Presenting…

Camouflaged planthopper nymph. Blending into the mosses this cryptically coloured planthopper is reluctant to move even when th jig is obviously up! Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.

The presentation looms and I do my best to forget my hyperventilating episodes during my last school presentation (here people mistook my oxygen debt, quivering lips and shuddering legs (for fear of bladder loss) for an impending epileptic fit. So I counter this by utterly dispelling the presentation from my mind, immersing myself in insects and sleep. In fact I succeeded so thoroughly to this end that I had forgotten about the presentation until the biologists came to hook up my computer to the projector.  Fortunately when you’re scrambling like mad to put together a power point an hour before the allotted time you don’t have much time to think of public speaking anxiety. So I spent the next hour in a different kind of fear delirium. Of course add to that the fact that I haven’t used mac software for powerpoint, incompatibility issues with the projector, and the projector only showing 2 primary colours and things weren’t going so well. “Ah well” I told myself furtively crossing my legs over the puddle of sweat coalescing on the sofa chair under me, “at least they said that there aren’t too many people that come to these events”. No sooner does is the thought formed then it is violently beat out of me. “Wow, there’s quite a turn out in there” biologist 1 says. “I don’t think I’ve seen so many people here before”. I would smack my face if I was sure it wouldn’t cause undue alarm amongst my hosts who still laboured under the false impression that a) I was prepared for giving the ‘lecture’ and b) that I was comfortable giving the ‘lecture’…I don’t know if it was the nerves, the bad, gristly agouti that I had eaten previously or some cruel mix of the two but I vomited forth my unease doing any supermodel proud.

20 minutes of trying to make the projector accept the mac hardware and we gave up, another 10 minutes of trying to make the PC accept the mac software and I was looking to pull the fire escape. “The people are getting restless, they’ve been waiting for a while”, Biologist 2 says, oblivious that he’s not helping my frantic state. Finally in a desperate attempt we import a bunch of JPEGS in random order from one computer to the other, all order, all sanity out the window we walk into the presentation room where I see nothing but eyes, rows and rows of eyes. I make a joke about compatibility issues with the mac…no one laughs, “God this is going to be painful”- as I feel the agouti stirring and bubbling threatening to rise with every word and choked back behind a smile. The yelping stomach that sounds like a stray dog and the sweat matting my shirt the only signs of my discomfort. “Can we get the lights” I say more to mask my discomfort than anything else. The projector fires up and bleaches my once serviceable photos into a battered series of sepia shots the likes of which may once had been salvaged from the back pocket of a world war II corpse. My presentation doesn’t follow any kind of real order as I jump from Batesian mimicry in one photo to camouflage and parasitism in the next. Finally I finish 44 minutes later- “Any questions?”. People filter  out and though I get the token “good job” pats on the back it stinks of failure more than the regurgitated agouti. I slide out of the room and though I’m thanked by the biologists by a round of beer I am eager to get back into the jungle- where the insects don’t judge.

Rewa is looking less likely as the time goes by given its remoteness, so we fall in with a couple that we had met back in Georgetown that were in the same hostel. They are heading to a lodge within the Kanuku mountains. Given the cost of traveling there we decide to join forces. Tentative plans to head off tomorrow are made and I am left tending to my upset stomach. I have hit upon the correct proportions for making bush bread after my first disastrous attempts. So I bake for nearly an hour on my portable stove and make bread for all. Apparently bread in the bush is novel concept to my companions and I earn the epithet Jungle Jim, don’t ask me why.

My friend and I go out and I decide to pull an all nighter knowing that I will have time to recuperate on the 6 hour bus ride to Lethem the following day. Fortunately besides a few biting midges the mosquitos aren’t a huge problem.

Ant infected with an entomopathogenic fungus possibly Cordyceps sp. Found during a night hike in Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.

The above is a typical fungus infected ant. The mandibles will bite and lock down onto leaves or branches in order to cement the fungus’ position so that wind or other factors don’t blow it back down to a lower vantage point. A more in depth description of the fungi’s sinister behaviour can be read HERE.

Along the main road flying insects and their kin can be found in greater abundance and so the secondary plants were host to wasps and caterpillars.

Ichneumonoid wasp. Background colours of the leaf were desaturated to bring more focus to the subject. Found during a night hike in Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.
Lovely pink caterpillar. Likely relying on its vibrant colours to deter predators. Found during a night hike in Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.

One of the highlights of the night was finding the jumping spider below. Not because it was adorned in any particularly stunning features but it had great postures and the wings of its alate (winged ant) prey added a great effect.

Jumping spider with some kind of winged prey. The translucent wings of the prey add a nice accent to the jumper. Found during a night hike in Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.
Jumping spider with alate prey. Found during a night hike in Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.

The following day 6 o’clock rolls around and we frantically pack to make the bus. We arrive just in time and I sleep cozily while the others, bumped and jostled try random activities to divert their attention until they settle on simply staring out the window. Of course we still need to pass by the authorities who verify the manifest and check our passports. There are 2 of these checkpoints we pass before we make it to the border town of Lethem on the frontier with Brazil. But we arrive in town with no problems of course our friend’s contact is nowhere to be found so we step into a restaurant to whittle away the time. Fortunately it’s not long before some guy with a 4×4 offers us a ride to our destination all for the low low price of your grandma and first born son. I hand them over readily, after all the infirm have no place in Guyana. After being financially raped we are on the hard road being driven into the Kanuku mountains. A place of wilderness. A place where supposedly 80% of the mammals of Guyana can be found, and over 70% of its bird species. I was hoping this was the paradise I was looking for after so many false starts…

A few more shots from the Iwokrama reserve with my friend:

Fungus mimikcing uloborid spider with prey. When disturbed these spiders will either remain motionless in their webs or more commonly will retreat to a treebranch and make themselves as inconspicous as possible, often blending in with the whites of the lichens and fungi. Iwokrama, Guyana.
A lovely jumper with what appears to be a juvenile lynx spider as prey. Lynxes are generally the same size or else slightly larger than jumpers. However the extreme visual acuity of the salticidae allows them to ambush their prey, even other spiders, delivering that fatal stroke. Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.
Parasitized leucagene spider. The spider was still alive and moving about despite the advanced stage of the ichneumenoid larva. This type of situation comes about when a wasp is looking to lay its eggs. It then finds a spider by visual and chemical cues. Upon finding an appropriate host, the wasp will paralyze the host of its unborn young and lay an egg(s). These will develop slowly feeding on the spider’s hemolymph and those organs not absolutely essential to its survival. The larva usually attaches itself by silken strands to an inaccessible area of the spider’s body so that no matter how vigorously it may struggle, the unwanted passenger(s) cannot be dislodged. Finally it is time to pupate. The host is usually dead at this point since the larva has encased itself in a silken cocoon and it could possibly be removed by the host while in this fragile and immobile state. So, after  a period of pupation the wasp will begin its adult life.
Banded calico snake (Oxyrrhopus petola). The aposematic colouration mimics that of the highly poisonous coral snake.

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