The smaller creatures of the forest

I know I haven’t written a lot lately, just because there was not so much to write about. Of course a tropical rainforest is never boring and in the meantime I have seen the bonobos more often. I’m starting to recognize more individuals and have seen several interesting behaviours, but more about that later. What follows is an account on the smaller creatures of the forest.

Spiders are everywhere, especially in a tropical rainforest. When walking off-trail through the forest, my head often gets caught in the web of a spider. The most wonderful spiders actually live in our camp. The edge of the camp is planted with pineapple plants, which provide us with a good daily supply of delicious pineapples at the moment. One of the pineapple corners is also home to a colony of Nephila spiders. Most spiders build a new nest each day, but these colonially living spiders form huge, relatively permanent structures of several meters in diameter. The spiders also include debris in their webs. At first one thought this debris consisted of decomposed prey items, but actually the debris turned out to be rotting plant material. By incorporating plant material in their web, the spiders in a colony work together to increase the chance of attracting and capturing prey. Another advantage of living in aggregation is the structure itself. Certain bird species have specialized in stealing prey from spider webs and most birds use the silk of spider webs as glue to build their nest. The individuals in the center of the aggregation may be at lower risk of predation or parasitism by birds. Maybe the colony that chose our camp as their base is even less prone to these risks as there are always people around who discourage birds to come closer. In fact, it seems the spiders are encroaching further upon our camp.

In the forest you also regularly find millipedes. Giant millipedes of up to twenty centimeters. I noticed there are several species here. When disturbed, they curl up and wait till the coast is clear. I don’t see as many termites compared to at Bai Hokou, I would say, but you can’t miss the mounds they build to house the colony in every shape and size. Of course there are also less enjoyable critters in the forest. Today while searching for bonobos we crossed a massive trail of driver ants on our path. It can be quite painful when the ants actually follow the trail and you realize this too late. Not so today, we just ran across the moving colony and stamped our feet to get rid of the ones that had clamped to our sandals. As often with variable success. After a while we took back the same trail as we heard bonobos from the direction we came from. With our compass and GPS we tried to estimate the location from where we heard the vocalizations and we realized it would be close to where we had encountered the ants. When we approached the unstoppable colony, we decided to go off-trail in the direction of our guess. Bad choice. After some meters we came across another part of the colony, but this time they were unavoidable. Everywhere around us were ants. We crawled through a thick liana patch, back to trail, but in the meantime both Leanne and I had ants everywhere on our feet, legs, head and everywhere in between. It took us a while to get rid of all the ants on our body. This was my worst ant experience so far in Africa, although I consider myself lucky to never have experienced an invasion of driver ants in camp. Let’s hope I will never wake up with ants everywhere in and around my tent, gnawing on my precious chocolate. A nightmare, when I think about it. Hmm, I think I will put my chocolate in a safer place tonight.

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Lieven in congo

At the moment Lieven Devreese is staying at LuiKotale, a bonobo research site of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the vicinity of Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. Lieven is a research assistant working on habituation of a second group of bonobos and he hopes to get to see some golden-bellied mangabeys as well. Here you can read more about his 10-month adventure.