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Posts tagged ‘Panama’

Tropical Field Biology – Panama: Days 4 to 6

The combination of a busy trip schedule and variable internet access is stretching out the frequency of blogging and posting photographs. Hence I am providing only an abbreviated three-day summary at this point.

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Systenotelus stockwelli in focus

This morning I had an opportunity to revisit an interaction that was part of my graduate thesis research; i.e. the reproductive association of Carludovica “Panama hat palms” and acalyptine weevils in the genus Systenotelus.

Carludovica plants are members of the Cyclanthaceae and are common along roads and trails in and around Gamboa, Panama. The development of the flowering process is short (essentially lasting 24 hours) and highly predictable – one can observe an inflorescence’s spathes opening and detaching during the night prior to the main flowering event. Having spotted one such plant yesterday night at the “Frog Pond”, I arrived at the fully opened and extended inflorescence of C. palmata at 5:30 am on the following morning.

Sometimes, especially in open habitats where Carloduvica plants receive high sun exposure, leaf-cutter ants and stingless bees will find the inflorescences early and cut off the staminodes, thereby reducing the attractiveness of the inflorescence and intensity of the weevil-attracting scents. This was not the case with this inflorescence, however. Likely more than 300-500 weevils pertaining to four acalyptine species arrived during this morning. I managed to record about 2.5 hours of close-up weevil feeding and reproductive behavior under very good conditions. A short 1-minute video (shot with a point-and-shoot camera) is posted here.

Of primary interests to me was filming the behavior of Systenotelus stockwelli – possibly for the first time. Presently three species are recognized in the genus Systenotelus, of which S. stockwelli is the smallest and also that which most closely resembles weevils in the related genus Perelleschus in terms of general shape. However, unlike Perelleschus, Systenotelus weevils a not pollinators of Carludovica, and instead of primarily feeding on the fleshy red pulp, the larvae are seed predators. Hence the evolution of Perelleschus and Systenotelus marks a transition from weevils being largely beneficial to being detrimental to the plant’s reproductive success.

Only about 15-20 individuals of S. stockwelli arrived at the inflorescence, at least 30 minutes after other species of Azotoctla, Ganglionus, and Perelleschus had arrived. Both females and males of S. stockwelli are quite active in the first 1-2 hours following arrival. I was able to observe and film multiple instances of feeding, probing and drilling oviposition sites, mating attempts, copulatory courtship, mate guarding, male-to-male conflicts, male-to-female conflicts, and oviposition.

In the next few days we hope to find more inflorescences of C. palmata around Gamboa, and also dissect fruits which contain the weevil larvae (mostly of Perelleschus, according to initial samples). We are also looking for other weevils that can be observed feeding and reproducing at sites that can be carefully observed and recorded on video.

Evening update. I revisited the inflorescence after 8 pm today. The staminodes were on the ground and in a state of rotting. Only Ganglionus, Perelleschus, and very small species pertaining to an undescribed genus (though often identified as Phyllotrox – which is not typically on cyclanths) were present, in lower numbers, and not on the surface layer.

Tropical Field Biology – Panama: Day 3

Brief updates from a busy third field day in Gamboa. The daily routine is settling in. Accommodations are spacious and comfortable, and the Schoolhouse meals are excellent. It has been very humid and overcast since we arrived, with significant afternoon rains and occasional rains at night. The new environment takes some getting used to but is becoming more familiar each day.

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Tropical Field Biology – Panama: Day 2

Day 2 – early morning update. Select pictures will be posted in the “Panama 2014” album on Flickr, linked here.

This morning we proceeded farther down the Pipeline Road, to the 5.8 km stop – Río Limbo. Dale located a young fer-de-lance snake right along the riverbed. Toucans and iguanas were also sighted. More photos of plants, animals, and the expedition group are coming on-line. The spectacular caterpillar in the featured image is likely a species in the saturniid moth genus Automeris Fabricius (resembling A. zugana, but the genus is diverse). The branched cuticular projections are not pleasant to the human skin.

The afternoon lecture gave us an overview of the climate in Panama in a global context. Around 3 pm it started raining cats and mice – good time for some down time in the Schoolhouse.

Tropical Field Biology – Panama: Day 1

Our Tropical Field Biology – Panama 2014 course is officially underway! Eighteen students arrived yesterday at the Tocumen Airport, some after lengthy travels. We picked up our transportation late in the evening and proceeded to the Gamboa School Building. There were welcome sandwiches and coffee/tea waiting for exhausted but happy travelers.

After a good night’s rest and the first (hearty) Panamanian breakfast we started exploring the rainforest. Our first, short but impressive destination was the nearby Pipeline Road, a storied lowland rainforest trail into the Soberanía National Park. It took us about 2 hours get maybe 0.5 km into the trail – a testimony to the forest’s diversity and our excitement. Heavy rains started around 12:30 pm. This was our signal to return for lunch.

The first of about 10 course lectures is starting in the afternoon. Topic: Tropical Biodiversity & Biogeography.

I will post and link to pictures periodically.

Night update: After dinner we split up into two groups; one driving towards the “frog pond” near Gamboa, the other returning to Pipeline Road to look for frogs and arthropods. Highlight of the night: the pictured tarantula which was perched on the wall of a small storage shed by the trail entrance gate. Possibly this is the species Psalmopoeus pulcher Petrunkevitch, 1925. It is also known as “Panama Blond”. Both scary and beautiful, and a fitting end to our first day in Gamboa.

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.

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Franz Lab in the field – summer 2014 plans

The Spring 2014 semester is ending and plans and actions are underway to collect beetles, moths, and other insects in throughout the U.S. Southwest and in Mesoamerica. Here is a quick rundown of lab members, field trips, and dates for the hopefully productive summer of 2014. Post still in development.

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New course announcement – Tropical Biology Panama – June 2014

Dale DeNardo and Nico Franz are offering a new, advanced undergraduate course “Tropical Biology” in the summer of 2014. The course is scheduled to take place from June 07-27, 2014, on location in Gamboa, Panama (Canal Zone, Soberanía National Park). It is part of ASU’s Partnership program with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Interested students can contact Dr. Franz, and should also follow updates on ASU’s Study Abroad Office website. Below are links to two pertinent PDFs and a general text introducing the course.

Update – November 26, 2013: We now have an official SAO Web Brochure for the course at https://studyabroad.asu.edu/?go=TropicalBiology. Students can apply using this link.

Update – December 04, 2013: The course is now officially SAO approved, with a course program fee set at $4370. The Flyer has been updated. On-line applications now possible via the SAO link above.

Update – December 06, 2013: ASU’s Study Abroad Office has a comprehensive summary page regarding student financing options – Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants, Community-Based Funding, etc. – for participating in the Tropical Biology course. Students are strongly encouraged to explore this resource and/or contact SAO directly to learn about specific financing options. More information on this soon.


“This new faculty-led Tropical Biology course takes what students have learned in the classroom setting and allows them to expand their knowledge by becoming fully immersed in a field environment. While the field site is a tropical rainforest, the educational value goes beyond tropical biology as students are exposed to topics that broadly integrate ecology, biodiversity, evolution, behavior, and physiology, including but not limited to species diversity, adaptation, biogeography, conservation, and human-wildlife interactions. Even the most complex laboratory environment and design cannot come close to matching the complexity of the tropical forest and the educational stimulation it provides. Students who attend this course will receive a lifetime experience and therefore concepts and skill sets covered will be embedded in their memory.”


Update – June 28, 2014: The trip to Panama has ended successfully. See Tropical Field Biology – Panama 2014 in Review.