Academy researchers bug out in the Philippines

October 19, 2011 8:04:20 PM PDT
Researchers with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco are just back from a grand adventure. They spent several weeks in the Philippines looking for, and finding, hundreds of creatures no one's ever discovered before. ABC7 News went along. One leg of the trip focused on bugs.

Charles Griswold is a real life spider man -- an expert on arachnid behavior, evolution and webs.

One of the critical tools of his trade is corn starch.

"So we use this to find the spiders, we use this to study the architecture and the behavior they use to make the webs," Griswold said.

One web was made by a female gasteracantha, but many of beauties in the forest are harder to find.

So Griswold had a team of bug detectives, Bay Area students, working alongside Filipino scientists and students. On one trek the team was in a rain forest in the hills above the University of the Philippines at Los Banos.

A lot of the best hunting happens at night.

"Many, invertebrates and also vertebrates are much more active at night, so if you go around when you have a good light, you can see a lot of stuff," UC Berkeley graduate student Natalia Chousou Polydouri said.

As it gets darker, the noise from cicadas makes it hard to hear anything else. The cicada has an organ on its side called a tympanum that vibrates very fast to create the sound.

Many bugs are easy to catch in the dark; they fly right to a big sheet with a light on it.

One spider is known for the extreme size difference between the female, a big yellow one, and the male, a little red guy.

For creatures that are a little sneakier, you need a local forest expert like Mark Yngente.

"This is a gonocephalus," Yngente said.

This fellow may be handsome, but his real value that night was that he led the team to a giant spider right nearby.

"This is the family speracidy, they are called giant crab spiders," Griswold said. "This is the biggest one I've ever seen."

And a millipede caused a lot of excitement, it's possibly a new species. It could take months, even years, to know for sure.

The California Academy of Sciences made a remarkable trip to the Philippines and there is much more to share. Join ABC7 for Reefs to Rain Forests -- The Great Expedition this Saturday 10:00 p.m. on ABC7.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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