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.
After returning to Manila from Panay Island, I was there for a few days arranging the next excursion to the field. As our trip to Mt. Malindang on Mindanao was considered too risky, we decided to go to Mt. Bulusan on the very southern tip of Luzon, as it had never been explored for harvestmen at high elevation. This would be a prime opportunity to catch new species and stumble over the unknown. I teamed up with my old colleague, Dave General, from the Natural History Museum at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, who is an expert in all creatures Filipino. Also joining us were our colleague Perry Buenavente from the Philippine National Museum and two American students (who shall remain unnamed) for whom he was helping arrange science trips.
Getting to Mt. Bulusan first requires flying to the beautiful city of Legazpi, which resides in the shadow of an often-active volcano—Mt. Mayon. Dave and I met Perry and the two graduate students in town there, and together we drove two hours to Bulusan Lake, a recreational area at an elevation of about 350 meters. Our goal was to hike to the campsite alongside Lake Aguingay at 900 meters. Dave, one of the students, a guide, Nilo, and I made our way up the next day; three porters, including our cook, Joseph, went ahead of us with the larger bags and food.
It took us several hours to hike to the camp, which had a rough shelter for cooking and smooth places for us to pitch tents alongside the (currently dry) lake. I endured some laughs for my portable shower setup, and hoisting it high enough to be effective was harder than I anticipated, but later we all agreed it made for a refreshing wash. At least I think they were agreeing with me.
The next morning Dave, Nilo, and I went to a hill we had scoped out earlier as a place with flat areas for leaves to accumulate. The student and another guide, Romeo, went up a steep hill behind camp. Soon we heard Joseph calling for our attention far below, and we learned that Romeo and the student had been attacked by a swarm of giant Asian honey bees. Romeo, a seasoned honey-harvester, tried to keep the bees off the student, but dozens hit their mark on both of their heads, hands, and shoulders. Joseph ran up and helped the student descend the near-vertical, thorny path to camp, and via radio a large team was quickly assembled to porter the student down the mountain and rush him to a hospital. There doctors treated him for the stings, and, to everyone’s shock, pulled a bee from his ear.
With Dave now taking the job of camp guard, and Nilo returning to where he and Dave left me in the forest, I continued to look for opis (“OH-peez,” our nickname for Opiliones, a.k.a., harvestmen). Soon we came upon a little hillock covered with leaves. This was pay dirt, as I found a variety of wonderful species there, many large for their kind. Most impressive were several specimens of an extremely rotund species from the elusive family Sandokanidae (see them walking in the videos). I also found there another uncommon harvestman, a long-legged epedanid with huge, spiny palps. Moreover, among the many zalmoxids we collected at Mt. Bulusan, on that hillock was a species with big males bearing remarkably thick, spiny hind legs.
Dave and I returned to that spot for more collecting, and we continued to find great specimens. We also collected from steep hillsides and a flat, marshy area behind camp. After three nights, with over 125 opis caught and preserved, we started the long climb down, then a tricycle ride to a bus, and the plane to Manila, where we are planning the next excursion to hunt for harvestmen.
Mt. Bulusan slideshow: