Walking Among Giants in Northwest Thailand

I boarded a dusty pickup truck and drove eight hours up the Thai-Burmese border. I drove by bamboo homes on stilts and glimpsed Myanmar across the river where fisherman slowly chugged back and forth from bank to bank checking nets. My knees ached from sitting so long with a large sack of rice tucked against my feet, but I remained motivated by the chance to see the giant Asian honeybee  as rice paddy after rice paddy raced past me.

Fieldworkers harvest rice in northwestern Thailand

I first stumbled across Dr. Will Robinson’s name in a forum online where someone was looking for an ID of a moth which Dr. Robinson had seen while researching in Thailand. I paused. A researcher… in Thailand? When I found the forum, I was planning a trip to Asia for nine months and was stopping first in Thailand. Why not visit this entomology professor in the far reaches of the country? And why not do so in every country I would visit? I  began scouring the internet for entomologists of different backgrounds to meet. With a few interviews secured, I pitched my idea to Entomology Today, an online publication from the Entomological Society of America. They agreed to publish my articles. I was off to Asia.

One of the features of this stopover site was that it was located along this river, which Dr. Robinson suspects the giant Asian honeybees used to navigate and find this location, rich in floral resources, year after year. The sign and building in the background are part of the research station where Dr. Robinson worked daily while in Thailand.

When I arrived in town, Dr. Robinson suggested I rent a nice mountain bike to get to the field site the next day. Having not been on a bike in years, I was a little concerned about what I had gotten myself into. The next morning, I had breakfast with Dr. Robinson and his wife, learning more about who they were and where they came from. They own a ranch in Wyoming where a family friend was tending their dogs and horses during their sabbatical in Thailand studying the giant Asian honeybee stopover site in Mae Hong Son.

Now, the moment of truth. We jumped on our bikes and headed out. I followed Dr. Robinson, pumping my legs as fast as I could, chasing him down a long, winding road with the breeze on my face, down to a bridge where we stopped to get a look at the research station. We passed some Thais out picking rice on our way in and then began to ride the transect that Dr. Robinson rode every day, checking in the tree branches on either side for bivouacs.

One of my favorite photos of the day, Dr. Robinson in his element, out searching for the bivouac that had recently vacated the stopover site.

As was my luck, the last bivouac, which had been out just the day before, had moved on into the Thai mountains, continuing on their migration route towards more floral resources.




My original article for Entomology Today about Dr. Robinson’s research can be found here.

You can find his original publication here.


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