Friday, June 4, 2010

As formigas bom de Uberlândia, parte dois

Scott baiting a pitfall trap with honey water

After sleeping like a rock for twelve hours, I hopped out of bed, took a shower, put on my best khaki entomologist gear, and ran outside to meet Scott (and Flavio, a grad student at UFU) to go out to the field. "The field" this year, in stark contrast to the 2000m-deep hydrothermal vents of last summer, is a nature reserve about 45 minutes down a dirt road from the city. The cerrado (pronounced sa-HA-do -- in Brazilian Portuguese, double r's on the inside of a word sound like h's, single r's on the front of words sound sort of like Hebrew h's (think Challa), d's before e's sound like g's, terminal m's sometimes but not always sound ling ng's, and sometimes you just leave the last few bits of a word as an exercise to the listener, like in French) -- er, the cerrado is a an amazing habitat of tall grass and short trees that covers much of the interior of Brazil, as well as growing patches of what was once the Amazon.

Seriously, the trees are pretty short. As in, sometimes the grass is taller than the trees. This is awesome for studying arboreal ants because it means you really don't have to work too hard. Today, Scott and Flavio and I spent five hours carrying a step ladder around tying pitfall traps (little urine cups filled with honey water and, erm, actual urine as baits) in a bunch of different trees to survey the various kinds of ants living in the various kinds of trees. Since it's winter here, it was only a bajillion (Portuguese: pajilhâo, pronounced 'bush') degrees in the sun, which was nice.

Scott baiting a pitfall trip not with honey water

And the ant diversity in the cerrado is truly fantastic. While we were walking around, I got to see at least three different species of Cephalotes (the genus I'll be working on), two species of Pseudomyrmex, a couple Camponotines (including Camponotus sericeiventris, which is basically the biggest ant you've ever seen and apparently covered in gold dust), Azteca, Atta (the crazy leaf-cutter ants, in an honest-to-goodness trail through the woods), a bunch of generic Formicines, and a really badass-looking predatory ant whose name I've forgotten. 

Also today I saw infinite termites, a toucan, a dead cow, vultures, weird little parasitic flowers that sort of look like strawberries, holes that presumably contained armadillos, and terrifyingly huge funnel webs. The hole at the bottom of the funnel was about as big around as a banana. I hope to myriad deities that I never, ever see what lives in those things. 

More to come soon! Now it is again time for glorious, glorious bed.


Emilio Bruna said...

Jon, came across your blog quite by accident - it was listed in my google alert for the Cerrado. Coincidentally, I work at Panga as well. Enjoy your time there and say hi to Scott.

The "terrestrial" flowers you mentioned are, according to one of my students, the Langsdorffia hypogaea (family Balanophoraceae, which are parasites).

Again, enjoy!
Emilio Bruna

Jon Sanders said...

Wow, thanks for stopping by, Prof. Bruna! I had actually just met Ernane yesterday -- the project sounds really, really cool.

Thanks for the flower ID -- I'll try and take a picture if I have a chance; they really are spectacular!