Timo Förster, an undergraduate from the University of Greiswald, Germany, is conducting a research internship with me, funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We developed a project to study the insect communities that develop in small pools of water that plants retain (phytotelmata). Pitcher plants may be the most familiar and best studied phytotelmata communities. These pools may form in flowers, seeds, leaves, and damaged stems. Their communities tend to be dominated by insects, especially beetles. In 2010, KU undergraduates Joe, Riley and Tom studied such communities in two Zingiberales plants at the Los Amigos Biological Station, Peru; our manuscript is going through the review process for publication. Zingiberales are gorgeous plants and make our fieldwork more special.
I conducted fieldwork with Timo in Peru during Oct 2012 and he has stayed in the field collecting data and specimens on these unusual insect-plant interactions. Such a lengthy field stay and enormous specimen collections will require years of study and will yield many manuscripts. I am still immersed in the fieldwork because of Timo’s weekly emails reporting on our traps, which plants are flowering, and what surprises he uncovers. His most recent post does not concern insects, but it is quite thrilling:
“We were walking on trail 8 today (Adrian, Nicole, another researcher, and me). Suddenly Adrian, who was walking in the front, made signs to hide behind a tree. Suddenly a big group (perhaps 20-30 animals) of white-lipped peccaries came across and we were directly in the middle of their group, as we were hiding behind a tree. About 10 seconds later, we saw a huge yellow cat walking silently only about 5 meters behind the peccaries. The Jaguar was stalking them and was walking so close to us that we could almost touch it (less than 2 meters distance). We saw the cat for about 15 seconds, until it saw us and got scared and fled. All of the time, I was absolutely stunned. After that encounter we made a big party on the mountain. That was my first jaguar and it was one of the most impressive things I saw in the wild so far.”
After many months in the field, I can’t imagine a more precious birthday gift for Timo, turning 23 today! We are fortunate to access such high quality habitat at Villa Carmen. I hope my June 2013 field course with KU students will return with equally precious sightings and memories.
Today is my birthday. It is also Linda Trueb’s birthday. I don’t know if she knows that we are birthday buddies.
So, I celebrated my birthday out in the field on Mt. Palali. It was a wonderful birthday. I always think that the food at camp is delicious, but I think the food was extra good today with chicken and rice for breakfast, beef stew for lunch and the grand finale of the biggest batch of spaghetti I’ve ever seen! And the cake! How can I forget the cake? Arvin and Rafe hiked down into town yesterday to replenish our food supply and they came back with a birthday cake for me! How lucky I was to actually have a birthday cake out in the middle of the rainforest on an isolated mountain in the middle of Luzon!
One of the town officials hiked up to join us for the spaghetti and cake. He smiled at me and said “This year you celebrate your birthday with Philippinos!...And one Mexican!”
I also want to mention I had quite an adventure last night. We went to a new stream to look for different species we haven’t collected yet. This stream was full of murky, dark waters and was surrounded by fields of tall grass that stirred up feelings of claustrophobia. When I had fallen behind the boys and the local guide and I was navigating this hellish stream all by myself, my knees actually started shaking I was so scared. Fears of pit vipers and God knows what else I could come across in the murky waters filled my mind (Enteng and JB brought back a good-size eel from one the streams around the camp less than a week ago). Did I mention this was nighttime and all I had for light was my headlamp? Anyway, I continued forward and finally managed to catch up with the boys and the guide. To my relief, the stream opened up to more forest-like the surroundings. We were still following the narrow stream in a single-file. Herping in a single-file wasn’t working out very well for me, being that the guide in the front was catching all the frogs, the boys in the middle collecting the few herps that the guide missed, and me in the back desperately trying to spy anything else that was missed by both the guide and the boys. And at one point, I noticed a fern-like plant hanging over the stream. I remember noticing Enteng the other night checking big leafs on plants for frogs and lizards so I decided to try the same thing. On the second leaf I pulled down, I found a skink from the genus Eutropis. I was so surprised I yelled to the boys “I found a skink!” The boys yelled back “Don’t just tell us! Catch it!” And I did! First reptile on the trip for me. Later, we proceeded to scale a waterfall that was also very exciting. We returned to camp that night with a good amount of specimens and an adrenaline rush.