Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hey everyone,
I know it's been a while but I've been meaning to post a few more pictures from the jungle to show everyone some really cool stuff.

For example, monkeys. There were monkeys all over where we stayed~in fact there was a researcher there studying three of the four types of monkeys that hung around our lodge.

One morning, Chris and I were walking to the main lodge for breakfast and we kept hearing some animals making such a loud noise, and believe me, it sounded like daffy duck laughing at the top of his lungs in the middle of the jungle (loud!).

The researcher later told us that that is the sound they make when they are trying to act tough and protect their territory.

One of the highlights of the trip was also climbing up in the towers they have. One is about 100 feet high (30 meters) and there is a telescope that you can look through to see cool birds and stuff. Not an easy feat if you're afraid of heights ~ and some of the students were. While climbing the stairs you just saw the jungle all around you.

Well, my group saw a very cool harpy eagle and a toad that was a living example of co-evolution (see chris' earlier bio-post). The toad kept changing colors to match its surroundings and its under-belly was orange. When a student picked it up it changed colors to match her skin!

The harpy eagle is the largest and most powerful eagle that can be found in central and northern south america. We knew it was not something you see every day because our guide was really, really excited. Here's a picture of it taken through the telescope ~ make sure to click it to enlarge the photo. Our guide told us it eats small monkeys... and small children given the chance!!

The last day we climbed up a different tower (also 100 feet) where you were supposed to strap yourself to a harness and you could walk across little bridges to some look out points. The harness attached to a cable, which I guess was in case the bridge broke (although the guides didn't wear a harness so I think they were pretty secure). Actually there weren't enough harnesses for the guides and adults so chris went without and the students were saying, "Oh, Mr. Vegetarian doesn't need a harness!" very cute (our groups went separately so I didn't know chris went without the harness until after the fact).

On the other hand, I waited for my turn with a harness since I of course, have been warped by seeing all the brain injury and spinal cord injury patients at the hospital and couldn't relax thinking about my rehab potential after plummeting 100 feet to the ground with the nearest hospital a 5-6 hour boat ride away.
It's wonderful and really amazing to be up at the level of the canopy ~ which is the top of the trees.
This was really incredible ~ I don't have that many pictures yet because I didn't have my camera at the top but some of the students took pictures and are giving them to us.

And.. this picture is on the wall outside of our room. There was a little porch area where we would leave our rubber boots (and we were told to check your boots before you put them on for spiders, etc.) And we had seen a gecko somewhere else so chris was shining the flashlight on the wall and we saw not only a gecko but a tarantula on the wall ~ we checked the ceiling of our room with a flashlight before we went to sleep and it was clear.

Well, that's it for now but we're adding a link to a whole bunch of the photos chris has taken since we've gotten here since we just can't post that many in the blog entries.

More news and updates soon ~ hope everyone is enjoying the snow ~ it's been very sunny and warm here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

PLEASE double click on the images to see them more clearly. (by the way - posting a blog with images is a nightmare - nothing goes where you want it to go ~ although i'm probably doing something wrong)

The rainforest is a crazy place and mecca for a student of biology. Please excuse the heavy biology leanings of this post, but i just can't help it. The rainforest is amazing.

It is important to note that Sharon and I had a unique experience. We were able to visit a place unavailable to most. We went to a place called the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. As Sharon has already told you, it is seated deep in the Ecuadorian rain forest - one of the most remote places in the amazon basin. This is a place reserved primarily for researchers. Although our high school has been admitted a visit, we are the exception and the only students that have an in. It is truly in the middle of nowhere. This is a magical place. There are a great number of species yet to be identified - in fact an overwhelming number. And every time I looked at some crazy beetle or other insect, that realization screamed through my brain.

Above is a good example of coevolution - albeit a well know one (although i never thought i would see this in person). This is a leaf mantid - a product of extreme pressure and selection. Its back looks just like a leaf.

Nutrients are recycled like mad in the rain forest – mostly by the fungi – it’s for this reason that when people slash the forests to farm, they are wildly unsuccessful – unlike temperate deciduous forests, there is no nutrient store in the ground – there is no humus. The nutrients in a rain forest rarely go below 5 cm into the soil – it’s all just recycled and turned into a new plant or animal too fast.

The diversity and specialization in the rainforest has yet to be adequately explained. Competition forces species into crazy and unique niches and relationships, but the patterns

(mainly geographic isolation / separation of populations of the same species) that typically lead to the creation of new species are rare. This katydid (or whatever it is) has a fungus growing on it. Although this fungus is undoubtedly parasitic to some degree, the benefits outweigh the gains. More often than not, when this little bugger is attacked by a bird, the bird gets a big beak full of fungus. The fungal organism continues to thrive on the hind parts of the insect and the insect is spared. In the rain forest there is a fine line between mutualistic symbiosis and parasitism.

Conga ants are really scary. If you get bitten by one it’s straight to the hospital for you. I was watching this leaf filled with caterpillars.

I returned a day later to find a conga ant ready to make a meal of these guys. Caterpillars are big bags of nutrients. Conga ants are unique in that they tend to work alone, but of course for the colony. I watched this play out for a while and this ant never went out to find comrades. But he certainly took home quite a booty. The orange “horns” that you see coming out of the caterpillars’ heads put out quite an odor. I could smell the strong odor and it was brutal. I don’t think you can see it in the pictures, but the ant after every mini battle had to retreat and clean himself. His front 2 legs were sticky with orange toxins. The specializations, fierce competition and billions of years of evolution have lead to the development of a huge number of complex chemicals. In plants, these are referred to as secondary compounds. These are the molecules that some
pharmaceutical companies are looking to for cures to many diseases.

Eventually he took two of the caterpillars down. He handily cho

pped one into pieces and took the head back to the colony.