Lab retreat to Iheya


Our lab decided to take a trip to Iheya island the second week of December 2017, in order to explore different parts of Okinawa, but also to celebrate the end of Cong’s PhD defense and Yuka’s proposal defense.

The island is full of goats and sculptures made from marine debris. We also visited a cave, a beach, hiked to the top of a small mountain, and had some good food and drinks.


Nick (our post-doc who does a lot of research on acoustics and birds) also did some bird watching on the island, and below is a list of birds he saw on Iheya:

Eurasian Teal
Suzume
Hiyodori
Chinese Turtle Dove
Japanese Bush Warbler
Pale Thrush
Blue Rock Thrush
Japanese White-eye
Grey faced Buzzard
Japanese Sparrowhawk
Japanese Wood Pigeon
Little Grebe
Great grey egret
Osprey
Little egret
Pacific Swallow
Intermediate Egret
Zitting Cisticola
Daurian Redstart
Tufted Duck

Apart from bird watching, Takuma (our technician leading the field team who is a great taxonomist) also collected insects during our hike.

Until next time, Iheya!

(Most images taken by Cong Liu)

Rare ant found in OKEON sample

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A rarely-collected ant species, Protanilla lini, has been identified from a SLAM trap sample that was collected from Hentona High School (site04) between September and October last year. Protanilla lini belongs to the subfamily Leptanillinae. All members of the family are small, subterranean and often blind ants that are very rarely collected. We know very little about their biology, but we believe they are predators of larger prey such as centipedes or earthworms. It is likely that they perform some form of “dracula ant feeding behavior”, where the adults hunt large prey, but instead of feeding on it themselves they take their larvae to the prey, the adults then drink the haemolymph (or “blood”) of the larvae without causing any physical damage.

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Distribution of Protanilla lini, image from antmaps.org

 

This species has been recorded only in Taiwan and Okinawa. It has been collected only once before in Okinawa, and a couple of times in Taiwan.

The information and the specimen images were provided by our staff scientist Paco Hita Garcia.

Tricks to find creatures: Yoshi’s 3rd column in Ryukyu Shinpo

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Tricks to find creatures
(Written by Masashi Yoshimura, translated by OIST)

It’s become more frequent for me to go deep into forests in Okinawa since I joined the natural environmental research called OKEON Project. Throughout Japan, there are approximately 300 ant species, of which one-third of them inhabit on the main island of Okinawa. One can imagine how bustling its forests are and how easy to encounter a variety of unnamed species without an effort once you are there. Unfortunately, that seems to be different in reality. Subtropical forests look rather barren with the floor devoid of fallen leaves. This doesn’t mean we don’t come across creatures at all. It would be perhaps more correct to say that they are not “in our sight” despite of their frequent presence.

It requires a little bit of training and experience to spot something you want to find in the forests. Looking for living creatures blended well with forests, you need to use your ears that can distinguish quiet sounds, nose that detects smells, as well as eyes that can identify the traces left by targeted creatures.  With a little bit more experience, the forests become a completely different place than before.

My peer on the project said to me, “There is difference between what Yoshimura-san and I see, even though we are walking together in the same place in the forest.”

Here is an interesting fact. Depending on what you wish to find, the weight of your senses shift from one to another. If you acquire the technique to recognize birds, wild animals, lizards, frogs, fish, ants, flowers, fern, mushrooms and others, the forests will become richer in color. It’s not just about animals. With a wider view, the forests become much more exciting and appealing than artificial theme parks. In the forests, there is always a surprise when you encounter those creatures by chance, and you’re thrilled.

The technique to really see things will make even your ordinary neighborhood a place with abundant creatures. As much as Yanbaru, northern part of the island, shrubs in your village is also part of the rich natural environment.

 

June 10, 2016, Page 12, Ryukyu Shimpo

The original column can be found here

Yoshi’s monthly columns at the Ryukyu Shinpo

male-ant(Image Source: Yoshimura and Fisher 2012)

Our staff scientist, Dr. Masashi Yoshimura, writes a monthly column for Ryukyu Shinpo on the topics of ants and the OKEON project.  In the first column, Yoshi introduced the subjects of ants on Okinawa as well as the OKEON project.  He also gave a brief history of how he first came about studying ants.  Below is the content of the second column translated from Japanese, and the original articles can be found here (column 1column 2).

 

The World of Male Ants No One Knows about

By Masashi Yoshimura, translated by OIST

Now is the best season for late night shopping. You can see numerous bugs and insects attracted to the light coming through the windows of supermarkets and convenience stores. Squinting at the mass, I can identify the ones I’ve been looking for; male ants. Among other insects, male ants are best-known for growing wings only at the time of emigrating from one nest site to another to disperse their offspring as far as they can. Compared to female ants, the appearance of male ants looks much more similar to that of a bee than an ant. This is the area of my expertise: bee-looking male ants.

Because of their distinguishingly “out-of-stereotype” appearances, much of their world still remain elusive as it is hard even to identify their types. It is one of the area overlooked for many years in ant studies. After the launch of my project, I have encountered a host of unresolved issues, as expected. The first ten years of the project were marked by much of the fumbling in the dark, struggling to find some guidance.

Despite the difficulties, I could still take this audacious step no one had ever taken before. Indeed, it helped me enter into the world of scientific research (I was teaching at middle school at the time). Despite I spoke little English then, I landed a job in the US. Instead of being a “jack of all trades”, it was more important to be “one and only.” Since I was allergic to English when I was a student, conducting research in another language presented many challenges to me. Steeped in research, however, it was a bit surprising that I never felt daunted by these challenges.

When I was in the US, through a word of mouth, I learned about OIST as an international research institution in Okinawa. I made up my mind to move back to Japan with the hope to be of some use. Instead, I’ve been given a lot of help from people in Okinawa, which underpins my daily research activities. Through the “OKEON Project,” we work to identify and understand change in the nature, so that the future will be more sustainable. Realizing the extent of the project, it requires all of our experiences mobilized in an effort to persistently pursue our goal.

OKEON featured on Okinawa Times

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The OKEON project continues to progress and gain momentum, with the completion of site setup (72 traps on 24 sites) and being featured by various media outlets. On April 11, the Okinawa Times introduced the OKEON project as an environment monitoring network with an emphasis on insect collecting, and quoted Dr.Masashi Yoshimura, the staff scientist at Arilab and the coordinator of the OKEON project, who said that the project may collect up to six million individual specimens a year. It also promoted the importance of environmental education. The original article can be found here