Brazil-nut Tree…‘Castanheiro do Para’ Its amazing reproduction system.

Brazil-nut Tree…‘Castanheiro do Para’ (Brazil)

Brazil-nut trees are huge. They can reach over 200 feet/30 metres high. They dominate the forest and are protected by law from cutting down. They grow in pristine forest, necessary for their complicated reproduction system.

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At the very beginning of the reproduction system the Brazil nut tree needs an orchid and a bee.
The orchid bee (Euglossa) collects nectar from the flowering Brazil nut trees. These specialist bees have a long tongue that can open the flower.
As they collect nectar the bees spread pollen from tree to tree fertilising the yellow Brazil nut tree flowers and thereby the fruit…the nuts.
The male orchid bees attract females with the fragrance from a particular orchid. The larger female orchid bee pollinates the Brazil-nut Tree.

The nuts, that we know are the seeds of the tree, which are enclosed in a large husk similar to that of a coconut. The shell is rock solid and needs to be opened with a sharp machete to release the 8 to 24 seeds, so how does it get opened in the wild?
The answer is the Agouti. A large rodent with razor sharp, chisel-like teeth. The agouti eats some of the seeds and takes off others to bury them for later. If some of the seeds are forgotten they will eventually germinate and grow into new trees.

Brazil-nut husks ready for opening. The empty shells I used as plant pots and holders.

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The Brazil-nut Tree needs a bee, an orchid and an agouti to reproduce. It needs pristine, untouched forest for these conditions to be met. Deforestation, even if the tree is kept in place, can affect anyone of these conditions so that reproduction cannot take place and we lose a magnificent tree as well as a delicious food source.

Amazon Giant Water Lily…Amazon plants, Brazil.

Amazon Giant Water Lily.

The Amazon Giant Water Lily has a fascinating reproduction system.

The white female Lily opens at night. A beetle, the Scarab Beetle, covered with a dusting of male pollen,is attracted to the strong, sweet perfume of the female flower and moves in to feed on the nectar. In the morning when the sun rises and the temperature increases the flower closes and some of the beetles are trapped. They continue to feed on the nectar throughout the day, distributing male pollen on the lily as they do. This results in the white female flower turning pink and become male. At nightfall the now pink male flower opens, the beetle is released covered with a dusting of male pollen and it moves onto another white female flower to begin the whole cycle again.

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The reproduction system of this flower and other flowers and trees in the forest are held in a delicate balance. Disrupt this balance and the whole eco-system collapses and we will be the losers.

Travel Tips for travellers to Amazon Rainforest, Second Part. Insects…natures little blighters.

Travel Tips for travellers to Amazon Rainforest, Second Part
Insects…natures little blighters.

“How do you cope with the insects?” I was often asked. Practically, is the answer.
Mosquitos are not such a problem as I thought they would be. I rarely got bitten. Along black waters, mosquitos are few or non existent. They can be found more often in areas of high density, towns and cities, then in thick forest.
I did get attacked though, by either mosquitos or bed bugs, during my second visit to Brazil. They went for my eyes as I slept in a no-star hotel on the outskirts of town. When I got up in the morning, I found the world looked a very different shape. I viewed it as if I were looking through a letter box. I went to the bathroom to wash my face and stepped back in horror. My eye lids were white, shining and hugely swollen and stretched, like a Buddhas belly. My eyes, buried in the slits, were barely visible. I spent several days hidden, day and night, behind a pair of dark sun glasses, until the swelling went down.
What I did have more of a problem with was the tiny Black fly. Especially visible in the afternoons, when I was relaxing with a book. They hovered in front of my eyes like tiny black full stops. Often floating into my eyes or up my nose, they left me red eyed and sneezing. The flys didn’t bite or burrow, they were just too familiar for comfort.
My solution was to cut up an old mosquito net and hang it from a wide brimmed straw hat. This solved the problem of the fly irritating me, but trying to read a book through a haze of nylon was impossible, so I gave up.
Another problem was wasps. I received a sting one evening, while eating at the only lit area in the forest. The light attracted a variety of flying insects, mostly beautiful moths, but also wasps.
Large, with black and yellow striped, curved bodies, primed and ready to strike, they buzzed danger. The sting I received was on my ear lobe, and it hurt. Immediately a lemon was halved and my ear was wiped with it and held in place. I was told to expect pain and swelling for several days. The next day, nothing. No pain, no swelling, no visible evidence of the spiteful creatures revenge on me for swiping it.
I did get stung by some smaller wasps, however, and the pain and swelling were extreme. My hand was swollen to twice its size. It was hot to the touch and sore. The skin on my fingers was stretched to bursting. My hand resembling a cows udder, throbbed painfully at the end of my arm for several days, but eventually went back to normal without medication.
The forest is full of biting, stinging, sucking insects. Many of these insects are beautiful and fascinating, but at all times it is necessary to be cautious and avoid touching.
Mosquito deterrents and insect bite cream are all useful. Malaria preventives are essential.

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This tiny ant along with termites can give painful bites and cause swelling. Avoid.

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Most wasps like this mud dauber are harmless, but some can give painful stings and are best avoided.

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Spiders are best kept at a distance. Some like the Wandering Spider can kill. The Tarantula here will not kill, but if disturbed can cause intense irritation with its hairs.

Butterflies of the Amazon Rainforest. Part Two. Swallowtails and Pierids.

Butterflies of the Amazon Rainforest. Part Two. Swallowtails and Pierids.

Butterflies are exquisite creatures, simply breathtaking, but they don’t obey the rules of beauty. They can often be found in the strangest, ugliest places.

Swallowtails are beautiful butterflies that come in a variety of colours, from a jet black with either scarlet or emerald edging to soft turquoise with black edging and many more. Their hind wing has a tail-like projection that gives the butterfly its name.
They feed from the nectar in flowers, but could also be found on the perfumed soaps we used for washing up. An ugly backdrop of tatty steel pads, worn brushes and scruffy sponges only accentuated their delicate, extraordinary beauty.
They also came and settled on my hands and arms when I sat by the river. Taking moisture with their long black tongues or proboscis and tickling my skin with their three pairs of cotton-thin legs.

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Pierid butterflies were also attracted to the washing up equipment left by us on the harbour decking. They often came in flocks.
Small and pale yellow/yellowish-green in colour with tiny eyes on the wings, the pierids resembled European Brimstones. They feed on nectar in flowers.
Apparently Pierids were called the ‘butter-coloured’ fly by early British naturalists, thereby giving these insects their common, collective name.

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The proper name for a flock of butterflies is a swarm or rabble. How strange…can’t think of a worse description for creatures of such delicate beauty.

Zebra Butterflies. Visitors reach my Blog with question,’Is the Zebra found in Amazon?’

Is the Zebra found in the Amazon rain forest? This question leads people to my blog. The answer is no, no zebras.
But, there are Zebra Butterflies. Beautiful butterflies with a taste for melon.
The Zebra Heliconias (Heliconius charitonius) are black with cream or white stripes. They eat pollen and sip nectar from passionflower plants, which makes them mildly poisonous to predators.

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Butterflies of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Morphos, Zebra Heliconias, Postman and Owl butterflies.

The Amazon Rainforest contains two and a half million species of insects. Some of them belong to the beautiful and large order of insects, the Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths.

Butterflies have three stages of development from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis. Many of the caterpillars in the forest are poisonous or have hairs which can cause intense irritation. See the second stage here in this poisonous caterpillar.

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The body of the butterfly is divided into three parts..the head, the thorax and the abdomen. The legs and wings are attached to the central area, the thorax.
The most noticeable thing on their heads are the large eyes…clearly seen in the female Morpho photo.
Male Morphos (Morpho menelaus ) have iridescent, laminated wings of a rich turquoise blue, sometimes edged with black. They are stunning, large, butterflies which seem to float on air. They are breathtakingly beautiful.
The female Morpho is dull in comparison, but with a certain charm and incredible eyes.
These butterflies sip juices from rotting fruit.

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Butterflies feed on flowers and each species favours particular flowers. The Heliconius feed on various kinds of Passion flowers which makes them mildly poisonous to predators. The bright colouring of their wings sends out a visual warning that they will be unpleasant to taste. Some other nontoxic butterflies mimic the colouring of the Heliconius for protection.

The Zebra Heliconius (Heliconius charitonius) is black with cream or white stripes. They eat pollen and sip nectar from passionflower plants.
I cut a piece of water melon, which they were partial too, just so I could watch them.

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The Postman butterflies (Heliconius melpomene-also known as Longwings) are black with striking red markings, again to warn predators off. They feed on nectar and also pollen from Lantana or verbena, Hamelia and Palicouria. This one was attracted to the plastic container in which I put decaying food used for mulching plants.

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Owl butterflies (Caligo memnon),so named for the large eye-like markings on their wings, use a different method of protection from predators, who seem to find the eyes on their wings confusing and off putting. They may also use the ‘eyes’ to draw away attacks to their heads.
Owl butterflies feed on Heliconia and Musa (includes bananas). Their main predators are small lizards.
Fluttering under the house in the late afternoons, they had to avoid the large Tegu and small Ameiva lizards that lived there.

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A fascinating fact: The Passion flower plant uses mimicry to deter predators, just as some butterflies do. Butterflies will only lay their eggs on clear, pristine leaves, free from another females eggs, to give their caterpillars a good start in life. The Passion flower, to deter this and prevent all its leaves being eaten, produces mock eggs on its leaves and stems.

Insects of the Amazon Rainforest. Grasshoppers, Katydids & Leaf/Plant Hoppers.

Insects of the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil.

There are a multitude of insects in the Amazon Rainforest and I do believe I have met most of them personally.
They hum and chirp, buzz and sing constantly, a sound that merges into a rhythmic beat, like a heart beat, that goes on all day in the forest. Occasionally the heartbeat stops dead…..absolute silence reigns for a few seconds. Then it returns and you wonder at the insects timing. How do they do that, all going silent at once?
Insects also bite and sting, nip and suck. Most of the Amazons insects have evolved spiteful ways to protect themselves and so they are best left alone and avoided by visitors, but not by photographers and scientists and the curious ie me.
One morning I was watching a sparkling, jewel coloured fly on my hand. It was swept off by a friend who told me the fly would lay eggs under my skin, which would grow into caterpillars and eat me. Well not all of me, that would be a challenge to even the biggest animal, but certainly a small area of my body.
Here are a few which are harmless. See Mud Dauber Wasps for those that sting.

These Grasshoppers are just three of the two and a half million species of insect in the Amazon Rainforest. Grasshoppers come in a range of colours, from a dull greyish-brown to a more common green or to something more vibrant, a rich emerald green and mustard yellow.
Grasshoppers make their calls by scraping the inside of their back legs against hardened areas on their wings. Each species, of course, has its own distinctive call.

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This Waxy-tailed Leaf-hopper ( or Plant-hopper), is a showy insect. It’s waxy tails are probably used as a defence mechanism, attracting predators away from its head. If snapped off they regrow.
These insects drink sweet juices from plants and trees using their proboscis.

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The Katydid here is clearly seen on the woven grasshopper, but on a bush it would be virtually invisible. It even has the veins of a leaf marked on its body to enable it to blend in with its environment.
There are some two thousand species of Katydid in the Amazon. They feed on flowers and fruit and provide protein to many animals and birds. See Tettigoniidae for a fascinating story about these insects.

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This beetle was photographed by accident. I was taking a photo of the flowers and didn’t notice until later that I had caught it in the frame.
I have no idea what it is, only that it looks quite extraordinary…like a raspberry with legs, a friend said.
That’s the Amazon Rainforest for you, full of surprises.

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