In this ninth installment of the human stories behind herpetological research, we hear from Thiago de Carvalho. Thiago describes the trials and tribulations during fieldwork in which he and his colleagues discovered a new species of Adenomera. The description of this species appeared in Journal of Herpetology, and the citation is as follows:
de Carvalho, T.R., C.S. Cassini, P.P. Taucce, and C.F. Haddad. 2019. A New, Morphologically Cryptic Species of Adenomera Closely Related to Adenomera araucaria from the Atlantic Forest of Southern Brazil (Anura, Leptodactylidae). Journal of Herpetology, 53(2):131–143.
In November 2017, two lab colleagues/friends and I went on a herpetological fieldtrip to the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil. We planned to visit specific localities across all three states in this Brazilian region, which would take us two weeks driving south and then all the way back to the university (in the state of São Paulo). It was perfect timing, because it was raining continuously and we happened to come across some interesting frog species throughout the trip, including two that are probably new to science.
On November 10th, we went on our longest and toughest trail to Pedra Branca do Araraquara. We were really excited about the possibility of finding long-lost and new frogs in the region. At the very beginning, we encountered a broken bridge near the trail head, which caused us to drive a bit farther to find any private property so the car would not be unattended all day long. From there, we started by getting across the rocky-bottom river (where there used to be a bridge) and began hiking up. Around half an hour later, while walking past a small bungalow next to the trail, three huge Belgian sheepdogs spotted us and actively ran towards us. We did not know exactly what to do facing three fully grown dogs at close range. After a few seconds of shaking in our boots, we found out that the dogs were friendly (lucky us) so we hung out with them a little bit while chatting with the owner of the property, then carried on with our hike.
After another hour hiking up, already well into the forest, out of the blue we ran into three guys hauling bundles of palm trees down back to the road—it is common in the region that unauthorized individuals cut down palm trees, used predominantly for hearts of palm. This is an entirely illegal activity, so we got nervous with the situation, but they only went their way down the trail. We got concerned about the chance of bumping into more people on our way up to the summit, but in fact we ended up being all alone for the next few hours of the hike. Several times, we had to jump over big trees fallen across the trail, so I decided to clear up bushy vegetation with a machete so we could have landmarks on our way back. The machete’s sheath was attached to one of my friends’ belts, but I decided to use the machete because I was leading the hike at that moment. One of those times, shortly after clearing up vegetation while stepping on a soft, organic soil, I tried to stick the machete into the soil next to me. But instead of being the soft soil I was standing on, it was a big, solid rock completely covered with moss. When the machete hit the rock, it rebounded back over my fingers, cutting three of them very badly (that was my impression right at the moment). My hand started bleeding a lot and I could see blood all around me. One my friends, as quick as possible, got some salt out of her backpack, spread over the wound in an attempt to contain the bleeding and wrapped my fingers up with a T-shirt. I was not even capable of feeling any pain while dealing with it. Shortly after containing the bleeding, I decided to cover my hand with an additional layer of fabric and a plastic bag (a drizzling rain had just begun). The three of us discussed all the possibilities and decided to walk all the way back to the car and drive straight to the small town where we were lodged, to find a hospital.
The rain was getting stronger and stronger as we hiked down the trail. We could not believe what we were seeing when we reached the trail head: it had rained so intensely at the summit that the water level of the river had covered everything. That shallow rocky-bottom river at the beginning of the trail had turned into a fast-flowing river, the water hitting and splashing among big rocks. We were stuck on the opposite bank of the river and unable to reach the road. We attempted to use alternative trails using the GPS. We had to walk across a smaller river (flowing relatively fast though), the three of us holding each other’s hands, afraid of being dragged down by the water current. Our clothes were soaked through and my fingers started throbbing. Finally we reached a private property. We had to jump over the gate to search for the residents. After explaining the situation to the property’s janitor, we were able to reach the road after crossing another bridge. We then followed the road back to the place where we had left the car. At that point, we felt that things were going to come out well. We drove back to town and I got eight stitches on three of my fingers. Luckily, the cut was not so deep to the point that I would have to undergo surgery.
I decided to keep working in the field along with my friends as much as possible, but avoiding climbing or any other activity that could burst open the stitches on my fingers. Six days after that fateful day, we succeeded hiking up another trail at Serra do Tabuleiro State Park, where we collected frogs that were later described as a new species (Adenomera kweti) endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Forest of eastern Santa Catarina, published in Journal of Herpetology. The moral of this story from our experience is that we should always be aware and prepared for all eventualities that might happen, especially during field expeditions to wilderness areas, which are commonly a main/necessary component of research among field biologists.
Thiago R. de Carvalho
University of the Pacific
Department of Biological Sciences
Stockton, California 95211, USA