The Study Abroad Newsletter

The Biodiversity of the Jungle

Marleena Shefeld
Pontifca Universidad, Catolica del Peru, Peru

During my year abroad in Peru, I had been ify about visiting the rainforest because I was so content in Lima and was more interested in spending time with my friends than traveling, but my trip to Tambopata in the Amazon was completely worth it. I loved everything about it the enveloping heat, the verdure, the smell of clay rising from the forest floor, the broad river and the boats and the mud plains; The intense and varied calls from birds and insects day and night. The jungle harbored much of what I thought to be Hawaiʻi’s vegetation, and much else besides, so it was fascinating to see familiar plants in what might have been their native habitat.

My primary interest in the region, however, was its status as one of the biodiversity capitals of the world, with particular regard to insects, and I was certainly not disappointed. The short walk from the dormitories to breakfast yielded pink-eyed grasshoppers perched on leaves, butterfies with translucent wings, membracid nymphs crowded on leaf veins, giant ants, giant weevils, giant fruit fies, fuzzy bees farming leafhoppers, and so much more. I was bitten by an attractive assassin bug and adorablefies (easy to photograph once attached) and I almost caught a tarantula. Our guide took us for a night walk crawling with giant wolf spiders and groups of termites loudly chewing dead wood (and our shoes, if we were not careful), as well as fuzzy katydids, scorpions, and the infamous bullet ant whose bite induces an 8 hour fever. I took pictures incessantly, and the only downside was that just before the best part of the trip the Tambopata National Reserve my phone died.

In the end this was fine because I spent more time actually observing and enjoying my fnds. I have clearly etched in my memory the caterpillar with the pelt of sleek fur and the mock white feather sticking out of its rump, the shield bug dressed in army camo, the butterfy whose green wings actually glittered, and the well disguised tree mantis seemingly made of porcelain. I had loads of fun showing these tiny (and sometimes disturbinglylarge) creatures to the other tourists and watching them goggle at what they might never have seen because they were not looking. It was altogether a most fulflling trip (except for having to speak English), and I hope someday soon to return to the Amazon and its amazing arthropod populace.