The Mushroom That Grows Out Of the Back Of an Ant: Odd Tales from the Amazon

The canopy of the Amazon, taken from the tower at the Lodge

I grew up in a story-telling family. During meals, the TV and radio were turned off. The entertainment came from those around the table. We told stories about what had happened to us during the day, or reminisced about the past. We repeated stories, and everyone listened as though they had never heard them before and laughed in all the right places. It was like hearing reruns of a beloved show.

Hey dad, tell the one about…

When I was describing the animals I saw in the jungle to my mom — the anaconda, specifically — she made the noise of shivering (we were on the phone) and said she would have tripped two feet away from it and taken it up in her arms on the way down. Her way of saying: she couldn’t have avoided tragedy. In our family, this sort of thing is considered hysterical.

The Heat

My clothes are sopping wet from sweat. I’m sure I lost weight during this particular hike. I’m standing in front of a Sequoia, which we believe has no relation to those from California. My facial expression is The Sweltering Grimace of Heat.

The heat. The humidity.

Oh. My. God. It felt like I had returned to Texas, but worse. At least in Texas there’s air conditioning. In the jungle? In a hut? I used my cap to fan myself, which did little good. At night I slept without a single cover with sweat rolling off of me.

We hiked the jungle during the day and also took Night Hikes with the guide. The jungle is thick with vegetation; there isn’t a breeze to be found anywhere.

Spiders and Frogs and Creepy-Crawlies

The first night the guide directed his flashlight at the thatched roof of one of the huts so we could see the tarantula there. It was larger than my hand. We had to look closely because the spider was colored the same brown as the straw.

Tarantulas are everywhere. Despite the guide’s assurances they wouldn’t hurt us, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself: tarantula.


The very word holds a kind of shivery crawling-up-my-neck vibe.

Can you find the gray tarantula in this photo? They’re difficult to see while hiking.
Night Hike spider-sighting

This tarantula is returning to the nest, with her back to us. When she was facing us — and leaping forward to catch the twig William was pointing toward her — I didn’t have the nerve to put the camera in front of my face.  William said they can leap upwards of five feet. If the tarantula had jumped on me…

I would die.

Amazonian nibbles

This is a huge grasshopper — its body is the length of my palm. They’re called “Jungle Lobster” because they are considered very good to eat.

This spider has a leg span of 10 inches. ‘Nuff said.
The tiny Poison Dart Frog. Clearly, this isn’t the kind of animal you pick up.
But our guide William, who grew up in these jungles, wasn’t afraid to have it wander along his arm.



This is me blowing the poison dart gun of Gabriel, the shaman of the village we visited. (More about the shaman in a later post.) How was my aim? The piece of fruit on a stump I was shooting at was perfectly safe.

Insect — Plant Oddities
IMG_3908In this photo, notice the small white spider in the lower left corner. It is dead. It had the misfortune of stumbling across the white stem (algae grows on the bottom, but the top is brilliant white) of the plant you can see in the upper right of the photo. This plant’s unusual coloring attracts bugs, then sheds spores that cause insects and spiders to die… the infected insects become completely white in the process. The plant is fed by the decaying body of the animals that die near it. Kinda neat and kinda eerie, all at once.

This snake is about 5′ long, and extended 15″ of its body off the bush then froze, as if it was a limb. Insects fly by, unaware, then become a snake snack.

IMG_3256This is a red-tipped mushroom growing out of an ant. The ant — when alive — had the misfortune of walking near one of these mushrooms and inhaling its spores. They begin to grow inside the (still alive) ant, then break through the ant’s back,  killing it. The mushroom will die once the ant’s body has been sucked dry.

Life is tough, as they say, in the jungle…


Two tough Jungle Beasts

My next post will include photos of the larger animals we saw in the Amazon.


5 thoughts on “The Mushroom That Grows Out Of the Back Of an Ant: Odd Tales from the Amazon

  1. I am not a fan of huge spiders and the like. My horror experiences came in my home when living in Baja California Sur. Not sure I could have been brave enough to make your trip, Bart! 🙂


  2. great, great post, bartimus………lots of info, lots of laughs (lots of memories!)……..patagonia is magnificent, a huge region which is a cross between yosemite and switzerland and the best of the california sierra…… amazing vista after another………’really chuckled over this last post of yours and anxiously awaiting jungle animals………..xxxx




  3. I have been amazed, fascinated and appreciative of your excellent travel writings, Bart. Especially the last few as you floated and hiked the Amazon. So brave, so bold.
    Love to you and Marty. I feel so lucky to know you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s