Happy Friday!!! Once again it gives us great pleasure to introduce you to some of natureís most interesting subjects. This week we thought we would mix things up a bit. Instead of telling you about a specific insect, weíd like to give you some general knowledge that weíve acquired first-hand while learning about insects ourselves. We plan to do this occasionally, because you canít get a true appreciation of the insect world unless you get some background context. Our Wonders Of Nature department features exotic, showy, and relatively common insects, that people find the most interesting and that add interest and beauty to any collection. We always get asked lots of questions about their origins and their habits. So here are some general principles we have learned about encountering insects in the rainforest. We hope youíll find todayís Friday Flyers enjoyable.
First, Insects are unimaginably abundant, especially in the tropics. But even more amazing, if you just walk down a jungle path you probably wonít see much of anything. This is because insects are typically extremely well camouflaged. Usually if you want to see lots of insects you have to make one of two choices; either go to where the insects congregate, like flowers or mud puddles, or bring the insects to you by attracting them with bait. This is a great way to see and photograph them.
Second, 99% of any rainforest is generally inaccessible. Itís always safest to stay on the path. Many dangerous things are hiding just a few feet away in the underbrush, not to mention that you can get totally disoriented and lost as little as 20 feet from the path. And ALWAYS be sure to look where youíre walking. The paths are usually covered with a layer of dead leaves that constantly fall from the canopy. Under these leaves are ALWAYS ants or termites or ticks or other insects that can sting and bite. And always be sure to look up if youíre standing in one location, because you donít want to be near a wasp nest. Finally, it seems like every plant is either poisonous or has thorns. Itís not like walking in a forest preserve around here! Thatís why collecting or photographing a beautiful insect is so special.
Third, always expect the unexpected! The best part of any walk through the rainforest is finding something that you donít expect to see, or even something that no one else has ever seen before. In some remote areas, as many as one-quarter of the species present are unknown to science. And probably one-half of the juvenile stages (caterpillars) and food plants are unknown. Why is this important? Because most caterpillars are very particular about the plant they eat. So in most cases if you see a butterfly in the rainforest, the food plant wonít be far away. And there are also a huge number of plant species yet to be discovered too. This is why Entomology is the only scientific field where amateurs can still make significant contributions.
Fourth, an insect species population CANNOT be collected to extinction. Only loss of habitat can cause a species to become extinct in a particular area. This is why it is so very important to preserve the rainforests. Rainforests contain the most diversity and the largest populations of animals in the world, with insects being by far the most numerous. One of the best ways to preserve the rainforests is to encourage the market for collectible insects. When the people living in the rainforests can make their living by insect farming and insect collecting, they donít have any reason to clear the forest for farming or logging. This is one of the best ways to preserve the rainforests, because itís not destructive and itís self-sustaining.
See you on the trail!!!
Our favorite jungle trail, deep in the jungle in Ecuador! Standing here, so far away from civilization, we get a sense of what the first naturalists felt as they explored the unknown jungles of the world. On our last trip, we discovered a rare species of Heliconid butterfly on this trail that had never been documented from this altitude before!
Three Ithomid butterflies ("Glasswings") feeding on a flowering vine. We took this picture on one of our research trips to South America.
A long-nosed katydid that we found while doing some night insect research in South America! It was totally camouflaged on its tree.
A typical night setup. On this trip, we were studying and identifying Sphinx moths, which were the 9th feature of Friday Flyers. In pristine habitats, over 10,000 individual insects can be attracted to a single setup like this!
A moth camouflaged to resemble a dead leaf. This species will fall to the ground when disturbed, and then "hop" as if it was blowing in the wind. Tu our knowledge, we were the first researchers to record this behavior!
One of our favorite pictures from our many research trips! This is a moth camouflaged to resemble a dead leaf. The piece missing from the lower left wing makes the disguise all the more perfect!
A moth camouflaged to resemble a dead leaf. The dark vein looks like the midrib of a typical leaf, and the grey markings look like dead areas. When on the jungle ground, you cannot tell this is a moth. It blends into the leaf litter perfectly!