Panama Canal Amplification: Making the best of a clearcut situation

In Neotropical moist forests the transformation of wood biomass into animal biomass is initially mediated by wood-boring beetles. When trees are first cut, beetles are among the earliest visitors. Adults typically meet and mate on a selected host plant; the females then lay eggs that hatch into larvae. The larvae create feeding galleries in the wood, and deposit microbe-laden frass. Because the beetles create openings in the bark and jump-start the decomposition of wood, they facilitate colonization by other insects (including predators and parasites) and fungi. The host plant associations of wood-boring beetles, which reveal information about both insect microhabitat and diet, are poorly known. Data are especially difficult to acquire for wood-boring insects associated with tropical trees. The amplification of the Panama Canal will lead to partial inundation of several forested islands within, and banks along, the manmade Lago Gatún. Prior to inundation the forests are being clear-cut, and this provides an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the wood-boring beetles associated with a diverse group of trees, along with their predators and parasites.

En los bosques húmedos Neotropicales la transformación de la biomasa de madera en biomasa animal es mediada principalmente por escarabajos xilófagos. En areas de árboles que han sido taladas recientemente, los escarabajos adultos son los primeros en llegar. Despues de seleccionar una planta para hospedarse, los escarabajos se aparean y las hembras depositan huevos que generan larvas. Debido a que estos escarabajos crear aperturas a través de la corteza e inician el desglose de la madera, ellos facilitan la colonización por otros insectos (incluendo depredadores y parásitos) y hongos que descomponen la madera. Las plantas hospederas, que revelan información sobre los micro-hábitats de los insectos y su alimentación, han sido muy poco estudiadas. Los datos son especialmente difíciles de obtener para los insectos barrenadores de madera asociados a los árboles tropicales. La tala de árboles previa a la ampliación del Canal de Panamá ofrece una oportunidad sin igual para estudiar una diversa poblacion de árboles incluyendo las faunas de escarabajos xilófagos, y de otros organismos asociados.

21 June 2010

Panama Beetle UPDATE

As soon as we got back to Amplification Site 7, towards the end of May, I knew that the trees we felled in March were full of beetle larvae. How did I know? Because they were loaded with predators:
assassin bugs

lycid and click beetles

and robber flies...

...not to mention cerambycids like this beautiful Callipogon lemoinei (check out those furry mandibles, and thanks to Anonymous for the ID).

Basilio, who had helped his father cut down the trees, came along to relocate them and retrieve the branches. We were a skeleton crew; luckily Roman (in the white hard hat) joined us for the last few days.   

After the branch sections had been collected, we still had to wrangle them onto the boat...

...and off again, 
at the Smithsonian Pier in Gamboa. The Gamboa Lodge boat captain, who must (literally) have the coolest job in Panama, helped. Each morning, while we were in the forest, Hector Barrios picked up the previous day's branches and brought them to our rearing site.

Here is Roman building our funky little Casa de Crianza, next to the frog house:

By the time I left, on June 15, over 200 cerambycids, in 25 species, had already emerged!

STAY TUNED to hear from Dr. Sara Pinzon, a recently minted Panamanian Ph.D., who has taken on the task of monitoring all of those rearing cages... 


  1. Great info & pix! The first one looks as much archeological as it does entomological.
    Keep 'em coming.......

  2. I do not find these beetles to be boring in the least, but then again, I am not a piece of wood.
    I enjoyed the photographs immensely.

  3. Thanks-- nobody knows more about form and function than the insects!

  4. Impressive! Assassins, robbers--who knew that insects were such lawbreakers.

  5. Insects will do WHATEVER it takes! A parasitic wasp locates its host-- in this case a beetle larva-- underneath the bark of the tree. It is able to insert its ovipositor, and lay an egg, directly into the larva. The beetle larva does not die, which would be curtains for the hungry immature parasitoid. The beetle larva will go ahead and pupate, but the adult that emerges is not the beetle, but the wasp!

  6. Great Pic of Callipogon lemoinei! I've collected near Gamboa a year ago. Was able to collect a female C. barbatus.

  7. Thanks to Anonymous for the Callipogon ID!