Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Rio Mindo

My first evening in Midno, Ecuador. Qindeopugo, the lodge where I am staying, backs up onto the Rio Mindo. The daylight is beginning to fail, and the entire cloud forest is taking on the blue cast of twilight. The night sounds are beginning, and the persistent rush of the river is blending into a din of frog cronking and katydid whirring. The frogs’ calls are a constant and varied backdrop to the night sounds. There is lots of species diversity. Some of the loudest calls come from remarkably tiny frogs.

Up the hill, a pootoo’s eerie call can be heard. It sounds like a cross between a whippoorwill, to which it’s related, and an owl. A real owl silently swoops out of the forest and lands on the sign in front of the lodge. This turns out to be his regular territory- but I never manage to get a photo despite repeated visits of said owl to said spot.

Tiny tree snail

Way up at the top of the valley black lighting is beginning. We are too far away to hear the muffled hum of the generator as Mark, Martin, and Wayne set the lights up. I have an invitation to attend, but the half-hour’s van ride each way dissuades me. Instead I decide to go for a night walk up the dirt road. I’m with Nancy, Laurie and Eddie from the Houston Museum of Natural History’s butterfly exhibit, and Lea from the Museum of Science in Boston.

We turn on our headlamps and head out into the gloaming. Playing our lights over the vegetation, we find the tinier creatures of the cloud forest scattered here and there in the grasses. Four groups seem especially well represented: walking sticks, katydids, leaf beetles and spiders. I’m especially interested in the leaf, or chrysomelid, beetles. I think of my friend John from Denver who is a chrysomelid expert. He is also the person turned me on to beetles, a group that I had minimal interest in before he began teaching me about them. John used to work with the Houston folks. His name comes up frequently. We all agree that he would love to be part of this trip. Alas, he remains in Denver this time.

A leaf beetle by night (Asphaera nobilitata)

Another leaf beetle. This one's in the genus Zygogramma.
Edit:  Calligrapha fulvipes

We walk very slowly up the road. The night sounds are punctuated by occasional human voices. "Got another walking stick over here." "Hey, this katydid’s shedding." "What is that spider eating?" Ahead of us, the Southern Cross twinkles on the horizon, while behind us a distant thunderstorm silently flickers on the hillsides. I will pass this way tomorrow on my morning run and discover that we have taken over an hour to wander 100 yards.

We saw a lot of walking sticks on our night hike.

What's that spider harvestman eating? Mr. Cricket comes to dinner.

Predator becomes victim. This spider was atacked by a fungus.

Polka dots are part of this season's line of evening wear.
Agriacris magnifica

Back at camp, still more insects have come to the light around the lodge. My room is a tiny space under the eves- I can barely stand up right next to the wall. I have left the light on, and the skylight at my right shoulder is covered with moths and beetles- my own private blacklighting event. I fall asleep to the gentle patter of insect bodies pelting the skylight even after I turn off the light. I am truly in my element. I am in the tropics.

Back at the lodge, an Automeris moth has come to the lights.
My katydid is bigger than your katydid.

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At 13:29, Blogger BentonQuest said...

I am so envious of you! This just looks like an incredible trip!

At 14:36, Blogger Homer said...

That's an awesome katydid!

At 16:03, Blogger robin andrea said...

Wow! I've never seen such a big katydid. The best part of travel is all the new wildlife. Very cool pics.

At 18:26, Blogger Doug said...

Stunning photos! Your interest is infectious.

At 18:31, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

That's not a spider, that's a harvestman.

At 20:19, Blogger Cobban said...

Wow! What great photographs! Felt like I was right there.

At 21:41, Blogger Ur-spo said...

lovely words as well as photos.

At 21:53, Blogger Kevin Z said...

Hey! Its not the size of the katydid that matters...

If you head out to the ocean pick me up some zoanthids for a phylogeny project.

At 07:36, Anonymous Jyoti said...

Loved reading it ... was like an adventure trip to a make belief world ... Only I know it's for real.

The photos are amazing too ... My fav is the Automeris moth ...

At 11:28, Blogger Dave Coulter said...

Yikes! That's SOME katydid!!!

At 19:26, Anonymous Mark H said...

Well, OUR big Katydids are working out...I'll try to, uh, uh...ya right! Yours ARE bigger. Beautifully described even down to the thrill of the scientists discovery and the pics are great too. We're YOU holding that camera and those "pets" at the same time, Doug? No photo help? Great stuff. BIG stuff happens in the tropics, eh?

At 20:54, Blogger rodger said...

Katydids shed? Spiders attacked by fungus? I'm so ignorant.

Fascinating stuff...I'd love to take that hundred yard walk with a few folks in the know!

At 18:28, Anonymous rcwbiologist said...

I love walking sticks, and that katydid kicks some serious ass. Awesome pictures.

At 20:37, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Thanks to all for the kind words.

To all of the katydid commentors- A bunch of people with us had been on a trip to Malaysia a few years back. (Sadly, not me.) They were reporting seeing one there that was about half again as big. Yowza!

Christopher Taylor- How embarrassing. You are, of course, correct. Thanks for the correction.

Kevin Z - This was a landloced trip (except for a few hours in transit in Guyaquil). No zoanthids this time.

Jyoti- I saw 3 species of Automeris on this trip, I have a feeling that this is a mere fraction of what I might have seen with additional searching. All looked very different from each other.

Mark H- No, I was just holding the camera. Eddie has the katydid there.

Rodger- Katydids, like many insects, shed repeatedly until they become adults. You can tell that this one is an adult- and therefore will not shed again- because it has fully formed, functional wings.


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