This is a story about how I went looking for some very, very tiny animals, and ended up stumbling (almost literally!) on a very, very large animal.
I had learned about Microstigmus wasps from the director of the biological station. She told me that these tiny, eusocial wasps build nests that hang from a string from the undersides of leaves, and that I should keep an eye out for them in the forest. She liked to show them to visitors when she could find them.
It didn’t take me long to discover one…in fact it was that very night on a night hike, which was largely unsuccessful. I found a Microstigmus nest hanging from a leaf and decided that I should return during the day to get photos of the wasps themselves.
The next day, I hiked the same trail, keeping an eye out for the tree with large buttress roots adjacent to the nest. My eyes were trained on the undersides of leaves, scanning as I walked along and it was because of this that I stepped over a large buttress root and very nearly onto a tapir, lying in the middle of the path.
I might very well have stepped entirely ON the tapir if it hadn’t announced its over 200kg presence with a loud HARRUMPH of snorted air. I froze, foot in mid step, and my heart skipped a beat as I gazed down on the large-bodied mammal snorting at me, less than 2 m away. It was quite reminiscent of the time I stumbled upon a cassowary while alone in a Queensland rainforest.
Then I slowly stepped backwards over the buttress and crouched down behind it, swinging my camera around to take some photos. The tapir yawned widely and stood up and turned around (giving me heart palpitations again), then promptly went back to sleep. It was appallingly dark in the forest, and most of my photos came out poorly (I hate the way they look with flash and it was hard to get a low enough shutter speed without a tripod). But wow! What an experience. What an interaction!