Looking for Damage
Since the traps were established on Day 2, we have developed into an efficient 5-person vacuum of arthropods. This morning, we return to the plot to service each trap. We remove the insects and spiders that have been caught, replenish the ethanol, clean out leaves and twigs that have fallen on them, and make sure the traps are not collapsed or overturned. By lunch time, we are having a generous hot meal with our dynamic assortment of field station researchers, swapping stories about wildlife and research. This is such a select crowd: intrepid biologists with a sprinkling of stand-up comics. I am learning as much as I am laughing!
The traps are working 24 hours a day but we go out on routine daytime, evening and nighttime walks. As I am seeking plant-feeding insects, I am searching the plants. It is slow and intense, scrutinizing for feeding damage — scars, mines, holes — and then moving in closer to turn over leaves, pull down branches. In this part of Peru, I am particularly interested in chrysomelids that have become specialists of bamboos and bambusiform grasses, palms (the ones a 5 ft tall person can reach!), and a particular chrysomelid species that live in unopened or slightly opened leaves of monocot plants in the Marantaceae and Heliconiaceae families. This latter group is particular abundant here — nearly every rolled leaf has a few individuals of different species living in this tight semi-aquatic space. Unrolling a leaf is like opening a Christmas present — which specimens, how many individuals, what is their feeding pattern?