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2007 trip to Cana, Darien National Park, Panama;


Cana is a field station in eastern Panama just a few miles from the Colombian border. The station is run by ANCON Expeditions. There are two ways in: either via charter flight on a Twin Otter or smaller plane, or by taking the Pan-American highway and then hiking for a couple days more. The next two links will show you on Google Earth where we stayed. You can just barely see the airstrip next to the main camp, where we spent 4 nights in the relative lowlands plus 4 fabulous nights of "herping" up at the cloud forest tent camp.

This expedition was organized by myself and Dr. Roberto Ibáñez, and was funded by a grant from the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society.

Filmmaker, Daniel Hissen, came along to document our work and made a nice film called Eine Arche für Frösche, starring Edgardo Griffith and yours truly in a supporting role. The documentary aired April 2008 on the European cable channel, Arte in German and French. (I guess that was my "15 mintues," but I have yet to receive any fan mail. Oh well.)

Photos on this page were taken by myself and various others on the expedition, most notably Figa Brenes and Vicky Flechas.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger images. Be sure to maximize your browser's window size. Or go back to my Fieldwork page.
Most recent update: October 20th, 2008.


Photo of the plane as it lands in Cana.

Twin OtterANCON Expeditions handled the logistics, which certainly made my job a lot easier. They were very accomodating and gave us a special researcher discount in support of our scientific work. Thanks, guys! This photo shows our Twin Otter coming in for a landing on the tiny grass landing stripe that serves as Cana's own tiny aiport. Colombian territory starts behind the hill in the background of this photo. On our first night, we found a new species of frog along the right side of the airstrip. Daniel Medina is working on the description now.

Photo of everyone on this field trip.

The Field Crew — The field crew was, from left to right: Roberto Ibáñez, Daedra Craig (Kirsten's student), Edgardo Griffith (our man from EVACC), Kirsten Nichlonson (our Norops specialist, Vicky Flechas (our Colombian frog specialist), Andrew Crawford (the slave driver), Roberto "Figa" Brenes (our tadpole specialist), Daniel Medina (a great example of the new generation of Panamanian herpetologists), and Daniel Hissen (who was constantly filming, as you'll see).

Photo of Phylomedusa venusta.

Phylomedusa venusta — By far the coolest frog around the main camp was this monkey frog, whose geographic distribution in Central America is not much more than this spot. An amazing frog!

Photo of the main station at Cana.

Cana station — For such an isolated site, ANCON Expeditions maintains a remarkably comfortable station. The dining hall is shown in the center of this photo. The main station is at about 530 meters elevation. It's easier to get Colombian than Panamanian radio stations here.

Photo of English gold-mining machinery.

Cana gold mine — Cana was exploited as a gold mine first by the Spanish sometime around the 1700's (I'm guessing). A century ago the English moved in and set up an industrial gold mining operation with heavy machinery and a narrow gauge railway. The operation was long ago abandoned and the jungle is reclaiming these iron relicts.

Photo of lizard on a branch.

Enyalioides heterolepis — We came here to inventory amphibians, but the lizards were pretty cool, too. Check out this "wood lizard" or "dwarf iguana" who was sleeping on a branch at night.

Photo of colorful lizard.

La escorpión coral — This lizard, Diploglossus monotropis was even more crazy, and much rarer that the above lizard. This was the first one of its kind I had ever seen in Panama or anywhere. The whole underside is that same bright orange color. What a wacky animal! Read more about Diploglossus of Panama in Myers 1973.

Photo of colorful snake.

Tripanurgus compressus — The snakes were really cool, too. Check out this colorful specimen. This species is pretty rare in Panama, but I've seen a couple of them now. (I'm told they changed the genus, but I don't recall the new name.)

Photo of weird	 snake.

Dwarf boa, aka Northern eyelash boa — No, it's not a dinosaur -- this is Trachyboa boulengeri, the freakiest snake I have ever seen. It's very docile and can hold its body out straight and rigid like a stick. Notice the little bumpy scales on its head. And talk about rare! Like the P. venusta above, this snake doesn't get into Central America much beyond this spot.

Photo of the view across the valley.

Up to the cloud forest — From the Cana main station we hiked up to the Cana tent camp at about 1300 meters elevation on the Serranéa Pirre — where the real frog action was going on! The photo is looking from the tent camp across the valley. The hill in the distance is Colombia. The light green spot on the valley floor is the rarely visted Laguna Purrichë, where the previous 3 reptiles (above) were found.

Photo of Roberto Ibanez at the tent camp.

The Cana tent camp — At our other surveys in 2007 we had to set up our camps and bring our own food, but here ANCON Expeditions took care of everything, even at this tent camp on top of the mountain ridge. We of course had to worry about our own gear. By mid-2007 the "Crocs" footwear crazy had taken hold of us all — (note, group photo above) though poor Roberto was left out. So he pulled a "MacGuyver" and improvised his own footwear for around the camp.

Photo of Daniel Hissen in the field.

The filmmaker — Daniel Hissen had the unenviable job of serving as his own one-man jungle film crew, but he did an amazing job of filming frogs, documenting the research, conducting interviews, reviewing footage, checking sound, and schlepping his camera gear up the mountain. Here he is in the stream on a rainy night near the tent camp.

Photo of Atelopus glyphus in amplexus.

Atelopus glyphus — Here is the star of amphibian conservation, the harlequin frogs of the genus, Atelopus. Most mountain chains in Panama have their own endemic species of Atelopus, here in the Pirre range it's A. glyphus. Here is a pair in amplexus, male is on top, as is typical in frogs. Finding a healthy population of these animals means that the frog-killing microscopic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is likely not at this site (yet).

Photo of Hyalinobatrachium valeroi with 2 clutches.

Sex and the single father — Of course there were many other amazing amphibians around the tent camp. Here is a studly male glassfrog, Hyalinobatrachium talamancae (aka H. virreovittatum ), whose name is longer than he is. The photo shows a male calling to attract female frogs while at the same time guarding his two current clutches of eggs. Notice, the development of one clutch is more advanced than the other. What does his call sound like? Listen! (If anyone recognizes the person who made this recording, please let me know how I can get in touch with him! Email me: andrew ∀ dna.ac
And please let me know if the sound file works.)

Photo of Roberto Figa Brenes at the tent camp.

Relaxing back at camp — We had very little time for breaks because we needed to do both field work and "lab" work. It was an exhausting schedule, but the fun of discovering new things kept everyone energized. Here's a photo of Figa taking a break at the tent camp. To the left is the dining room, in the background is the kitchen.

Photo of Pristimantis eating a daddy long-legs.

Eight-legged lunch — This little frog (Pristimantis aff. cruentus) bit off more than she could chew! Those are the daddy long legs of a carpenter spider sticking out of her mouth. Notice the latex gloves: essential field gear when conducting surveys of the fungal pathogen, B. dendrobatidis.

Photo of Hemiphractus fasciatus.

Hemiphractus fasciatus — Another spectacular frog! These guys are common at the Cana tent camp. Notice the boney horns projecting backwards from the skull. This species is specific to highlands and range to central Panama. A couple of these from Cana are now in the EVACC, one of which is named "Andrewcito Junior" Awwwww!

Photo of Edgardo and Figa in the plane.

Three thumbs up! — The trip was an unqualified success! Here are Edgardo and Figa flying back to Panama City, very happy with their experience in Cana.



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