2-24-19: Learning about caterpillar and host plant identification, as well as some leaf cutter ant lessons!

Today, at 5:10am, most of us woke up to the noise of howler monkeys - sorta cool, sorta annoying.  But, this is for sure immersion in the experience, so it is part of the whole package!  In the end, we had to get breakfast by 6:30, as we were starting our day at 7:30, so off we went!
After breakfast, Dr. Dyer took us out on the trail to give us both a lesson on caterpillar identification, its host plant identification, as well as how to extract the sample back to the lab.  
But, as Dr. Dyer said, part of the beauty of field work is, while you are trying to find a particular thing (for us, caterpillar shelters that they build in leaves), on the side, you'll find something else amazing:  in our case this morning, we got a whole lesson on leaf-cutter ants!
So what I learned today is that leaf-cutter ants do not actually eat the leaves they are collecting.  In their underground nests, it is lined with fungi that they eat, and they are collecting the leaves to feed the fungi!  I took a video of them moving with the leaves (with Dr. Dyer talking in the background of identifying caterpillar shelters) - check it out!
But then, of course, we found caterpillars!  And then once we bag the caterpillars, it is a regimented, but necessary, process.  We must
1.  Mark the date
2.  Mark the species of tree we found the caterpillar on
3.  Mark the species of caterpillar (if known)
4.  Mark the trail and marker (where we were) when we found the caterpillar
5.  If we find more than one caterpillar per tree, we can put them in the same bag, but mark it as such
6.  Adding fresh leaves for food.
By the end of the morning, we had over 20 bags, and we went back to the ambient lab (open to the air, so is like being outside), and in the afternoon we did "zoo":  taking care of the caterpillars to see if they either pupa into a butterfly or moth, of if a paratisoid emerges out of it.  We will be checking on the "zoo" every day, cleaning out their houses (because their poop, "frass," is crazy abundant and messy) and giving them fresh leaves every day.
And of course, we saw lots of animals, and had lots of photo ops.  AND...a happy 18th birthday to Drew!!
Enjoy, tomorrow we go canvasing for caterpillars!