"Who on earth are they?" comes a heavily-accented voice from somewhere unseen. There's a pause. "Aha," it says a few moments later, in a knowing tone. "Les chasseurs des guêpes!" The wasp-hunters.
We seem to be becoming something of a curiosity. Every morning, after climbing out of the mosquito nets, driving north in style for an hour on French Guiana's only north-south road - flanked by the silhouettes of canopy trees and rainforest mists -, we start the day's work, which is basically the job of explaining to a gentle but relentless stream of bemused onlookers that we really have travelled over four-thousand miles to study their "mouches". I wish I had photos of all the bewildered expressions we've seen so far.
The little town we're working in has (apparently) been quietly getting on with life in the French Amazon since the 1620s. It's a rustic idyll of colourfully painted houses, many of which are made of wood and clay, on a wide meander surrounded on three sides by dense forest. There's a great community spirit. The town council have been fantastic, and it's a beautiful, tidy, and incredibly colourful town with a rich history. So, thank you Sinnamary!
We've found eleven houses across the town which host our fantastic species - and some of them (currently uninhabited) host such a profusion of colonies that's it's almost impossible to move through doorways given the risk that there's a nest on the hinges. Some of these abandoned houses, slowly but relentlessly being reclaimed by the tropics, have something strangely picturesque about them: there's one bedroom draped with hundreds of vines, broad-leaves springing up through the empty bedframe, and various wasp colonies clinging stubbornly but stylishly to the wall.
I'm currently doing a test of a method I plan to use in the actual experiment, which starts soon. Bring on the radio-tags!
Au revoir for now!
Adventures of a
Dr Patrick Kennedy
Postdoc in zoology at the University of Bristol