A summer update

Time flies when you’re having fun! This summer has been pleasantly productive thus far, and it isn’t over yet. After 5 weeks in rural New Zealand, I am back in the city running through some laboratory protocols unable to be completed in the field. With some luck, I will be back in the field by April to gather even more data. The field season of our harvestmen can be quite unpredictable, largely driven by the weather. In years of drought, the season may conclude by February, but in wetter years such as this one, adults may be found into May.

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My awesome summer students, Caitlin, Liz, Nik, and myself. Plus Wally, who is an excellent field assistant in his own right,  but not very good with calipers.

Most people can think back to a night during undergraduate study where they pulled an “all-nighter”. Modifying one’s daily schedule to coordinate with the nocturnal nature of the study species is something that many field biologists grapple with. Beginning your work day as the sun sets can be a bit jarring at first, but soon you fall into the new programme: harvestmen by night, sleep by day. And if you’re up to it, you can squeeze in an adventure in the afternoons just for fun.

We did several day hikes around our main field site, a private farm and native forest  indefinitely protected by a trust (check out the photos above and below). We also explored Marakopa Falls, Marakopa beach, Mangapohue natural bridge, Ruakuri natural bridge and track, Piripiri caves, and even went black water rafting in the infamous Aranui cave. Waitomo has a limestone kaarst landscape, which means that in addition to the beautiful native forest on the surface, there are countless cave systems to explore below. Further, you see many limestone boulders at ground level, which makes this area very attractive to climbers and boulderers. We often share our field hut with spelunkers (people who go into caves for fun) on the weekends and I’ve learned so much about what drives people to enjoy this unique hobby. It turns out that many spelunkers are interested in mapping out new systems and passages on their adventures, not to mention the thrill of squeezing yourself through dark, tight spaces. I am personally most interested by the invertebrate life within the cave systems.

It is the world-famous glowworms that often bring tourists into the caves for the first time. Glowworms, Arachnocampa luminosa, are the larval stage of keroplatid fungus gnats. These bioluminescent insects are not only found in caves, but also occur in the right forest habitat. Pupae and females also glow, but the larvae are most noticeable with their long strands of silk coated with sticky mucus droplets to capture prey.  In fact, the cave guides we met were quite knowledgeable about glowworms, but most failed to know what harvestmen were. When harvestmen do come up, they are only known as an occasional predator of the glowworms. Perhaps a short course in Waitomo invertebrate fauna is in order for the tour guides!

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The endemic black cockroach hunter (Tachysphex nigerrimus) with Celatoblatta sp. cockroach prey


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A lovely male Soerensenella sp. covered in (likely phoretic) mites. These are short-legged harvestmen, in a different suborder than the long-legged harvestmen I work on.
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Male Lasiorynchus barbicornis, the giraffe weevil. These endemic beetles are found over most of New Zealand. My cosupervisor Chrissie Painting’s PhD work was on this fascinating system (https://chrissiepainting.com/)
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Time for a close-up! A giraffe weevil male at 5xs magnification.
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Kanuka longhorn beetle, Ochrocydus huttoni. These guys often get confused and end up flying in to the spotlights on the farm house.

Be sure to tune in soon for more information on the experiments we’ve been conducting this summer as I process and analyze the data.

I am excited to have a full line-up of conferences this year including the Entomological Society of New Zealand in April in Whanganui, the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASSAB) in July in Brisbane, Animal Behavior Society (ABS) in August in Milwaukee, and the International Society for Behavioral Ecology (ISBE) in August in Minneapolis. Please get in touch if you’re interested in meeting up at any of the listed meetings.

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