This Is What It’s Like to Make a Discovery in the Amazon Rainforest

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“Huh, that’s weird,” I muttered as I trudged through a muddy trail in the Amazon rainforest. Even though the sun was setting, the heat was still sweltering and sweat dripped into my eyes as I stared at something I had never before seen — a tree covered with bizarre yellow outgrowths.

Some sort of fungus? That was my first thought. After all, I’ve seen tons of strange looking fungi in the Amazon. But something about these yellow bulby-looking things piqued my curiosity.

A tree covered with strange yellow bulbs in the jungle.

Inspecting them closer only made things more confusing. They didn’t really look like fungi, at least not like any I had ever seen. Were they fruit produced by the tree? Plant lenticels? I immediately began to photograph the site.


A closer look at the mysterious yellow “bulbs.”

That’s when I noticed something really interesting. As I scanned the tree’s alien protuberances, my eyes locked on to something I wasn’t quite anticipating: caterpillars! I had definitely never seen, or even heard of, anything like this before. They appeared to be munching away on the yellow “bulbs.”


An unknown caterpillar eating one of the yellow “bulbs.”

I quickly noticed there were also ants surrounding these caterpillars. The ants were not attacking the delicate butterfly larvae, so this had to be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the caterpillars and ants. While I had little idea at the time what I was looking at, my background in entomology was telling me one thing: this was something cool.


An ant, Ectatomma tuberculatum, guarding a caterpillar.


Always gotta show a finger for scale.

By this point I had returned to the tree with my colleague, wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer. We took several shots of —> Read More