20 August 2008

Purple Centipedes of the Moss Garden

Our purple centipede from the moss garden. This, too, is likely a new species.

Not surprisingly, it rained again today. August is known for being one of the rainiest months for Rapa Nui. Fortunately, the morning started off fairly clear, and it was only partly cloudy. It was warm and humid. However, by midday, it clouded up, and the bottom fell out of the sky. It has now been raining since around 1230hr here – so, it’s been raining almost none stop for the past five hours. Once again, this is quite an incredible contrast from the Atacama Desert. The Rapa Nui team feels that we are almost re hydrated after being drained of moisture for four weeks straight.

Pete and Christina above the cave entrance. The storm is rolling in. Credit: Dan Ruby.

The cave work went forward, and we were quite successful today. Knutt mapped one of our caves solo. It was his first time mapping a cave by himself and he was quite pleased with the outcome.

Christina and I approaching the cave. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Christina, Dan, Pete and I conducted time constrained searches and pulled traps from this cave. During this work, we found one millipede (perhaps the same species as the ones we discovered the other day), several roaches, and several fungus gnats. This was the extent of the faunal assemblage discovered during this portion of the work. Once this was done, Dan and I had two more opportunistic collecting tasks to complete for the day – sampling the entrance of the cave for spiders, and searching and sampling a moss and fern garden within a tunnel segment of this cave. Christina and Pete had microbe duty. They essentially scoured the cave from the dark zone to the entrance and collected samples of all microbes they encountered.

Collecting invertebrates from a surface trap. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Dan and I collected a few specimens of this spider species from the entrance of Moon cave. This is a female guarding her eggs. We were cautious not to collect these individuals. Firstly, for identification, male specimens are preferred. Secondly, if we were to collect a female we would not only take her, but all of the spiderlings that would ultimately hatch would also be lost. So, the ethical and responsible thing to do is to strategically sample for males, and leave egg-bearing females alone.

Female spider guarding eggs. Credit; Dan Ruby.

Knutt cave mapping solo! Credit: Dan Ruby.

Once Dan and I were done sampling the entrance, we moved on to the moss and fern garden. It was here that we found an animal that proved to be my highlight of the day. This lavender centipede was located underneath a rock within the moss and fern garden. It is about 3cm in length.

Taking notes on critters found during our survey. Credit: Dan Ruby.

As with all the animals that I have to collect for this research, I felt really bad about having to collect it. However, my overarching hope is that through the biodiversity research is that our findings will ultimately result in a higher level of protection for the caves of Rapa Nui.

Knutt on station. Credit: Dan Ruby.

As we were leaving this cave tunnel, I saw a small side passage. I recalled Sergio had mentioned a Belgian team had ignorantly removed a rock wall and pilfered a tomb that contained significant archaeological materials. I wondered whether this side passage was the same one the Belgians had pilfered or if it was another one. So, I entered this side passage.

In addition to the biodiversity work, our team is charged with reporting any and all archaeological materials to Sergio. All of the materials we have encountered thus rare are unfortunately highly disturbed and on the surface within the caves. So, all of these materials lack archaeological context. We do not touch these materials, but we photo-document everything we encounter and then report back to Sergio.

As I have a tendency to go, I've gotten myself in a tight place. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Tomorrow will be our last day in the field. This expedition is quickly coming to a close. However, my time here on Rapa Nui is not. There are many caves here, and Sergio and I will be continuing this work in upcoming years.

Moss gardens in a Rapa Nui cave. Credit: Dan Ruby.

No comments: