Day 2 started with a lecture from Brent (a Spanish-speaking Kiwi/ island biogeography expert #ScientistGoals) about his team’s research around the Canary Islands. They have been sampling for beetles and conducting genetic analyses to work out who came from where, and how ancient landslides have influenced the arthropod populations on Tenerife by forming ecological barriers to their distribution. Insects probably reached the Canaries on organic debris from Africa millions of years ago, and diversified here over many more years. Some winged insects, including butterflies, arrived by their own steam, and it’s possible that birds carried others here when they colonised the island.
Soon after, we were heading back into the laurel forest equipped with nets, tree bashing sticks, bug catching sheets, magnifying lenses and trappy pots (technical terms) in search of invertebrates. We would later identify our samples back at the hostel- much to the delight of the guests eating lunch- and create our own dichotomous keys. I’m ashamed as a zoologist to admit that there were a few savage casualties along the way when pots ran out and spiders were contained with flies, but the hunt was largely successful.
A highlight was catching a pair of semi-slugs copulating! Semi-slugs are snails with a reduced shell, which probably evolved because a shell is not needed to prevent desiccation in such a humid environment. Gastropods like these are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female gametes, but they often find a ‘mate’ to ensure their offspring have some genetic variety. It is the spice of life, after all.
We also visited a couple of Brent’s sampling sites under the pretence of seeing first-hand how they sample in the field, but actually the team had lost the poles marking the edges of their sampling zone, and just wanted help to find them in the forest. Once a bottle of wine was up for grabs, it didn’t take long until the search was over. On the drive home we scrabbled like the selfie-stick-yielding tourists we try so hard not to be, to watch the sun setting behind the mountainous horizon.
After our evening lecture, we were briefed about Day 3, when we would relocate from the mountains to the coast, via Mount Teide. The views as we drove through the pine forest and emerged above the cloud blanket were stunning, and it looked like the surface of Mars when we arrived at the start of our walk. However, I highly recommend that you read the local weather forecast if you do the two-hour hike around the volcano, or change your perception of ‘four degrees’ to about 20. Some of us wore thermals and packed our woolly hats, most of us lugged around extra layers, and 90% of us got sunburnt. As the lecturers found themselves repeating indignantly, ‘it’s highly unpredictable up here, ok?!’. We forgive you. It was all worth the sweatiness in the end for these lava-ly views.
Brent and his compadre, Tony, acted as our tour guides along the walk, explaining about their recent discoveries of subterranean arthropod flora in the seemingly bare volcanic landscape. When it was suggested that the next new species be named after Prof. Tregenza, he was quick to assure us that ‘I already have a lizard’. It was incredible to be walking on what still resembled flowing magma (and I swear it was just as hot! Sorry, forgive and forget, won’t mention it again…), but I’m sorry to say that one of the most fascinating things some of us witnessed that day was Paul eating a whole orange, peel and all. How?
We now find ourselves at the end of Day 4, in the coastal town of Puerto Cruz, where we have been planning the content of our video projects, sampling the Spanish cuisine, and enjoying the beautiful weather. Unfortunately, the pool is freezing, so we probably won’t attempt to rival Costa Rica’s field trip photo of everyone frolicking in the water, but IT’S JUST AS GOOD HERE, GUYS. Tune in next time for the results of tonight’s pub quiz!