Raquel and I were busy having dinner after a good day’s work, when a large beetle crashed into our table. We didn’t recognise it, but upon consulting Celso Godinho Jnr’s field guide of Beetles of the World, we found it to be a fine example of the Flat-faced Longhorn beetle, or Taeniotes subocellatus of the Cerambycidae family.
It was first collected in 1792, making it the second discovered Taeniotes beetle, as named by Guillaume-Antoine Olivier, one of Frances most prestigious naturalists in his own important reference book.
This species is found as far north as Guyana in August / September coinciding with the same month it came to us for dinner.
Michael Patrikeev, a long-standing friend and supporter of REGUA, sent this amazing photograph of stingless bees, Scaptotrigona xanthotricha, also known as Yellow Mandaguari. Along with this explanation of the behaviour taking place:
“This species, restricted to the Atlantic Forest of the south-east Brazil, inhabits primary and mature secondary humid forest, where it builds nests in cavities and crevices in trees.
The image shows the bees guarding the elaborate structures at the entrance to their nest. These structures, resembling tree fungi, are made of wax.
Note the claw marks below the nest on the left. These bees are known to produce a good quality honey, and perhaps some mammal raided the nest earlier.”
This is just one of the multitude of forest species protected in REGUA. Each piece of information we find continues to reinforce the importance of the work which the REGUA Team and its supporters make possible.
The Mantis Project is made up of Brazilian biologists Leonardo Lanna, Savio Cavalcante, João Felipe Herculano and designer Lucas Fiat, who are very keen on insects.
They met at UNIRIO University in 2015 and soon discovered that there was no-one studying the impressive Mantis order, Mantodea. There are over 430 genera and 2400 species divided in 15 families worldwide and they believed there could to be many in the Atlantic Rainforest.
Leonardo and his friends got together and started their first field trips in Valença a town in the South-West of Rio State and the following year caught an undescribed species, a first for science. Their primary interest was not in just finding and identifying these amazing creatures but also raising Mantises, showing people that these insects are not dangerous or life threatening but beautiful, gentle creatures that indicate the quality of the habitat.
With their increased passion the Team started to work at Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Garden. They submitted a project to National Geographic in 2016 and received the funding to research the State of Rio and increase the list of the 12 genera already known there.
However, Rio de Janeiro state is very large and their study varied from sand dune habitat known as “Restinga”, Mangrove habitat to the lofty “Paramos” or sedge growing waterlogged habitat found at close to 2,600 metres above sea level in Itatiaia (two hours drive west of Rio city) where temperatures fall below zero at night in the winter.
The team also included REGUA in their research and arrived to stay at its field station in December 2017.
One mystical Praying Mantis is the Dragon Mantis, Stenophylla cornigera described by English entomologist John Westwood in 1843. It resembles depictions of miniature dragon and the young biologists had never seen one. Imagine their delight when on the first night, an example arrived at the REGUA light and they could see it in full detail.
The overall research revealed another nine genera taking the total Mantodea list in Rio de Janeiro State to 21 genera, of which 15 have been found at REGUA.
Leonardo says that REGUA is at an elevated level of habitat protection. Perhaps the significant area of remaining forest cover, full altitudinal gradient and low demographic pressure all influence but the fact is that as an indicator species, Praying mantises reveal that the REGUA conservation project is working in the right direction.
Dr Adrian Spalding, president of the British Entomological and Natural History Society in company of Devon’s Marsland reserve director Gary Pilkington visited REGUA in search of insects and birds last October. The weather was not helpful being hot and dry, so together with Jorge, REGUA’s resident lepidopterist, we headed for a night’s “moth trapping” at Bel Miller’s house in nearby Macae de Cima.
The weather at that point changed and a light drizzle started. Bel had mentioned that the weather had also been dry so the rain was most welcome. Before dinner, Gary set up the light and whilst we had our meal, we could see the moths homing in. Dr Adrian was up and down and taking photographs of species that converged by the light. Jorge patiently placed examples of Hawkmoths for identification and send mouth-watering photos to Alan Martin, co-writer of REGUA’s publication “A Guide to the Hawkmoth of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil”.
A multitude of Silkmoths, Tiger moths, Hawkmoths and other micro moths as well as other insects attracted by the light and humid weather came in droves and Adrian said that this must be “the best night EVER I have mothed!” Gary was similarly delighted, his head covered in moths busy taking photos.
A superb Giant Silkmoth visited, Rothschildia hesperus (Linnaeus, 1758). Occurring from Argentina to South USA, this is a canopy rainforest species found from sea level to 1400m. It has a wingspan of 10-12 cm and the male is larger bearing transparent triangular windows in each wing. Females have more rounded wings than males. The adults do not feed, for after mating and laying eggs, and their life’s function is fulfilled.
Dr. Adrian and Gary were in their element. Who wouldn’t be, covered in moths !!
Michael Patrikeev has been working on the identification of species he found at REGUA during his stay and has more news for us.
“I have identified another species for the reserve this time it is a giant black-blue spider-hunting wasp, which has very likely been seen when it was busily looking for its prey in the forest understorey. The size is impressive, 50-55 mm, and its sting is very painful, apparently scoring 4.0 on the Schmidt sting pain index, next to the bullet-ant (4.0+).
The species is Pepsis inclyta Lepeletier, 1845. It is “commonest in southern Brazil to central Argentina, but ranges over most of South America” (Vardy 2005).
Walking the 50km of trails at REGUA is fascinating for birders and naturalists alike. Altitudinal range spans 30 – 2000m and there is a richness of invertebrates and plants to match the diversity of birds that draws the majority of visitors to REGUA. All classes of arthropod are present in abundance and there are many interesting patterns of distribution waiting to be identified and investigated.
REGUA’s lodge garden has a roofed, whitewashed wall complete with mercury vapour lamp generating many new records of moths for the Reserve and for Rio State. The wall often reveals a wealth of other interesting invertebrates such as this Dobsonfly (Corydalidae). Many of these creatures are difficult to see in the forest probably because they are residents of the tree canopy.
In the forest there are chance encounters with exciting species such as the White Witch Moth (Thysania agripina) Noctuidae with a huge wingspan.
December to Febuary is the Brazilian summer and usually a hot rainy season and time of maximum plant growth. This is, of course, an excellent time for all insects and amphibians. Whilst August to November is the Brazilian Spring and busy for birdwatching, it is also good for insects. Only March to July are a little quieter.
There is a profusion of wonderful butterflies. Some, like the 88, (Diaethria clymena) are very common. The most famous neotropical butterflies belong to the Genus Heliconia, with their distinctive strap-shaped wings and bright colours. These insects were shown to have co-evolved with their food plant, the different species of passion-vine (Passiflora). The vines put out new shoots irregularly and the butterflies must live a long time to be able to search out new growth and lay a full complement of eggs.
Another spectacular group of insect are the various species of huge Morpho butterflies which flit through the forest under-storey.
Diptera are interesting and diverse. There are three common sources of food that can provide for a profusion of flies: dung, carrion and some species of freshly emerged fungus. Parasitoid ichneumonids and tachinids search out the larvae of butterflies and moths whose living tissues they will feed on until they finally cause their death.
Ants are predators, roaming leaf and shoot for opportunities or different species will farm leaves with the help of fungus.
Spiders must guard against predatory wasps and some of these are very large indeed.
Beneath the placid exterior of the forest, termites work to undo the conversion of CO2 to sugar; every now and then a crash is heard acr
oss the forest as another giant tree succumbs to their tiny jaws.
There is much work to do to find out how many species of arthropod exist in these rich habitats. We are only in the earliest of stages investigating how all these myriad species interact in Mata Atlântica.
REGUA received a visit by the eminent biologists Dr. David Redei and his colleague, Dr. Qiang Xie from Nankai University last December. Working in partnership with Brazil’s Fiocruz (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation) and invited by Dr. Felipe and Dr.Elcio, they spent a day looking at REGUA’s insect life.
David and Qiang are working on phylogeny using morphological and molecular characters used in establishing taxonomic differences. David is classifying insects according to tribe, family and genus. Their interest in South America is evident once one knows that the continent has its own endemic and specialized insects. David’s specialty is Hemiptera or Stink bugs, but he became very excited to learn that REGUA has its fair share of Phloeidae, a family existing only in the Neotropics of the Atlantic rainforest. These are barnacle like insects that can be found mainly lurking on tree trunks in quality forest.
Now we will keep our eyes peeled to photograph and send images to these fascinating visitors. Thank you both for visiting and sharing your interests with us!
Tiger beetles are always exciting to watch as they prowl about searching for food before flying off like a jet fighter to disappear out of view.
They have characteristically large bulging eyes and large mandibles for crunching up their food.
Tiger Beetles come from the Cicindelinae family, originating from the Latin word of Glow worm since most are brightly coloured. Whilst this example looks similar to a Limestone Tiger Beetle, it is one of many different Cicindela sp.
Stick insects are enigmatic creatures, blending into the forest which often makes them hard to see but then surprisingly obliging in the hand. Their Portuguese name is bicho pau or branch bug, from its mimicry of brown twigs. They often waver from side to side, again mimicking the movement of the twigs around them.
The 3,000 species, found mainly in the tropics, are from the Phasmatodea order (they do look a little phantasmagoric) and the Phylliidae family (leaf insects) feeding mainly on leaves. They play an important role in the breakdown of organic matter.
They are not easily noticeable, but our nurseryman, Jailson, has a keen eye for something out of the ordinary and brought this example, which he found in the nursery, into the REGUA Conservation Centre. This particular species is referred to locally as ‘guava stick insect’, named after it’s preference for these fruit. As you can imagine this one foot long insect caused quite a stir with the students present on a course, and after climbing on a few human hands and being subjected to a number of photos, we returned it to a safe place, tucked away back in the nursery.