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Upon entering the rainforest for the first time one is often disappointed at first, because nothing resembles what was shown in travelogues, tv shows and Tarzan movies. One needs only close their eyes for a couple of seconds to determine who the real "lords" of the forest are. An extremely complex and sometimes very persistent background noise becomes clear. The chirping of the singing cicada (Cidadoidea) sounds a bit like an evil laugh. Another rustles like gears on a bycicle and other sounds like the drill at a dentist. Singing cicadas are everywhere one turns. They are the loudest musicians in the rainforest, and have thus usurped the birds. In a choir with crickets and grasshoppers they represent the kingdom of the insects, which is by far the dominant animal group in the tropical rainforest.

Ants run around almost everywhere on the forest floor. The Dioponera longipes lives in a hole in the ground where the huge board roots of a kapok tree disappear into the ground. These predatory, centimeter long ants live in a small population of around 100 individuals. They have poisonous stingers that they use at the slightest provocation. Vientiquatro (twenty four) is what the indigenous people call them, since one has to suffer 24 hours of pain after being stung. Ants don't live only on the ground, though. Transporters are busy on a typically smooth tree dragging leaves that are larger than themselves down to the ground. There, deep in the ground, the leaf cutter ants (atta and other genera) tend their own mushrooms on rotting leaves. The leaves that they take from the treetops are thus fertilizer for their food.

Entomologist Terry Erwin sprayed a leguminous tree in the Tambopata Reserve with an insecticide and collected the insects that fell from it. He found 43 kinds of ant from 26 genera. There were half as many kinds of ant on a single tree than in all of Germany! The insect group whose diverse forms leave all others in its dust is the beetle. There have been around 300,000 kinds of beetle described worldwide, and the highest concentration of them is in the tropics. Another comparison is called for here, to reaffirm the diversity in the tropics. In the USA and Canada around 24,000 beetle species have been identified. In Panama Entomologists calculate around 20,000 per hectare!


Text und Fotos © Andreas Schlüter 2003-2004