Saturday, March 31, 2018

Mexican Gray Squirrel

The Mexican gray squirrel, also known as the red-bellied squirrel, is found in Guatemala and eastern and southern Mexico. 
We saw this Mexican gray squirrel on the walk from our hotel to Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. It was in the same vicinity as the Inca doves I photographed. 

Its appearance is highly variable, but it typically has salt and pepper upper fur and a rufous belly and flank (side). The rufous color can spread up over the forelimbs and shoulder to form an hour-glass shaped marking over the back. 

Another color phase is totally black, with a reddish tint to the underfur on the back and rump. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Inca Dove

The Inca dove is pale sandy gray with feathers that resemble a beautiful scaled pattern. It has a long, squared, tail edged with white feathers. 

It ranges from Costa Rica in the south to the American Southwest on the north. 
This is not a great picture, but it does give a better color reference.
We saw them in Mexico City as we walked from our hotel to Chapultepec Park and I was quite taken with them. They are very small, but so distinctively beautiful. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Great-Tailed or Mexican Grackle

The great-tailed grackle, also known as the Mexican grackle, was originally found in Central and South America but has greatly expanded its range north as far as Minnesota. 
Males are an iridescent black with a purple/blue sheen on the feathers of the head and upper body. Females look much different, with brown feathers and darker wings and tail. They have yellow eyes and a long v-shaped tail. 
We saw this bird in La Venta Park in Villahermosa, Tabasco State, Mexico. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Chapulines (Grasshopper) Taco

Chapulines are grasshoppers eaten in certain parts of Mexico. They are popular in Oaxaca, Cuernavaca, Puebla and Tepoztlan. They have been eaten for a long time, with a historical record going back to the mid-1500s and the Spanish Conquest. 

The grasshoppers are cleaned and washed, toasted on broad, flat cookware with garlic, lime juice and salt containing extract of agave worm, which gives a sour, spicy, salty taste. 

We were near Puebla in Cholula, visiting a church, when our guide, Arnold Pedrosa, pointed out some street vendors selling chapulines right outside the church, along with some other colorful products. We bought some in a baggy and carried them with us until we ate lunch in Puebla. 
The chapulines are the dark items in the front row. 
There I put guacamole on tortilla, emptied the chapulines on it, and some salsa, and enjoyed. After trying caterpillar tacos, these were pretty tame, not much in the way of mind games at all. 

They are crunchy, salty, have a hint of lime and are not bad. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Cattle Egret

The cattle egret removes ticks and flies from cattle and other large grazing mammals and consumes them, which benefits both species. The extension of human farming is believed to be the reason that the cattle egret's range has expanded greatly from what it originally was. It was originally native to Southern Spain and Portugal and parts of Africa and Asia. It first arrived in North America in 1941 and Mexico in 1963, which is where I saw them. We saw them in fields of cows outside of Villahermosa, Mexico. I have seen them previously, elsewhere, including California, and did a short blog post on them in Africa
Near a cow in Villahermosa.
Flying, with cows in the background. 
A non-breeding adult has mainly white plumage, a yellow bill and grayish/yellow legs. During breeding season the western subspecies develops orange/bluff plumes on the back, breast and crown and the bill, legs and irises of the eyes become bright red for a brief period before they pair up. Juvenile birds have a black bill and and no colored plumes. 

This cattle egret has some orange/buff plumes.

Monday, March 26, 2018

White-Nosed Coati or Coatimundi

The white-nosed coati, which I knew in my youth as a coatimundi, is one of four species of coati. It is found as far north as southern Arizona and New Mexico to as far south as northwestern Colombia. 

It has a slender head, an elongated nose, small ears, and a long non-prehensile, a ringed tail which it uses for balance and signaling. Males are twice as large as females. It has brown fur with a mix of red and yellow on top and lighter brown on the underside. The lower legs and tops of the feet are blackish/brown.  It has a black mask, white around the eyes, nose and on the inside of the ears. 
As a young boy I read a book on raccoons, coatimundis and kinkajous and dreamed of having a pet coati. 

In La Venta Park in Villahermosa, State of Tabasco, Mexico, we saw many, many wild coatis roaming through the park. They readily came for food and I fed several pieces of a granola bar by hand. These were the first coatis I've seen in the wild and possibly the first ones I've ever seen, even in a zoo. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Morelet's (or Mexican) Crocodile

The Morelet's crocodile, also known as the Mexican crocodile, is found along the southeastern edges of the Gulf of Mexico, and somewhat inland, as well as on the Yucatan Peninsula, including Belize and portions of Guatemala. 
It is small for a crocodile, from 4.9 to 8.9 feet. It has a very broad snout, is dark gray/brown in color, and has dark bands and spots on the body and tail.   The iris in the eyes is silvery brown. 
It is found mainly in inland freshwater swamps and marshes and in large rivers and lakes. 
We saw a Morelet's crocodile in Villahermosa, in the State of Tabasco, in the Laguna de Las Ilusiones, just off La Venta Park. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Escamoles (Ant Larvae and Pupae) Tacos

Escamoles (or insect caviar) are the edible ant larvae (having emerged from eggs: legless, plump and resembling a comma) and pupae (the next stage: like white waxy ants with their legs and antennae folded up against their body) of two species of ant found near Mexico City. Like the maguey worms (caterpillars) that we ate, the escamoles are found among the roots of the agave from which both mezcal and tequila are made. Wikipedia notes that they "taste buttery and nutty". 

They resemble white corn kernels or pine nuts and have a poppy texture. They are often pan-fried in butter and spices and served in tacos and omelettes accompanied with guacamole. 
We had escamoles in tacos at El Hidalguense in Mexico City at the same time we ate tacos with maguey worms. As I look at the escamoles we ate, they were virtually all ant larvae and not pupae. 
I must admit that I paused before my first bite. The mental image was not great. But to my astonishment, they had a fantastic taste. They were not just tolerable, they were great! They have a pop and reminded me of corn kernels, although they are lighter and have a more distinctive taste. These are really, really good. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Maguey Worm (Caterpillar) Tacos

Mezcal is a distilled Mexican alcoholic drink made from the agave plant, often referred to as a maguey. 
These agave or maguey plants are on the grounds of the Dolores Olmedo Musuem in Xochimilco, an area in Mexico City.
The agave must grow for 7 to 15 years, then the pina, or heart in the center, is cut out and cooked for three days in a pit oven over hot rocks. 
The pinos from this agave plant has been cut out. We saw this at an area near Teotihuacan where they were trying to sell as mezcal. 
This gives it a distinctive smoky flavor. The pinas are then crushed and mashed and left to ferment in a barrel with added water. The liquid is then collected and distilled in a clay or copper pot. Where I have heard of mezcal is from the worm that is put in the bottles of some brands, added during the bottling process. The worm is claimed variously to add flavor, to prove that the mezcal is fit to drink, or as a marketing ploy (probably by those brands that do not put worms in their bottles). 
These mezcal bottles have the maguey worms in the bottom. 
I don't drink mezcal, but the reason I bring it up is we had an opportunity to eat the kind of worms that are put in the mezcal bottles. 

As I understand it, there are two types of worms put into mezcal, and both feed on the maguey plant from which mezcal is made. White maguey worms, known as meocuiles, are caterpillers of a butterfly called the "tequila giant skipper." The butterfly deposits its eggs on the leaves of the agave and the hatched larvae eat the flesh of the agave stem and roots. 

Red maguey worms, known as chinicuiles, are larvae of the moth Hypopta agavis. They infest the core and roots of the agave in a glutenous mass. 

The caterpillars can measure up to 2.6 inches in length and are eaten in Mexican cuisine. They are sometimes eaten alive and raw, or deep-fried or braised, then seasoned with salt, lime and a spicy sauce and put on a tortilla. 

While in Mexico City we ate at El Hidalguense, a restaurant specializing in lamb barbacoa. They had maguey worms on the menu and we had to try them. The white maguey worms, identified on the menu as "gusanos de maguey," were the most challenging to eat mentally. They were piled on to two blackish green tortillas. It was hard to look at them and not think of a large plump caterpillar crawling along a branch. They were roasted and dried out, so much of the plumpness was gone, and the salt and lime flavor dominated. We had three kinds of salsa to add to the tacos, a spicy green chile salsa, a spicy red adobo salsa made from jalapenos and a spicy orange/yellow salsa made from habanero peppers. I used the habanero salsa and also added a little avocado slice. It was fun to try, but not something I would rush out to try again. 
White maguey worms on tacos.
The red maguey worms were identified on the menu as "chinicuiles," and also came placed on two dark corn tortillas. These caterpillars are much smaller, looking more like meal worms, and are very red. For some reason these were not as mentally challenging for me to eat, perhaps because I have tasted worms that looked similar before and were very crunchy. These worms were not as crunchy and also not as flavorful as the white maguey worms, the lime taste did not stand out like it did with the white maguey worms. 
Red maguey worms on tacos.
The three types of salsa. 
These two additions to our meal were very fun and made it memorable. I'll be blogging more on this meal later. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Jumiles (Stink Bug) Salsa

Jumiles are stink bugs in the Taxco region of Mexico, Guerrero State, that are collected to be eaten. They are eaten raw (whole or ground), or roasted or fried. A salsa is prepared with them using jumiles that have been crushed in a molcajete, with added green tomatoes (tomatillos), chiles, onions and garlic. 
One of the stink bugs on my plate before it flew away.
A baggie with the left over stink bugs that were not used to make our salsa.
Taxco has a festival featuring the jumile on November 1, the beginning of the season, and crown a Jumil Queen. The season lasts until February when the jumiles become much less common. 

Our guide, Arnold Pedroza, took us to del Angel Inn in Taxco and as we walked in, he asked a waiter to go to the market and buy jumiles and make the salsa for us. Later, our waiter brought us up the salsa along with some guacamole and tortillas and the remaining jumiles they'd purchased in a plastic baggie. The waiter let one of the jumiles out on to my plate where I got a picture before it flew away. 
The jumiles salsa
The salsa had little black floaties in it that I assume were jumiles pieces and it had a distinctive taste beyond the normal tomatillo and other ingredients. They have been described as having a "bitter, medicinal flavor" because of their high iodine content. In combination with the other ingredients the flavor was not bitter, but the normal sweetness and saltiness of the other ingredients were tempered. 
The salsa on a corn tortilla.
I tried the jumiles salsa on chips, on a corn tortilla and on a corn tortilla with guacamole. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Black Spiny-Tailed Iguana

While visiting the Mayan ruins in Comalcalco, Mexico, in the State of Tabasco, we encountered lots of iguanas sunning themselves on the ruins and hiding in nearby holes in the ground and holes and crevices in the ruins. The temperature was in the high 90s, as was the humidity. 
Judy found this big guy at the edge of some ruins and he scampered in his hole as I got near. 
We saw him again later, basking on a rock, then he scampered into the hole again as I approached. 
I found this young female scampering along in the grass near me. 
I have not determined the species with certainty, but I believe we were seeing the black spiny-tailed iguana which is found in Central America from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Nicaragua and Panama. 
I got pictures of this big guy from various angles, basking on the ruins. Note how much more tan he is. 

The same iguana taken later from the other side. 
The name comes from black keeled scales on their long tails. Males can grow to four feet, three inches in length, and females are shorter, growing as long as three feet three inches. They have a crest of spines that extend down the center of their backs, with males having a more developed crest and dewlap. Color varies extremely, but adults usually are whitish gray or tan with 4 to 12 dark dorsal bands. While basking, the color can lighten with yellowish and orange markings on the sides. During mating season males turn orange around the head and throat with highlights of blue and peach on the jowls. 
This youngster emerged from a hole just under the trail we were walking on. 
This adult extended its head out of a hole, then pulled in as we approached. 
This adult female was on a fountain near the parking lot.