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.

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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.

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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Katydid insects.Tettigoniidae

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Katydids. There are about two thousand species of katydids in the Amazon. They feed on flowers and fruit and are themselves a source of protein to many different kinds of animals.
Just read in Science News that Copiphora gorgonensis katydids have ears below their knees, which are smaller then a grain of rice. They have an eardrum on each leg. Its air pressure on these drums that produce vibrations, that are picked up by sensor cells which detect frequencies. They hear in a similar, but simpler way than humans. How fascinating is that.

Mud Dauber Wasps of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.Sceliphron caementarium.

Wasps of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Hymenoptera.Sceliphron caementarium.

The Wasps Nest.

Tightly attached to one of the trees that formed an archway across the path to the river, was a large wasps nest. It was a big, bulbous nest, that throbbed with an ominous, humming noise.
Mr Monduco, my neighbour, along with a young nephew, decided its close proximity to the pathway made it particularly dangerous and it had to go. I protested, but they insisted.
They gathered together some twigs and branches and lit a fire below the nest, as I stood on the verandah watching. They then took a long branch each and at arms length and with some trepidation, set light to the nest. Having ensured it was burning, they looked at each other, nodded, threw the branches, turned and ran like hell. They hurtled up the stairs, ran past me at speed and flew into a room and shut the door and window shutters. I, shocked at this unexpected turn of events, quickly followed their example.
They looked scared, but hid it by laying back against sacks of manioc, laughing and teasing each other, and frequently checking through a crack in the window to see what was happening outside.
The nest glowed orange as it burnt and soon the papery construction began to fall apart. The few wasps that hadn’t been trapped inside the nest hung around for only a short while, before flying off.
The next day Monduco pointed to a new nest being built high in one of the tall trees. This one they left alone.
The wasps of the rainforest not only built nests in trees, but also single cells made of clay, which they attached to anything that didn’t move: clothing, shopping bags, apples, door handles etc. They also built long cell structures that when attached together looked like flutes. Some built cells that they piled one above the other.
The colouring of these wasps is usually yellow and black, but I did see one morning a beautiful metallic blue wasp fall from a roof timber. It landed at my feet clutching a black spider.
Wasps, like all insects, are a part of life in the forest. Most are not aggressive, but I did get stung on a number of occasions with varying degrees of swelling and discomfort. Strangely it was the smallest wasps that caused me the most trouble, blowing my hand up like a flaming red, cows udder.
A small price to pay for my extraordinary adventure into their territory.
Thanks to Paul of Garden Guests, I now know the wasp in the first photo is a Mud Dauber Wasp, Sceliphron caementarium. It is a non-aggressive wasp,that builds cells out of clay, either singly, or in a flute-like or pipe-like structure.

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Dogs, Rabies and Foot-tunnelling Ticks.

Dogs, Rabies and Foot-Tunnelling Ticks.

I got bitten by a tick that had fallen from the fur of a little dog onto the verandah. I walked on the boards in bare feet, so had picked it up after the dogs visit. The tick had burrowed into my heel, contentedly setting up home.
I was on my way back to the UK, so was flying and the pressure on the planes caused the wound to swell. It was very uncomfortable. On my return I immediately limped to my GP, who was delighted to have something very different to deal with.
He put my heel up on his lap and cut into the swelling with a scalpel, draining out the poison and digging about to ensure nothing of the tick was left, while I grit my teeth and mused on my love of animals. It cleared up pretty quickly after that, but I kept well away from dogs when I returned to Brazil.
I felt pity for them, but as dogs carry rabies in Brazil, as well as ticks and fleas, this caution was necessary.

The dogs I saw in the city of Manaus or town of Manacapuru were often thin and bony with bald, sore areas in their matted fur and could often be seen limping. I saw few strays on the streets, but those I did see were in this condition. I saw not one well cared for, well fed dog being taken for a walk by a proud owner. The reason for this, I believe, is because dogs are seen as animals, able to look after themselves, and not as pets to be pampered or fed with tins of thick meat that locals can’t afford for themselves.
People in the forest sometimes keep dogs as guards, to bark at strangers or warn off prowling animals and snakes. They are often left to find their own food or are given scraps from the table. They will eat absolutely anything……except corned beef and tinned peas. Even people who appear to be quite fond of their dogs are happy to go off for weeks at a time and leave them to fend for themselves in the forest.

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Moths of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. White Witch (Thysania agrippina) or Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata)

Moths of the Amazon Rainforest. Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata) White Witch (Thysania agrippina)

In general moths in England are relatively small and even the big ones are still only hand palm size, so it was with surprise and awe that I come to know the Amazon Rainforest moths.
One particular moth appeared everywhere. It was greyish brown with an exquisitely intricate pattern on its wings. It crept up the wooden walls of my home, sometimes onto the ceiling and I found it in hotel bathrooms,stuck to tiles and oblivious to me showering below.
One extraordinary individual covered two large floor tiles in a hotel lobby. I ran for my camera, having asked the receptionist, broom at the ready, not to touch it. Of course, by the time I got back it had gone, the broom returned to the cupboard and she was sitting painting her nails, a tolerant smile on her lips. I think they saw me as a kind of ‘cat woman’ with my obsession for birds and insects.
In some Latin American countries the Witches are thought to be the bringer of curses or death, but I never heard a Brazilian condemning them with such powers.
The Witches fed on fruit from the forest. Because they can feed almost continually in Rainforests, moths produce fatter caterpillars and therefore bigger adults, resulting in these huge insects. In fact, the White Witches are considered to have the widest wingspan of any moth in the world.
Not all the moths were big, of course, some were tiny. The little black one in the photo could always be seen near the ashes of bonfires, almost blending into the background. The pale yellow and pink moth I found on a table.
Photos taken of moth taken in shower room = mist on lens. White Witch (Thysania agrippina) or Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata)

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