Noah’s ark shipwrecked on the Kanuku mountains


The painful post-Guyana recovery is nearly complete. The fungal scars healing with daily doses of ketokonazole, the bacterial infections fading, the limp receding. Now it is only the anti-depressant produced night sweats with which I must contend, that and the night terrors (Apparently however far I travel in reality, sleep takes me right back to the beginning of my misadventures). So, with a bottle of scotch to wash down the Prozac I now feel fortified to tackle the remainder of my stay in Guyana.

The days blended together in a profusion of  amphibians, reptiles, insect and mosquito bites, and plant based lacerations.

Tick (Amblyomma sp.) imbedded in the skin. Guyana.

The evenings were spent, the group huddled together cooking meals for 4 on a stove meant for 1 and watching BBC documentaries until it was sufficiently dark to go out hunting for insects. The first few nights were mellow, walking languidly from one bush to another. Attracted one moment by the trill of a cricket and the next by the call of a frog.

[For example the below pair of mating tree crickets. Males lure females with a siren song of chirps in a process known as stridulation whereby the hind legs are rubbed together like a bow and violin. Ever the multitasker, the male during this time has also raised his wings and rubs the veins of the topwing with the underwings stimulating the production of nutritious secretions from thoracic pits. Now he is ready for an approaching female. When she arrives and mounts the male, she is occupied and begins feeding on the secretions. This allows the male to mate for longer, allowing him to completely release his spermatophore. When the female has finished, the male may be further stimulated to provide additional secretions to keep the female occupied while he is producing a second spermatophore for additional mating. More HERE.]

Mating pair of tree crickets. The female (note the ovipositor) is on top with the male below, opening his wings to provide nutritious secretions from his thoracic cavity. This is possibly the second mating, since a globule, possibly a spermatophore can be seen in the lower part of the frame by the hind leg as well as one emerging from behind. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.
Close up of female feeding. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.
Looking like a case of parasitization or a fungal infection, this male tree cricket in fact has already finished mating and has filled its thoracic cavity with nutritious secretions. The Male tree cricket attracts a female by chirping and the mating secretions on its back.
Treefrog shot taken at dusk with natural light and fill flash. Details under point 19 in tips and tricks section. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.
Occasionally one gets to see a case of intimacy in the insect world as seen here where a mother shieldbug is looking over he newly hatched brood. Night hike, Kanuku mountains, Guyana.
A limacodid caterpillar (Semyra sp.) with a fascinating morphology like a tricorned hat! Many thanks to Keith Wolfe and colleagues for the ID help.
A lovely spiky chrysalis.

Though sporadically we were interrupted by a more troubling scene. Like this case of heavy parasitization of a host caterpillar by some kind of wasp.

Mature egg casings on a parasitized caterpillar. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.

Or an ant fooled and killed in the dead of night. An ant mimicking crab spider poses as a fellow ant and then snatches a passing worker. Notice the golden abdominal patterns on both species.

Ant mimicking crab spider (Thomisidae) with prey. Kanuku mountains, Peru.

Or even the raging hordes of army ants, their burnished mandibles gleaming like scimitars in the flashlight butchering, plundering and overpowering all those hapless creatures too weak or too foolish to fight back.

I mean who would dare fight this frightening beast?!! Just look at those mandibles! Army ant soldier.
This ectatomma ant was spotted within a few feet of a large raiding colony of army ants, fleeing its own nest with a larva.
Not so lucky, this large almost fully developed ectatomma ant has been stolen by an army ant worker. Later to be cut up into pieces and fed to the colony.

However, later nights saw a multiplication of mosquitoes to epidemic proportions. They clouded the mouth occluding breath and rang in the ears like a bad case of tinnitus. One went out for less than hour before being forced back by the incessant hordes. My companion doused in DEET made a valiant effort to stay out longer but he too failed. So, wrapped in our hammocks we watched documentaries of what we should have been seeing firsthand just footsteps away beyond the protective perimeter of our mosquito nets.

Fortunately the species of mosquito concerned wasn’t diurnally active and so we found ourselves spending more and more of our time photographing during the day. It felt like Dawn of the dead, come dusk we would all scurry back, retreating to the safe haven of our mosquito nets, and dousing ourselves with DEET as though it were holy water. Should we need to exit the confines of our nets we held out citronella candles, wafting them in a protective aura around ourselves and then making all haste to get back. It was good, nay essential that we had not been in tents or in pairs since  one would have undoubtedly have been left behind in the mad dash to return to the sanctuary, left to bang futilely on the wall while being ravaged from without. Actually this wasn’t so much of an imagined scenario as an actual one as I would run through the lodge closing doors behind me to get to my hammock all the while slowing and encumbering my companion (we laugh about it in retrospect).

There is a waterfall, Jordan falls, 12 kms in but we never managed to make it that far. Instead we mostly walked the near vicinity which didn’t harbor a huge diversity of habitat though we still found a wide variety of interesting subjects. So the days flowed into one another until finally it was time to leave. We loaded up the ox cart with our belongings and some children…? I think they belonged to the oxcart driver though honestly they really just appeared out of nowhere.

Children on the oxcart. Leaving the lodge in the Kanuku mountains, Guyana.

We re-trudged the paths in calf deep muck. The once dry paths flooded by a single night’s rain which rolled into the roads pancaked by heavy loads. Though I had been ready to leave the previous day, along the way we saw such a diversity of insects come to bid us goodbye that I made immediate plans to return and explore these hidden wonders of the rainforest.

A lovely tortoise beetle with pink patterns. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.
Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.). Kanuku mountains, Guyana. A special thanks to Chris Raper for the ID on the sphingid caterpillar and tachinid fly.

Along the way, our guide found a group of 3 bright aposematic hawkmoth caterpillars. Notice the extremely elongated tail of the caterpillar which in this species appears to serve a defensive function.

Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.) with an uncharacteristically long tail. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.

I began snapping away obliviously when my friend spotted a tachinid fly circling around one of them. It was very persistent, even when we accidentally knocked the leaf, it would fly away, and then return.

Tachinid fly (Winthemia sp.).

At first the fly stayed at a distance to the caterpillar, on the leaf or branch next to it, then it would actually jump on the caterpillar itself. As the fly landed close to the rear the caterpillar would flick its tail dislodging the fly from ovipositing its eggs.

Tachinid fly in close proximity to caterpillar.

The fly undeterred walked up the body until it was close to the head and out of range of the tail where it began to lay eggs. It seemed to prefer the posterior end of the caterpillar for some reason as it kept on trying to move back there, perhaps laying too close to the front might kill the caterpillar faster and thereby not leave enough time for the larvae to mature, whereas the rear of the caterpillar may not house such vital organs to be destroyed by the larvae.

Here, the long orange ovipositor of the fly can be seen quite clearly. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.

We were fortunate enough to see another interesting case of parasitization along the way as well. In this case a small mass of braconid wasps (Apanteles sp.) attached to a still living caterpillar.

Hard to believe that this caterpillar was still alive with all those eggs, however the wasp parasites must have been attached to the outer layer of skin feeding on the hemolymph, so a large caterpillar close to maturity theoretically might have been well fed enough to have supported and survived through parasitization.
If one looks closely at the eggs one can even see an emerging braconid wasp.
A closer look at the emerging braconid wasp (Apanteles sp.). A special thanks to Harold Gough for the identification.
Finally the most detailed look of the parasite at 5X magnification.

With all these finds it is hard to imagine how we ever made it back to the village of N. and of course there are more!

A cute little toad checking in on us.
Orbweaver spider with a horsefly (Tabanidae) prey.
A spider (Wagneriana sp.) with a bizarrely shaped abdomen.

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