, which have not developed their own style in decorating of the display place yet, are tireless experimenters engaged in finding of creative ways. At these ones, not constrained with frameworks of successful “design decisions”, new ideas and creative receptions are born. One young male has found on tree bark a thicket of tiny orchid with bright orange flowers. He peeled flowers from various plants for many times, and now he tries to make it once again. Having pulled flower stalk properly, he has casually broken out the whole stalk of the plant with leaves. However, he did not begin to break leaves off, but has simply dragged his find to the collection as a whole bunch. Having reached up to his collection, he has accurately picked open tree bark and has stuck the whole orchid on bark with viscous latex. It is a real creative expression – this plant will quickly produce roots and within some nearest weeks, it will easily accustom on tree bark. Dust dragged and pasted near it represents an excellent substratum for the plant, and decorator bird male will receive as a gratitude from the plant some branches of bright flowers, which will not wither, and it will not be necessary to replace them with fresh ones.
Young males quickly gather experience and become very scrupulous in choice of bright objects. They prefer bright colors, therefore they are ready to break off flowers from epiphytic plants and to paste them in whole bunches in their collections. For beauty’s sake, they literally scour forest, and in some places epiphytes with bright flowers suffer from obvious problems with seed breeding – these birds simply do not allow them producing seeds. Skilled decorator birds act more artfully. They prefer to collect durable objects like feathers and shells of beetles, which are pleasing to the eye for much longer time. In this case, they pay less care to replacement of withered flowers and petals, but they must tinker with finding of such durable and bright knickknacks for a while. However, here it is necessary just to know where to search for them.
On the riverbank, the old tree towers. Once in the past it was one of the first plants, which have occupied a small site of land on the river sandbank. Due to intense growth, the tree managed to overtake competitors quickly and to break into the forest canopy. However, fast growth is an advantage, which has its own price. Tree has friable and rather fragile wood, and now it is actively bored by beetles. Time of intensive growth and fructification has passed, and now the tree gradually grows old, conceding the place in forest canopy to competitors that gradually grew up in shadow of its crone. The foliage has considerably thinned and has remained only on the tips of the youngest branches. Winds and heavy thickets of epiphytes break old branches of tree, and it is visible in breaches, that wood is bored by insects. Here various kinds of beetles have left their marks: from tiny bark-beetles up to large long-horned beetles and jewel beetles. The bark of a tree is spotted with the set of apertures through which the insects developed in wood got outside. Some apertures look like a pinprick wound, and others are more similar to a hollow in which a small bird can squeeze – they had been made by rare and very large long-horned beetles.
Around the dying tree birds fly. The trunk is surveyed efficiently by a couple of small woodpeckers with motley plumage. One more woodpecker of another species creeps on the bottom side of branch, tapping it with beak and breaking away pieces of exfoliating bark. Its thin tongue dexterously gets grubs from thickness of wood. Small passerine birds scurry in tree crone or grasp insects in flight. Among them large decorator bird may seem somewhat misplaced, but it has its own interest to the insects living in wood – not gastronomic, but aesthetic one.
More often wood-boring beetles look not strikingly: these are tiny bark-beetles of black or brown coloring, and a bird can like only their taste – but only if it will manage to catch and to taste them. However sometimes among wood destructors large long-horned beetles with shining marks on elytra occur. Such rare specimen is an excellent find for the decorator bird, and these beetles frequently become the central exhibit in somebody’s collection. Catching of such large and brightly colored long-horned beetle is more a matter of case, rather than of purposeful search – they may be met in the daytime too seldom. Nevertheless, on the dying tree many interesting exhibit items may be found for a collection.
The decorator bird perched on the branch of tree and began to look around. It is an adult skilled male, which managed to find a practically unending source of ornaments for the collection. He knows what he wants to find, and simply waits for an opportune moment. Wood of this dying tree is rather soft and is badly damaged by fungi – now it is a fine food for wood-boring grubs. Therefore, insects gather here to give rise to new generation of their species. Smallest bark-beetles fly near decorator bird, but it is hardly possible to distinguish them in flight from any midges, and their coloring is also uninteresting. On the contrary, some beetles are perfectly visible in flight. Reddish-bronze flash of light has sparkled in air, when large bright jewel beetle has directed to the tree. Decorator bird male noticed an insect and followed it. Though jewel beetles are excellent fliers and do not give to catch themselves. The beetle began to rush randomly in air, having forced the decorator bird to make turns in air and to lose speed when pursuing it. As a result, the insect managed to get away, and the bright beetle landed on tree bark. Nonetheless, the decorator bird was not going to refuse hunting. Having noticed where the beetle landed on the tree trunk, the bird followed it again. Bright bronze colouring of insect’s elytra is clearly visible against the background of tree bark, and shine of chitin in sunlight makes an insect even more visible. Therefore, the decorator bird male easily found out the insect and captured it – the beetle even had no time to draw its legs in and to fall down from the tree. Having flied up into the tree crone, the bird stunned an insect by impact against the branch and flied to its collection. Having picked open tree bark, decorator bird male waited until latex began to ooze, and then with one dexterous movement pasted the beetle among other trophies. Having finished its work, the bird flied for search of new additions to its collection.
Impact against the tree branch had not killed an insect. Some minutes later the beetle have come in feeling and have moved its antennae, catching smells of the world around. The most distinct smell, which it feels, is a smell of death: around of it on tree bark tens insects, whole and pecked ones, are pasted by the decorator bird. This smell mixes up with a smell of tree sap – this tree is obviously young and full of forces, and it is impossible for jewel beetle grubs to develop in its wood exuding with milky-white latex. However, the smell the bird is felt rather poorly among these smells. The beetle began to move in its sticky trap. Latex began to coagulate, but for now, it is still possible to scrape it off from the body. The beetle began to move its legs, and it managed to free the left front leg. It torn off sticky locks of latex from head, then began to scrape the second pair of legs, and in some minutes, one more leg from the middle pair began to move. Pushing by legs in viscous mass and supporting against shells of dead beetles near to it, the insect finally managed to get out from the trap. Jewel beetle began to creep on the bird’s collection, which almost became its grave, stretching a thread of viscous latex behind it. Having felt an obstacle for movement, the beetle rubbed rear legs against each other, torn off glue stretched after it, and then got out on the area of clean bark. Runaway passed very successfully: having pulled from itself last locks of thickening latex, the beetle cleaned its body and flied up promptly. Even danger of death, which it has undergone, does not silence a call of the procreation instinct – the beetle flied again to the dying tree, where it can expect for good luck in search of the breeding partner.
Amazon decorator birds in general prefer to collect objects of red color or ones having red spots. In addition, they do not miss also other objects – rarities of freakish shapes or unusual colourations. One decorator bird surveys tree crone in searches of food. It has noticed a site of the damaged bark on one large branch, which is still alive for now. Here vessel system of the tree works well, and tree sap is pumped to leaves and not numerous flowers. From the damaged bark it flows down in thin trickle. Sap is not viscous, like at rubber cement tree, and is rich in sugar. On the surface of tree bark wet drips of tree sap began to ferment are visible, and now they emit an appreciable alcohol smell, which attracts insects. Numerous insects gathered here to lick the tree sap, which has turned to some kind of a boose. These are mainly beetles, though among them numerous flies, some large bright butterflies, and also wasps and snails creep. Bugs drop to a gratuitous entertainment with their mandibles, and butterflies land on their shells and unwrap long thin proboscises, sucking a nappy drink. Wasps push inconsiderately, and sometimes threaten each other with stings. Snails do not pay any attention to this vanity – they simply creep across the crowd of insects, phlegmatically absorbing the thickened tree sap. Many insects here are small, but sometimes giants join the meal.
Butterflies flied up like a cloud, when the large black body, buzzing deeply, rammed into the crowd of insects. Wasps and flies flied up and began buzzing loudly, giving the new visitor a pass to the feast. They will hardly dare to contest the new visitor’s right to a treat: on the tree trunk, the huge staghorn beetle creeps; it is covered with the impenetrable chitinous armour and is armed with hypertrophied spiny mandibles. It is almost twice larger than any beetle feasted before it, therefore it presumes to itself to feed without waiting. It has crept to smudges of tree sap, inconsiderately pushing other insects aside, and some beetles have slid downwards from under its legs. Only snails have hardly paid attention to its occurrence, continuing their feeding. Hypertrophied mandibles of this insect represent a terrible weapon, but the price of the owning is difficulty during the feeding. The adult male of this beetle species is capable to swallow only liquid food, including sweet nutritious tree sap.
Having pushed insects aside at smudges of fermented tree sap, the huge beetle began its meal. Small flies and wasps quickly returned to the feeding place, and one butterfly even landed on wide head of the huge beetle and continued to suck sap already from such improvised perch.
The idyll of insects is observing by Amazon decorator bird male. He looks out in this congestion of beetles for the updating for his collection. The shine of elytra of some beetles gathered on the tree has attracted him, but the appearing of the staghorn beetle has changed his intentions. The bird looks attentively at this insect gleaming its lacquer-black thorax and head. Maybe, color of its shell is not so attractive, but body outlines, huge antler-like mandibles and massive head transform it into interesting addition to the collection. Therefore decorator bird male has decided to get such trophy. He targeted the large beetle, jumped off from the branch and rushed to it.
Small insects have noticed the approach of the enemy in proper time – they rushed away in all sides. Butterflies darted in air, and some beetles drew legs under bodies and simply fell down on the ground. However, the staghorn beetle has not had time to make it, and in the next instant, it appeared seized by bird. Bird’s ahold did not harm it – its chitinous cover is hard enough to sustain it. Nevertheless, the beetle began to struggle out from the bird’s beak, trying to escape. It managed to do it rather easily – its body is large and heavy, and elytra are convex. When the bird has tried to fly up with such burden in its beak, the heavy beetle’s head has pulled it downwards; it turned in bird’s beak, slipped out from it and fell down. When falling, it thrusted through some leaves like a bullet, but managed to open wings before the impact against the ground: it is too heavy to sustain such falling without serious consequences. Uttering hollow buzz, the insect flied away from the dangerous place.
Some beetles do not panic at appearing of birds – they are not intended to seek safety in flight at all. On the branch of one tree, the large beetle with thick cylindrical abdomen perches. It eats sappy leaflets and does not hide from possible dangers. Even when near to it insect-eating birds or lizards appear, this beetle continues to gnaw leaves, not trying to disappear. It is a red doom beetle, a representative of blister beetle family. Its head, thorax and elytra are colored bright red, which is emphasized by black legs and antennae of this insect. Such bright colouring appreciable from apart represents an unambiguous signal about the toxicity of this insect. In haemolymph of these beetles there is a plenty of alkaloids of cantharidin group, and it makes them inedible. Therefore, many forest inhabitants simply avoid contacts to these insects, perfectly knowing from experience, that bright colouring is most likely combined with disgusting taste and unpleasant feelings after eating of such creature. Nevertheless, even such bright subvertisement does not guarantee safety to a poisonous insect – in forest there are birds, which search for these bright beetles.
Young decorator bird searches in forest canopy for any ornaments for the collection. This male already has some experience in selection of bright things for the collection, and he does not pay attention to bright flowers of epiphytic plants waving in slight breeze in forest canopy. He is already interested in bright objects, which do not need to be changed for a long time. This male has already managed to place some beetle shells in his collection, was convinced of practicality of ornaments of such kind, and now searches for new additions of suitable colors. His searches finished very soon: red doom beetle is visible from apart, and it is too slow to escape from the decorator bird. The bird found out an insect very quickly, snatched it with its beak and carried to its collection. The bug moves its legs in air helplessly and emits from their joints brightly colored haemolymph rich in cantharidin and having nauseous taste. Nevertheless, the bird is not going to eat it – a different destiny is intended to the beetle. Having crossed some hundreds meters in forest canopy, young decorator bird male perched on the branch near to its collection. It is still far from being perfect: the light breeze rustles with the dried petals of tropical trees pasted here some days ago. However, in the center of the collection some bright elytra and two almost whole beetles are pasted to the bark. Now bird needs only to place new updating of the collection in a nicely fashion. Pressing the brought beetle by one foot, decorator bird male has pecked tree bark through, and then has waited while from it latex began to ooze. After that, he has simply stuck the beetle to the bark alive. Having flown away aside, he examined the collection, and then slightly moved the brought beetle aside. While the bird was busy with these manipulations, the poisonous beetle simply froze and pretended dead, and did not prevent the bird to work. However, sticky latex sticks around its body and closes spiracles; therefore, the insect began to move soon, trying desperately to escape from a sticky imprisonment. Decorator bird male killed the beetle with one strike of its beak, and then has continued to improve his collection.
The love for beauty, which is expressed at decorator birds in such strange form, harms not only small creatures like insects. Even larger neighbours of feathery collectors suffer from their passion to collecting. The matter is that some decorator birds do not limit themselves with search of the feathers shed at birds in the natural way. This is too toilsome occupation, where the success frequently depends on a case. They do not aspire to rob their congeners – sometimes it is possible to pay severely for it. They prefer to take away bright feathers not at each other, but at their real owners. In forest they are surrounded by numerous birds of smaller size with bright feathers – it is like a real treasury, which, to tell the truth, sometimes appears too spry and cunning.
A red doom beetle gnaws young leaflets, perching on the tip of the branch. This insect relies exclusively upon its chemical protection, and bright colouring protects it from almost all predators. Decorator birds search for these beetles only for decorating of their collections with them – lacquer-red shells of beetles look perfectly, especially against the background of more ordinary-looking bluish or greenish with metal shine beetles. Almost every female will hardly resist against love charms of the male got such beauty and artfully mounted its collection to present him to the female at his best against its background. The beetles becoming an ornament of a collection represent only a small part of losses of the population of this species. Red doom beetle has also other enemies. Larvae of this species not always can pass successfully the complete life cycle in nests of social wasps or bees. Adult insects have parasites from among ichneumonids, which develop inside their bodies despite of toxicity of beetles, eat away their internal bodies alive and doom insects to slow painful death. However, there are also other predators, which purposefully hunt such beetles.
The tropical forest is never silent. Both in daytime and at night in it numerous voices of various animals sound. Forest inhabitants communicate with each other, threaten the enemy and claim their territories – they always have anything to express by means of sounds. Frequently forest inhabitants are difficult for seeing, but much easier for hearing. Voices of some of them spread for several kilometers, and others can be heard only from nearby.
The bird voice in rich foliage performs fine high-frequency trill. Usually owners of such voices are small modest creatures, which prefer to hide from eyes of possible predators and have unshowy dress for protection against enemies. Of course, this bird almost completely fits this collective image: it is very small and has short tail and large head with long thin beak. However, this species has one striking difference from many small birds of the tropical forest: it is impossible not to notice it. The tiny bird is almost entirely colored bright red, except for black feathers in wings and tail, and black “cap” on the crown. Only few inhabitants of tropical forest can afford such colouring – appreciable ones are only those, who can enforce its bright colouring with an effective way of protection. This small bird is not an exception here. It is too small and weak to win a predator in fight, but the predator procured and eaten it risks to get diarrhea and to be sick for a long time – meat of this small bird is inedible. It is one of original inhabitants of tropical rainforests of South America – ruby toxic tyrant.
Small warm-blooded animal has very intense metabolism, therefore ruby toxic tyrant almost constantly prowls among branches in searches of food. Thin beak and small size shows an insect hunter in it – the diet of the majority of birds of its dimensional category is those. Avoiding an interspecific competition for food resources, small insectivorous birds of tropical forest specialize in getting of food in their own unique ways. They can search for prey on different levels of tropical forest, hunt on trees of different species or get insects in different ways. Some of them peck insects off from open places, others search for them under tree bark, and third ones catch them in flight. Ruby toxic tyrant has evolved in a direction of very strict food specialization. Its prey frequently appears inedible for other birds – it is able to eat poisonous insects. Therefore, the red doom beetle creeping lazily on young shoot of tree in searches for soft sappy leaflets is in real danger, despite of bright warning colouring and poisonous flesh. In this case, its bright colouring, on the contrary, increases chances of a predator’s attack.
Having noticed the bright red bug among fresh green foliage, ruby toxic tyrant flied up from the branch and rushed to it like black-and-red lightning. The branch only slightly rocked, when the tiny bird perched on it. In several fast jumps it has caught up an insect, has seized it and has pressed by one foot against the branch. The beetle began to twitch and to emit from leg joints brightly coloured poisonous haemolymph. Usually it stops a bird decided to attack the beetle. However, such warning is useless for decorator birds decided to fill up their collections… and for ruby toxic tyrant. While a decorator bird is attracted only with bright colouring of the beetle, toxic tyrant is interested in these insects from the different point of view. The long beak of bird was stuck in thick cylindrical abdomen of the insect, and the beetle began to convulse in spasms, while the small bright bird pecked out its body. Poison of this insect does not stop toxic tyrant: it purposefully searches for these insects, eats them and becomes inedible because of accumulation of their poison in its organism. Due to some features of the metabolism, ruby toxic tyrant appears unreceptive to cantharidin of beetles and can support its provocatively bright colouring of plumage with unpleasant taste of flesh. Even any hungry feathery predator will hardly manage to eat such small bird entirely, and predatory mammals like opossums and bats suffer severely from vomiting after such suspected meal.
All species forming an ecosystem interact with each other, and the circuit of these interactions transforms the ecosystem into a single whole. Rainforest canopy is a complex multispecific community, and a pattern of interactions between various live creatures is especially elaborated here. Relations of every species with its environment are so contradictive, that the hunter itself can easily turn to hunted one.
Ruby toxic tyrant pecks the beetle, devouring greedily its soft interiors. Its ability of eating these insects has its own price. The poison, which has got into an organism, should be removed from the metabolism and be stored in fat and muscles. Because the poison is constantly dissolving in blood and body liquids, being dispersed across the whole organism, bird’s body should constantly fix the molecules of the poison appeared in wrong place and transport them into the places of storing of the poison. It is an additional expense of energy, and as a result, life duration of these birds appears a little bit shorter than at related species and birds of the comparable size from other taxa.
Surprisingly, even the bright plumage of ruby toxic tyrant has its price. Bright colouring perfectly protects this small bird against local predators… but not against decorator birds. Instead of warning them and keeping them away from this bird, bright red colouring of plumage of ruby toxic tyrant attracts decorator birds uncontrollably. Dispatching the poisonous beetle and improving its own protection against meat eaters, the bird appears an easy target for feather hunters. All its actions had been observed from the next tree by decorator bird male. Having taken an opportunity, he has quickly flown to the next branch, and attacked a small bright bird from there. A balance of forces obviously does not benefit to ruby toxic tyrant. Having missed out the moment of attack, it appeared under the foot of the decorator bird. Decorator bird male presses it against the branch by his foot, standing on other leg. One peck of his beak can put an end to the caught bird’s life, but he does not put it. Instead of it, he simply keeps the seized bird and examines its plumage. The captured bird cries shrilly, but it does not bother the decorator bird at all. However, whence from the tree crone a response call is heard, and the second bird from their pair has fallen upon the back of decorator bird. It weighs a little, and for the decorator bird, its occurrence is no more than simple annoying, but not so insurmountable obstacle. The second toxic tyrant utters loud warbles and attacks decorator bird male, pulls its feathers on back and in wings, flutters in front of his eyes and beats its wings against his head, forcing him to open beak and to defend. Ruby toxic tyrants form breeding pairs for their short lives, and birds are very fond of each other. They constantly contact to each other with sound signals, spend nights together and frequently feed up each other with insects. Therefore, the bird who has got in a trouble can expect for the aid of its breeding partner.
Shaking his whole body and flapping his wings, decorator bird male drives away toxic tyrant attacking on him, and simultaneously examines hastily another bird pressed against the branch with his foot and desperately trying to free. Having chosen prettier feathers, he has pulled out the whole bunch of feathers from the seized bird with one sharp movement, and has released it alive and rather safe. Uttering indignant cries, the bruised bird flied out and disappeared in foliage. The second bird immediately stopped an attack and followed the first one, having left to decorator bird male a bunch of scarlet feathers, for the sake of which he arranged the improvised hunting – meat of this bird did not interest him, but red feathers are very much appreciated at Amazon decorator birds. As a rule, objects of red color are especially attractive for them, though other objects, which the bird can regard as rare or unusual, also get into their collections – it is already a matter of individual preferences of each male of this species. Caught toxic tyrant has literally paid off from the decorator bird by a part of contour feathers from its body. Quite probably the pattern of distribution of colouring of plumage and dim black feathers on head, in wings and in tail represent an original evolutionary trick designed to make these parts of bird body unattractive for an attack of decorator bird, which is capable to break bones of wing or to punch through a skull of small bird with any casual peck. And due to this trick in colouring the bird loses only a part of contour feathers, remains alive and does not lose flight ability.
Periodic withdrawal of bright feathers at small birds promotes the replenishment of collections of decorator bird males, though it delivers some unpleasant minutes to the birds undergone to their attacks. However, they do not leave a territory, where these feathery robbers prowl – it is some kind of a payment for protection against other enemies. Decorator birds are remarkable in their aggressive behaviour and protect their territories from other birds of the similar size, if they see in them any danger for the nest. Therefore, they expel from their territories other corvid birds of the size comparable to them. Having united in flock, several decorator birds are capable even to attack a small falcon, hawk, or an owl, and successfully banish a feathery predator from their territory. Due to aggressive behaviour of decorator birds, the survival rate of small birds and success of their nesting at the breeding territory of decorator birds appears much better compared to other sites of the forest. However, from time to time smaller birds with bright plumage should pay for their safety, getting some unpleasant feelings from the forced withdrawal of a part of their feathers. Decorator bird attacks small birds selectively, choosing among them individuals with well-developed, smooth and healthy plumage without bald patches.
It seems, that decorator bird male is pleased with the result of a robbery. Keeping a bunch of feathers in his beak, he has hastened to his collection. Now the main task for him is not to turn to a victim of robbery: some decorator bird males frequently use the right of the powerful, plundering impudently their successful congeners. Therefore decorator bird male returns to his territory, hiding in tree foliage and not making any stops in another’s territory. Having reached up to his own territory, he felt safe and did not hide any more – here he is a boss. Having reached up to the tree with his collection, he cautiously perched on the bark, clutching at it by claws, pressed cautiously against the tree bark feathers, brought in his beak, by foot, and pecked through the bark. When from an aperture fresh latex began to ooze, the bird took the bunch of feathers by beak, sopped its bottom part in latex and pasted feathers to the bark near the shell of the large beetle. Having done with it, decorator bird male straightened accurately the bunch of feathers, causing it look wider and more colourful, admired the effect from the novelty and flied out to search for food.
Usually decorator birds succeed to rob small birds without problems – they are stronger and cleverer than many of them, and it is more favourable for their smaller neighbours not to resist and to leave quickly a part of plumage, rather than to defend themselves and to get a trauma from stronger robber. Nevertheless, some of them are not going to leave even a small part of their plumage so easily and can show desperate resistance to decorator bird male.
Tropical forests of northern part of South America owe their existence to enormous river system of Amazon and Hyppolithe stretched across the plains to the east from the mountain ridge of Andes. In such conditions life of some species from this area may be closely connected both to the forest and to the water. Larvae of some tiny moths feed on floating leaves of aquatic plants, ducks frequently nest in tree-trunk hollows, and fishes disperse seeds of some local trees. Sometimes it happens, that in due course of evolution inhabitants of one element move completely to another one.
Branches of large trees of the tropical forest creak and bend under the burden of epiphytes growing on them. Ferns, mosses, orchids and other plants form real “hanging gardens” on branches. Graceful fronds of ferns and velvet greens of mosses successfully shade freakish patterned flowers of orchids or flowers of gesneriads having the refined form and bright colouring. However, the most characteristic epiphytic plants of South American tropics are bromeliads. Their hard leathery leaves form funneled rosettes, in which the fair amount of rainwater is accumulated. Such tanks become the original tiny ponds teeming with life. There mosquitoes and midges willingly breed, avoiding thus danger of being eaten by fish. Also in bromeliad rosettes, land-dwelling crabs settle and willingly hatch posterity in them. Very much frequently in mini-reservoirs of bromeliads arboreal frogs settle; they can pass a complete life cycle from egg up to an adult individual at height of several tens meters above the surface of the river.
Thickets of bromeliads of various species look very nice. Some of them have wide cross-striped leaves, at others there are numerous narrow one-colour leaves. At the same time above bromeliad thickets flower stalks of these plants rise, on which tips robust spicate inflorescences with brightly colored bracts develop, attracting pollinators to small short-lived flowers. Around of blossoming bromeliads small solitary bees and wasps, and also butterflies and flies usually gather. Very often hummingbirds visit them. They all rush in all sides, when above thickets of bromeliads a creature resembling a giant hawkmoth or a large hummingbird with a short tail sweeps. It is a bird with long reddish-brown beak, which tip has white colour. Its plumage has green color, and on the waist a bright red spot sparkles. Wings of this bird flap very quickly, forming around of its body a dim aura of bluish color. The bird moves almost as dexterously, as the hummingbirds, losing them only in speed. Intensively flapping wings create a sound resembling a crash of quickly thumbed pages of the book.
The bird has flied dexterously around the large flower stalk of the bromeliad, has hovered in air for a while, and then has rushed promptly downwards, has caught the bright butterfly in flight, has flied up with its prey and has perched on the branch. The bird has killed the butterfly by several impacts against the branch, has scraped out wings from its body and has swallowed its prey entirely. It is one representative of immigrants from the river to forest canopy, tiny bromeliad kingfisher. In due course of evolution it turned much smaller compared to its semi-aquatic ancestors and changed its diet – there is no fish in it, and the significant part of its prey is made of insects now. Usually bromeliad kingfisher catches insects in air with the fast rush from the perch; however, it has not lost a connection with water elements and frequently rummages large tanks of bromeliads. The tiny size of this bird quite enables it to do it and this kingfisher has an appetite for larvae and tadpoles, which may be found out there. Larger animal also cannot feel like in safety near to this bird: bromeliad kingfisher willingly catches small frogs and lizards, and during the air hunting it does not see any distinctions between large moth and small hummingbird.
When bromeliad kingfisher hovers in air above thickets of bromeliads, general colouring of its plumage makes this bird imperceptible against the background of surrounding vegetation. Only bright red spot on bird’s waist serves as a signal for congeners: “The present territory is occupied! If you want to hunt here – be ready to fight for it!” Bromeliad kingfishers jealously protect borders of their hunting territories, making an exception only for the breeding partner of an opposite gender. If a stranger interferes the bird’s territory, the owner of territory banishes it and accompanies chasing with loud calls; the breeding pair frequently attacks intruders together, almost always achieving a success in defense of their territory.
If for bromeliad kingfishers the red spot on the waist is the warning, decorator bird is attracted uncontrollably with bright colouring of these feathers. The decorator bird male had a snack on ripe infructescences in the crone of an old fig tree, when somewhere below him a bright glimpse of red color has flashed – bromeliad kingfisher has rushed in chase for yet another insect. Having swallowed one more fig, decorator bird male has begun to watch thickets of epiphytes under him. He had to wait only for a while – in one minute bromeliad kingfisher has returned with a small butterfly in its beak. Bird has knocked it against the branch, has stirred it, and the slight blowing of wind has whirled the torn off wings of an insect. Having raised its beak upwards, tiny halcyon has swallowed its prey and has begun to preen, operating dexterously with its long beak. The decorator bird keeps its eye on it: bird is attracted with a spot of red feathers on the back of the kingfisher. Having decided not to hesitate any more, the decorator bird male has jumped off from its perch and has attacked bromeliad kingfisher. However, he has missed: the kingfisher has noticed an attack and has dexterously evaded it at last moment, almost from under the feet of the decorator bird, having forced the opponent to ram into thickets of bromeliads bristling up with small, but hard prickles bordering their leaves. The decorator bird male has begun to flounder in thickets, trying to get out and losing his own feathers and bromeliad kingfisher hovered, as if derisively, in air nearby, producing silent hum by its wings.
Having got out of thickets of bromeliads, the decorator bird male has decided to continue an attack – the kingfisher seems a suitable victim for a robbery for him. Having flied up, he has rushed to the kingfisher, but his beak has only clapped in air. The kingfisher would not like to continue this idle conflict, and it has decided to change the rules of the game. Having flown around the decorator bird, it has pecked the opponent’s back. The decorator bird male has screamed and has tried to attack the kingfisher, but this nimble small bird always appeared behind its back and continued an attack. A pointed beak of bromeliad kingfisher is a dangerous weapon: if this small bird needs, it is capable to drive away from its nest a snake or a carnivorous beast, aiming in its eyes by beak. Therefore, when the tip of the beak of the kingfisher has scratched decorator bird male’s head above an eye, he has decided to interrupt an attack and to look for new ornaments for his collection somewhere else. He has flied up into the tree crone, and the noise of his wings became indiscernible at the background of other sounds of the forest soon.
Bromeliad kingfisher has honourably defended its territory once again, and it simply continues to search for food. It owns a small site of an old-grown forest with trees, which branches are overgrown with epiphytic bromeliads. It crosses spaces between trees in fast rushes, and then examines attentively thickets of epiphytes. It is especially interested in bromeliads with the voluminous rosettes filled with rainwater – it is as if a reminder on the way of life of its ancestors dived in water for fish. Having chosen one such bromeliad, the tiny kingfisher perched on the edge of its wide leaf and began to peer into water attentively. The plant appeared surprisingly rich in life: on the surface of water some transparent mosquito larvae swim, which movements form waves on water surface and prevent to see what is hidden in depth. Thin beak of bromeliad kingfisher acts like tweezers: the bird has dexterously seized these larvae one by one and has swallowed them entirely. Having gone down, the kingfisher has closely looked in water and has noticed the movement somewhere in the depth. In water a larger creature is hidden – a grown up nymph of bromeliad dragonfly, one more immigrant from the river to the forest canopy. It is short-bodied, wide and flattened, perfectly adapted to life in narrow axils of bromeliad leaves. This nymph is an active predator preying mosquito larvae and tadpoles of arboreal frogs. Once there were several such nymphs in this plant, but in due course of growth they have eaten all other inhabitants of the bromeliad and have began to hunt each other. Now in the rosette of the bromeliad only one nymph has remained. At night it simply moves in bromeliad plant, creeping from one leaf axil to another and eating its neighbours. However now it can easily fall prey, therefore the nymph has receded in depth of its mini-reservoir.
The kingfisher has put its long beak in water and has tried to grope a nymph in depth of leaf axil of the bromeliad. Tip of its beak appeared in several millimeters from nymph’s head, and the insect has stood motionlessly in its shelter. The kingfisher has rummaged by its beak under water while it could hold its breath, but it did not succeed to hook hidden dragonfly nymph. Having taken out its head from water, the kingfisher has recovered its breath and has thrusted its beak into the leaf axil again. Its ancestors were able to dive into the water entirely, but the leaf axil of this bromeliad is too narrow even for this small bird, therefore bromeliad kingfisher can only put its head in water. In addition, the bird should constantly be on alert: small creature has too many enemies.
The beak of bromeliad kingfisher clicks in front of the head of dragonfly nymph, but hunting of the bird has finished unsuccessfully once again. Due to its flat body, nymph receded into the depth of the leaf axil, where it feels like in safety. The beak touched once the head of the insect from above, but the nymph nestled against the leaf surface, and the bird failed to hook it on. Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts the kingfisher simply flied up and gone to search for other prey. The skill of hiding has saved the nymph of bromeliad dragonfly once again, having given it a chance to grow up and to turn to an adult insect.
Those nymphs, who managed to grow up and to undergo metamorphosis, turn to magnificent adult insects with long graceful bodies. They dart in forest canopy, and their bodies sparkle in the sun light with magnificent red coloring with metal shine. Wings of bromeliad dragonfly are decorated with wide black cross sashes, and their wingstrokes form a kind of grayish cloud around of a flying insect.
Bright red colouring of bromeliad dragonfly is very attractive for Amazon decorator birds, and they willingly decorate their collections with long bodies of these insects, having previously torn off their wings. When one such dragonfly flies among branches, young male of decorator bird rushes to chase it. It seems it tries to get a trophy, not having a due skill: the bird simply chases an insect and becomes exhausted soon. Dragonflies are the unsurpassed masters of flight, dexterously maneuvering among branches in searches of smaller insects, and an inexperienced bird quickly lags behind and interrupts its chase. Adult experienced decorator birds know how it is possible to catch these dragonflies, but for this purpose, it is necessary to appear in proper time in the proper place. Therefore, even the successful hunting is a matter of luck, and dried up bodies of dragonflies represent rare ornaments in collections of these birds.
Bromeliad dragonfly female hovers above thickets of epiphytes. After pairing in its body eggs began to develop, and now it needs to distribute the posterity in rosettes of as great number of bromeliads as possible to prevent the lack of space for its nymphs. Having seen one more large bromeliad plant, the dragonfly has made some circles above it and has landed cautiously on the edge of water. It analyzes the smell of water in the tank of bromeliad – there should not be any nymphs of its congeners in it. Bromeliad dragonfly female has already had time to reject some plants – nymphs of its congeners already swarm in them, and in one rosette fully grown up nymph ready to metamorphosis had almost caught and dragged under water this dragonfly. Now it seems that the bromeliad plant is free. The dragonfly feels a smell of mosquito larvae, but their neighbourhood is even desirable – they will be a food for its posterity. Having curved its abdomen like an arch, the dragonfly cautiously doused its tip in water and laid some eggs. Having flied up, it surveyed the next rosette and left its eggs in it too. Now the behaviour of this insect is centered exclusively on the only purpose – to give rise to posterity. The female has distributed to bromeliads a significant part of its eggs: it needs to find one more suitable group of plants and to lay last some eggs. However, it will not do it any more: a male of decorator bird has flown above bromeliads, has picked it up from the plant leaf and has directed to his collection. Only few minutes later the bromeliad dragonfly had been killed by the impact against the branch and pasted with latex among beetle shells and bird feathers. Having examined his collection, the decorator bird male has torn off its wings with black strips and has thrown them out. When the sunray penetrated through crones of trees and highlighted the collection, the body of dragonfly had sparkled dazzling red fire among greenish and spotty beetle shells. Satisfied with an impressive look of the collection, decorator bird male perched on the nearby branch and began to invite females to his territory, uttering loud chirring trills. Quite probably, he will manage to involve a female with his collection and to bring up their brood.
Dragonflies are small air predators. They stand at top of a food pyramid in small size class, but in relations with birds, they represent a prey invariably. In the world of large inhabitants of tropical forest canopy absolutely different air predators predominate.
From the height of the bird flight, it is visible how rivers cut the green carpet of tropical forest, meandering fancifully and leaving small oxbows, lakes and bogs in valleys. Crones of trees of various shades of green color are closed with each other, catching the sunlight greedy. In some places above the forest canopy compact crones of palm trees tower on graceful trunks in singles or in small groups. Some trees begin blossoming, and their crones get bright colors. Others partially shed foliage, and their crones look shabby. Sometimes among crones of fresh green color the tree with badly thinned crone of brownish color towers – insects and infections had obviously took care here. When any tree just begins to grow old or to weaken, insects accompanied by fungi and bacteria attack it and damage its foliage and wood. Few trees are capable to resist to such coordinated attack, and usually a tree struck by pests and diseases quickly dries up and falls, freeing the vital space for a young growth of trees, which waited it to happen for years in underbush. Sometimes tree succeeds to cope with enemies and to continue its growth, but diseases and pests leave an indelible mark on its shape. The top of one such tree has withered, though the tree did not die. It has branched and began to grow upwards and in sides with several large branches, shading its neighbours. At top of this tree between these branches huge construction towers. Its builders simply threw rods and brushwood randomly between branches until the massive base about three meters in diameter and some hundreds kgs by weight was formed. It is able to withstand the power of the winds blowing above the forest. On the base there is a more accurate layer of thin rods, forming rather flat and reliable platform. Such construction is even larger, than ones that eagles or storks of human epoch made, but majestic silhouettes of these large birds are not seen in the crone of this tree. Instead of them sharp-winged birds with cross-striped tails and black masks on heads fly up to this huge construction all the time, and some more birds of the same kind are constantly on duty on the construction and on branches near to it. Birds frequently fly with a prey, having seized in claws a corpse of bird or small mammal. Sometimes bird simply throws its prey on the platform, where it is already waited by its congeners, which quickly tear apart and eat it. This nest was built by wolf-falcons – birds of prey leading a social way of life and nesting in colonies of several pairs. The colony may be frequently connected by bonds of relationship through the male or the female line – birds of various generations stay in a parental colony, but get the breeding partner from any other colony.
On the platform nests of wolf-falcons are built – approximately one dozen of them constructed by birds of various ages. Usually strong adult birds nest in the middle of the colony, in the safest place, pushing younger ones to the edges. Solitary non-nesting birds also join the colony – they perform the duties of guards or hunters, gradually moving up the scale of ranks. In due course, they get in pairs and arrange their own nests, confining their relatives. A large colony may separate: the birds lowest in hierarchy arrange their own nest platform somewhere in the neighbourhood, avoiding conflicts to elder individuals of higher rank, but they fly to the hunting in common.
Wolf-falcons prefer to hunt birds, therefore under their collective nest lots of feathers of various sizes and colours lay. However, decorator birds will hardly risk gathering them in such dangerous place – careless gatherers of feathers risk to undergo to an attack of adult falcons from the colony. Falcons do not hunt in vicinities of their colony; therefore, various small birds feel like in safety in immediate proximity from their nest. The base of the collective nest of wolf-falcons is populated with small birds of various species, which coexist rather peacefully with each other. The most important thing is that here they cannot be afraid of the raids of decorator birds. Wolf-falcons regard decorator birds as enemies for their posterity, therefore attack them even in vicinities of their nest.
In the colony of wolf-falcons, there is a certain division of duties dependent on the status of the bird in the colony. Bachelor birds, young or recently accepted into the colony ones, not burdened with raising of young, are almost constantly busy with hunting. A bulk of prey of wolf-falcons consists of birds, and parrots represent a favourite prey of these predators. However, parrot hunting is rather dangerous: these birds show high mental faculties and frequently can give collective repulse to the predatory birds decided to attack their flock. To be on equal with their prey, wolf-falcons fly to hunting not one by one, but in groups numbering half-ten birds and even more.
A little flock of wolf-falcons is going for hunting. The birds ready to hunting perch on the large branch growing to the side from the nest platform, communicating with relatives in nests by calls. At first, there were only two of them, but then one more young individual only recently appeared in colony joins them. Large breeding female, having finished feeding her chicks, has also leaving its nest and perching on the branch near them. Its presence has inspired birds already being there, and they began to vocalize loudly, walking on branches impatiently. Some more birds in a colony replied their voices, but only two of them left nests and came out from the colony onto the branch. Their occurrence became a stimulus for the gathered hunters, and they began to fly up one by one, showing to relatives black fanlike tails decorated with white cross strips. Hunters had hovered in air for a while, having gathered in flock, and then had moved to hunting – to the place, where the coupled female, one of the most skilled hunters of the colony, had led them.
During the hunting, various members of the flock play different roles. Young birds and newcomers of the colony, having insufficient skills in hunting, usually become blanchers. Their task is to frighten prey with their appearance, to organize false attacks and to spread panic among the bird population. The skilled adult birds, well knowing each other and able to cooperate with relatives, become hunters. They do not give out their presence, hide in tree crones and attack prey in the proper moment. If there is a parrot hunting, these birds, as a rule, pay the aggression to blanchers, and hunters can rather safely attack a bird appeared at the edge of flock. Wolf-falcons hunt not only parrots, but also represent danger to any small and medium-sized birds in forest canopy. If they do not succeed to find a parrot flock, their hunting order breaks out; in this case, each bird hunts alone and returns to the colony independently.
Alarm call of decorator bird is well familiar to almost all feathery inhabitants of forest canopy. Having caught it, small birds prefer to keep silence and to hide in foliage. However, decorator birds react to it in different way. Having caught an alarm signal, they instantly stop conflicts to relatives. Borders of individual territories open at such moment and decorator birds gather from vicinities aside a source of the signal. In such conditions, they behave excitedly, cry loudly and fly in flock in searches of the reason of alarm.
Having caught sight of three wolf-falcons flying above tree crones, males of several adjoining territories gathered to the united flock and rushed to one of these falcons. The attacked predator flied up almost vertically, and a flock of three decorator bird males began to pursue it. Two more falcons simply perched on branches of trees, and each of them appeared surrounded immediately by the flock of vocalizing decorator birds, to which other forest birds join. Predatory birds are obviously not going to contact this clamoring flock. They only walk on branches, not trying to fly up, and open beaks threateningly, when someone from among their enemies appears too close. Sudden occurrence of three hunter birds forced lines of defenders to waver – the opponents appeared much stronger, than it seemed before. Nevertheless, one decorator bird has dared to attack newly appeared predators. It is the adult male, healthy, strong and sure in support from the side of its congeners. He has vocalized loudly and has rushed to one of falcons, to adult female heading the hunting pack of feathery predators. However, nobody has followed him – all forces of his congeners were focused on mobbing of three predators appeared here the first. Therefore decorator bird male appeared actually head to head against the skilled and ruthless hunter. Wolf-falcon female had made a dizzy sweep in air and had turned from the pursued one to the pursuer. She had rushed to chase the decorator bird, and in air the call of the male got in trouble had came on.
In their everyday life, decorator birds are individualists relating zealously to protection of their own vital space, and males – of collections of bright and rare knickknacks also. However, in case of danger they behave how it is necessary to representatives of corvid family, clever and social birds. The pair of birds has responded to call of the male got in trouble and they have rushed following the predator. The pursued male flutters among branches, forcing the wolf-falcon female to change direction of her movement frequently and not enabling her to show the high-speed qualities of her species. Because of this trick, she cannot catch him up, and she is overtaken by decorator birds hastened to the rescue to their congener pursued by her. One decorator bird has managed to catch up a predator and has pulled out a feather from the tail of the wolf-falcon female, and the second one has pecked the predator’s back. The wolf-falcon female had to perch on the tree branch, and she began to walk along it, flapping her wings and staring at her persecutors, screaming from the next branches, with a penetrating glance of her yellow eyes.
The situation ends in stalemate – the number of predators appears too great, and the overweight in powers of defenders appears too insignificant to turn them into flight. One of the wolf-falcons surrounded by defending birds has simply flown on the next tree – closer to the relative also surrounded by vocalizing decorator birds and their neighbours. Appearing together, predators can hold the line more successfully, not allowing the emboldened decorator birds to attack from behind. When two falcons appeared near each other, decorator birds have felt danger coming out of them and have receded. They do not try any more to seize predator’s tail or wings, and only mob them, keeping a safe distance. Seeing it, falcons from other trees began to flutter closer to them, and attacking birds gradually recede away from the group of predators, feeling more confident at the presence of relatives. Eventually the whole hunting party of wolf-falcons has gathered and has simply flied up accompanied by voices of decorator birds and their neighbours to continue their hunting. The flock of defending birds headed by adult decorator bird males has also flied up, accompanying feathery predators and continuing to vocalize. Wolf-falcons are not going to attack them – they simply rise higher and fly above the territory occupied by decorator birds. Voices of decorator birds, parrots and small songbirds joined them accompany flying predators for any time, but at the distance from their territories birds become less aggressive and return to usual life. Somewhere along the way of feathery predators from the forest canopy little flocks of small birds fly up and join persecutors, but they behave bravely only due to the support of decorator birds and other large birds. Gradually alarm calls abate, and silhouettes of falcons turn to hardly appreciable points on the background of the sky. Danger is over, and decorator birds turn back to selfish owners of their territories in forest canopy, greedy to everything beautiful and shining.
The sun hangs low at the west, and day recedes. Voices of diurnal forest inhabitants become more silent. Someone has not lived up to this sunset, but many of them managed to survive and to fill stomachs with food, and now they prepare for dream. Tropical twilight time is short, and diurnal inhabitants quickly occupy favourite places for dream and set up for the night. Decorator birds prefer to sleep on thin branches – when the predator stalks them, the branch will most likely vibrate under its weight, and the bird will have time to wake up, to give the alarm and to fly up, saving its life.
When night shrouds the tropical forest, nocturnal creatures wake up. Rodents run in underbrush and gather the fruits fallen in daytime. From their shelters flocks of bats fly off; they flit in night, probing branches with their ultrasonic signals and searching for food. Some of them seize the insects creeping out from shelters; others gnaw ripe fruit, including ones inaccessible for arboreal mammals like monkeys and wood porcupines. Owls fly silently in forest canopy, extending their clawed feet to seize sleeping birds, and some of them are able even to catch bats right in flight. Nocturnal creatures of the tropical forest can be dangerous.
Usually inhabitants of forest canopy are rather small creatures easily running on lianas and capable to jump from one tree to another. Nevertheless, sometimes among them there are real monsters.
On branches of a tree the animal of size of a large monkey moves. With its elongated body it resembles a marten, but its tail is long and nonflexible, more similar to the tail of a giant rat, covered with short wool. Animal has short wide muzzle, and large eyes look more forward, than in sides – it is a feature of the forest canopy inhabitant capable to make long accurate jumps from tree to tree. Nevertheless, the brain of this animal is obviously badly advanced – head is elongated, and cranial vault is flattened. This animal as if came into the forest of Neocene epoch from ancient times, when South America was an isolated continent, where unique archaic mammals prospered, which were absent anywhere else in the world. It is not an illusion: the animal really belongs to descendants of ancient inhabitants of the continent lived here before the epoch of the Great American Interchange. It is an Amazon marsupial marten ipochereu, a descendant of one species of South American opossum of Neocene epoch. It is a relic of the Early Neocene epoch; after the mass extinction caused by human activity marsupials had successfully attempted to restore their past positions in ecosystem. In that epoch, they had managed to occupy the set of ecological niches, having taken an advantage of decreasing of variety of primates and other arboreal mammals. However, later the placental mammals had been managed to return a part of the lost positions, and some marsupials have chosen a tactics of a survival consisting in extending of specialization. One example of such tactics is Amazon marsupial marten, or ipochereu – very large arboreal predator capable to hunt in fact any other inhabitant of forest canopy.
Despite of its huge size, ipochereu dexterously jumps from branch to branch, moving in forest canopy. The animal avoids stepping on tips of branches – they may be too flexible and fragile for its weight. It does not prevent this animal to hunt: its prey is also large, and ipochereu does not pay attention to small fry like tiny birds and rodents. Having reached the edge of tree crone, the animal easily jumped on the branch growing two meters above it, and then stepped on the thick liana with wooden stalk bestridden from this tree to the next one. Due to grasping fingers and toes, and rather short limbs, the animal keeps balance easily and runs on the liana like on the bridge at the height of several tens meters above the ground. Ipochereu has good night vision, and it moves, having slightly lowered its head and touching the liana with its vibrissae. This individual is an adult female, in which brooding pouch four tiny hairless cubs creep. She lives in this territory already for about ten years and perfectly remembers the most part of tracks in forest canopy, though the area of her territory is about nine square kilometers of almost continuous tropical forest. While cubs are still in her pouch, ipochereu female is not tied to the certain site of her territory and simply goes the rounds along her habitual route. She makes only brief stops for rest or hunting, and in the morning hides in the nearest shelter, which location she also remembers despite of her brain of a marsupial mammal.
Moving in the forest, ipochereu female listens to the sounds of nocturnal animals. She is already adult and too large that someone of nocturnal animals of the forest could attack her, and she hides in shelters from large birds of prey active in the daytime. While cubs remain in her pouch, she cannot be afraid for their life. Nevertheless, she moves cautiously, trying not to give out her presence to possible prey or to any casual forest inhabitants, which are capable to warn the neighbourhood about her presence by their voices.
Ipochereu female is equipped well enough to finish with the sleepy monkey or to kill a sidespiny porcupine protected by spikes. More often, however, she should be content with smaller prey. Having smelt air and having looked round, she noticed a sleeping decorator bird. It is a male, which settled, as always, on thin branch hardly capable to sustain the weight of ipochereu. However, right above this bird another tree branch grows, being thicker and harder. Clinging with its claws, ipochreu female has cautiously got on the trunk to this branch, has cautiously crept along it until appeared right above a sleeping victim, and then has simply lowered her forepaws and has relaxed body muscles, having extended as much as possible. She has extended her forepaws forward, while hind legs keep the branch in death grip. However, it still needs literally several centimeters more to reach the sleeping bird. Risking a little, ipochereu female opened her hind paw, extended it aside cautiously, keeping the balance, and has hung on toes of another paw. It has let her win some more centimeters, which the predator needed, and in one instant, her claws had seized the sleeping bird.
Seized decorator bird male has cried desperately, flapping one free wing and dangling its legs. In reply to its alarm call, from somewhere in darkness voices of several congeners came, and in tree crone wings of a certain bird woken up by its last cry have begun to flap. Having hung on hind leg and shaking her tail for keeping the balance, ipochereu female has tightened its prey to the mouth and has put a bite to it. Bones of the bird’s skull have crackled, and cries and wing flapping have interrupted. Voices of other birds have also been quiet in darkness: everyone in the neighbourhood as if has understood, that the predator has its prey, and this night there will be no kills any more. Ipochereu female gripped the branch with her another hind paw, dragged its body up and bent it, seized tree bark by forepaws and got cautiously on the branch, holding its prey in teeth. She stepped over through the thickets of epiphytes, moving closer to the tree trunk, and there began to eat the caught bird, having sat on hind legs and having lowered her tail from the branch. Whirling in air, the down and feathers of the decorator bird fell down, and ipochereu female tore her prey to pieces, eating away soft bowels and the fleshiest parts of the carcass.
Having picked all parts edible in the slightest degree, she has thrown the rests of prey down and has continued her way in forest canopy. This night she will need to catch one more animal of the same weight to be sated and to sleep all the day somewhere in shelter in her territory.
The sky in the east brightens gradually, a new day comes, and nocturnal inhabitants hide in their shelters. Insects disappear in crevices and cracks of wood, in thickets of moss and epiphytes, or under peeled tree bark. In the daytime, they have too many enemies, and for some ones having especially tender body covers, it is dangerous to stay in sun light. In big tree trunk hollow the ipochereu female dozes – during the rest of night she has managed to catch a sluggish sleepy lizard, and now enjoys the feeling of satiety and calm, and in her pouch cubs grow up, sucking milk almost continuously. Severities of the adult life waiting one of the top predators of forest canopy are unknown to them yet. Bats return to the shelter, where they arrange their traditional every-morning squabble, pushing each other away from the most convenient resting places. Owls hide in tree trunk hollows and other shelters to sleep quietly and to avoid being found by daytime birds – they really do not need the clamour and the vanity giving out their location. Day is not their time, and it is important for them to remain unnoticed by daytime predators of the tropical forest.
With the first rays of rising sun, diurnal inhabitants begin to wake up. Voices of nocturnal animals turn silent, but there come other creatures to replace them. The forest is gradually filled with songs of birds – some of them utter loud monotonous calls, and others are skillful singers, usually imperceptible in tree foliage. On one tree among green foliage bright red and black feathers flash: the family couple of ruby toxic tyrants is on the morning hunting. These small birds keep beside with each other, rendering the partner signs of attention: they constantly whistle to one another and call up each other to the insects found. Visual and sound contacts are extremely important for them – when birds feel the presence of each other, they feel pleasure, and their small tireless hearts begin to beat a little bit quieter. In the collective nest of wolf-falcons, nestlings have woken up; they remind parents, that they are hungry, at the top of their lungs. Having got this signal, adult birds begin to gather on branches, preparing to the first morning hunting. Probably, they will manage to take by surprise any flock of parrots, and some of these noisy birds will die in order to give life to the new generation of wolf-falcons. Adult predators preen, stretch and flap wings, having seized the branch in toes – to the moment of the flyout to the hunting their muscles should work in full force.
Decorator birds begin their traditional morning roll call. Having become individualists and home-birds, they all are personally familiar with next-territory neighbours, and morning roll call is some kind of hello after night full of dangers. They perfectly distinguish voices of birds familiar to them, and are committed to notify them on their own presence and health, having warned them at the same time, that claims on territory are still in force. This time morning roll call of decorator birds has passed almost as usually, however some birds have noticed, that their common neighbour does not reply them. They do not go down to underbrush, therefore do not know, that its remains, which have not been eaten by ipochereu female, are eaten up by omnipresent ants. The voice is not audible, the owner of the territory is not visible, and two neighbor males break borders and fly into the become empty territory. They behave cautiously and are ready to return to their home at any moment – it is possible, that the territory is still occupied, and the unnecessary conflict is not needed for any of them. However, time passes, and they still do not see the owner, though they had already managed to notice each other and to exchange brief salutatory calls. They do not show aggression to each other, because they both are on equals, feeling themselves strangers in this territory. Keeping each other in visibility limits, decorator bird males survey the become empty territory, but all the same they do not see the owner. One of birds even perched on the branch, along which the ipochereu female prowled while hunting their congener – there on the bark scratches of predator’s claws are well visible. However, it is not enough of it for birds to draw any far-reaching conclusions. Decorator bird males simply convinced that their neighbour is not home, and after that, they have practically simultaneously decided to visit the most important place of its territory – the lovingly picked collection of rarities. Having perched on branches near the collection, they admire for some time a view of beetle shells gleaming in rays of the morning sun. Then one male fluttered on the tree trunk, hooked tree bark above the collection by claws, turned head down and pulled out a bunch of bright feathers pasted on the edge of the collection. Seizing its trophy in beak, he has flied off to his territory. The second male has perched on the branch near the collection lost its owner, has examined the beetles pasted to the tree bark, and has tried to pull out the shell of large jewel beetle shining like polished copper. However, the owner of the collection did good when pasting it and the ravager’s beak has only crumbed a precious exhibit. Having lost an interest to it, the male began to lever up another shell with its beak. Working cautiously, he has taken soon the dead bug, having broken its legs, and has dragged this trophy to its territory. Their actions are observed by one more adult male, which has not dared yet to come close to avoid causing an unnecessary aggression in robbers. When the second male flied out, the third robber picked out a bright feather and pulled it out for his own collection.
Three males, replacing each other continuously, quickly plunder the collection appeared unattended. They are engaged in it almost until the midday, and after their robbery, the collection of the preyed male represents a pitiful sight. All interesting finds appear either stolen, or broken by careless movements of feathery thieves. From the collection, only a spot of the coagulated latex on the tree bark remains, with some broken beetle shells, which have not attracted any feathery plunder of treasures. Everything looked nice and not damaged appeared stolen quickly.
Some more days passed. The territory of the perished decorator bird male has turned to a kind of buffer zone for domains of three adult males of this species, which have plundered his collection. They appear here from time to time and feed one by one or together, not clashing with each other. However, the state of affairs changes soon: once in the morning one male has met an unfamiliar congener in this neutral territory. The newcomer keeps intently: at the appearing of this male he has simply hide in tree foliage, observing for his actions. While the territory does not belong to anybody, aggression of the birds staying here is decreased, and the newcomer risks in nothing. This bird is a young male, and he monitors steadfastly actions of the adult male, being ready to hide at any moment. Nevertheless, it is obvious, that he does not want to leave this territory – in every possible way, he tries to avoid meetings with congeners, but he surveys the territory and observes from apart the behaviour of his neighbours. Within several days, he has quite accustomed at this place, and neighbours do not express any aggression to him.
During his wanderings, young decorator bird male has found the rubber cement tree, which had been once a symbolical center of the territory of its former owner. Examining this tree, he has seen that something has flashed on the trunk. Having flied up to this place, young male has seen on the light bark of the tree some leakages of latex, and among them the rests of the ravaged collection of the preyed male – some broken beetle shells sunk in stiffened latex. Collections plunderers had made a good job: all most interesting finds are plundered or broken by careless movements of their beaks. Only some small shells of beetles, which they have disdained, shine here. Nevertheless, young male is attracted by this idea of an ornament: before this time, he tried to paste to trees only leaves, blossoms and pieces of tree bark. He has examined with curiosity shining beetles, and then pecked a hole in the bark near to one of them. From an aperture the viscous white streamlet of latex began to ooze slowly, and young male has cautiously smeared it by beak on the bark. Being satisfied with a result, he has flied out, but has returned soon, holding in his beak an orchid flower. Having picked open the bark, he got a new portion of latex, and pasted cautiously his find to it. Having examined a collection inherited by him, the male had perched on the branch near to it, had shaken his feathers and had uttered a call – a prolonged hollow trill. It is a courageous step: this way the young bird has declared the territorial claims and has expressed the intention to live here permanently. Having stopped singing, he has listened and has heard in reply the voice of another male from the next territory. Call was similar on his own one, but had the overtones characteristic for the voice of an adult individual. Nevertheless, there was no audible aggression in this signal – it was the usual reply of one neighbour to another’s voice, something like peaceful, noncommittal conversation. Such signal is a good sign for the young male: his territorial claims are heard and noted. The territory has found a new owner, and now his neighbours must have to deal with his presence and interests. Young male gets an opportunity to implement in practice his creative searches and to study at instructors that are more skilled. Once he will manage to gather a collection of rarities, and even the first impression of it will force female’s heart to tremble.


Amazon decorator bird (Griseocorax ficophagus)
Order: Passerine birds (Passeriformes)
Family: Corvids (Corvidae)

Habitat: tropical areas of South America, rainforest canopy.
The human activity in Holocene caused the extinction of many biological species. However some creatures had been able to survive and to adapt to changed conditions in nature. One of them was the Violaceous jay (Cyanocorax violaceus). In Neocene this bird gave rise to the genus Griseocorax, with the Amazon decorator bird being the type species. Living in the Amazon rainforest, this bird is a passionate collector of bright and colorful things.
This species has 40 cm of length and a wingspan of 85 cm. Both sexes look similar with black feathers on head and pale grey ones on chest, underbelly and tail. The other body parts are bluish grey. Beak and legs are dark grey.
Decorator birds are omnivorous. Their diet is composed of fruits, seeds, invertebrates and small vertebrates. Their most consumed fruit is fig. They move through the forest in search for insects that can be caught in midair or plucked off leaves. Grubs are obtained by probing in bark and other prey by foraging through the plant litter.
Decorator birds have this name due to the features of their mating behavior. Males collect shining and colorful objects to place them in sticky sap of some trees to attract females. These objects can be parts of insects, fruits, flowers and feathers. Sometimes decorator bird males attack smaller birds and pluck out their feathers. Object theft is common and males need to defend fiercely their decorated trees from other males. The female chose the one with the best decorations. Each species of decorator bird has preferences for some colors of collected objects. Amazon decorator bird prefers red, pink and purple objects, and objects of other colors are placed to their collections rarely. Birds gather flower petals and bird feathers, pasting them to tree bark in tufts. Collection is usually placed on the vertical tree trunk in sunny place where collected objects are better visible. Male perches on the branch near the collection and utters loud shrilling calls to attract the female. When the female appears, male begins its display against the background of its collection.
This is a monogamous bird forming breeding pairs for one breeding cycle only. Nest is constructed high in the trees and represents an untidy platform of twigs. The female lays 5 blueish white eggs with brown spots. The female incubates the eggs for about 19 days, being fed and protected by the male. Newly hatched chicks are blind and featherless. They are fed by both parents and fledge in about 24 days. Sometimes males can pair with another female and successfully supply both broods with food. Juveniles remain with the parents for 2-3 month until dispersing. The lifespan of Amazon decorator bird is up to 19 years.
In forests of South America some other species in the genus Griseocorax live.
Coastal decorator bird (Griseocorax littoralis) inhabits the coastal tropical forests of Northern South America. This bird has a plumage very similar in coloration to Amazon decorator bird, except of white tips of tail feathers. Coastal decorator bird grows to 38 cm of total length and its wingspan is about 80 cm. Their call is also different from that of the Amazon species. The males of this species have preferences to yellow and orange objects. Males often visit beaches in search for yellow shells to decorate their courtship place in trees. These birds place collected objects as a band around the branch. They pluck and paste to the branch numerous flowers of orchids and other plants, and had to replace rotten flowers and petals with fresh ones in regular way.
Andean decorator bird (Griseocorax andinus) lives in the forests at the Andean foothills. This bird has 34 cm of length and a wingspan of 76 cm, with black plumage in the face, chest and back; underbelly is pale grey, while the rump is blueish grey. Nape is snow-white, contrasting with coloration of face and back. Males of this species have a preference for blue, green and violet objects, preferring shining beetle elytra. These objects are pasted to the upper side of tree branch and form a kind of carpet on which male performs its courtship ritual.

This bird species was discovered by João Vitor Coutinho, Brazil

Ruby toxic tyrant (Venenonanornis rubrus)
Order: Passerine birds (Passeriformes)
Family: Tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae)

Habitat: tropical rainforests of South America.
Some animals were capable to survive the human interference in the nature and climatic changes of early Neocene. The survivors were mostly small-sized and unspecialized forms able to turn adult early and to breed rapidly. Among South American passerine birds the pygmy tyrant (genus Myiornis) was one of these survivors, and in Neocene these birds give rise to the separate genus Venenonanornis, with the ruby toxic tyrant being the type species of this genus. This tiny bird is extremely toxic and lives in the rainforests of the Amazon basin.
This bird has a total body length of about 6 cm and 12 cm of wingspan. Both male and female look similar to each other, with nearly the whole body plumage being bright red with the exception of the crown, primaries, secondaries, tertiaries and tail feathers, which are black. Its bright coloration demonstrates a case of aposematism – it signals the toxicity of the bird to warm-blooded predators. Beak and legs are dark grey. All members of this genus have very short tail feathers – about 2 cm long only.
Toxic tyrants feed mostly on insects like as ants and beetles. Their mostly consumed prey is a toxic blister beetle named as doom beetle, which produces powerful toxins of cantharidin group. All members of this genus consume doom beetles of different species, and the color of their plumage reflects the color of the beetle they prey. These birds are immune to this toxin and are able to deposit it in their skin and feathers; this way all toxic tyrants are extremely toxic.
This species is monogamous with the pair mating for life. The male attracts the female by vocalizing a high pitched song. Both parents construct the nest looking like a ball made of moss and plant fibers with a side entrance. This construction is relatively large compared to the size of the bird. It’s constructed up in the tree, but never near the canopy. The female lays 2 white eggs with brownish spots on shell. Both parents hatch the eggs for 2 weeks. Young birds fledge in 1 month and reach sexual maturity in 5 months. Birds can hatch up to 3-4 broods per year.
The lifespan of the ruby toxic tyrant is no more than 4 years, but the most part of birds perishes being only 2 years old – it is a kind of pay for toxicity, because the metabolism of beetle poison demands a lot of energy.
Other species in the genus are:
Critrine toxic tyrant (Venenonanornis citrinus) lives in the coastal forests of the northern part of South America. This species grows to 6.5 cm of length and 13 cm of wingspan. Both sexes look similar to each other with nearly the whole plumage being bright golden yellow. They have black feathers in the same parts that the type species. The voice of the male of this species is a continuous chirring trill.
Emerald toxic tyrant (Venonanornis viridis) inhabits tropical forests near the Andes foothills. This species is about 7 cm long and its wingspan is up to 14 cm. Both sexes do not differ in appearance with nearly the whole plumage being bright green. They have black feathers in the same parts as the type species. Its call sounds like a series of double clicks.

This bird species was discovered by João Vitor Coutinho, Brazil

Bromeliad kingfisher (Bromelialcedo pseudotrochilus)
Order: Coraciiformes (Coraciiformes)
Family: Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)
Habitat: tropical forests of Amazonia, forest canopy.

Picture by Simon

In evolution the descendant species may considerably change a way of life in comparison with its more or less far ancestors. Expanding an ecological niche due to the adaptation to existence in new habitats, species may depart a former way of life completely. It had taken place so in rainforests of South America. Various species of aquatic animals – crustaceans, insects and amphibians – passed from life in rivers to life in tiny reservoirs formed in leaf axils of plants of bromeliad family. Abundance and variety of these animals had involved various predators to these mini-reservoirs of bromeliads. Many of them are not specialized and only incidentally hunt inhabitants of bromeliads. But one species of birds is the specialized hunter to these animals. It is bromeliad kingfisher – a tiny bird with pointed beak and lightspeed reaction. Similarly to some aquatic animals, it had moved to forest canopy from banks of forest rivers.
Bromeliad kingfisher is very small bird: length of its body (not including the beak) is about 8 cm. It is the smallest species of family, even tinier, than tiny straw kingfisher living in reeds of Fourseas. Colouring of plumage at this bird is bright, and green colors have prevalence. On back of adult birds there is bright red spot, and tail and primarily feathers have an appreciable bluish shade. The beak of bird is long (it makes a little less than two thirds of body length) and colored reddish-brown with white tip. Wings of bromeliad kingfisher are short and peaked; bird is able to fly masterly. The specific name “pseudotrochilus”, meaning “false hummingbird”, is given to the present species for the tiny size, external similarity to the hummingbird, and ability to “hang” in flight for some seconds. But this bird sharply differs from hummingbird by diet – as opposed to nectarivorous hummingbirds, bromeliad halcyon is a zoophagous species.
This bird lives in forest canopy and never flies down to the ground. Bromeliad kingfisher eats insects, frogs and other small animals living in “mini-reservoirs” formed by plants of bromeliad family. The volume of such reservoirs can reach several litres, and this bird finds in them enough small animals for feeding. From small and narrow “tanks” in leaves of bromeliads kingfisher catches prey by beak, perching on edge of leaf. And in large tanks containing about three litres of water, bird is literally compelled to dive.
Because of specificity of food source bromeliad kingfishers are strictly territorial. These birds are monodins; nesting pairs at them are formed to all further life. The pair of birds keeps very amicably and occupies rather large territory in forest canopy. These birds expel contenders and competitors from the territory, loudly crying and displaying bright colouring. If it does not have an effect, the pair of birds can attack the contender and put to it deep wounds by beak. Equally bravely these birds attack snakes, large predatory birds and climbing mammals.
Bromeliad kingfishers nest in deep narrow hollows or under peeled off bark of large trees. In clutch there are 4 – 5 eggs, and both parents incubate and look after nestlings. Bringing up posterity, bromeliad kingfishers catch not only aquatic animals, but also spiders and insects living on plants. For one year birds have time to bring up two hatches.

This species of birds was discovered by Simon, the forum member.

Wolf-falcon (Cynofalco gregarius)
Order: Falcon birds (Falconiformes)
Family: Falcons (Falconidae)

Habitat: tropical and subtropical areas of New World.
This bird of prey is descended from a kind of kestrel, possibly the very common (Falco sparverius), a small (thrush-sized) hovering-and-pounce style mice, invertebrate and small bird eater. It relied more and more to hunt on the dense parrot flocks what became increasingly abundant on the first part of neocene, and ended evolving as a parrot-flock specialist hunter.
The species still looks like a kestrel, with long pointed wings and an ample fanshape tail, and a round head with huge eyes and a rather small beak. The body is nevertheless larger (32 cm long), and heavier-bodied, head is grey with a black mask, neck and back are rufous. The rest of body gray-whitish with small black speckles. The tail is also black, with two wide horizontal white bands on the tip, used as a sort of comunication code when hunting. The behavior is, nevertheless, very un-kestrel like and gives the common name of the species.
The species lives on groups of 5 – 28 individuals, usually familiar groups, but also can accept stray young males and females. Birds build a communal nest as a huge platform of twigs. One or two females are breeders, some adults as nest guardians, as other raptors can raid the nest, and the rest of birds as hunters, having a definite hierarchy. Because parrots are such smart and strong birds, they hunt them in a coordinate fashion which remembers more a wolfpack than another thing. Once the hovering spotters detect a flock, a group of hunters maneouver trying to separate their quarry of the main flock. They also may ambush foraging parrots, or herd them to unprotected places when the spotters could airstrike on a lighting descent. The killed prey are eaten on the spot, and then the hunters regurgitate food to the nestmates and chicks.
Their kestrel heritage is shown when hunts, they prefer to attack from above towards perching or feeding prey, and only relies to aerial hunting if the first attack fails.
The species evolved first on the southern part of North America, and expanded its range so actually is present on both Americas, always on parrot-rich zones.

This species of birds was discovered by Edgar Segovia, the member of Philosophica-Dixonia.

Ipochereu, Amazon marsupial marten (Martenodelphis ipochereu)
Order: Opossum (Didelphimorphia)
Family: American marten opossums (Martenodelphidae)

Habitat: tropical woods of Amazon region, mountain of an equatorial zone.

Picture by Eugeny Hontor

Marsupials and placentary mammals are not two levels of development, and two equivalent groups of mammals. Marsupials do not have attributes because of which they can be counted “lower” ones. Presence of brooding pouch and way of posterity bearing has imposed some restrictions to adaptive opportunities of marsupials: among them forms constantly or the most part of time living in water basically can not appear. But in ground habitats marsupial mammals rather successfully can compete with placentary ones. Isolation on southern continents obviously has not was of use for them: developing “using own sources” and being out of competition, marsupials lost in ingenuity level to the placentary contemporaries from other continents. After to South America and Australia placentary mammals have got, the significant part of marsupials had lost struggle for existence and had disappeared from Earth’s face. But extinction of plenty of mammal species in late Holocene and early Neocene had balanced chances of marsupials and placentals in the further existence. In South America some new kinds of marsupials successfully competing with placental ones had appeared. Among them representatives of American marten opossums family, predators of woods and mountains, are especially remarkable. They had descend from American opossums (Didelphidae), but evolution has perfected their predating abilities, having made these animals one of the most successful group of local predators.
In forest canopy of the Amason region, stretched to many thousand square kilometers, one of representatives of this family, ipochereu, or Amazon marsupial marten lives (Ipochereu is a name of marten, the hero of fairy tales of one Indian tribe of Amason region). By constitution ipochereu resembles the true marten, but it differs from them in larger size: length of body is about 70 cm (tail is about 1 meter long), height at a shoulderis about 30 cm. The long body and short paws with tenacious sharp claws are adaptation features for life in rich branches. Amazon marsupial marten differs in big flexibility and mobility: this predator easily can run across the rivers along thin liana at 30-meter height. Due to tenacious claws this animal moves on tree trunks easily as if squirrel. The tail of this marsupial marten is not prehensile, but during jumps from tree to tree it serves as the balance weight.
Colouring of wool of Amazon marsupial marten is spotty - on grayish-brown background there are longitudinal lines of small white spots merging on back to faltering strips. Stomach is white.
Obverse part of skull is short, but jaws are wide and strong. Brain cavity of skull is long and low. This predator kills catch (large forest rodents, birds and reptiles) by strong bite to backbone or in basis of skull. Eye-sockets are wide, sight is substantially binocular due to what the animal can precisely estimate distance before jump. Ears are short and rounded. On muzzle long whiskers grow.
As the majority of large predators, Amazon marsupial marten is solitary animal. Each animal occupies extensive territory - about 10 square kilometers. Borders of territory are marked by urine and areas of toren bark (as bears in Holocene acted), and carefully protected. Only males during breeding season come to the territory of females for pairing.
Amazon marsupial marten has two peaks of activity: in the morning (from dawn up to hottest time of day) and in the evening up to sunset. In the afternoon in heat the animal has a rest in shadow or hides in tree-trunk hollow. Sometimes Amazon marsupial marten goes down to the ground and sleeps in shadow under tree roots. On the ground this predator finds food – carrion, eggs of turtles and other reptiles. Sometimes ipochereu catches fish and crabs in shallow streams (especially frequently it makes it in mountain areas).
At ipochereu the expressed seasonal prevalence in breeding is not present, but in mountains or in the south of area cubs are born in early spring, and even at the end of winter. The pouch at this species of animals represents the horseshoe-like plica of skin inverted by the ends to tail. Up to the moment of posterity birth it is stretched, providing preservation of posterity and when cubs leave it, pouch is compressed again. In pack there are up to 5 cubs born underdeveloped as at all marsupials. They stay in pouch within three months, eating milk and developing. Then the female some time carries them on back (the relationship with opossums has an effect), but at this species similar feature gradually passes to past. In mountains some females may at once leave rather developed cubs in shelter (similarly to Australian predatory marsupial): cubs sitting on back simply prevent to hunt. Besides sometimes during catch chasing the cub simply can fall down from mother’s back and injure itself up to death. Because of it before independence only 1 - 2 cubs from pack survive. At the age of 5 months they start to hunt with mother, and completely pass to meat feeding. At this time the female is ready to rear posterity once again. At the age of seven month young animals already are completely independent, and the female already bears the next pack in brooding pouch.

Bromeliad dragonfly (Hyleoanax bromeliophilus)
Order: Dragonflies (Odonata)
Family: Aeshnidae (Aeshnidae)

Habitat: rainforests of South America, forest canopy.

Picture by Tony Johnes

The rainforest of northern part of South America forms unite with huge river system – basin of Amazon and Hyppolite rivers. It is the largest forest area of the Neocene Earth. Overflowing banks, rivers flood forest over tens kilometers in sides from channel, and water level changes may reach ten meters and more. This circumstance favours to passing to life in forest of some aquatic lifeforms.
Plants of bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae) represent the original “advanced post” of water animals in forest canopy. These epiphytic plants form special mini-reservoirs of their leaves. Leaves may be curved like a spoon and then in each of them the tiny reservoir is formed. Or densely pressed to each other leaves form one reservoir in the centre of the crown. These reservoirs in forest canopy are full of life. Frogs and other small animals live in them, and also in full safety from fishes mosquitoes breed.
In Neocene among inhabitants of similar reservoirs one more creature had appeared – it is a large larva of dragonfly. It is flat-bodied with short wide abdomen and strong tenacious legs. Green colouring permits the larva to hide from sights of various predators – usually birds or predatory insects are its enemies. The length of larva reaches approximately 4 cm. This species of insects lives exclusively in leaf axils of bromeliads and consequently is named bromeliad dragonfly. In such reservoirs larva avoids the dangers usual for its relatives in river. The larva of bromeliad dragonfly is protected from beaks of birds by its habitat. Mini-reservoir in leaf axil of bromeliad is small, but too deep. At danger larva simply moves down to the bottom of its dwelling.
Because many inhabitants of forest canopy are interested in presence of such reservoirs, larva of bromeliad dragonfly does not endure lack of food. It basically eats larvae of mosquitoes regularly laying eggs in water in bromeliad leaf axils. Also this insect can eat tadpoles of tiny frogs and catches the insects had casually got in water. At larvae of bromeliad dragonflies cannibalism is usual.
When in mini-reservoir, where larva lives, food sources come to an end, it can leave it. With the help of strong legs larva simply creeps into the next leaf, and eats all animals living in it, including its own relatives.
Many insects live in forest canopy. Here various winged predators hunt them, among which there is remarkable large (up to 9 cm long) dragonfly of metallic red color with black cross stripes on wings. It is the adult bromeliad dragonfly. It constantly lives in forest canopy and does not move down to the river. During courtship displays large male keeps near thickets of bromeliad plants, driving competitors away from them, and involving females to plants.
This insect lays eggs in crowns of bromeliad – some ones stuck in unite slimy mass in each leaf. Clutches are small – no more than 20 eggs to one plant. During the life one female lays eggs in leaves of several tens bromeliads.
The incubation lasts about one week, and eggs are left by transparent tiny larvae. They are very active, and at once start to eat small animals. After several molts, when they become larger, relations between larvae become aggravated, and they start to devour each other. Some of them succeed to survive and to creep to next reservoirs of bromeliads. After furious struggle for survival in one plant one or two larvae of bromeliad dragonfly stay. At such density of setting they normally grow and four – five months later pass metamorphosis successfully.

Red doom beetle (Pachygasterella rubra)
Order: Beetles (Coleoptera)
Family: Blister beetles (Meloidae)

Habitat: South America, Amazon Basin, rainforest canopy.

Picture by Biolog

In the Holocene the insects were by far one of the most successful groups of animals, with diverse adaptations for survival. In Neocene this trend continued, and the doom beetles of the genus Pachygasterella show one of such adaptations for survival. These insects produce powerful toxic alkaloids of the cantharidin group. The type species of this group is red doom beetle living in the rainforests of the Amazon Basin. Their presence in rainforest is a trace of former disappearing of rainforests and their replacing by savanna and dry forests during the ice age in late Holocene – blister beetles are more common inhabitants of dry areas, rather than of rainforests.
It is a rather large insect: both male and female of this species are 45 millimeters long. The coloration is bright red on head, thorax and elytra, while the legs and antennae are black. In some local populations there are individual variations of the coloration from pale orange to bloody-red. Head is elongated and equipped with short powerful mandibles and large round eyes. Abdomen is swollen and cylindrical; it makes more than a half of the total length of this insect. The color of imago stage at this species is a case of aposematism showing its toxicity to predators. Poison is accumulated in fat and tissues. However, the ruby toxic tyrant is immune to the beetles toxin and is able to eat them.
All members of this genus have well-developed wings that allow them to fly short distances between fodder plants. Flight of this beetle is slow and non-maneuverable. In adult stage doom beetles are phytophagous and eat mostly leaves. They are not specialized to feeding on any certain plant species and may be met on various species of trees of many plant families.
The males of doom beetles attract the females by releasing pheromones; canthardin plays an important role in their breeding behaviour. Female lays in total some thousands of eggs in batches of about ten ones attached to leaves of epiphytic plants. They hatch after about a week and the larvae of first age appear. They have well-developed legs and creep into the flowers in searches of bees and wasps pollinating them. Having attached to bodies of such insects, they get into their colonies and develop there, turning to fat grub with short walking legs. At this stage of life cycle they eat larvae of bees or wasps and tame adult insects by producing a pleasant smell and a special liquid attracting them.
After moulting three times, grubs leave a hymenopterans colony and search for a secluded place for pupation. They usually do it in bushes of epiphytic plants, where rotten leaves and another plant fragments accumulate. The doom beetle's life cycle takes about half year from egg laying to the end of metamorphosis. This insect breeds all the year round. The lifespan of red doom beetle imago is about 2 months.
There are some other species in this genus:
Yellow doom beetle (Pachygasterella sulfurata) lives in the coastal forests of northern part of South America. Imago grows to 40 millimeters and is morphologically similar to red doom beetle, with the exception of bright yellow color instead of red. Its larva usually develops in nests of solitary wasps, eating wasp larva and stocks of paralyzed insects or spiders gathered for its nutrition.
Green doom beetle (Pachygasterella viridis) inhabits the tropical forests in the Andes foothills, and grows to 50 millimeters. It is morphologically similar to red doom beetle, with the exception of bright green color and slender constitution – its abdomen is longer and thinner.

The idea about the existence of this species was proposed by João Vitor Coutinho, Brazil.


Rubber cement tree (Hevea glutinifera)
Order: Malpighiales (Malpighiales)
Family: Spurges (Euphorbiaceae)

Habitat: South America, tropical forests.
Human activity in Holocene epoch has resulted in significant reduction of the area of tropical woods and in disruption of ranges of plant species forming them. It has resulted in decrease of the number, and in extinction of some species of trees. But non-numerous species of tropical trees having the important economic value for people succeeded to survive and even to expand the range up to the introduction of these species at other continents. One of such species was Para rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). This kind of trees has survived due to its cultivation by people – extensive plantations of this plant frequently replaced the cut down tropical forests, becoming a kind of substitute of natural ecosystems. In Neocene one of descendants of this species in areas of growth of its ancestor appeared rubber cement tree – a species with very sticky lacteal sap.
This species is slowly growing tree up to 30 meters tall with smooth light grey bark and hard wood. With the age, its bark exfoliates with thin plates. Trifoliate leaves with wide heart-shaped leaflets grow in dense bunches on the ends of young branches. Length of leafstalks is up to 30 cm, leaf blades – about 20 cm. Surface of leaа is smooth and dark green. Young leaves have a slight violet shade due to the contents of anthocyans protecting growing tissues against sun burn. At full-grown adult trees, leaves of five leaflets form regularly.
Tree has sticky white latex. Sap of this plant plentifully flows from the damaged areas of bark, quickly dries up in air and turns to sticky mass. This is an adaptation for protection against the insects damaging its bark and wood. Local birds – Amazon decorator birds – settle on this tree and use its latex for pasting of the collections of bright objects on tree bark.
Small flowers are composed in racemes and are remarkable in unpleasant smell. They develop on the tips of branches and are pollinated by flies and small solitary wasps. Frequently on inflorescences the beetles feed, damaging them. Seeds ripen in capsules; they are dry, rounded, content a lot of oil in their pulp. The capsule is indehiscent; it falls down with seeds, its walls are colored red and have a pleasant smell. Seeds are distributed mainly by ground-dwelling animal – rodents and birds. Among other seed distributors the most important are decorator birds eating a part of seed crop from the branches.
The first flowering of a young plant comes in the age of 10 years. Life expectancy of a plant is about 110-130 years.


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