Tag Archives: gamboa2012

Ant Plants

In Panama with my jungle partner, Peter Marting, I created a short documentary about the strange, symbiotic relationship between Cecropia trees and Azteca ants.

Ants Secret Code – Reveal

Earlier, I posted a video of leafcutter ants claiming that it contained a secret code. Well it’s true! Here’s how to crack the code, and how I encoded my messages in the first place.



The astute observer may take note that the ants carrying leaves only travel in one direction (towards the nest). In fact, this is the entire underpinning to the code. When I presented the puzzle to my lab, the response I got that was closest to correct was from Prof. Tucker Balch who stated that the first thing he would do is “chart the number of leaf carriers visible in each frame over time and look for patterns in that time series.”  Good thinking Tucker!

The first step is to create a signal out of the leaf-carrying ants. To do this, one can simply take the green channel of the image and adjust a threshold until just the leaves are selected. To get more exacting data you could try to apply additional filters like blurs, dilations, etc on top of this thresholding. You can even use professional video compositing software like After Effects and “key-out” the green color. These additional improvements are not really necessary however, you can stay pretty crude.

Next, because there might be some extra foliage around the edges, you will want to crop to a region of interested just around the ants.

Example image targeting just the green leaves from the video.

The video should now be entirely white (255) in areas where the leaves are present, and entirely black everywhere else. I then made a simple script that tallies up all the white pixels (detections) present in every frame, and it saves all this data as a CSV. When I pop open this CSV file in an open-source equivalent to Microsoft Excel, and chart the results, I get something that looks like this:

Ahh, that looks like it might contain some sort of signal. Now’s the time for the cryptographic skills. Your first intuition should be that Andy isn’t that big on cryptography, and will probably just use the first temporal coding sequence that comes to his mind, Morse Code. If one takes the slightly wider pulses to be dashes and the slightly narrower ones to be dots, you can pull out this pattern:

— .  –   -.-.  .–.  .-..

Or translated from Morse->English: GT CPL

The Georgia Tech Computational Perception Laboratory (where I work).

Yay! I also have some additional videos where the ants say a couple other messages like “Digital Media” and, of course, “Hello World.” I even made a special message to the class of my cool Biology teacher sister.  I will post them here when they are ready.

Both videos from this puzzle say exactly the same message, it is just that one, the first video, was recorded further down the stream which gave lossier data, so more human, visual intuition was required.  The reason this data was lossier will be explained below. Additional props go to DM student Rebecca Rolfe who uncovered the unintentional Rebus of the video, “Soon there will be no leaves left” (Get it? Get it? Ants are carrying all the leaves to the right….)


How did the ants know how to communicate this message? Well they probably didn’t.

Earlier in the summer, I wanted to test Leafcutter responses to temporary barriers. It turns out that if the barrier is only there for a short amount of time (<1 minute), the ants will just sort of pool-up behind it instead of walking around (note, this is not true of other ants, like Army Ants).

To get more precise results, I built a simple servo-device controlled by an arduino which was attached to a fluon coated plate. While I was cutting-off, and re-enabling the flow of ants, I realized I could also program this device to send ant-based messages in this fashion. Thus after lots of experimentation, and a long hot day sitting in the jungle with my ant tollbooth, I found a workable formula for sending dashes and dots, and made the servo go up-and-down correspondingly to whichever message I wanted to send.

Of course, I wasn’t 100% certain that it worked until I got back home and analyzed it myself!

Leafcutter Ants Secret Code

The video below contains a secret message:

I’ll reveal the secret and how to figure it out on Tuesday, so you’ll have all of Labor day weekend to ponder.

First one to email me with the correct answer gets a prize (don’t email the whole list- serve and ruin the fun!).

First one to email me with how to arrive at the correct answer gets mild applause 🙂

Hint 1: To work with the video, it may be easier to download it all at once. Just pop the link into http://www.savevid.com/

Hint 2: (don’t use the hint unless you have to!): This video is slightly easier to decipher:

Final Pipeline | Soft Metrics

Last serious trip on Pipeline. What am I filming? The road. Camera pointed down the road. Regular and HDR video.

Could be used for detecting Blue Morphos, but also sitting with and observing this slice through the forrest.


First thought is just boring. Dead forrest with an occasional jungle truck or Blue Morpho. But there are some decent soft metrics one could probably pull from this. This constant, jungle monitoring camera. Daily weather patterns, wind, leaves falling, sounds, tree movement, general movement along transect, traffic patterns.


Chased butterflies. Figured out how to make Hamatam army-ants retreat.

It was a different day knowing that these probes and pokes would be my last.


Thinking about how tracking shots on a dolly look so beautiful because they are a rigid, grammatical way of representing 3D information. Each tracking shot is the temporal equivalent of a gorgeous data visualization.


Thought up a possible full title for my thesis-

Digital Naturalism: Cybiotic Media and Digital Biocraft for Exploration and Dissemination

Ants Love Human Blood | Termite Rebuilding


Let’s hurry up and get some facts down. Quick for memory.

Early to bed. Up at 7:30 but not going till 9. K_____

Just went to cecropia lot for last bits of footage, sugar water testing and termite rebuildings.

Turns out they can rebuild one of these tunnels within an hour.

Long-ish lunch discussing experimental ideas for Peter with Stephen. Back to parking lot. Tested whether ants prefered the taste of human blood over sugar water. They really seemed to like the blood.

Met with Yann returning from San Blas.


Wanted to go to Bambi talk. It’s impressive how organized biologist are in this STRI commune. (http://www.stri.si.edu/english/about_stri/seminars/index.php)

The talk was all booked however. Peter said his roomate wasn’t going, so I subbed for him. Turns out that guy wasn’t actually registered, but when I showed up to the guard guy, my real actual name was on the list. (Of course I didn’t notice that until after I told him I was Willie, got awkward when I told him my real name was andy)

Got a ride in the boat.

Saw Ummat’s talk. One of the best I’ve been to out here!

Came back to record Kenro’s interview, and attend Victoria’s going-away party.

Long Day | DIY BioCraft Talk

6/20/2012 (recorded 6/22)
Long part of 2 day-long day.

Down at 330, Up at 5:30 for canopy tower visit. Saw blue cotinga.


All girls were super tired. They left to go sleep. I stayed in jungle for work. More army ants.

Found em, experimented with them. They were raiding leaf cutters. Pipeline road serves as a decent permanent transect. Elucidates animals corssing through the forrest.

Made it back (walking) around 1:30. Ate changed, prepped for my talk. Lots of mad rushing around. All the parts and projectors and arduinos i needed were somewhere else. The talk was a huge success though! Biologists seem easily impressed by decent presenting and have an impressive enthusiasm for attending these sorts of things. I’ve never really seen anything like it before.



Finished chatting at 6:45. Packed up, went with Peter to eat at 150B. Asleep at 10:45. Decided to donate my arduinos and prototyping equipment for the residents of gamboa. Hopefully they will play around with these things!

Bullet Ant Capture | The Ants Are Here.

Bullet Ants

With Marc Seid’s original plan of lifting a bullet-ant infected log into a container, and having several spotters, we successfully managed to collect and entire colony of Bullet ants! There were some hairy moments but we ended up with a full colony, queen and all!

Once we had them though, it was sort of tricky to figure out next steps. We kept them in the dish but quickly learned they were very strong and could escape most situations. We had to recapture them twice!

Caught 6:30 ride with Vauter to the Rio Limbo area of Pipeline. He drops me off from the truck and says the army ants are around here. He says this matter-of-factly. He drives off, I look down and there is a snakey, unilateral line of an army-ant raid at my feet. There they are.


Walked back to town around 11:00 am. Grabbed a ride with BAT GIRLS to bakery. Spanish was too shitty to order specifics so I just said, “Uno de todo.” Bag of delicious for $7.


Went to 2 talks at Tupper. Great talks. Fun chats after. Sushi and later Partying.

Long days, Do everything



First morning  with official housing again! No longer homeless! Down 3:50 Up 9:00

Huge breakfast, work on robotic woodpecker. More random difficulties in making a portable servo motor behave like a woodpecker than I would have thought. Pays off though.

The Azteca ants respond like crazy! [Update Peter actually published some science about this]

Crazy lunch. Join Stephen Pratt in pipeline for army ant hunt. Find nothing. Great hike however! Go back home to the ridge to film our captured bullet ants. Watch fight club and write script for cecropia documentary with Peter. Get back to 150 to film bat girls experimenting with bat. I set up camera array and do my custom calibration technique. Since I’ve never actually worked with many multi-cam tracking systemes, I just dance in front of the cameras shouting numbers for long enough to hope that something i get is usable. Hit bed at 2:45.


Technojunglier | Shave a Tree

One of the biggest stressors faced by the Technojunglier is losing equipment. I find that 90% of things I lose actually stay with me in some form. Usually they are just hidden in nooks or lost in areas of quick decision placement (like when rain strikes).

It can be interesting when a seemingly innocuous peripheral is lost, for designing its replacement / or dealing the  consequences FORCE you into the mindset of this article. Forces you to understand exactly what the thing does, and why it was made this way and not that way. Puts you in the role of the thing. [Update thought, oooh what some Object Oriented Ontology up in here from losing things?]


Going hard and strong. Yesterday shot more Cecropia documentary footage. Shaved a tree, squirted it with nail polish remover. The ants seem not to bite as hard these days. For some reason I’m a little freaked out that I may be developing a tolerance to their venom. Walked to grab lunch. Paid cinco at a shitty shop. Pesco de seca. God it’s disturbing ho much more you viscerally recognize a person as more human, more like oneself when you understand what they say. Perhaps people of different languages should be barred from opening their mouths upon meeting. At least for a while. Can only share more universal communication like pantomime, gestures, or tones.

After lunch struck out for the interior jungle to do my Morse Code ants experiment. Insects, rain, and darkness crept in as I toiled, absorbed in my prototype. Decided to leave via a through-the-jungle route. Poor, ultimately adventurous idea. Blockages, flooding, disorientation, fatigue.


My cosmic guiding forces lead me to a steep viney bluff covered in garbage. I crawled up up and emerged muddy, with visible stink rays, in the back of a dinner party in the backyard of someone’s vacation home. It was across the street from

[end of entry]

Morse Code Ants

Did ant-based morse code today.

Example image targeting just the green leaves from the video.

Ended up being a far more interesting project than I had thought it would be. At first, merely considered it a rote exercise in one of the most basic digitally augmented interactions I could place in the field. Servo with blocking door + Arduino.


But when actually doing it, performing these actions for hours with the ants, I flooded myself with new questions and concepts. Did not count on this.


1) This project features a time-dependent blockade. This is quite unlike anything these ants would experience in nature. Some sort of living creature, like an animal or plant, crossing or lying in their path could block the ants for a short or extended amount of time. This middle ground, the semi-permanence of blocking on-and-off with a regular frequency, seems unnantural.


2) What should be used as a signal? Presence or absence of ants?


3)What temporal limitations are there? Better data would come from longer blockades, but the more permanent the block, the more likely the ants will be to start a new route altogether. Short pulses give lossier data due to differences between ant walking speeds. Different limitations are also caused by different types of ants! Different limitations can also occur due to time of day, the mood of the ants, or the density of particular castes of ants that happen to be forming the current trail.


4) Factors affecting signal. -Traffic jams destroy data—> releasing too many ants before a critical junction (such as when the ant path turns to climb over a root) stop the clear sharing of information across a path. Cleanest signals come from smooth, already formed paths. The basis of this type of sinalling is that the ants move continuously with an average speed and density. Now that I think of it, these factors should be true of any signalling media, from semaphor to fiber optics. They all must have irregularities which do have some sort of impact on our communications, but so much effort has gone to quash these effects that we view certain systems (like fiber optics) as perfect models. Doing this experiment exacerbates communication problems not found much more in our high-speed data transfer systems. These ants bring the signalling quirks to the foreground at macroscales.

This can be thought to model the larger, metamessages in our new society. Not the direct, instant messaging we have mastered, but the social filtering and wide-dissemenation that we are still working on streamlining.

Serendipitous City Partying | Collecting TreeAnts



Stephen Pratt arrived today. Just as super nice and helpful as always! Bought and brought me waterproof boots and got Peter some extra collection vials and SD Cards.  Right now, they are out dealing with headquarters in Panama City. I’m out all day in the field.


Last Saturday|

—————— went with Ummat into Oleoducto and 3D filmed some chubby ants. Found a gargantuan bee crawling and flying.  Thought it was a tarantula at first. Back into town at 1. Relaxed with other scientists by sneaking into the hotel’s luxury pool featuring a swimmup bar and hot dogs.

Feeling euphoric all day. the jungle was misty and brimming with creatures. Went to catch the 5:30 bus into Panama City. It fails to show. Taxi man pulls up, says bus is broken. I say I don’t beleive him. We haggle until I get an $8.00 fare for the 50 minute ride to the city. I wander serendipitously into Casco Viejo (the part of town I was meeting our friends). Fantasmo BBQ tuna was served off the balcony of a crazy apartment. Ginger and Coconut Ice cream to follow. Dance so hard that everyone in the club stops to cheer me on. Seriously.

Down 4:10 Up 9:00  Slept on roof. Came back on bus with 88 people and 22 seats.


Power nap and then Cecropia filming with Peter.

Decide to look at cutaway for filming. Leads us to WANT TO COLLECT a live colony. First try with just cutting a tree open in the parking lot. Went poorly.


Ants everywhere. Pain (annoying pain) everywhere. Lost the queen.

2nd try was more thought out: Chop Tree at base. Toss into truck [andy has to hold in truck with barehands -not as well thought out of a part]. Race home. Layout sheet on ground [Andy waits for Peter to get sheet while holding swarming ant tree-again not as well thought out]. Chop tree into small bits on the sheet. Cut off leaves. Wrap in sheet. Toss in garbage bags. Toss in mini-fridge for 1/2 hour to calm them down. Pull out one stick at a time. Run downstairs to other sheet. Cut up. Aspirate into tefloned bowl.




Went to talk on Barro Colorado Island (BCI). Apparently huge river systems, like the Mississippi or Chattahoochee basins are now more of humongous highly controlled public utilities. Scientists, regulators and politicians fight to adjust flow metrics in specific parts. It’s weird coming to panama to hear a whole speech about the Chattahoochee.

Camouflage and Aposematicism

Digital-rewriting note: I appeared to be quite tired and scrawled the past few passages on the back of my journal


So some things like octopodes have algorithms which take in environmental imagery (somehow) and adjust their appearance to match, in terms of what other things are able to see. From what I and lots of predators like me can sense, these factors include Color, Texture (visual and spatial), Movement, Shape, Ambient light patterns.

Question: do some animals that want to be seen have similar algorithms but just invert the output? That is, do animals possessing controllable aposematic coloration or movements secretly also have the ability to be quite well camouflaged? Does an octopus that has the best ability to completely blend with its environment also have the ability to be THE MOST NOTICABLE THING IN SIGHT?

Peter and My favorite insect! Big hairy bee with crazy green eyes!

The question of course isn’t just simply, invert the output, but also how to invert the output and what particular aspects. It would be a fun experiment to put video goggles on a squid which show the environment, but have color filters that alter or invert views of the world.  Would an octopus seeing inverted colors draw itself as an inverted octopus?


he’s thinking: a key to artistic and academic success seems to be focusing effort onl on big, interesting problems

Is this shit stupid ^  ?


Work yourself to death then take a (pensive) day off. Sleep makes you superhuman.

Hi-Low Density Field Research




Went to field with the bat girls along pipeline road. First time out here in the evening. They were disappointed. The intense rain is maybe keeping the bats in hiding. Caught about 8 bats in the evening, all AJ’s and some other species name that starts with a soft C? Both are wicked fruit-eating bats. They sometimes look cute and fuzzy, sometimes the visual description of evil.


——side note, earlier today two evil dogs chased me around town earlier today and one tried to bite, until I brandished my tripod like a giant clobbering club——-


I’m intrigued and sort of horrified at the amount of work put in by these field biologists, and how little quantitative data is retrieve. This data is quite low density, they probably only take in a couple hundred bytes of information per hour. Unfurling and setting up tangled nets in the middle of the dark jungle every evening in order to get a few dozen bytes seems insane. This must hint at the values of the overbearingly-dense qualitative data beaming into the field biologists at every moment; for if this wasn’t extremely valuable, this type of research could not continue. The high-fidelity collectors and analyzers already built into the scientists have to be doing the most powerful research in the field.


While waiting around for bats, the girls asked me about what exactly I do, and what my research is about. For someone in the early drafting stages of his PhD proposal, this was one of those on-the-spot questions that can be tricky to elaborate on. It was super useful for me to chat about it. I busted out a (what I thought was pretty) well-formed history of the media theories building up to my Digital Media program, my research in computer vision, and how I planned to tie digital performance studies to digital behavior analysis.

A thesis seems like one of those things that makes more and more sense, the more and more you talk about it. Everytime you let those words out into the air, and they solidify into the past, you polish away the layers of bullshit that you were previously worried your arguments rested on.


Note to self: being a digital designer, I need to not worry when I’m not doing digital things to their uptmost-when I’m not exploiting the medium as well as possible. Instead, consider what factors are pushing me to do the opposite, or sub-optimal. Like why am I writing this diary in pen and paper? Think about all the reasons why. Diminish the annoying feeling of not being as digital as possible, just analyze one’s activities as effectively as possible.



Heavy rain, taxi down canal, smooth salsa on radio “Vamos… Vamos.. un otra vez.” Feeling sleepy. Pick up others. Smooth temperature. Wearing button up shirt. Feel like a god.

Cameling Mutant Carrot Cake | Embodied Thinking | Dual Infinities


Up early. Getting up early isn’t hard out here. There is no, “uuuhhhhggggg, what time is it”-sort of feeling, more of just an urgent realization that the sun is up, and that lots of things in the jungle will only be visible for 12 more hours.

Ate Kristina’s weird mutant carrot cake for breakfast. Pretty screwed up as far as carrot cake goes. She accidentally put in 4 times as many carrots and was terribly undercooked, then put back in the oven and burnt. It tastes like eating spoonfuls of mushy carrot covered in raw egg. Probably not a good idea for breakfast.

Caught a velvet ant. Looks so cute! Stings like crazy! I was lucky not to get hit!

Body has acclimated to jungle life. Am no longer leaking water as constantly. Still am mentally camel-ing food whenever I get the chance though (hence the carrot cake mutant). Out with Ummat in jungle to old Gamboa Road. Found Ummat’s machete lying in the jungle; look super badass.

Abandoned leaves from Leaf Cutter Ants

There’s an ant that lives in the trees and uses its wide head to glide. This might be that ant.


Yesterday thought about phenomenology (I’m like the bomb in “Dark Star”). Though about situated practice. Its light and dark sides of accelerated, biting design, along with the inescapable, hyper-fixated, animalistic concentration on narrow parts of broader pictures. I contrast this sort of thinking, done with one’s entire body stuck, mounted, in the problem, with the disembodied reasoning possible in the lab or at home. In the disembodied thought, you do battle with the infinite possibilities of the mind. With a situated design, you fight the other infiinity, the unending complexity of the real world space. Kundera describes these two infinities in  The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

According to him, the first infinity that man fights is that of the physical world. Exploring, voyaging, probing. Then as we mature, we explore the second infinity of ideas. For me, however, I feel the reverse. As a child, I would learn about things in books, and explore these ideas constantly as I churn them over in my head. Concepts like “Army ants can wad up in masses and float in water” would intrigue me, and I would think  onto other aspects of this concept like surface tension, and how long an ant can hold her breathe. Then when someone discusses this topic, I would have an internal feeling of, “oh yes, I’ve been there. I’ve explored that concept.” But now that I am pushed up against the actuality of these sorts of ideas, I find that the idea and implementation (while not dissimilar) are utterly different experiences. The concepts still apply, the ants do hold each other and float, but the reality is a whole new area to explore. Also, I feel that it’s not just a deeper, higher-resolution set of concepts, but a different way of experiencing and thinking.

Early prototyping to see ant trail reaction to quick changes in heat.


Another note: It seems that e need 1.5-2 feet minimum distance for the GoPro 3D to converge correctly. Will do tests with Narrower 1080p option to boost subject pixel quantity at this distance.

Interviewing Ummat about his work

Jungle Techniques | Crafty Frog Lab


Caught another early ride out with Ummat to Pipeline. Victoria, a noctural bat person, surprisingly shows up to join along at this early hour. She’s leaving soon and is trying to get as much different Panama experience in before her time is up. After years here, this is apparently her first time down pipeline road (the main jungle research access point) during the day.

Whatever it is that makes me like all the other animals is missing from birds for me. Just don’t care about em that much.

Monkey Stole My Lens Cap

Hiked back down the Frijole to recheck Ummat’s new sites. Found a tiny group of wasps building a nest under a broad herbal leaf. The nest is quite tiny and unfortunately 3D.  Filming scenes like these are difficult. The jungle is much darker than one ever realizes. At least the lighting is controlled. Realized the leaf was swaying slightly, and my plamp came in handy to anchor it in place. Will have to remember this trick for filming the ants on the Cecropia trees.




Went to the Summit Zoo to meet with the frog biologists. Got a terrific tour from Angie.

All their various housings for the adults, polywogs and eggs were beautifully handmade.  I was most impressed by the amount of work they put in raising food for the frogs. They keep incredibly rare (one frog was the only known specimen of its species), and sometimes sick frogs. Thus, they strive to keep a broad variety of mealworms, springtails, crickets and other insects to keep the frogs in the best health. The variety is also useful when they find a new species and aren’t even sure what they eat.

Saw anteaters and jaguars, but Peter refused to come along so as to not  “ruin his eyes” with captive versions of the creatures he hopes to spot in the wild. Of course, next to the Jaguar cage a 6 foot viper came out that Ummat and I chased around  a bit trying to collect pictures. After that sprung the largest Iguana I had seen.

Each tank had a little card deck giving mugshots of the inhabitants

One point in the day I accidentally reached back to scratch my back and realized that it’s all just falling off. Put sunscreen on back before snorkeling next time.



Ate second dinner with Susie, Emilie and Ummat after fixing up broken equipment and building a cast for Ummat’s potentially broken foot.

Trees Don’t Twist | Homeless in Panama

Cecropia Rotation Tests
Late night early morn. Race the sun, setup at 9.
Used chair trick learned from last night’s flower-carrying Leafcutter recording to make my tripods taller. Ran across Ummat and his bugs this morning. A group of adorable panamanian 8 year-old girls were interested in what he was doing with bugs, and helped him take down data. Adorable.

This picture should probably be on the cover of every recruitment brochure to go to Ummat’s college.

Setup was tricky as anticipated. Paint pen works well on leaves, but only if they are dry. A single drop takes a paint pen out of commission for 2-5 mins. Compass shows the sun rising in the west. Confusing.

Realized after starting that I setup the shots in the shade and need to drop the exposure for when the sun comes out.
Just now realized that I set my sitting/equipment tarp over a leafcutter nest. They are nicer than they look. I’m worried about the stability of the tripods. Shouldn’t worry about anything, this is paradise…though the stakes are so high to do something REALLY COOL and I have SO LITTLE TIME.

Need to do at least one fun thing with a microcontroller. Talked with Marc Seid, he pointed out that a golden experiment to hit on in science would be getting an insect to self-administer. This means, you can get ants addicted to morphine, but getting them to perform a task where they learn that morphine is the reward is something that has not yet been done.

10:55 Am
Been nearly 2 hours. Am starting to think that Cecropia trees do not move their leaves. Found lots of weird hemipterans with Ummat.

Had to pack my stuff up last night and surrender the key to my room. I’m now officially homeless in Panama. Supposedly I will get to move in with Stephen Pratt et al when they arrive in 5-6 days.
Found a strange insect yesterday. Was too attracted to my camera to snap a photo. Her legs are held top and bottom like a Tie-Fighter. Bright blue. Tiny Wings, Hovers. Moves like a quadcopter.


End of the Road

Ummat gave us a ride as far as we could go on pipeline. The goal for the day is to walk back in order to make it to the talk at 4pm. 11-12km down the road, trees had fallen across the road from the storms last night. Saw Howlers, Filmed. One had hideous growths coming out of its neck. Ummat says that it’s bot flies.

Saw first (and ultimately only) Coati walking down the road. These creatures must not have good vision, or their cognitive processing is far more overloaded by smell. It walked up directly to us sniffing around, and it seems that it only turned to run, once it actually caught our scent. Same reports were heard from ummat the day before about his coati experience.


Hiking with Peter and his dad. Those two seem to have the sweetest relationship. Adventuring around together and having a blast. Testing filming ants crawling on cecropias. Trees seem to be the cleanest spots to film in the forest, but pose other interesting geometrica challenges.


That smell coming from the Azteca ants has been disturbing us with its familiarity. We nail it down to the smell of nail polish remover, or acetone. I wanted to film the Azteca’s defense response, but they had already been provoked. Their response seems fatigued. Perhaps it needs to recharge?

So many blue morphos flying about, forcing realizations that yes, one is in a wonderful jungle paradise. One actually lands on me and hangs out for a while.

Someone says that cecropia trees actually move throughout the day. We discuss tracking their movements via time-lapse.

I kept petting what I thought was a nice fuzzy leaf stuck to my kneepad. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Early Up the River

Made a jungle message to send to Kitty


Got an early morning ride with Ummat and Yann. Went to Rio Frijole on pipeline road. Peter had explored this area earlier and tipped Ummat off to groves of helaconia trees. Takes 20 mins of river walking to get into the growth. Ummat finds his hemipterans on these plants. Males and epsecially mating couples are the prized catches. He forgot his net and so uses his fast, determined hands to snatch bugs off the strange fruit.

He goes on my shoulders to catch the high- ups. I begin to think about capturing basilisks on video and walk into knee-deep mud pit. There’s something special about practiced bug hands; this is a skill I want to master.


I find a sandy bank colony of Atta (leaf cutter ants); perform some scent testing experiments. See if squashed abdomen juice will draw ants near. Results seem unclear. Stephen Pratt later tells me that smashing up ant abdomens isn’t quite the same as them delicatley mixing the right cocktail of foraging pheromones.


I hear a manakin bird cracking and try to chase the sound into the jungle, but it gets unmovabley thick.

Peter’s Tent-Making bats chew a leave and make a little tent for themselves.


First Day Off

First day “off.” Bringing my equipment with me anyway. Victoria (who seemingly serves as gamboa’s social liason) set up an incredible trip. Bus to coast to boat to island (the island is maybe not an island, just a hard to get to penninsula). Entire day of fun!

Day kicks off with spotting a sloth handing on electrical wire. Snorkeling shows tube worms and barracuda. Drunk scientists get nuts. There is a deep fog of sexual tension pervading the social environment of these expatriated researchers. The quick blossoming relationships that develop between them make it feel like Junior High. They all cook fantastic food! Yann whips up crepes on the beach, fresh coconut drinks abound, and hot new cookies pop out.

There were very sad looking parrots on the way back, and one really drunk guy on our group who kept hanging halfway out the boat.

I did a lot of people launching