11 Astounding Arthropods You’ll See at BugShot/Belize. Plus, a Zombie Fungus.

As you may know, I teach photography workshops. We’ve got an outstanding one planned for September: BugShot Belize, and since we have a handful of registrations left I thought’d I’d mention a few prime reasons to attend.

Jack Owicki with a new amblypygid friend during the January workshop.

And by “reasons”, of course, I mean the wonderful biota you’ll spend the week admiring.

[register for BugShot Belize]

1. The pill millipede. Bother this adorable pink millipede and she goes into turtle mode for several minutes.

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(update: it turns out this is even cooler than a regular pill millipede)

2. Glasswing butterflies. Temperate North America doesn’t have anything like these delicate insects, and their translucence is a sheer delight for photographers.

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3. Cave hammock flies. Larvae of these small, slender flies have an unusual lifestyle. They live in the darkness of Belize’s limestone caves, hanging long silk hammocks along the roof of a wet cave. To feed, they drop sticky lines to catch stray insects that stumble around in the dark. We’ll see them during our cave expedition.

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4. The furry-jawed longhorn beetle. You’d think the fuzz would make this beetle’s bite more of a hug, but alas. I tested it, and won’t be doing that again! Still, a fun photographic subject.

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5. Ant-mimic spiders. Not all the ants you see are really ants. Some are true bugs, some are flies, some are mantises, and a great many are spiders. This Synemosyna jumping spider looks and moves so much like its model that in the field I didn’t realize it was a spider until it dropped from a silk line.BugShot3

6. The Hellgrammite. Bigger than you’d think, but easy to photograph in our studio aquaria.

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7. Army ants! These apex predators are common at the site of our workshop, as are the many guest beetles that live in their colonies.

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8. Swollen-thorn acacias and their faithful guards. Another iconic tropical ant common on the grounds of our workshop is the famous Pseudomyrmex acacia ant. These feisty insects live in the plant’s hollow thorns and clean their trees of pests and weeds. The system also host the world’s only vegetarian spider, which I have not seen but hope to find in September.

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9. The madonna weevil. Tropical forests are rich in plant diversity and even richer in the insects that eat the plants. I could have chosen any of zillions of plant-feeding beetles to illustrate our #9. But, how could I pass up such a spiky weevil?

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10. The blue morpho. Perhaps the most famous tropical butterfly of them all.BugShot4

11. Amblypygids. No arthropod looks so fierce as the tailless whipscorpion, but in fact these animals are harmless, gentle, and extraordinarily photogenic. We’ll see them during our caving trip, along with the cave crickets they eat.
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12. The Ophiocordyceps zombie ant fungus. This clever fungus gets into the brain of a living ant and takes over, directing the ant to walk to a site of ideal conditions for fungal growth. The fungus then kills and consumes its host before issuing the telltale mushrooms. I have seen these before, but never so abundantly as in the botanical gardens and trails at our lodge.

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12 thoughts on “11 Astounding Arthropods You’ll See at BugShot/Belize. Plus, a Zombie Fungus.”

  1. I’d probably be most excited for Army Ants and Ophiocordyceps. It would be pretty amazing to see both of these wonders ‘in the flesh’. Bugshot looks so cool!

    1. I’m always excited about the army ants! Not just the drama, but all the little animals that run in the columns. And I really want to put in a proper effort this time to find the vegetarian spider in with the acacia ants. I’ve seen enough Ophiocordyceps that I don’t get that enthused any more unless it’s a rare one- they really are everywhere at Caves Branch lodge.

      1. Depending on where your home base is, you might not have to travel as far as Belize to find Ophiocordyceps (though you should certainly go to Belize if you can). I’ve found probably a dozen zombie-ant carcasses here in southeast Louisiana, and I know they occur elsewhere in the swampy regions of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

        1. Thanks for the observation, Mark. There’s an old museum record of Ophiocordyceps from Camponotus americanus in Illinois, which just seems bizarre to me as I only know it from rainforest, but ever since I learned of that I’ve been looking…

  2. That. Sounds. Like. HEAVEN! I will probably NEVER forget the amblypygid I found in Belize, or was it Guatemala? Anyhow, SO thrilling, SO big (didn’t know what it was, but fell in love instantly). And an owl butterfly as big as a plate. And a FREAKY ant-thing our SUPER-experienced, native guide had NEVER seen before. Can’t wait to hear about it upon your return!

  3. I guess I’ll have to revise my lecture notes – I know nectaring seems common among plant-inhabiting spiders (reported in at least 5 families); even the Vampire Salticid Evarcha culicivora takes nectar (see open access doi:10.1155/2012/898721); and orb weavers ‘incidentally’ ingest pollen when re-eating their webs (interesting cultural bias to assume pollen ingestion is incidental, but small insects caught on the web are ingested deliberately), but I’d missed this Beltian-body-pouncing salticid.

    Thanks – and it looks like yours would be a great short course to attend – but I must protest ‘the world’s only vegetarian spider’. First, it is an omnivore and I’m sure your vegetarian readers are morally outraged. Second, there are no truly vegetarian spiders – but apparently lots of omnivores. Third, in evolutionary terms, and assuming the ants benefit the plant, it is a plant parasite. Still, it is cool and would be great fun to watch.

  4. The pic of Jack Owicky with the amblypigid is the cutest human portrait I have ever seen! Jack is a lucky person! 🙂

  5. For #9, have you seen this paper by Bill Eberhard? I don’t know if it’s the same species but those spikes look very similar to the ones described there.

    Eberhard, W. G. (2000). Size-specific defensive structures in a horned weevil confirm a classic battle plan: avoid fights with larger opponents, Proceedings Roy Soc B 267, 1129–1134.

  6. There are some stories from the 1930s from Clark Ashton Smith – ‘The Seed from the Sepulchre’ a story about an orchid infecting the human brain.

    The malignant plant exists!

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