A grueling trip to the Guyana Shield will help make OSU’s insect collection one of the best in the nation.

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Arthropods were the reason for a trip to South America for OSU scientists

You know you’re in a pretty remote area when the only people who ever tried to survey it on foot died of malaria. The rivers are filled with deadly electric eels and crocodile stew is a staple dinner dish. Never-before-discovered animal species are, well, all over the place.

Such was the trip to the Guyana Shield by a group of scientists from Oregon State University, the Smithsonian Institution, Conservation International, Guyana and others. They visited one of the world’s most remote, pristine and truly remarkable terrains in the northern jungles of South America.

Traveling there by overloaded small plane, canoe and foot through steaming rain forests was anything but easy. But the end result is significant additions to both OSU’s Arthropod Collection and the Center for the Study of Biological Diversity in Georgetown, Guyana.

“This trip was a huge success,” said OSU entomologist Christopher Marshall, who oversees three million specimens in the university’s collection, which researchers hope to build into one of the best in the nation. “Once mounted and identified, a task that will take several years, many specimens will be sent back to colleagues and collections in Guyana to help build their museums. But many will be retained at OSU to strengthen our holdings as well.”

In the end, Marshall said, it’s believed the expedition will have discovered one or two new species of catfish, one or two new frogs, five or six new species of katydids, several new species of beetles, and maybe some new butterflies. Also documented were several bird species and a sloth that were not known to inhabit that region.

Since the existing OSU collection is about 70 percent species from the Pacific Northwest, the new specimens from a remote corner of the world will greatly improve its diversity.

For an entomologist, the motivation for the trip was obvious. Half of Guyana’s plant species are found nowhere else in the world, perched on massive “tepuis,” or forest-covered rock plateaus that stand thousands of feet above the surrounding flood plains, and have been called the “Lost World.”

“I’ve been to many rain forests, but this was truly different,” Marshall said. “There was just this constant, pervasive realization that you were days away from any real type of help if anything went wrong, and since we were often alone by ourselves in the jungle, you paid pretty close attention to make sure something didn’t go wrong.”
OSU Arthropod Collection

News release with more photos