Wildlife & Wild Places

Leaf-Litter Connoisseurs: Part Two (Searching for Harvestmen at Sibaliw Research Station)

On his current expedition, Ronald Clouse ventures into the jungles of the Philippines to study harvestmen, or daddy-long-legs, of the order Opiliones. By collecting data for phylogenetic analysis, he hopes to learn more about the history of these creatures and the lands they inhabit. Click here to read Leaf-Litter Connoisseurs: Part One

Prashant processes specimens at Sibaliw after a day of collecting. Photo by Ronald Clouse

Prashant left Sibaliw to collect cyphos in Australia, and Perry and I left after four nights. We hiked down for three tense, sweltering hours, and at the bottom where we would catch the bus to Iloilo, we were met by a woman selling frozen, sweet coconut treats. We bought some for us and all the porters and guide, and the only question we had later was why we didn’t buy her whole inventory. I took a quick shower and put on non-sweaty clothes in the back yard of the family next to the bus stop, and soon we were taking the five-hour ride to the southern end of Panay.

A live scorpion collected at Sibaliw glows under ultraviolet light. Photo by Ronald Clouse
A live scorpion collected at Sibaliw glows under ultraviolet light. Photo by Ronald Clouse

At Iloilo we met Dave General and John Rey, and two days later we traveled to the center of Panay to Lambunao and the Merit-it Wildlife Conservation Park at West Visayas State University. There we were hosted by the very hospitable Lucia Lastimoza—biologist, conservationist, and head of the captive breeding program for hornbills, spotted deer, cloud rats, and warty pigs.

Dave General texts with Perry at Lambunao. Photo by Ronald Clouse
Dave General texts with Perry at Lambunao. Photo by Ronald Clouse

Although our stay at the park was interesting and enjoyable, we quickly learned that the lowlands of Panay have a great deal of disturbance. Agroforestry, cutting, extraction, and introduced species are everywhere, and for leaf-litter connoisseurs like harvestmen and their followers, it’s a tough neighborhood. Dave and I tried to climb a nearby hill, but after an hour of following behind a guide slashing away with his machete, we could only see more weeds, thorny bamboo, and other thick undergrowth. The big trees we had seen at a distance were only breadfruit and mahogany, and even they were too widely spaced to provide a humid understory with thick leaf litter.

The hills across from West Visayas State University, showing the extensive disturbance common in lowland Panay. Photo by Ronald Clouse
The hills across from West Visayas State University, showing the extensive disturbance common in lowland Panay. Photo by Ronald Clouse

That afternoon, we walked up a river and did find a place where large trees surrounded a steep-banked bend, and in the first sift of leaves, we found different families of harvestmen. Whew! For the next two days we pulled handfuls of rotten leaves caught in roots and against trees along the vertical face of the river bank, and there we collected a variety of harvestmen which surely represent several new species. No sandokanids or cyphos, though, and we did not see new areas to collect nearby.

Listen to jungle sounds recorded at Sibaliw Research Station:

Thus, we decided to return to Manila early, where we can hopefully plan a new excursion before our trip to the giant Mt. Malindang in Mindanao. As usual with hunting harvestmen, pickiness is key, and in a country of 100 million people, undisturbed forest is difficult to reach.

Watch more videos from this expedition

Read all posts by Ronald Clouse

That’s the end of this update, but check back soon for more stories from the field!

Ronald Clouse investigates the histories of invertebrates found in the leaf litter. He works mostly with arthropods in the Indo-Pacific, especially harvestmen (daddy-long-legs) and ants. He also works with harvestmen in Brazil and the southern U.S., and he is interested in the processes by which we reconstruct history using DNA and morphology.

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