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Spider Monkey
Leaf-nosed Bat
Spiny Rat
Leaf-cutter Ant

I say TAYP-er; the Brits say tay-PEER.

A tapir is an odd-toed, hoofed mammal related to horses and rhinos. Tapirs are nocturnal and gentle. Adults weigh a quarter ton or more; babies--incredibly cute--are striped and dotted like fawns. Strong swimmers, tapirs have thick necks and long upper lips, employed in shoving fruit and grasses into their mouths. They come in four species belonging to one genus: three live only in the New World; a fourth lives in Malaysia. Scientists think that ten (maybe twelve), tapirs live on BCI.

Photograph © Sharon Matola


Spider Monkey
Unravelling the mystery of the pendulous clitoris

"The spider monkeys were lithe and short-haired, with a reddish cast to the fur on their torsos. Their mouths were neat and expressive, their nostrils delicate, eyes ringed by whitish fur, faces dished. They reached with languid fingers for branches, they dangled from their prehensile tails on vines. The monkeys weighed about 6.4 kilograms, with tails nearly a meter long.

"This was my first glimpse of a spider monkey, and yet it wasn't the animals' beauty or grace that initially caught my eye. Rather, it was the light-colored, ten- to twelve-centimeter-long appendage between the females' legs.

"'That's usually how I recognize them, by the size or color of their clitorises,' Chrissy said. She wasn't joking, although she also used differences in hair coloration, scars around eyes, and other facial markings as ways of identifying various individuals. The pendulous, hypertrophied clitoris was largely a mystery: It didn't seem to play a role in sex, and Chrissy had never observed the monkeys masturbating.'It may have something to do with leaving scent markings for males,' she said."

Photograph © Colleen McCann


Leaf-Nosed Bat
It had tiny white teeth.

"In the hallway outside my lab, Bret held an Artibius watsoni between his thumb and a small burlap bag. It was my first look at a tent-making bat. Bret pointed out the upright folds of skin on its nose, which are believed to help it echolocate and, perhaps, smell. It had tiny white teeth. He spread the watsoni's wings, about nineteen centimeters across, to show me the thinness of the membranes, the fine hand bones that acted as struts. The bat's order, Chiroptera, he told me, is Latin for hand wing. Natural selection had webbed and elongated the bat's hand for flight. This little bat weighed no more than ten grams."

Photograph © Bret Weinstein


Spiny Rat
This is one handsome rat.

"Paul Trebe, who was censusing spiny rats--described in Neotropical Rainforest Mammals as 'large, handsome rats'--by capturing, marking, and releasing them, explained that toe-clipping is the only good way to differentiate among individuals who will be studied for many seasons. The procedure, performed with cuticle nippers, was relatively painless (at least, that's what Paul said), and it followed federal guidelines for animal care and use. So far, the spiny rat project, in seven-odd years, had left its indelible mark on more than seven thousand rodents.

"Whenever he came upon a new, unmarked rat, Paul's lips tightened. He had no taste for blood, for deliberate injury. 'Some of them squeal a little, but there isn't much blood,' he said. 'Still, this is the worst part of the job.' He wanted to teach me to do it, but it made me queasy, the sound of snapping bone. When I did eventually clip a rat, Paul said to me, 'Good. Now if I go to hell for this, at least I'll see you there.'"

Photograph © E. Royte


Leaf-Cutter Ant
The darling of Hymenoptera and Harvard

"Though not an obviously charismatic study subject, leaf-cutter ants and their sophisticated habits have long fascinated invertebrate zoologists, who have made of them a sort of intellectual pet, to borrow an expression from the writer Sue Hubbell. Ants, along with bees and wasps, belong to the order Hymenoptera, many of whose members are eusocial, or highly organized into castes. Each member of the colony is closely related to other members, so they tend to act as a collective, working for the good of one another.

"Solidarity with one's kin turns out to be an exceptionally successful strategy. Hymenoptera make up 2 percent of the world's millions of insect species, but they represent 8 percent of its insect biomass. Ants dominate the rain forest, and they make themselves at home in nearly every latitude of the planet. In his elegiac The Ants, E.O. Wilson wrote that these creatures 'represent the culmination of insect evolution.' Indeed, leaf-cutter ants not only invented agriculture some 50 million years before people did, but they also figured out a way to exploit the terpenoids, alkaloids, and other sickening chemicals that tropical leaves use for protection against herbivores. Biologists have called the ant-fungus relationship one of the most remarkable examples of coevolution in nature."

Photograph © Hubi Herz


And the angry ear

"'Come here,' Jayne said, pulling on my arm. 'I want to show you my ear museum.' We pulled open the door to her lab, where a Russell Stover chocolate box sat on the counter. Flipping open its lid, Jayne revealed a half-dozen moth ears--they looked like tiny blobs of wax--pinned to pieces of Styrofoam. 'This stuff is just so neat,' she said. 'You've got to see this membrane, the difference between a regular-frequency ear and a high-frequency ear.' She put two ears under the microscope and waited for my appraisal. The high-frequency ear had a much thinner membrane--it looked like yellow cellophane--and was backed by an air chamber. 'You're looking at the chordotonal organ, the sensory cells,' Jayne said. 'It has three sensillae that stick up straight from the membrane. They come together in a nerve ganglion that sends signals to the brain, or what stands for the brain in the thorax.'

"Insects have ears on different parts of their bodies. Most moths have them on their abdomen or thorax. Crickets have ears on their legs, mantids on the ventral region of their thorax, cicadas on their abdomen. In Lepidoptera, ears are always close to the wing, because the ear cells need to communicate with the wings. 'They need to command them in order to evade predators,' Jayne explained. 'The message doesn't go only to their head: They have a brain in their thorax and one in their abdomen too.'"

Photograph © Jayne Yack

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