Wildlife photos from Panama's tallest mountain, Pt. 3 - Featured species: Bang's Mountain Squirrel (Syntheosciurus brochus)
During one of our stops on our descent from the Volcán Barú's summit, we observed a squirrel rummaging between the moss and lichen, high on a tree. Right away we identified it as a Bangs's Mountain Squirrel (Syntheosciurus brochus) also known as Mountain Squirrel, Neotropical Montane Squirrel or Ardilla Pigmea Montañesa, species which we have seen previously in this National Park at lower altitude in Los Quetzales Trail. We were very happy as we do not only focus on birds. Besides, endemic especies were what we were searching for at these heights. Our previous encounter with this species was not so fortunate for pictures since it was in a very dark place in the understory.
In its range it's practically unmistakably recognized: head and body measure 15 centimetres (5.9 in), with a 13 centimetres (5.1 in) tail. It has an olive brown back and an orange-red belly. Because of the shape of its skull and teeth, the species has been separated from the genus of typical tree squirrels, Sciurus, into its own (monotypical) genus Syntheosciurus.
This species is a nearly unknown species of tree squirrel (as of 1980 only 4 specimens were known), that only lives in Costa Rica and Panama, but only known from a few localities. It can be found in mountain rain forests at an altitude between 1,900 and 2,600 metres (6,200 and 8,500 ft), it's seen on the ground and in the upper canopy with equal frequency; it uses all levels of the forest. As a matter of fact our two observations have been split: one at lower level of forest, and another at canopy.
It appears to form pair bonds and remains in family groups, although individuals usually forage alone and lives mainly in the tree tops. One of its habitats is at the summit of the Poás Volcano in Costa Rica, in a Clusia forest that is almost inaccessible for humans, apparently it's also found in Cerro Pittier.
Bang's squirrel is listed by IUCN as Near Threatened because populations appear to be stable in most of its range (i.e., Costa Rica), but its extent of occurrence is less than 10,000 km2 (2.4 million acre), and it is only known from a few localities, and the extent and quality of its habitat may be in decline, thus making this species close to qualifying for Vulnerable. Occurs rarely in Panama, and as a matter of fact observations show the populations are decreasing, whereas populations are likely stable in Costa Rica where it's uncommon to locally common.