3 June cont.
There are an entirely different type of termite nests in the area, too. These are aerial nests. Built in the trees these appear as a giant ball of mud, about basketball sized or smaller. The termites construct mud tunnels from the tree down to the ground where they forage for food. The great thing about these is that the entire nest can be collected, unlike the ones built on the ground with vast underground chambers. When you collect an entire nest you can look at the proportion of solders to workers, etc. Additionally there are many types of insects (called termitophiles) that will live in nests with the termites, and these are of special interest for two main reasons: First, some are found only in association with termites and no where else. Secondly, the other insects are essentially wolves in sheepís clothing and the mechanism by which they cloak themselves (be it mechanical, behavioral, or chemical) is important to understand.
We drove back and found ourselves near a rubber tree plantation. Lots of aerial termite nests were to be seen, so we picked a low one and headed over. Two people held a trash bag against the tree while another held it open. Dr. Houseman reached up and with a mighty tug pulled the nest down, placed it in the bag and then scraped and aspirated the rest of the nest inhabitants into the bag. No big deal. The whole operation took maybe 7 minutes. Noone got dirty or even broke a sweat. Easy.
So we wonder to the next one. A little higher up, A grabs a drum they poor latex into and Houseman climbs up. We all stretch and position the bag. Now Dr. Houseman is the second tallest person weíll meet on this trip. Heís about 6 foot 4 inches, not a spindly man either. His mighty hands grasp the nest, a great heave, and... nothing happens. He tries again. Nothing. I honestly believe he could have done a pull up and not even budged it! So we break out the ax and start chipping away. About 20 minutes later dried mud is flying everywhere, the bag is catching most of it, another heave, the main nest flies, Houseman leaps from the drum, makes a mid air catch, and we have another nest.
The third wasnít any easier. I was showered with dried flaky mud, Houseman was literally causing the entire tree (about 14-16 inches thick) to sway. We finally got it down, Collecting three entire nests is excellent. Concerning how we go them down, well, we call it the "Houseman Technique".
In the car, we race like mad men back to the city. Why? Food of course. I forget if I got to shower before or after, but we went and got Muslim Fried Chicken. Bob knows food in Thailand, and there is a particular lady with a particular stand where you can get the best Muslim Fried Chicken in Thailand (according to Bob, and he may be right). I got a piece, it was pretty good. We went shopping for souvenirs and then made it back to our rooms.
But donít forget, Houseman has three garbage bags full of live termites, etc (multiple thousands in each). What ever shall he do? Well, there is a technique called floating where you toss what youíve collected into a bucket of really salty water. Freshwater floats in salt water and living things are mostly fresh-ish water. So when you toss a pile of dirt, leaves, and bugs into salt water, the living things float and everything else sinks (mostly). You skim what you want off the top and dump that into alcohol. Below are pictures of floating and the aftermath.
We load up and head to a beautiful lake with a waterfall near by. We have lunch in a gazebo built over the lake and there is a boardwalk out and along one edge. The dragonflies are thick, but we donít have permission to collect yet, so I take pictures instead. Black Beauty is here, and quite abundant, and so is an amazing brown winged species, of which I had only collected one. I was able to get pictures from 4 and 5 inches away.
We finish lunch and get permission to collect. We decide to collect the waterfall first. I get pictures of a beautiful caterpillar, some pretty flowers, and of course a staged... er, I mean, REAL photo of Bob actually working.
We head back to the pond and it is dead. Almost nothing is flying, Iím fighting to get common species, 30 minutes of collecting and I never once see the brown winged dragon! NOT ONCE! I was mad. I got 4 Black Beauties, and some other nice specimens, but it just goes to show, never go anywhere without youíre net!
The next stop was another waterfall. No collecting for me, too many people. Looking for water bugs in the falls, I slip and almost go down, but correct and survive. I got a picture of a nice frog in some moss.
We make a stop at a huge termite mound built around a tree. These termites are different from what weíve seen before. The solders are yellow, and when they bite they extrude some sort of yellow goo from their mouths. Here is a picture of a solder and a worker side by side.
There was another mound a few yards away in the field so we took a whack at it, and collected some termites there too.
Here is a picture of the solder with spit. (I would like to add that the insect was maybe a quarter inch long, moving, I have no tripod, external flash, or skill with a camera. I love technology!)
The main defense system of termites is their nest. If the nest is breached they are essentially helpless. Solders are used to protect the workers while the hole is fixed, but cannot be used to hold off a long sustained attack. We only took a little whack out of this mound and after only about 15 minutes they had nearly repaired the breaches. This isnít the best picture, but the solders are yellow, protecting the workers and the darker mud lining the holes is all new. Some of the smaller holes (mid and lower left) are already closed.
A very good day of collecting, we head back to our rooms. Remember I mentioned that I was trying to raise dragonflies, but had so far failed. Well, I had three dragonflies in an extra room and when I checked on them I noticed that one larvae had crawled out of the water onto the side of its container. And I saw a wisp of white on its back (when an insect molts it sheds its old breathing tubes, and Iíve collected may exuviae with just such white wisps). I snap around and look for an adult! There he is, a beautiful little male gomphid hanging on the wall, pretty as can be. So I have succeeded in raising a single Thai dragon! Another very good association for me. Thanks to A for getting the larvae.
Well I know you are saying to yourself, "Thatís all well and good Mike, but where are they really good pictures, the spectacular photos that make you look twice, look again, and leave you with nothing to say but WOW?" Well, we went out shopping again that night and took a taxi back home. These are open air affairs built somewhat like small trucks with entrance and exit through the back and bench seating on the sides of the bed. Whilst racing back home through the streets of Hot Yai we found ourselves in the company of three young ladies on a motorcycle. Their route was ours and after a little while nods, smiles, and waves were exchanged. I took two pictures of them. The first didnít turn out, but the second is one of my favorite pictures of the whole trip. I apologize for its reduced size and quality.
End of a wonderful day.
We were scheduled to leave for a trip today, but one of our number fell ill, so it was postponed till the next day. My group suited up and headed out to collect. Our first stop was a beautiful waterfowl preserve. Thick mud and thin water stretched to the horizon. They had boardwalks built out into the "swamp". Lots of little birds scurrying around.
The head guy wasnít there and we didnít get good permission to collect, so we walked around. The dragons were so thick I got a halfway good picture of one on the wing.
We ate lunch at a roadside restaurant and I got a picture of a water buffalo skull hanging on the wall.
We went to a big national park and got a good map of it. A told the man at the information desk he was frightened to go to any waterfalls without a guard station. So we found out which falls didnít have checkpoints and immediately left for the nearest one. Not much new was flying but I got almost all that I saw. The second one Iíve seen, this is an immature semiaquatic cockroach. They look something like the Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
And I got another specimen of an old friend! A much better picture, this Dobsonfly (genus Neohermes) was happily sitting on a leaf for me.
Are you ready for the next picture? This picture ranks right up there with the girls on the motorcycle. Ten Bees (Bee-Line). I was walking against the bank looking for emerging dragons when I saw these guys setting on a limb. The picture is perhaps 2 or 3 times natural size. One of them would fly in and try to squeeze between two others. This would cause one to drop off and try to find a place to land between two others, resulting in one dropping off, etc. They were kind enough to let me get to within a few inches to snap some photos.
We headed back to campus where we had been staying and sampled a nearby pond in the failing light. I had already sampled it before by myself so I got pictures of bats. Not much color and a little lacking in detail!
Dr. Bruce Barrett arrived today. The tallest guy on the trip, 6 foot 6 or higher. He is scheduled to take a tour of many places near the Malaysian border (where there have been many killings recently). So we will make sure to get a picture of him tomorrow for the scrap book.
Early to leave on the morrow, so got some much needed rest.
The promised picture of the crew. If any name is spelt correctly it is merely by mistake. Back row from left to right - Dr. Houseman, TangOn (formally DaNong in my logs), Bob, Dr. Barrett, Me, and Dr. Surikai. Front row - Akekawat (A in my logs). Dr. Barrett will be going on his own trip, but the rest will be companions for the next few days.
We stop by a waterfall thatís no good for bugs, but Dr. Houseman grabs some termites. Lots of driving and its lunch time. The restaurant we stop at is very nice with lots of birds and animals caged all around. They had the cutest ducks, little tiny things with a singsong voice rather than a quack.
Plus I got a picture of this guy. I believe he is a Lineated Barbet (I finally picked up a book on Thai birds).
We stopped at a small stream where I got this guy, who may (or may not) be new to my collection. On the drive out we find a road killed (what may be a) cobra.
He head back and catch up with Dr. Houseman and Company. He is collecting termites of a different breed, these have major and minor solders. The major solders are quite impressive and deliver an impressive bite.
I got a picture of a big leaf on the ground as we were leaving.
One last stop for the day this is a beautiful stream which pours from the forest into a large clearing. Not much flying for me, but everyone had fun. Rain threatened and retreated the whole time we were there.
We load up and stay in a very nice hotel. I take care of specimens and hit the hay.