We finished our field clothing ‘try-on’ this afternoon and have been told to report tomorrow (Weds) at 7:00 am. for our flight to the Ice. Of course, we’ve also been told that the weather is currently bad there, so we may not fly. Already, the ‘hurry up and wait’ that is so typical of Antarctic field work has started!
Other obvious hymenopterans at our field site include the eusocial wasps of the family Vespidae. Sure, in the temperate regions we have our hornet nests and paper-wasp nests, but these types of wasps really become conspicuous in the tropics. There are just so many more elaborate mud and paper domiciles hanging about trees, bushes, and buildings built by a number of interesting genera that are sadly missing from higher latitudes. In fact on one cool day, when few insects were flying about, I took the opportunity to collect these nests and their occupants.
We occasionally noticed a bat flying around our lab space but didn’t pay too much attention to it. On our last night however, when it was unseasonably cold, several bats decided to use our lab as shelter. Often when the door opened one would fly in and around and then perch underneath one of our lab benches; five in fact were roosting together there at one point. I didn’t think too much of it until I recalled that bats have some pretty bizarre fly parasites that wander about through their fur. Suddenly this became an opportunity to make a novel entomological find.
While Diana and Malena headed out on another night walk, Dan, Choru and I set up the mercury vapor light trap again in front of my cabin. As we tied the white sheets, and turned on the light, the wind was picking up speed. We had been warned that a “friaje”, a cold polar wind coming up from Patagonia, was heading our way. Despite the wind, the number of insects coming to our sheet was low, the diversity was still good, with some unusual specimens we had not sampled before.
A very nice colony of oropendola birds was nesting outside our lab. We became accustomed to their comings and goings and admired their long, basket-like nests and gargling calls. They always seemed to come and go together and did so with much fanfare. One afternoon however, while the birds were away, three capuchin monkeys raided their nests, and we were lucky to see it. The capuchins systematically went to each one, inserted their heads and torsos into the long nests, pulled out the oropendola eggs, and ate them right there in front of us. It was quite shocking.
Our days have developed into a pattern of servicing the traps in the mornings: picking up all the arthropods collected by the traps, returning to the lab and processing the specimens (cleaning, sorting, labeling), then each person going off in a different direction to use specialist techniques to collect their favorite group. I spend the afternoons surveying palms, heliconias and bamboos for their particular fauna of chrysomelid beetles.
Today is a big day: reviewing the available established plant plots in the area, relocating their markers (boundaries of edges and internal sub-quadrats), selecting a plot we will follow in the next few years, and setting up several kinds of traps to capture insects. One of the reasons arthropods are so diverse is because they divide any habitat into 1000s of microhabitats, with many insects specializing on particular aspects – flower feeders, seed drillers, stem and leaf miners, soil arthropods, root feeders, parasites, parasitoids, predators….an insect specialist must h
At night, armed with head lamps and UV torches (and a lot of bug spray), you can actually see tons of spiders and other nocturnal arthropods doing what they live for, i.e., eating, preying, mating, etc. without much search effort. During the daytime, you have to look harder for the various microhabitats; of course, it is easy see the orb weaver spiders as well as some other weavers and a few cursorial spiders but this is only a small portion of the total spider fauna.
post by Malena Vilchez, of the Peru research team