Saturday, March 31, 2012


     Slow updates seem to be becoming a habit.  My life continues to center around collecting butterflies and feeding larvae, with occasional bonfires, barbecues, and movie-nights to break up the monotony. 
    I’ve also spent a lot of time this past week battling bureaucracy, as I apply for a Mission International driver’s license that will allow me to continue driving in Panama beyond the three month period allowed to US citizens with valid licenses.  I’ve been to the US Consulate (nice complex on the outside, well-guarded yet still depressing DMV on the inside) to get my driver’s license notarized, the Panamanian Department of Foreign Affairs division of Authentication and Identification to have my license further examined, and to a health clinic to get some blood tests performed (I’ve rediscovered my O-positive blood type, and a blood glucose test has confirmed that I’m not diabetic!). 
    Anyway, on to the interesting stuff (also, the next science break should be posted soon):
One of the roads I collect on, covered in purple flowers.

This Giant Red-winged Grasshopper (Tropidacris cristata) landed on our window screen...

...and eventually broke in to terrify me in the kitchen.  Fortunately, my roommate had a net, and he caught it. 

Right now many of the passion vines (Passiflora)  are flowering.  This is menispermifolia, the host plant of one of the butterfly species I study.

A small snake in the forest.

Riding in the resort gondolas up to a canopy tower on top of a hill near my house.

The resort's canopy tower, offering great views of Gamboa and the canal.

The Panama Canal, as seen from the tower.  The section of canal just south of Gamboa, seen here, is the Gaillard cut, which goes through the continental divide.

The Chagres river, which feeds the Canal and Lake Gatun.

Gamboa in the foreground, canal in the background.

The dredging ship's pipeline burst a (rather large) leak.

Neat little bug on the canopy tower.

Heliconius cydno, one of our study species.  Note how the underside of the wing has an indistinct brown pattern.

Heliconius sapho, cydno's mimic.  You can tell them apart because sapho has a very distinct red pattern on the underside of the wing.

I almost walked face-first into this rather large spider.

A walking stick insect hanging out on the side of my house.

Monday, March 12, 2012


   Well, it’s been a while since my last post, but there hasn’t been a whole lot to report.  I continue to spend the majority of my days caring for caterpillars and searching for butterflies in the forest. 

    Feeding the caterpillars is a pretty simple business, though it can get rather tedious.  They eat rather a lot, and require very fresh bits of leaf, so we have to feed them every day.  We keep them in small plastic cups (as you can see below), and each day we clean out the cups, put in a small piece of water-soaked cotton (to keep things from drying out), and give the caterpillar some new leaf (different species get different plants, but all the caterpillars eat some type of Passiflora, which are a type of tropical vines that include the passion-fruit). 

A Heliconius melpomene larvae awaiting new food.

The table at the insectaries where I feed larvae.

A pretty flower in the forest (that I think might be some type of Passiflora).
    On my collecting trips in the forest, I continue to see neat wildlife.  A few days ago, for example, I saw an antbird following an ant swarm.  Various species of ants in the tropics go on foraging raids, leaving the nest in large groups to find food.  Some bird species take advantage of these raids by following along and eating the insects that the ants rustle up.

Ant swarm (though they're a bit hard to see).

The antbird, looking for food.
   The research with the butterflies is going fairly well.  Mostly we’ve been focusing on establishing strong stocks of the two species that we’re studying.  One aspect of our research involves mating the two species together and raising hybrid offspring (I’ll discuss this more in future science breaks).  A hybrid female emerged from her pupae a few days ago, and I’ve attached a picture of her below, as well as photos of the two parental species.

Heliconius melpomene.  All that white material on the proboscis is pollen.  Heliconius eat pollen, a rare behavior in butterflies.  Some scientists hypothesize that the diet of pollen helps increase longevity; Heliconius live a long time for butterflies.

I found this picture of a Heliconius cydno on the internet, as I've been here for two months and haven't remembered to take on myself yet.
A hybrid offspring, produced by mating a H. melpomene male with a H. cydno female. You can see that the color pattern is very different.

Finally, I went to a new beach this weekend.  This time I thought of you, my loyal readers, and took  some pictures.

The view from one of our rented roof-things.

Another view, with an island in the distance.