Some say the world will end in fire, others say in ice…add the two and you get the steam of the cloud rainforest…

[Guyana began and ended in a wincing account of misadventure wrapped in tragedy wrapped in the exclamation: ‘God what an unlucky bastard!

Ecuador begins a little more auspiciously… though storms of the century, robberies, an underwater camera that’s not meant to go underwater, and quasi-prison like volunteer experiences soon take their toll…

I am a sponge, soaking up whatever love and life I can during my short recovery time at home. I hold onto those hard earned moments because I know, before long, they will be thoroughly wrung from me and I’ll be left dry, parched, and moving waist deep in mud chasing after the thief who stole my camera gear atop his mule.]


Every time I pass through Quito I get a reaming, I leave feeling cheated and always, always bitter. Nothing but eyes narrowed in suspicion, I’m surprised I can see anything at all. Therefore I spent as little time as possible in the city, just enough to get some food essentials, drop off my kayak and bulky supplies at the South American Explorer’s club and then take off for the cloud forest and my volunteering position in a Cloud forest “resort”.

Whenever I can, I try and organize my schedule around some kind of volunteering or work position, simply because it provides some structure to an otherwise largely wandering, nomadic existence. Big mistake….

I left the following day for the nature reserve. A seemingly idyllic spot, nestled in the cloud rainforest but with a dark underbelly. The first day I am introduced to the other volunteers, a great group of people mostly from Ecuador though with one British girl who was planning on staying for 6 months (God I feel for her now).

I arrived with the expectation of doing some guiding, taking care of rainforest trails, making new signs to inform the public, possibly even doing some photography. These expectations were quickly dashed…

Pristimantis appendiculata. Covered in tubercles, the projections help this ubiquitous cloud forest frog to blend in extremely well with the mosses which cover just about every square inch of every branch and tree trunk. They are most commonly found around streams and can be heard calling incessantly.

Cosmetid harvestman (Cosmetidae) under UV light.

I had already known that material in the chitin of scorpions fluoresced when exposed to UV light, however, “Techuser” on flickr provided the idea of using UV on harvestmen. The above illustrates the technique of using a tripod with 15 and 30 second long exposures, while minimizing ISO’s to 100-400. The results are much cleaner than previous attempts. Here, any movement will result in fairly poor results. UV light was in the 365nm wavelength. This provides a more naturalistic lighting that minimizes the purple colour cast of 400nm + wavelengths, though the latter definitely have an interesting look. Furthermore this wavelength seems to make create a brighter fluorescence, enabling shorter exposure times. The reason is a little unclear though. Some insects see in UV and so it might help in species differentiation or mate selection. Snakes, birds and other predators can also see in UV so perhaps the brightness reflects aposematism in nocturnal predators in a similar way to how bright colours in the visible spectrum do to diurnal predators. Harvestmen use a variety of defenses including aposematism, stridulation and chemical defenses to ward off predators and so it seems feasible that such fluorescence might fulfill a similar role. Though the accentuation of patterns on the dorsum and posterior might be more reflective of mate selection since many harvestmen will perch up high and with relatively poor vision, such brightness might help them find a mate.

Some other insects that I have found to reflect UV are some leaf mimicking katydids, centipedes (Scolopendra), some crab backed orbweavers (Micrathena sp.), some caterpillars, scorpions, some stick insects, some grasshoppers/katydids…quite a broad spectrum really. Though like mimetism UV fluorescence seems to change with the life cycle, either becoming stronger of weaker with age depending on the species. For example one individual of a possible new genus of millipede that I found fluoresced red under UV. But others didn’t.


About pbertner

Studied cell biology and genetics at UBC in Canada with a focus in microbiology. However, have gravitated more recently towards ecology and biodiversity. Have traveled the rainforests of Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, DRC, Ecuador, Guyana, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Panama, Philippines, Rwanda, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam with plans to visit many more.
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4 Responses to Some say the world will end in fire, others say in ice…add the two and you get the steam of the cloud rainforest…

  1. Chris Raper says:

    I went through Quito twice and never had any problems … even the driving proved to be easier than I had thought, but then again we did stay in a fairly decent hotel and hire some 4WDs to get us about 😉 Ecuador itself isn’t short of crime though so it helps if you keep your itinerary to yourself and change your plans regularly … never stay in a hotel for the number of days you say when you booked in – always leave early 😉

    • pbertner says:

      I have never had good luck in Quito. Been robbed twice in the city, seen someone stabbed outside my hostel window. All the travellers I have talked with have usually had problems in Quito. The buses are especially notorious for getting ripped off in. There’s a reason why even the locals carry their bags cinched to their stomachs!

  2. That UV-illuminated harvestman photo is really spectacular.

    I spent a few weeks in and out of Quito over the holidays once – I thought it was a lovely city and actually have wondered about retiring there. Of course, that was 20 years ago – maybe thinks are different now.

  3. pbertner says:

    Hi Ted,

    Lots of people have no problems, but those are usually the locals who know which spots to avoid and generally don’t venture into the more touristy areas. The old city and the mariscal are two areas dominated by tourists due to their central location and amenities, unfortunately there is also a lot of drug activity that goes on here. I have a few friends there and they run into the occasional problem, but for the most part they are pretty happy. I felt perfectly safe during the day, but there was definitely a bit of an edge to it at night.

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