The Spectacle of Evolution
Amazonas field expedition, day 2:
As I enter the small lodge within the jungle, I feel my pulse pumping at high speed. A huge man wearing large shorts and an old t-shirt comes to receive us. His long and grizzled hair forming a mishmash in his scalp contrasts with the serenity sparkling from his eyes. He moves his crude lips into a naive smile, and I immediately sense the peaceful energy he emits.
I observe our guide talking to him. She has that unique accent from Amazonas: a mixture of idioms and weird words. Always with a fetching grin, she was for me the representation of determination. Raised in a humble community in Amazonia, she managed to graduate in Biology, and was one of the first women in Brazil to become a birdwatcher guide, overcoming sexism and prejudice.
She gazes at the man with her dark eyes. The man nods, and murmurs something in return. I don’t understand; it sounds like a dialect of people from the forest. The man takes off his slippers, leaves them in the lodge, and conducts us into the jungle.
Feeling puzzled, I follow him. His giant feet are certainly three times mine, but he manages to move smoothly above the substrate of forest leaves. Beige and dark-green hues mix on the floor, and the soil under these chaotic leaves is of a thin sand. Several roots and branches spread out of trees, forming an offshoot mosaic above and under me. I feel embraced by the forest, as if I were a small fraction of the Amazonia.
As the taller trees are gradually replaced by smaller ones, I focus my eyes on the shrubs looking for them. Then, I see it. I stagger at the impressive vibrant color of those creatures. One of them is perched close to me, dressed all in orange. Only his flight-feathers are dark, but the tips are tangerine again, which resemble the pattern of stripes in some bees. Rebellious plumes shoot off from his wings, and a perfect semicircle-shaped crest embellishes the top of his head. For a moment, I imagine seven mighty reddish flowers blooming within the jungle, though I know they are birds. I am immobilized by the charm of those Guianan Cocks-of-the-rock.
This moment of contemplation, however, is broken when I hear someone laughing at my ear. Enkindled by that guffaw, I start smiling childishly. Our guide is making fun at my lethargic reaction, telling me to do something. I promptly draw my camera to capture that stunner with my lenses and ask myself: “How did something so marvelous come into existence?”
With the memory of my readings, a voice starts echoing in my head as if I am watching a nature documentary. “Through evolution, females determined the color and behavior of males, because if males don’t play their game, there is no … sex for them!” — ok, this is not a phrase you would listen to in a documentary, but it continues: “Males don’t stand a chance to pass on their genes if they don’t gather in leks to exhibit for females.” I see a brownish female approaching. “Now the female is judging her wooers. For her, it doesn’t matter how costly it is to produce the orange carotenoid-based plumage in males. If a male succeeds to match her high demands, hormones and neurotransmitters will trigger pleasure in her, and there will be a winner!”
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