Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Rupununi revisited

My summer at the Smithsonian is nearing its end.  In a week or so I’ve got to be back in Oklahoma to help teach an entomology class.  But the past 13 weeks of work have really added up.

In the course of studying hundreds of ant species from across the Guiana Shield, I’ve been able to revisit my specimens from the South Rupununi Savanna in Guyana in 2013.  I’ve identified more species, corrected some old mistakes, and with Emma’s help captured amazing images of many of them.

The scavenger Ectatomma brunneum is found throughout northern South America, and we encountered it in the short grasslands of the Parabara Savanna.  I found this specimen while wandering along a sandy road on Halloween.

Just a few days later I collected this smooth shiny ant in a nearby riverside forest.  It’s Leptogenys gaigei, a fast-running predator that hunts isopods.

While many of the ants we collected are restricted to South America, some of them venture a little farther afield.  Rogeria foreli, like this one collected from leaf litter in the rocky dry forests at the base of Kusad Mountain, ranges all the way north through Central America to Arizona and New Mexico.

This pinkish fungus-gardener (Myrmicocrypta sp.) came from wetter forest a few hundred meters higher up Kusad’s slopes.

Thaumatomyrmex atrox is one of the world’s most distinctive predatory ants.  It uses its impressive pitchfork mandibles to hunt millipedes that are defended by long stiff hairs.  We collected this one in rainforest near the Waiwai village at Parabara landing.

I love it when a current adventure helps you to relive an old one.  It’s just one more reason to enjoy this summer.

But though my journey here is not quite over, I’m excited to return home to start my next one.