Insects of the Amazon

Insects are the predominant invertebrate taxa in the Amazon, and make up over 90% of the species [1]. And the majority of these insects belong to the order Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, and bees). E.O. Wilson, a famous biologist, once recorded 26 genera and 43 species of ants on a single tree in the Tambopata Natural Reserve in Southeastern Peru [2]. He found greater ant diversity in that single tree than can be found throughout the entire United Kingdom. And at that site in the rainforest, Wilson estimated ants composed nearly one-third of all insect biomass and one-quarter of all animal biomass.

The Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) of the Amazon are among the most notable insects in the region, flaunting beautiful vivid colors and intricate wing patterns. The Amazon basin, particularly in Peru, harbors the highest levels of butterfly diversity on the planet. Nearly 7,000 species of butterflies have been identified in the Neotropics, half of which are known to be located in Peru [3]. Over 1,307 butterfly species have been identified in Manu National Park in Peru; this is twice the number of butterfly species found in the entire United States!

The Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho rhetenor) is extremely iridescent and can be viewed up to one-half mile away. This property is actually due to microstructures within its wings, not pigments [4]. Wing coloration and iridescence are used for communication, camouflage and thermoregulation.

In addition to Hymeoptera and Lepidoptera, Coleoptera (beetles) in the Amazon also exhibit high diversity. The Titan beetle (Titanus giganteus) may be the largest insect in the world, reaching up to 16.7cm in length [5]. The Rhinoceros beetle (Megasoma elephas), distinguished by its long, curved horn used for conspecific battles between males, is now considered a rare species [6]. For most insects, data are deficient to evaluate species-specific extinction risk, but insects in the Amazon are generally threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation.

There are nearly 1 million insects known to science in the Amazon basin.

A single tree in Peru was found to have more species of ants than found in the entire United Kingdom.

  1.     World Wildlife Fund. (2010). Amazon Alive: A Decade of Discovery 1999-2009.
  2.     Wilson, E. O. 1987. The arboreal ant fauna of Peruvian Amazon forests: A first assessment. Biotropica19(3), 245-251.
  3.     Lamas, G. (1997). Comparing the butterfly faunas of Pakitza and Tambopata, Madre de Dios, Peru, or why is Peru such a megadiverse country? In H. Ulrich (Ed.), Tropical Biodiversity and Systematics. (pp. 165-168). Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn.
  4.    http://www.asknature.org/strategy/1d00d97a206855365c038d57832ebafa
  5.    http://www.arkive.org/titan-beetle/titanus-giganteus/
  6.    http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/wildlife_amazon/invertebrates/

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