I’m back in Chicago, so it’s time to start sending me your wildlife photos: the tank is getting a bit too low for my comfort. Thanks!
Today I’m putting up the final installment of naturalist/biologist/photographer Lou Jost’s photos from the Tambopata Research Center in Peru. His notes are indented. I especially love the decoy spider in the first photo, which is a bizarre but lovely form of mimicry—mimicry based on natural selection molding a spider’s behavior to build a huge replica of itself in its web.
Back in 2012 Jerry posted about a newly-discovered Peruvian spider that builds a model of a much bigger spider in its web:
The discovery was made at the Tambopata Research Center, where I was staying a few weeks ago. One night we were late getting back to the lodge, and navigating by headlamp and moonlight. I noticed what I thought was a big spider in its web, but no, it was the fake spider construction that I had read about here four years ago! I think it had not been seen for a long time, since the guides got excited about it. The model in this web was not as perfect as the one in Jerry’s article, but it was still unmistakably serving as a fake spider. I think it is not a decoy but a scarecrow, functioning to scare away small birds that might eat the real spider. Small birds can be prey to big spiders, and this fake one looked plenty big enough to take a small bird.
Fake spider with its maker:
I also found a real giant orb-weaver. The sight of this would also have given pause to a foraging little bird…
BIG orb weaver, not fake
Another nasty creature out that night was the “bala (bullet) ant” or “conga ant” [Paraponera clavata], whose sting is famously one of the most painful of any insect. These ants liked to sit at night on the handrails set on steep parts of the trail, made of thick climbing rope. Our guide Fernando helpfully warned us not to touch the handrails, and he was right.
That’s thick climbing rope. The ant is huge:
Here’s a video about the ant, which shows people in agony after bullet ant stings. It’s been described not only as the worst pain inflicted by an insect, but the worst pain ever. I recommend watching it!
There were also innocent things at night. I think this may be a morpho caterpillar, almost as beautiful as the adult.
My favorite group of insects, the membracid treehoppers, were very active at night. These were mating until I disturbed them.
There was also a katydid with a funny head and a pretty face, and a sleeping lizard whom we awoke. [JAC: These were unidentified, so if you know the species, weigh in below.]