This is a limited edition giclee on heavy-weight, 100% rag, archival paper, approx. 11x15 image size.  It is signed and numbered by the artist.  The handwritten story tells of collecting insects one soggy night in the mountains of western Panama.  The print will be shipped flat, fully protected to arrive unblemished at your address by US Priority Mail.

Mancheca pretiosa

  • December 12, 2011 is the capture date of this insect, Mancheca pretiosa. I was in the cloud forest along the Continental divide in western Panama, in Chiriqui Province, just a stone’s throw away from the border with Bocas del Toro.  I had arrived in the area late in the afternoon, at a place I had scoped out on Google Earth before my arrival in the country. It was my first time in Panama, and I had done a considerable amount of research on Google Earth, prior to my arrival, using the satellite imagery and its useful zoom capabilities, that allow me to look for viable habitat and areas that I’ve never seen before. I had read about a place in some of the entomological literature about a place called “Lago Fortuna”. Dr. Brett Radcliffe, a specialist in Scarab beetles, had mentioned this locality in several places where he had published articles about his own beetle collecting/research in Panama. I looked up the locality on Google Earth and it flew directly to the location.  Lago Fortuna is a government owned Hydro electric project, and at either end of the dam, there stands a guard shack with an armed guard keeping watch over the section of Highway 10 which traverses the dam. The road is rather treacherous, even though it is paved. What the satellite imagery does not reveal is that the road is subject to falling rocks and landslides on a regular basis, and being that I was there in the rainy season, even more so.  Another item that made this area a little sketchy is the fact that Highway 10 is one of only two land routes that connect the Pacific side of Panama with the Caribbean coast, making it a major smugglers highway. I was told to stay off the roads after dark. It was getting late and I had no place to stay, so I was beginning to feel a little panicked as it was drizzling rain and the wind was blowing pretty good. Why was that even important? Because when I am collecting insects, a place to stay does not mean a hotel. In the jungle, that means a place to hang a hammock, and an opening in the trees to set up my collecting lights. I need an open area where I can stretch a rope to suspend a white bed sheet hanging on it, and hang the mercury vapor light to attract nocturnal insects. The sheet provides a landing surface for the bugs swirling around the bulb, and then I can easily pluck the bugs that I want and place them in the killing jar.  I needed to find a place quick, before it got completely dark in the enshrouding, foggy mist. As I rounded the curve, I spotted a potential spot–a side road that turned off the highway between two ridges.  I backed up to investigate further. The road was a dead end, but it was somewhat secluded and the trees were cut along the right-of-way, providing a nice opening for the light to disburse into the surrounding bush I decided this was going to work, and was going to have to do for the night, so I turned my vehicle around and backed down the road for about 50 yards or so. I always turn the truck around, just in case the need arises for a quick escape. There have been times when this habit has paid off, when a hasty retreat was needed. After strategically positioning the 4 x 4, I began to set up the mercury vapor light.  However, as there were no trees close enough, I simply laid out the white sheet in the middle of the road and mounted the light bulb on a camera tripod. I ran an extension cord to the generator that I had placed under the lowered tailgate of the truck to keep it out of the rain, and turned on the power. The light began to glow a soft bluish white at first but gradually increased intensity as the bulb warmed up. In the fog and drizzling rain I could make out weird, eerie shapes of the cloud forest trees on the perimeter of the light’s range. It looked as though I was in an elfin wood, as the trees were twisted in form by the constant winds, and covered in ferns, mosses, lichens, orchids, and bromeliads. Sitting almost a-straddle the continental divide, I was indeed in a very special habitat. I retrieved a Coke from my ice chest, and a can of Pringles from inside the cab, then sat on the tailgate to watch the magic happen. The event that unfolds in these situations is truly magical, if you like bugs, that is. From seemingly nowhere, flying insects miraculously begin to descend out of the darkness and fly down to swarm around the light bulb just like they do when you leave the porch light turned on in the summer. The main difference between the insects attracted to your porch light, and what responds to my mercury vapor in the tropics, is sheer numbers, both in individual bugs, and diversity of species. On this night it was turning into the night of the Sphinx, moth that is. It seemed as though they were just falling out of the sky, from out of the misty veil that shrouded the light. Occasionally, Saturniidae moths, which are commonly known as the giant silk moths, would join the fray and flail about on the road surface. I would run over with my net to capture them before they destroyed themselves on the muddy, wet pavement. With my proximity to the main highway I must admit I was somewhat on edge. I could hear vehicles coming down the road, but couldn’t see them until they rounded the curve I was on.  Most of the traffic was commercial, being minibuses or large trucks, mostly of produce such as bananas or pineapples and such. When I heard them from far enough away, I would put my net down and pick up my machete and walk to the light so they would see me from the highway. I puffed my chest out and straightened up to make myself look as big as possible, and would turn the machete so it would reflect in the light and catch their eye. Some vehicles slowed down to look, and a couple even stopped, trying to figure out what was going on with this bright light in an unusual place, and oh yeah, the crazy gringo brandishing a machete. In my mind I would tell them “Move along. These are not the droids you’re looking for,” like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. None ever got out of their vehicles, but if they did, I wanted them to know I was not easy prey - unless they had guns, of course. One vehicle made several passes throughout the night. The first time I saw it, I must admit that I was a bit jumpy. The white truck had blue and red flashing lights turned on, and it slowed down and stopped on the side of the highway by the turn in. Then it slowly moved off. The flashing lights in the thick fog made an eerie effect, evoking images of a close encounter with an UFO. About an hour later it returned, going the opposite direction. This went on all night, about every 45 minutes to an hour or so, here came the flashing lights in the fog. I found out later that this was a safety patrol that ran this section of the highway every night because of the constant threat of mudslides, automobile accidents, cars running off the road, and highway robberies, etc. About the fourth or fifth time they drove by I waved to them with a friendly wave and they would honk back a greeting to me on the horn. About 2 a.m., I was sitting on the tailgate of the Toyota 4 x 4 in the rain, thoroughly enjoying myself, when a rather large insect flew into the light and hit the bedsheet on the ground with a “plop.” I grabbed my net and ran to it, not knowing what it was. As I approached, it jumped into the air and began flying in circles, wider and wider, around the bulb.  I took a couple of swipes at it, trying to catch it on the wing.  I missed both times. Finally, it disappeared into the darkness, but I had gotten a pretty good look at it. I knew it was a katydid, and in the bright light caught a glimpse of a flash collar. I love drawing katydids and other types of grasshoppers, especially colorful ones. But this one had eluded me! I kicked a rock in frustration and headed back to my wet perch on the tailgate of the truck. Before I turned to sit down again I heard another “plop.” I whirled around, with net still in-hand, and, sure enough, there she was again!  That mercury vapor light is to a bug, like the tractor beam on the Starship Enterprise is to a Klingon vessel!  They just can’t seem to escape the influence. I quickly ran over and brought the net down over the creature. It was even more beautiful than I had imagined. I reached into the net and caught it in my bare hand. As I brought it out of the net, it bit the crap out of the fat part of my index finger. It was so unexpected and painful, that I flung the katydid to the ground. As soon as it hit, she jumped up and went airborn again.  This time, however, it didn’t make looping circles but flew straight out into the misty darkness. “Dad gum it! I lost it again!” I looked down at my finger where blood was dripping from the wound the bug had inflicted. That sucker can bite! At least I had a battle scar as evidence of the encounter. I picked up my net and headed back to the truck, nursing my wounds. As I turned to sit down, “Plop!”

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