January 14, 2009

New Animals and Ant Heads

We arrived in Puerto Ayacucho yesterday, the capital of the state of Amazonas. We will be staying here for a few days while we scope out streams in the area. This area has been particularly productive on past expeditions as there are a lot of  rock slides --  rivers that flow over large expanses of exposed granite, and do not have any substrate. These create very unusual habitats that foster very unusual insects. In fact, since these areas are rarely (sometimes never) visited for collections work, most of the things we see are new to science. For me, these are the most exciting parts of the trip. Imagine being the first person to ever see a type of animal for the first time, to observe what it does, how it behaves, where it lives. This happens many times here, and in this area, around 8 out of every 10 species we find will be new.

These are the exciting moments of discovery that give many of us a rush. In terms of water beetles, we will probably collect about 100 to 150 species on this expedition that do not yet have names. This is another reason we are collecting so much other information on the water quality, human disturbance, and other things. We also take hundreds of photos and copious notes. In some cases, the information we collect on some of these species may be the only record of their existence for the next hundred years or more, as these areas are rarely surveyed. Consequently, we try to take in not just vouchers of the insects, but also all the observations we can bear to record. On a totally random note, there is a local hot sauce here called Catara that is served with almost every meal. It is made mostly with yucca and the crushed heads of ants. It tastes OK, but I don't find it to be anything special.

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About Fieldnotes

The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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