Go home or go on?

The escape of the jaguar seemed to hit my guide hard…he spoke little on the way back, and punctuated his inner monologue by pounding his fist into his open hand every now and again while muttering something unintelligible. I feared that this gloom might take hold of him, however, as I turned a bend in the trail I found him stripped to his underwear and frolicking like a child in a stream. Seeing the rejuvenating effects on my guide, I rapidly doffed my bag, spread out my solar panels in the sun which was breaking through the clouds and dove headlong into the cool. Here, ones thoughts could entwine with the gently diffused light streaming through the canopy.

The light played hide and seek behind the trees and clouds, defying expectation and my camera’s metering system. Though I was able to catch the silhouetted form of my guide bathing.
Soaking up the precious sunlight, the wires started to come loose in the connections between the solar panel and the battery. The temperamental system would turn on and off and I would have to angle it just so. Bloody frustrating this would culminate in a near disaster the following day.

We lingered until chill winds returned, driving us forward, into the jungle at spearpoint. The occasional forest gap gave us sharp reminders of our sweat drenched forms and how quickly we could go from hot, panting dogs to shivering wretches. We set up camp by another stream bank as the skies darkened and prepared dinner. Unfortunately a few horseflies thought they would invite themselves over and so I hid in my mosquito netted hammock as horseflies circled the the woe begotten guide. I empathized, though had nothing more to offer than a sympathetic smile as I settled into my bed awaiting the the nocturnal insects. The night provided only a few photographic opportunities, I was a little disappointed with the diversity found here compared to the lodge which had offered a much greater abundance.

Ctenids come in a variety of colours, but despite the reddish colouration, when motionless amongst the leaves, it melts into its surroundings. Seen here with prey.
Invertebrates have exoskeletons, basically wearing their skeletons on the outside. And to this they attach muscle and organs, etc…However, it acts as a rigid case, preventing growth. Therefore in order to enlarge, invertebrates must moult. They split their exoskeleton and emerge, forming a new chitinous skeleton which gradually hardens over the course of a few hours. Left behind in this case is the exuvia (shell) of a planthopper, complete with filamentous wax tails.
Not a particularly good photo, however, I never fully appreciated the size of the modified pedipalps in Amblypygids until I saw them fully extended. Usually they are kept folded at the joint, close to the mouth, however when they are hunting or feel threatened, they may extend them. Some species have shorted pedipalps but this one seemed proud to display his gargantuan proportions.

My find of the evening is probably not what most people would have gotten excited about, however I had never witnessed it before. As I have mentioned before, catching a picture that tells a story of the life history of the animal or insect is what I strive for. And it is more difficult and rarer than one would think. Fortunately, I was able to witness and document one such example in the form of a grasshopper ovipositing its eggs.

Grasshopper using its ovipositor like a spatula to either scrape off the egg mass (ootheca) into a crevice in a branch or else to help sculpt the eggs to a more desirable form. Despite the commonness of this species, such behaviour is not often recorded.
A closeup of the above picture.
Unfortunately the angle wasn’t ideal on this mosquito, with foreleg blocking the compound eye, however it does show a decent amount of detail. Anopheline species based on the resting position of the body with the hind legs directed upward and the white tarsomeres.

Last of the night was a large hunting centipede (Scolopendra sp.). These can be quite large, up to a foot long in certain species. In fact in a certain Venezuelan cave, these monstrous centipedes will climb onto the cave walls and hang suspended from the ceiling. Here they wait. Their senses attuned to the slightest disturbance, they are remarkably well adapted to their environment. A faint rustle of wings perhaps the only indication that these predators share the cave with another animal, and then the centipede strikes. It grabs small flying animal, grappling with it for a second, wrapping its multitude of legs around it until there is no escape and then it burrows it fangs (modified front legs) into the animal and injects a mixture of paralytic venom and digestive enzymes. The bat flutters, a few dying beats of its wings before the centipede is free to feed. Despite the size discrepancy these meals last only a few days. Other Scolopendra may have equally intimidating prey such as frogs and lizards, small rodents and other insects.

View from the front, this resting Scolopendra, a nocturnal hunter enjoys hunting in tight crevices and along tree trunks, where its flattened form enables it to reach at insects other predators are forced to ignore. The large front legs can be seen to be modified into fangs which can deliver a painful bite, though rarely fatal barring allergic reactions.

The following day we once again packed up and made it back to the lodge fairly quickly and without distractions. That following day we bid goodbye to the lodge and traveled several kilometers down the trail to a junction at a river. Leaving can often be bittersweet, new areas beckon, though the odd, amazing discovery at your past location begs further investigation and trumps all frustrations one may have had up to that point. A beautiful iridescent dung beetle discovered by my guide is a case in point. Though by this time my leg was aggravating me under the weight of my pack and it was time to make an executive decision, stay out the month as originally planned or else go back home. Having been diagnosed with cancer two years prior, having undergone chemotherapy and surgery, the nagging fear that cancer had returned chewed at my self confidence. Despite being hard headed when it came to enduring physical pain and sacrificing my health for adventure it was becoming something that I could no longer ignore. So, swinging in my hammock at night I pondered, go home or go on?

Iridescent dung beetle (Megaphaneus sp.) found in the grasses in the disturbed area next to the lodge by my guide. If you look closely you may be able to make out the terrible mite infection that this poor fellow was dealing with. They are particularly concentrated around the eyes and articulated joints where they are provided slightly more shelter and can feed more easily.

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