Thall shalt not steal they neighbour’s potatoes

Net casting spider/ogre faced spider/ gladiator spider  (Deinopsis sp.). This spider goes by many names and the genus can be found throughout the tropics. Deinopsis are unique amongst arachnids  in their predatory methods. They remain suspended above branches or tree trunks with their trapezoidal webs stretched between their four front legs. And like this they wait. They wait until an insect passes below them, and then they spring into action. Lightning fast they drop their sticky net on their prey like a booby trap and entangle them before they deliver a quick paralyzing bite which subdues them. Their large eyes help them to detect and discriminate amongst insects. When disturbed, they stretch out and allow their cryptic colouration to help them blend in with the tree branches that they usually call home.

The rain had washed away my good spirits; all the insects were in hiding, the leg pain continued unabated, the mosquitoes…oh God the mosquitoes! I felt drained. Constant wet clothes and wet feet had bred a fungus which having originating between my toes, conquered new territory every day in a blitzkrieg. I would look down on my hands or arms to find the skin scabbing away, itchy the likes of which I have never known. I scratched until parts of my body looked like cuts of beef, straight from the butcher; bloody and raw. I was down and Fate’s steel toed boots were repeatedly kicking me in the crotch (a man with two testicles might be able to handle such a beating, but surely not someone who had but one). I had held onto my free will, with white knuckles, unwilling to let anyone or anything else decide my fate, but there were no reasons to hold on any longer, and a steadily growing list of reasons to let go. I felt defeated and my only consolation was that the feeling was gradually returning to my crotch (albeit an itchy, fungal feeling).

Of course the moment that I had made my decision the heavens had brightened and though still brooding, a rainbow appeared, like some kind of queer frown. The bright, gay colours told me that everything would be alright, though the glower gave me a slightly disapproving “tsk…tsk…I told you so. See how much trouble you could have saved yourself?”. I was of a mind to tell that rainbow to mind its own damn business but was interrupted by my guide. “Today is your last day?” I nodded grimly. “Maybe we go to fields today, I show you about lemon grass and Edo (edible plant bulb that has the consistency of a potato)?” he asked hopefully. ” “Sure, I would really like that” I replied. “We go when you ready” he said and trotted off to the river to go fishing.

I took a plunge into the river, cleaned up and packed my things, trying and not entirely succeeding of ridding my pack of all the things which had crawled inside. I walked across the bridge and nodded to my guide who had collected a following of children to whom he was teaching the essentials of fishing, in a place where fishing was essential. The children were wont to let him leave but he assured them that he would be back, and so we left to see what edible delectables the jungle had to offer.

We plodded across the field until the guide stopped me and pointed to some leaves. “These are from a potato”, he instructed. He felt the leaves appreciatively and indicated that I should do the same. “Hmmm, yeah, oh that´s a potato alright”. “Potato” he said again helpfully and then stooped down to begin snooping around the soil like some prize pig. He followed the runners as they gave him a bit of a runaround and then he disappeared into a thicket of vegetation. Several seconds passed when…”ha HA”! he let out a triumphant squeal as he parted the grasses like Moses and emerged, completely soiled but with a beatific smile which was slightly at odds with the small, misshapen tuber he held out so proudly. He pushed it in my direction and I barely had a glance before it dissappeared lightning quick into his pants. “Wha-” I was a little baffled by his behaviour to say the least, and thought it might be some odd Guyanan tradition, (not unlike our Canadian put a penny in your pocket for good luck) maybe here it was put a potato in your pants? I hardly had  time to ask him what was going on before he dove back under the grasses. “What are you doing?” “He doesn’t yet know about his potatoes”, he said in a whisper, looking about mischievously though we were obviously alone in the field. Then with a gleeful chuckle he began loading up his pockets. His hands were working faster now that he had gotten into it. Soil was flying over his shoulders, grasses were being mowed down, he worked like a man possessed. Finally his pants were filled until he was obviously walking with some degree of discomfort. However, he was obviously not yet satisfied. And then he began casting about, looking for what else he could use to carry potatoes until his gaze fell on me and once again his radiant smile returned.  He was obviously in the grips of some kind of potato fever, his eyes had a lustre to them like I had never seen before and his hands almost shook from the effort of restraining them from worming through the soil in the search for more potatoes/spuds or brown gold as he later referred to them. “Umm, I think I hear someone coming”, I said in a vain attempt to ward off his covetous stares on my pockets. His eyes jerked up, and a streak of fear pulsed through his body. A couple of seconds of tense silence followed. “Ahhh you”, he said with a smile, catching onto my game, knowing that my myopic vision and blunted senses were no match for his jungle savvy. He let out a playful chuckle and gave me an affectionate slap. Though as I looked down, it was more than that, his dexterous little fingers had planted a potato in my pocket! And before I had a chance to say another word, he took my speechlessness for tacit approval. He worked his way around me filling my pockets until they brimmed over almost as much as his own. “No more pockets?” he asked me so innocently that I had to laugh. Maybe we come back later, he said hopefully. As we walked out of the field he pointed to some Edo and lemongrass. “Lemongrass, Edo” he said without a backwards glance, concluding my lessons in tropical agriculture. And so we left that field as so many before us, having transgressed that most sacred of God´s eleven commandments: The oft forgotten, Thall Shalt Not Steal Thy Neighbour´s Potatoes.

Once the purloined potatoes had been hidden away, the paranoia that can overtake only a thief worked on him and he changed the location of the potatoes several times. He looked once or twice at my bag but I told him unless he wanted to carry 77lbs plus whatever we had taken in potatoes he had better find another alternative. Once he was satisfied that they were well hidden (in a sack by the ant nest) we left for a hike which took us down muddy trails still sopping with the floods of yesteryear.

Finally we walked into town, the sun like a punch in the face as soon as we exited the canopy. Once we arrived at the house I paid my dues, I tipped my guide (apparently potatoes weren´t a currency he approved of in this instance) and I hired a motorbike to take me back into town, which turned into a mini adventure of its own right…

Wasp mimicking cicadellid (Lissocarta sp.). A striking wasp mimic, this cicadellid also performed some behavioural adaptations that further likened it to a wasp, such as rapid flight from leaf to leaf.
A crippled horsefly (Tabanidae) is immediately set upon by a hunting ant, dragged mercilessly to its nest to be torn apart and shared amongst its nestmates.
This is the first and only instance of this behaviour that I have observed. The moth is licking the honeydew exudate from the fulgorid, despite the presence of the ants which are doing the same thing. Not sure is this is something specific to this moth sp., if it’s pure luck, or just a not very often described phenomenon. In any case I was happy to find and document it. Found during a night hike in kanuku mountains.
A close up of the tongue (proboscis) of the moth enjoying the honeydew, with the ant in the background doing the same. Apparently the interspecific competition has not led the ants to attack the moth…yet.

2 Responses to Thall shalt not steal they neighbour’s potatoes

  1. Wonderful photos, thanks so much.
    Susanna Abbott

  2. pbertner says:

    Many thanks for the compliment! These are still what I would consider early work, I’m definitely trying to improve on this.

    Happy new year,
    Paul

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