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  • Bernard Black

Vampire Academy: Part 2

Updated: May 9, 2019

Derrick saw a lot more than just bats in Panama. Most bats eat insects and there were a lot of them there!

"If there's one creature that screams 'rain forest' to me, it's leaf-cutter ants. These ants spend the day cutting leaves off trees into small squares about the size of a postage stamp. There are trails all across the jungle of thousands of these ants carrying this foliage to their nest. Underground they use the leaves to fertilize a fungus that makes up their actual diet. They have agriculture! They are also fairly hazardous because if you stand on their trail, they go up your leg and their cut can cut easily. This one was gently swept off my neck by a colleague on night while mist-netting."

"We found this large spider eating a cockroach between documenting the bats. The cockroach was about an inch and a half long so that gives you an idea of the size of the spider. Most of the spiders I saw were much, much smaller than this. Their eyes have a shiny surface on the back of their retina and the grass would almost sparkle if your headlamp hit it right."

"At the beginning of the week we had a safety meeting about the various dangers in the area. There were a few species of venomous snakes and there had been a jaguar spotted recently, but the scorpions were the biggest concern as they were a lot more common and a lot more likely to seek out your boots to hide in. The also glow under blacklight and no one is certain why they developed this party trick though there are several theories."

"Aside from the vampire bats, this was the species I most wanted to see: bullet ants. They have one of the most painful stings in the insect world. According to one of the researchers I spoke with who had been stung, the pain and accompanying fever can last up to twenty-four hours. They are about two inches long (as you can see next to my tissues) so they were much easier to notice than the leaf-cutter ants. I regret that I didn't get any better pictures of them, but I was a little afraid of getting much closer!"

You can see more of the pictures from this expedition on Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation Blog and a few more of Derrick’s photos on his Facebook page.

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