…We had reached the top village, we had sifted great quantities of Wasmannia-free leaf litter, and we had learned the local lore about the Kakamora dwarf people that lived in the forest and granted magical powers to those with the prowess to catch one. Meanwhile, the full week of wet shoes and socks was causing our feet to disintegrate at an alarming pace.
The day’s hike back down to Hauta village had been excruciating, and keeping one’s balance going down the muddy track was even more difficult than climbing it. We had gotten a few small myrmicines that we thought might be Lordomyrma, but instead turned out to be a variety of Vollenhovia species. Vollenhovia, like several other genera, has diversified into a remarkable number of species in the Solomons.
Another genus that was always thrilling to find was Leptogenys. True army ants do not occur on the archipelago, so other ground dwelling ants have done their best to fill the empty “insatiable marauder” niche. A few different species of Leptogenys manage an earnestly believable impersonation of the real deal, and strong rivers of the ants are occasionally seen streaming across the trail, cascading into ever smaller rivulets until the frontier of their trajectory is a wide wash of scrambling chaos. The species below, which I believe is undescribed, was found nesting under a stone. It wasn’t Lordomyrma, as I had hoped for, but the find did afford me a brief respite from the foot agony.
I hadn’t given up on Lordomyrma, though, and plucked up the courage to spend an hour collecting the banks of a small stream near our lunch stop. Every step felt like stepping on coals, but stream banks always seemed to be a good bet for Lordomyrma in my trips to Fiji and New Guinea. Although the little beasts were not to be found, there was an impressive colony of Pheidole (pictured below) that was nesting between the cracks of the stone river bank, spewing forth hordes of minors and majors while victorious huntresses filed back with all manner of arthropods wriggling between their mandibles. The sheer numbers and vigorous activity of the species reminded me again of the absence of true army ants, and the gaping ecological niche that a particularly enterprising species might get a piece of.
I went barefoot through the jungle for the last day of the trek out. The occasional sharp root or twig or leaf was preferable to the sensation of socks rubbing against the exposed under-layers of raw skin. Walking barefoot through the jungle is usually not the most advisable undertaking, but in the Solomons one at least has the comfort of knowing that no poisonous snakes lurk coiled by the trail. The going was rough, but we made it to the river in time to catch the canoe down to the mouth, in time to catch the truck back to the sleepy town of Kirakira.
Of all the stones we turned over, of all the logs we hacked to bits, of all the forest litter we methodically sifted, we ended up with one solitary single worker of the Solomons’ Lordomyrma. The little ant now rests safe and sound in an insect drawer, its DNA having been digested and digitized. I’m fairly certain that if I hadn’t gone barefoot that last day, the jungle would not have granted me that true token of reward. Getting the good things in life takes a little sacrifice.