Friday, June 02, 2006

Awright, who bit me?

First of all, I'm still having extreme difficulty uploading photos from my location, which is a little frustrating since I have some great bug shots lined up. It's possible that the slide show will have to be resumed after next Wednesday, when I return to the U.S. and my wireless connection.

We took a field trip yesterday to the Parque Nacional Altos de Campana, west of Ciudad de Panamá, where I saw a tremendous variety of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), and expanded my ant, fly, and wasp sampling. Didn't see any snakes, which I'm told are fond of many of the park trails, but I did have one altercation with an unknown bug. While walking on a trail scouting for ants and mushroom-feeding flies, I reached up to brush away something that had fallen onto my back. It immediately sank something sharp into my middle finger. I reflexively flung it into the brush, where it flapped away angrily without my getting a clear look at it. (I take full responsibility for the anthropomorphism here.)

Whatever it was, it drew blood, it hurt more than the Parachartergus wasps did, and like the former, it left me stinging all day. Since it flapped when flung, and didn't leave tooth marks, it was clearly an insect. It's possible that it was merely a nip inflicted by mandibles, but it didn't look like one, and I'm pretty sure the critter envenomated me (no swelling, but that prolonged burning and tingling was suspicious). So, I'm guessing that it was either a sting from a wasp, bee, or winged female ant, or else it was a bite from a true bug (order Hemiptera), as true bugs have piercing mouthparts. Since the predatory Hemiptera, much like spiders, inject digestive fluids into their prey, some true bugs can inflict a truly irritating bite.

Some tropical American "assassin bugs" in this order can transmit Chagas disease, although a casual bite in self-defense probably wouldn't be an effective way to do so. Infections with this disease usually happen when a bug feeds at length on an individual and defecates while taking its blood meal. This releases parasites onto the broken skin of the bite victim, who may inadvertently rub them in while scratching the bitten area.

So, if even on the outside chance that my adversary was an assassin bug, its brief attack probably hurt nothing but my finger and my entomological pride. I really wish I'd seen it, because I'd have prepared a special ethanol vial with the critter's name on it. However, after my having collected (permanently) more than a few specimens during this trip, it's probably poetic justice that I'd get chomped or stung by one that just happened by. If the leaf-litter ants were as anthropomorphic as I was in my second paragraph, they'd be laughing their little gasters off.

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