Fieldwork may be completed for this season in Peru, but now we must shift our focus to processing the thousands of specimens we have brought back with us. Since the specimen bags (whirlpaks) travelled back without preservative Ethanol,we spend a week adding EtOH to this large volume of samples. It is a smelly job: if the samples were left untreated, these precious specimens would rot. Finally, we store the collection (in a fridge) to sort each bag. It is a long road before we can have a beautiful identified pinned collection sitting in a drawer in our entomology collections.
I'm currently enjoying a breakfast sandwich and a tall Americano at the Starbucks near our hotel in Manila. Luke has just called Rafe from the town of Solano (about seven hours north of Manila). The boys were supposed to head up to the first site and establish camp at Mt. Palai, but only seven of the 30 porters that they hired yesterday have shown up.
The boys had left ahead of me as part of the advance team yesterday. At the market in Solano, they bought our food supply, hired porters, and a local guide. Today, Rafe, Arvin, Aloy, and I are driving up to Solano. Tomorrow we were planning on making a courtesy call to the mayor of the region and then hike up to join up with the boys. Plans might change now due to the porter shortage. The decision has been made to have the boys and the 7 porters take what they can and head up the mountain. Perry, an entomology student from the Philippines, will stay behind in Solano with the rest of the gear. Rafe and Arvin will hopefully straighten out the porter situation when we arrive later today. We also have a request to bring rum, cigarettes, sharpening stones, and rubber boots. And the blowpipes that they left at the bus stop yesterday.
One of my favorite aspects of doing fieldwork in the Philippines is learning about the local folklore and beliefs. The Philippines actually has a strong history of believing in spirits and forest-dwelling creatures, and adhering to superstitious beliefs. They even have an island in the central Philippines (Siquijor Island), which is famous for its sorcerers and witchcraft. The island celebrates an annual witch festival where you can buy all sorts of potions. I am sure that at one point in time, many of these creatures were made up to keep children (and possibly husbands) from wondering from home at night. Regardless of how they originated, they are all part of the local folklore here, and so we might as well bring you up to speed on a few of the common creatures you hear about. The White Lady—She is often seen late at night roaming dark hallways in buildings. I have heard from some that she dances around in the darkness, and from others that she simply floats across the floor.
Aswang—This is one of the many mythical forest creatures. I guess that it is similar to a vampire, with some stories describing the creature as half vampire, half beautiful woman. Often I have heard that she attracts men into the forest with her beauty only to prey. Duende—Little dwarfs. I actually don’t know much about these fantastic little creatures, but what a cool name. I do know that they are sometimes blamed for small problems that arise around the home or at work. Sigbin—I am not sure if I am even spelling this correctly, but this creature is commonly heard of in the central Philippine islands. It resides deep in the forest, and feeds on humans, leaving only a pile of coal as evidence. There have been multiple instances where I have had difficultly hiring local guides to assist me in the forest surveys because of fear of becoming a pile of coal. They have what doctors diagnose as creaturecolificationobia. If you are interested in reading more about some of the many mystical creatures of the Philippines, there is a great Wikipedia entry covering many of them.
We awoke to rain....heavy rain..…that kind of Amazon rain where you can’t keep your eyelids open and that promises to last all day. And we are in the middle of the dry season! Well, this is time to recover from hectic preparations in Kansas, the long journey here, and to orient to our new home. This field station’s set meal schedule (6 am, 12 noon, 6.30 pm) allows all the current station residents to meet. It is a great opportunity to learn about other exciting research going on here. We meet a University of Toronto group studying ant behavioral ecology, a Washington University anthropology team following Saguinus fuscicollis weddelli tamarin monkeys, an Ecuadorean student enrolled at University of Utah and examining effects of insect herbivory on plant growth, a University of Costa Rica professor studying palms…..indeed, the diversity of investigators and research questions here gives a deeper appreciation of the rich ecosystem around us.
Our team passes the morning in unpacking, cleaning, and organizing our assigned lab space – the wet area near the sink where the alcohol and other chemicals will sit, and dry preparation areas for spider sorting, a small table for beetle work, and a long bench for Hymenoptera study. Diana and Malena establish a line of six mini-Winklers where arthropods that live in soil and leaf litter samples will be extracted in the coming days (some believe that this microhabitat houses a more speciose tropical arthropod fauna that the sexy forest canopy). After dinner, Dan, Choru and I set up the first ultraviolet (UV) light trap in front of my cabin, overlooking the Madre de Dios River Across the river, the forest canopy stretches in all directions to the horizon. After yesterday’s eye-opening view of the many changes of land use occurring in Peru, I cannot take for granted that this spectacular forest cover will stay continuous.
Entomologists don’t understand why insects are drawn to light, but UV traps are a neat system for attracting many insects from miles away. We don’t get a lot of biological data (e.g., no host plant associations) but we get many species that are otherwise difficult to get with other trapping methods. The insect fauna also seems to come in waves, with some crepuscular flying insects arriving early, then hairy moths coming very late. Predatory spiders also arrive to feast on easy catch.
As a researcher doing fieldwork in a foreign country, I normally stop in cities for the essentials: meet collaborators and process paperwork for research permits. Little time is made for savoring the city or indulging in its daily life. Early in the planning of this field course, we decided to dedicate 2-3 days to an orientation to Peru, through an academic tour of it museums and cultural life. This is my 4th visit to Peru, so it is time that I also steep myself in this side of Peru; I am as much a student as the other participants accompanying me.
Our tour of the archeological site, Huaca Huallamarca, was cool – an adobe pyramid dating from ~200 AD and an exquisitely-preserved seated female mummy with a spectacular head of very long black hair coiled around her tiny frame (an 1800 year old Rapunzel!) – surrounded by high-rise buildings. The next stops were to the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (a distilled walk through the human history of Peru) and to the privately-run Larco Museum. The latter is simply breathtaking for outstanding museum design and display and for extensive collections of ceramics, weavings, and gold and silver.
The drive “home” took us through many neighborhoods, but I must say that the Bosque el Olivar stood apart. The ancient twisted olive trees were planted in the 17th century and today give a distinct character to this elegant area. Who knew that Peru is a producer of olives and olive oil?