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Rex Cocroft  







Tiputini Biodiversity Station; Treehoppers; Insect communication  

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NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
29 Oct 2005

  • Ecuador
  • Tiputini Biodiversity Station; Harpia Trail
  • -0.637633   -76.150389
    Recording TimeCode
  • 1:02:00 - 1:58:15
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
  • Sennheiser MKH 20
    Equipment Note
  • Spaced Omni Stereo

Story: Tiputini/Rex Cocroft
DAT #4
Recorded: October 29, 2005, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Ecuador
Logged by: Carolyn Jensen

Split track with twin MKH 20 Sennheisers

Going out on the trail with Rex Cocroft and a guide, Hendryk

Rex Cocroft:
Right here, there's an adult of the genus Phylia and that's one of the members of that group that I'm interested in. They have as much variety and social behavior as seen throughout the whole family. So I'll go and meet our guide.

1:19-1:50 FX Walking

1:52 - 5:57 Buenos Dias Hendry speaks in Spanish

6:27 RC Just going to show you this now. Here's a little member sign of a genus :

6:29 Carolina, Yow. Wow, right there.

RC: This what I found last night, so it was making me feel pretty good before I went to bed

RC: Last night I was just walking along with my headlight. It's pretty difficult to find at night But I did just see this insect which looks a bit like a thorn on a plant. But what makes it stand out is that it's a plant that completely lacks thorns. It's about half as long as your fingernail. It's a little thorn shaped creature, And it's feeding on the sap of the plant, and this is a really great place to find them. It's just the fast growing end of a vine which is nutritionally very good for these insects. [7:30]

7:40 FX Walking on walkway

9:33. RC: So, he's going to take us around this Matapalo trail and orient us a little to the
trail system and show us some tree falls and light gaps where we have a good chance of finding new plant growth and insects.

10:00 FX Walking

****10:15 RC: I don't think we're going to make it out of the camp.

AC: You haven't gotten very far Dr. Cocroft before you've stopped three times. We've only traveled 20 feet.

RC: Well, I knew there was a good reason to come to Tiputini, because it's got more different kinds of plants than anywhere else, And it's going to have more different kinds of plant breeding insects. So here's on this very new growth on this vine, there's a group of about half a dozen adults of two species of the kinds of insects I'm looking for. So here's another genus.

AC: You would assume that these are signaling?

RC: Probably they are signaling, and that's something that we can check out later. In fact I would guess that with those several individuals there, they might well be chorusing, but that's an hypothesis we can test maybe this afternoon. [11:22]

11:26 - Turn and walk away

11:42 Aah. Beautiful. That's a mantis.

AC: I would have taken that for a leaf.

RC: Like one of the mantis we're familiar with from home, but with a big cobras head¿.

12:30 FX: Walking on.

12:45 Carolyn. Here's one of the ants to watch out for. That's a pereponera, which has an extremely painful bite, so they tell me. Very distinctive. The only thing you're likely to see that size, and it has orange legs. Last night on the way back from the Comador, I saw two, and they really like to, especially at night, to walk along the handrails, the rope strung between things, so look before you put your hands somewhere, especially because of those. [3:26]

13:27 AC: That ant I would guess is more than an inch long.

RC: And they bite, and hold on with their front end, and sting with their back end, so you don't really want one falling down the back of your shirt.

14:17. RC: Well, if you want to blindfold me for a minute, we'll see if we can make it out of the camp.

14:25 FX: Walking
Hendry: {Spanish. } Rex: We're going to walk through a terra firma area. Its' a higher area that doesn't get flooded. Has a different kind of forest than the river banks.
So the trails have local or Quecha names. Names of animals in Quecha. Harpy, Harpy Eagle trail. We're going to go to three different areas that might have light and more plant growth in the understory. [16:21

**** 16:22: Henrdry "Vamos" + walking ambi 18:30]

RC: This tree has been here about eight months¿but it's almost indistinguishable from others¿
20:17 RC: In this sort of light gap that plants¿just waiting for the opportunity, when get the light gap, just shoot up, perfect place to look for these plant feeding insects.

RC: And Hendry has just pointed out a large aggregation of very beautiful, very colorful species of membracids that tended by ants.

AC: Wow, I can see them from here.
20:44 RC: They are about the size of a pinenut, but with orange faces and then zebra striped backs, and they're in a group of 25 or so, very close with ants very actively
running all over them [21:03]

AC: Do you know the species?

RC: I know the genus, but to figure out the species, have to go back to the look at museum collections.

21:38 RC: And here's a little clump of foam on this stem that's from a circopid [sp], frog hopper. In England they call them cookoo spit. A mass of foam that's produced by the insects so there will be the larva down inside there feeding on the stem, but protected and hidden [22:08]

22:18 RC: So right now, we'll just walk along this trail and orient ourselves and see what's there, and then we'll come back and spend more time with some of the things that we find. [22:29]


and the ants even sometimes move them around from place to place. [24:13]
The protection by the ants is not entirely benign, because the ants colony needs sugar, then they'll harvest the sugar, sometimes they need protein, so things can turn, and they can harvest some individuals for their protein as well.

FX: 24:41 Ambi: Walking [short] [use for previous scene]

RC: So there are these trail markers¿
[Henrdry in Spanish¿..] He says that if you look around here, virtually every stem has lichens and moss growing all over it, but if you look at this, has a fungus, prevents the establishment of mosses, so just a light white powder¿.

27:43 Ambi walking with chatter

28:22-29:58 Ambi - Walking with no chatter

AC: Here's some sap in a great golden glob¿[more]

30:15 -34:14 Ambi more walking [some with chatter]

35:02- 37:07 [High gain for ambience along the Harpia Trail Ambi: Birds

37:40 AC: This a fungus beetle here, and it has a pattern on its back that looks like a Navajo blanket in cream and black and brown. It's about as big as a quarter.

38:09 Ambi: Walking [more quiet walking] dropout but hen walking until 3:43

39:40 RC: So here's a case where you can see ants on the end of this new shoot here,
And essentially the plant is making the same bargain with the ants that the treehoppers do. It's providing nectar.
AC: See this one has a bead of nectar in his mouth.
RC: Yes, it's produced by little plant organs that produce a kind of nectar and you can see one at the base of each one of these leaves. The ants again defend that as a valuable resource, and this new shoot which is a valuable resource for the plant gets protected.
However, the plant breeding insects and the treehoppers in particular can often just slip right into that arrangement and circumvent it by feeding on these same areas. There a couple of leafhopper nymphs right at the base of these leaves, and also produce nectar, and the ants will protect them. Very beneficial. So essentially, you've got three interactions, beneficial for the ants, beneficial for the plant feeding insect, a bit more a mixed bag for the plant. [41:02]

41:03 - 41:33 Ambi - Walking

41:51 RC: I don't know if you can see in the tip of this bright red orange fluorescent is a bright red orange plant feeding insect leaf-footed bug.
AC: Yes, I had completely missed it's color just exactly replicates this scarlet orange on the leaves of this flower. That's about the size of a cricket, with bright red colors on it.

FX: Walking

AC: There's more light here. RC: Yes, so it's worth stopping to look here, You can see lots of vines and small saplings putting out new growth.
45:32: RC: Well, once again we're seeing a lot of social groups of membracids in this light gap. And there's a really neat phenomenon that's pretty common here in the tropics.
among ant tended membracids. So if you look on this plant, it appears to be covered with a very fibrous, paper mache like material that makes a thin plant stem look much larger, and that's a shelter that was built by the ants over an aggregation of treehopper nymphs. And if you were to peel back - if you look inside, see ants, and a group of 6 or 8 immature treehoppers, that are essentially underneath this complete canopy where they can feed, and the ants can tend them.

AC: So the ants are raising them?
RC: The ants are essentially raising them, and they're completely shut off from the outside world. And it's kind of an interesting relationship to think about from the standpoint of their social behavior and mating systems, because at some point they can leave these shelters, but if they're adults and ready to mate, and there's no opening in the shelter, they may have to complete their life cycle within there based on the other individuals in there. So it has a lot of interesting consequences for their social behavior.

AC: What is the life span of one of these treehoppers?
RCL They live generally somewhere between one and three months. Depends on the species. Usually takes about four weeks from the egg to the adult stage. They go through five different stages, and then unlike a butterfly that goes through a pupil stage and then emerges as an adult, these go straight from a nymphal stage that has very much the same body form as the adult, and then in the final molt, they get their wings, and at that point, they can disperse, and they'll live another 2-4 weeks as adults [48:11]

It's a bit of a shame really. And you listen in this forest, there's this constant seamless 24-7 ringing insect chorus, and it's character changes from the morning to the afternoon to the evening, to the late night. And we're seeing these plant feeding insects, that seem to be completely silent, and a lot of etymologists think of them as pretty boring insects, that sit there and suck sap all day with really nothing to think about. But will come back later with the ability to listen in, we'll hear the individualized soundscape

[Flawn Index #11 - The preceding that was a good introduction to listening with a cartridge in the field.]

55:26 - Ambi -Walking

**** 56:42 - 58:16 Ambi Bed in the woods - with high gain

58:40 Ambi [Walking with too much chatter]

59:29 RC: [This is just the kind of place where would hold onto rope crossing the bridge where ants¿..]

1:00:28 - 1:01:25 AMBI BED - water - stream - [high gain] with insects [VG]

1:01:42 - Ambi walking with chatter [ng]

Chatter about snakes with Hendry

1:05:40 - 1:06:12 Ambi - Walking [G]

**1:06:15 - 1:09:09 Hendry in Spanish - then Rex translates:
RC: There's another light gap off the trail new - about three months old + good bright Ambi and FX of climbing over brush to get to area where Rex will spend time talking about new group of treehoppers with follow-up ****Ambi of climbing over brush [VG]

**1:09:20 Hendry and Rex: Wow, Beautiful. AC: WOW. Hendry has just found a beautiful tree frog that's just emerged from the tadpole stage. This is actually a juvenile of one of those species that we hear calling throughout the night right near the cabins.

AC: I can see that it's a frog, but smaller than any frog I've ever seen. It's about the size of a peanut, kind of golden back with leopard spots on it.
RC: Bright yellow patches on its hips and elbows. Beautiful little toe pads at the end of each toe. 1:10:20

1:12:24 Ambi - Climbing through brush

1:12:48 AC; STANDUP. This is another beetle Looks like one of these Italian designer sports car beetles, it's just so aerodynamic and beautiful , and it has this shell that's kind of green high gloss green enamel.
RC: It's a scarab, has very distinct short branched antennae. In spite of its beautiful color, many of these have there antennae out for dung, and can detect extremely small concentrations of volatiles, from dung, and then they go and use that as a resource for raising their kids. [1:13:48]

1:13:50 - 1:14:30 ****AMBI Good bright sounding climbing over brush and going through woods.

RC: There's a light gap try to get to¿.

1:15:20 - 1:16:52 ****AMBI More climbing over brush

AC: So this must have been rapped around a limb or stem of some kind, cork screw pattern - spectacular natural architecture here. [1:17:12]

1:17:130 - 1:118:50 Ambi - More climbing

1:19:04 RC: Beautifully colored, but they have little kind of like horns on the front And then the shell on their back has a patch of iridescent blue. Genus Assuniya. That could be a good group to try to record here or in the lab. Clip a stem and bring back

1:20:05 FX: Rex unzips bag and gets ready to clip a stem with treehoppers on it.
[Rex explains what he's doing until 1:22:20] [Alex bumps stem, and the treehoppers move off]

1:23:00 AC: First you try to encapsulate ¿ RC: Just slip the bag as gently as possible over the stem without touching it. They're very sensitive to anything that moves the stem
they're on. Then pull the bag closed and snip the stem below it and put that in the water too.
[Talks on about how he usually works with immatures who don't have wings and won't fly off]

1:24:00 - 1:28:00 **** Ambi - Good ambi of climbing over brush especially around 1:26:30

1:28:50 -1:30:25 ***** AMBI of Flawn walking solo

1:30:26 RC: Here's a very subtle easily missed insect society. There's a group of just recently hatched nymphs just at the base of this shoot. And I only noticed it because it was being attended by ants which was a giveaway. There are about 30 individuals,
each one maybe half a millimeter long, very close, so the whole social group covers an area about the size of your little fingernail. And probably already at that first stage. They're likely to be communicating in response to the disturbance that I just made turing the leaf over, or their signals may have been involved in their finding this new shoot. Leave those for another day. 1:32:00

@1:32:03 Ambi of Rex getting out his notebook.
1:32:45 RC: "This morning as we were walking along the Harpia Trail, there is an ant tended aggregation on a small bismia [sp] plant right at the meter 450 mark on this trail. One really nice thing about studying these insects is that their social groups don't move much, and they might move a foot or so within the plant, but they will always be associated with the most actively growing shoot on the plant, so unless they meet with an unfortunate mishap they should be exactly there tomorrow or within a week." [1:34:00]

1:34:33 - Ambi walking through muck until 1:35:20

¿..Rex explains how primatologists have to head off far from camp. But easy to study treehoppers. Can study an entire system without moving from one spot¿..They're on the surface of the plant, can see them¿..

****1:37:50 - 1:39:28 AMBI BED with bees and bugs at High gain

1:40:00 - 1:40:33 - 1:41:05 Ambi of Flawn walking solo to catch up

Lots of very quiet tape in here until 1:45:00

1:45:14 RC: [distant] Oh, beautiful. ***There's just a gorgeous adult of the genus membracids and there are. Seems to be an egg-laying female, there are several egg masses on this plant, and the adults have something shaped like half a dinner plate, a sail up over their back, in this case salmon, yellow stripe and black before and behind with a big white spot. A really spectacular creature. 1:46:03 And the egg masses look like patches of white meringue, so the eggs are laid just into the stem and covered over with this white secretion which helps to protect them. [1:46:20]

1:52:00 ff. Rex does more collecting¿.this is a female¿.

1:53:18 AC: You're going to take this back to try it on another stem.
RC: I will just remove a little bit of stem from this plant and put it in another bag in a water tube ¿.and try recording back at the lab. [1:53:50]

Ambi of clipping, and putting it in the bag until end¿¿2:00::30

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