I probably should have done this sooner. My interview at the university last week was a gruelling affair, but I ultimately failed. Ah well. Plans for the future are murky: unless I find a well-funded home for my research proposal, I’m frankly tired of doing my research without any money for support and materials to do this stuff properly, so I’ll probably leave hard science for a bit, maybe work on science teaching and popularisation, or leave science altogether and work on my artistic side with illustration and film. Or combine the two and make documentaries. Or become an astronaut and fireman and lawyer. Where all this will take place, I also don’t know.
In any case, I thought I should share a bit from Japan to brighten the mood. In case you didn’t know, nature is huge in Japan. Narita Airport (Tokyo) has a swamp next to it. More than half of Japanese land is protected. Children rear dung beetles as a hobby, with some shops having sections devoted just for accessories for that. Biodiversity is very high, even indoors and in the north where I currently am. The forests are dense and populated by such a variety of vegetation that they make the forests of Germany and Cyprus I’m familiar with appear like pathetic monocultures in comparison. So yeah, it’s a place where nature is revered for its intrinsic value, not just kept there for economic purposes.
This also means it’s a paradise for naturalists and field biologists, like me. I was given the opportunity to visit a new nature reserve, the Horoka Tomamu Montane Forest (HTMF), in the center of Hokkaido, the large northern island of Japan (red square above). They do several vertebrate surveys (mammals, birds, bats), and my visit was a reconnaissance trip to plan for a potential arthropod survey. I stayed there for two days, with another four days planned at the end of this month. The following pictures are from that first two-day trip, mid-August.
The pictures are in more or less randomised order (WordPress uploading artefact). They’re all unedited, if you want to steal and modify, be my guest, but I would appreciate a linkback.
The actual reserve starts around 5 km off the main road. A farmer lent me his wife’s bike to use to get there, but my first day was spent mostly exploring stuff on the way to the trail – it’s pretty easy to get sidetracked. 5 minutes away from the main road, I came across this place, where…
It was just a little random pond, but it just emphasises how easy it is to find exciting things to study. I stayed at this pond for 45 minutes – no wonder I didn’t reach the actual reserve until sunset.Orthopterans are really common in Japan, and the reserve was no exception. Grasshoppers and crickets were all over the place. This gorgeous species was ubiquitous at the time of the year, for reasons you will see in a later picture. Note also the larval traces on the plant, a topic I introduced on the blog ages ago. Cicadas are cacophonous all over Hokkaido, their songs overpowering even the sounds of cars on the road. You can imagine what it’s like within the forest – when they’re active, you can barely hear yourself stepping on cracked branches. Quite dangerous in that respect, but it’s a sound that does become rather soothing after a while. Too bad the animals themselves are not that easy to find.Flies are everywhere, of course. Too small to picture were the deer flies, which made me paradoxically wish I had brought bug spray with me. The bear spray I had (yes, this is bear country) wasn’t effective at all against them. There were also wild Drosophila flies. Despite there being tens of Drosophila species, this was the first time I encountered one outside the lab. Unfortunately, I only had a 18-70mm lens with me, so the fly size above was the limit of what I could photograph Did I mention grasshoppers were everywhere?
Another very common arthropod in Japan, to my great pleasure, is the opilionid, commonly known as the harvestman. I spotted at least 6 species in one clearing at the reserve, and I hope to be able to study them further – I have a soft spot for chelicerates. The same one as the previous picture, as a side view so you can see their characteristic body structure more easily.As you can see, it’s just an “oval” with legs. That’s how you tell them apart from my favourite spiders, the pholcids, who also have very elongated legs but a typical spider anatomy with a separated head and body.
Taking a break from animals, the vegetation varies quite suddenly – it’s not at all the uniform forest it appears to be from afar. Sasa, also known as dwarf bamboo or Totoro’s umbrella, is an excellent pioneer plant that grows everywhere after disturbance, be it anthropogenic (in urban areas) or fire (in HTMF). And yes, Totoro was right in using it as an umbrella, they saved me from a pretty heavy drenching on my second day!
Butterflies were also quite common, but I’m not a fan of them, so no pictures. I just wanted to show this isolated wing. As you can see, it’s pretty large – the animal that ebars it is large enough that I thought it was a bird when I first saw it fly by.
This is why the grasshoppers are so numerous: it’s mating season. Very comical mating ritual: after the male jumps on, he moves his legs forwards and backwards in a specific pattern: left leg, then right leg, then both. I have no idea why he would do this,since he’s already on top. Maybe it’s so that he has something to concentrate on so he doesn’t finish too early.
There are two choices to come back from the top of Mt. Maru: go back, or take the river road back. I chose the latter, only because it made me feel like Big Boss.
Finally, some advertising. I was staying at a small guesthouse, with this couple, the Dazais, also renting out two rooms. One for sleeping, one for a studio: they’re a musician couple who travel around Japan in a dinky caravan, giving concerts and now producing CDs. The wife is the vocalist, the husband is the musician. Anyway, they are some of the nicest people I’ve met, even by already sky-high Japanese standards. Even when I had to go from 4 o’clock in the morning, they left me rice balls to take with me. They cooked me dinner even when I didn’t ask for any. They gave me towels and soap. They even gave me a free CD of their music. And they’re fun to boot. Here is their website, for what it’s worth.Always remember: don’t let the birds shit on your face.