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Collecting adventures in Panama

My second semester as a graduate student has been spent conducting research with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Since February, I have been dividing my time between working in STRI’s Insect Collection in Panama City and traveling around Panama collecting insects. In the Collection I’ve been making an interactive identification key to the 29 currently described Panamanian genera of weevils in the subfamily Conoderinae, available shortly in SCAN. This has been possible thanks to the collecting of Henry Stockwell in the 1970s and 1980s, whose large collection of conoderines contains numerous undescribed species.

Many of the weevils that I’m looking for are commonly found in an oddly specific spot in the forest: perching, facing the ground, on thin, smooth tree trunks in clearings or trail edges. Unlike most weevils, these are very alert and agile fliers, much like a fly – some even look and act like flies!

Hoplocopturus javeti, a fly-mimicking conoderine weevil. See the resemblance? The red patch on the thorax is supposed to be the large red eyes of a fly.

Hoplocopturus javeti, a fly-mimicking conoderine weevil. See the resemblance? The red patch on the thorax is supposed to be the large red eyes of a fly.

When startled (which doesn’t take a whole lot), they usually dart to the other side of the tree and fly away. So how do you catch a weevil that’s pretending to be a fly? Well, by pretending that it’s a fly! I’ve had the most success catching them with a vial by very, very slowly moving it towards the weevil until the vial is over it – any sudden movements before that and it will likely take off!

My quest to find them has taken me throughout Panama, from the cloud forests of Chiriquí in western Panama to the lowland forests of the Darién Gap in the east, with some truly spectacular locales in between.

Twilight canoe trip down the Río Chucunaque on the way to Rancho Frío, Darién National Park.

Twilight boat ride down Río Chucunaque on the way to Rancho Frío, Darién National Park.

Five high-priority collecting sites remain for the rest of my trip (yellow on the map below). From west to east, they are Volcán Barú, Cerro Campana, Cerro Jefe, Llano-Cartí Road, and Lake Bayano.

Map of collecting localities. Red: where I've been. Yellow: where I want to go.

Map of collecting localities. Red: where I’ve been. Yellow: where I want to go.

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