If you’ve been on TikTok recently, you probably know the Backyardigan’s song “Into the Thick of It.” I can confidently say that this song lived rent free in my brain during my time in the Amazon. The lyrics are surprisingly relevant when you’re living at a research station in the jungle, 13 hours (by bus and boat) away from Quito.
For our final class of the semester, our entire group travelled deep into the Amazon to learn about tropical and freshwater ecology. We stayed at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, an outcrop of a few buildings located in the northeastern part of Ecuador. Except for a few chances to text our families, we didn’t have access to Wi-Fi, and I took the opportunity to cut myself off from downloaded podcasts and music too. This meant I had an exorbitant amount of time to just be and enjoy the jungle.
A lot of us were both nervous and excited for our time there: nervous about the insects and all things creepy-crawly, and excited for potential encounters with river dolphins, tapirs and monkeys. Despite our apprehensions, everyone ended up finding something they loved about our time there. For some, it was the delicious food that the kitchen staff served (yes, you can eat really yummy food while in the jungle). For others, it was seeing caimans and capybaras, or fishing for piranhas, or swimming in the river after lunch every day.
For me? The insects were the highlight. And trust me, I’m as surprised by that fact as you are.
Let’s be clear here: I am not an insect person. While I don’t have any sort of entomophobia, for the majority of my life I have been fairly indifferent to them. However, the bugs ended up being one of my favorite parts about my two weeks at TBS. This area of Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse regions in the Amazon, and oh boy does it show. Every time I sat at our open-air dining hall, a new bug would plop down next to me. The sheer diversity of insects was crazy. Each one has a different survival strategy: some bugs try to mimic plants, others try to stand out and signal danger, while others rely solely on defense mechanisms like spikes and pincers. Then, on top of that, the whole visible realm of insects changes between day and night. We did a night hike in the dark one evening, and the insects that we saw along our walking paths were completely different than the ones we found there during the day. I know it can be hard to appreciate things that are a little creepy and unknown, but I think the bugs are one of the most unique parts of the Amazon. And, because I wasn't expecting to like them, they were one of my favorite surprises of the last class!
Here are a few examples of the cool ones I found:
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<p>Hello everyone! My name is Catherine Putzier and I’m a senior at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), where I am studying Environmental Science with a concentration in Biology. While on my home turf, you can find me rock climbing at a local crag, playing a game of pickup soccer, or gushing about my three adorable nephews and one adorable niece. I love a good adventure and can’t wait to share about the Galapagos semester program!</p>