THE CLEARING

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One of my favourite things to do in Payamino (not least because it requires almost no effort to find cool stuff) is to fix the macro lens to my Nikon and potter around the edges of the research station’s clearing. Interesting finds have included bullet ants patrolling, weevils with noses as long as their bodies, caterpillars masquerading as bird droppings, dark blue pepsis wasps looking for prey, and bootlegged assassin bugs I really, really hope come nowhere near my person.

In particular, though, the disturbance seems to be excellent for grasshoppers. At each step, a volley of them springs up from the undergrowth like corn popping in a pan. Unlike most species we get here in the UK, the majority of species in Payamino featured bright colours- it wasn’t unusual to see a mixture of reds, oranges, yellows and bright, lime green highlights. This year, though, I found a species that completely took the biscuit. Covered in vivid orange and cyan stripes, with big antennae that looked like they had been woven from a basket, they were positively psychedelic.

A pack of them was on a banana leaf, grazing like miniature zebras. Not cutting clean through the leaf, they left behind the thinnest of translucent windows where you could make out the individual scrapes of their mandibles. I started checking on them every day, fearing that their choice of leaf, standing proud at the edge of the clearing, exposed them to too many predators. Happily, most of them made it; presumably because those bright patterns were a warning that they tasted about as good as the copious amount of poo they were producing. A couple of days in, one of two had moulted into greener, duller adults- but they had still kept their orange stripes and cream eyes which looked like they’d come straight out of a chocolate box. What extraordinary creatures.

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