Big BCI Day: Part II – Glowing Night

Daan and I make it back to the main labs on the island to meet with Courtney. I chat with her about her research with Leaf cutter ants and computer vision. We were supposed to meet in the lab, but suddenly before my arrival, the ants decided to get moving, and she had to hurry up and capture their activity in the field. She wants to see the effect that an additional cache of leaves will have on the Atta’s foraging. That is, she sets a big pile of pre-sliced leaves next to a foraging trail, and sees how this changes what the ants will do who are marching up to strip the trees. She wants to see if their response to this cache will also be affected by the blocking of more ants returning with leaves.  The idea is to see if the ants in a colony will start using more of the close by piles of “leaf-reserves” if the incoming stream of fresh leaves dries up.

She blocks ants returning with fresh leaves by placing  large U-shaped hunk of mesh over their path which lets ants through but not ants carrying large leaves. This ingenious intervention preserves their same pathway on the ground but just prevents the fresh leaves from getting drug in.

On the way up to visit her, a playful group of spider monkeys play in the low trees just a couple meters above our heads.


We eat and see that night’s BAMBI talk and then gather participants for a special BCI version of the firefly game. A good amount of people wimp out, but we have an awesome group of super cool people joining anyway! This time we play in a slightly more urban environment. I thought it might be too easy in this format (not in thick jungle), and that this might break the performance/game. In reality, however, these more open spaces (yet still very dark) create a very compelling, fun game. In fact, since the fireflies themselves don’t have to deal with the drudgery of walking through tangled vines on the forest floor, and instead float effortlessly about, this part of the simulation may fall closer to the real experience of the fireflies.

The main things that keep breaking in the game were the solder joints on the wires (especially in the mouth pieces). This is also the first time we wore the costumes on our ventral sides which reduced the amount of times you would get unknowingly snagged on things.

After a couple of rounds we recuperate in the visitor’s center before hiking out with the group into the woods to hunt for luminescent fungi. It is tricky to find because in the light there is absolutely nothing to see- No mushroom body, or slimy growths. You have to let your eyes adjust, and suddenly, what you thought was a speck of light filtered from the moon down to the forest floor grows brighter and brighter. Soon you see that the ground is littered with sticks and leaves infested with the fungus.


We set up the camera and take a couple of long exposures. Really long exposures. The glowing is very faint, so we crank the camera open and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour at a time.


Meanwhile we set up these amazing tents called “Hennesee Hammocks.” They are fully covered, uterine-like sleeping devices. You string up these sacks between two trees like a normal hammock, and stand underneath. Two velcro lips open on the bottom and you are able to sort of reverse-birth yourself into the sack, and it automatically seals behind you.

I drift off to sleep while the camera seeks out photons from the fungi. The tent/hammock surrounds me, a mosquito prophylactic, that still gives the full pleasure of immersion in the jungle.

(these tent things are prone to flowery euphemisms)