Readers’ wildlife photographs

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.]




  1. Christopher
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Is the lizard a tree runner lizard, one of the subspecies of Plica umbra perhaps? Best I can guess in my ignorance of reptilian fauna of that region.

  2. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Totally awesome, Lou! I freely speculate that the katydid is mimicking a spider face. The spots are a good match to wolf spider eyes, although they are upside down.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    The katydid is in the genus Vestria, according to this site. Scroll down a ways.

    • Posted November 20, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for that link, Mark. Those katydid photos are far better than mine!

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Very cool. I have enjoyed this series of pics from Lou immensely.

  5. Richard Bond
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    not only as the worst pain inflicted by an insect, but the worst pain ever.

    So the bullet ant is the Trump of the hymentropteran world? I hate this kind of exaggeration. I have seen a few stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) in the tropics. One of the ways in which this causes death is by the sheer shock of the pain. How can these sort of things be compared sensibly ?

    • Posted November 20, 2016 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been stung by bullet ants (two at once). The pain wasn’t life-threateningly shocking.

  6. Posted November 20, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    The bullet ant “coming of age” ritual was originally drafted from a GOP policy for health and human services.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Lovely pictures. That lizard is very cute.

    • Posted November 20, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      It was watching us, moving its eyeball while trying to stay perfectly still… very cute.

  8. ToddP
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic photos, Lou! Nice detail of the katydid’s leg spikes.

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