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?
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.
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.
At midnight, the friaje was firmly here: the wind was gusting (it seemed gale-force) with heavy rains pelting down. In the dark of my thatch-roofed cabin, I curled into a foetal position under the thin blanket while the temperature dropped from 90°+ to about 55°! I hope my little wooden cabin, with its lower solid half walls, upper screening, and thatched roof will last the night. The plop-plop of rain leaking through, the gusting wind, the thunder, and the occasional crack and crash of breaking tree limbs ensure that I am alert and attentive all night long. -Caroline