Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Two days in Paradise

The road to paradise was long, but much worth it. I arrived with a group from Hendrix College at 4:20am yesterday, but was wide awake for breakfast at 7:30am. Coffee, mangoes, and sweet plantains made me forget any weariness I had. Then the array of insects, mammals, reptiles, and birds, each twittering with fantastic life kept me wide awake. There was so much to see, every niche is filled by 2-3 organisms! My home for the next six weeks would be at the Ecolodge in San Luis, Costa Rica--a biologist's paradise.
Fallen leaf from a local trumpet tree (Cecropia spp.)
Costa Rica has been teaching me to listen. The thick canopy above trills and chirps with the feathered remnants of dinosaurs while insects swarm and march in every corner. The wind is so powerful that at times I think I'm near running water. It's always knocking on my cabin door, making the beams creak and moan while filling my mind with images of the power of nature. Nature rules here with no life. Each death is instantly covered with new life and if we left, this lodge would instantly be taken over. But the occupants of UGA's Ecolodge have followed nature's pattern--no waste. All the food is composted here, napkins recycled, and most resources are locally grown. I can feel the cycle as I clean my plate of exotic fruits, rice, and beans at each meal and am very conscious of each item I might throw-away.
Rico, the local coati egg fiend

Animals are everywhere too. I'm finally around other mammals. Capuchin monkey's were angstily screaming in the canopy above as we pointed our binoculars at them. A white-nosed coati strolled across campus like one of the researchers before climbing into a tree to elicit the angry calls of a bird. He invaded her nest and fed on her eggs, loudly smacking his lips while she flew away crying.

But these animals are not what I'm after. I've come to this paradise for an Odyssey Project on gall wasps, parasitoids of plants. Like parasites, parasitoids rely on a host for survival. They'll use the host while it's living, whereas a predator kills another organism for survival. Unlike parasites though, parasitoids eventually kill their host. In the case of gall wasps, they lay their eggs in some part of the plant (stem, leaf, fruit, etc.) and those larvae develop overtime, using the plant's resources in place of a yolk or other food supplied by the parent. These larvae can greatly inhibit the growth of the plant, but typically do not kill it like other parasitoids. Still, their evolutionary heritage is similar, so together they remain under division Parasitica. Isn't that a beautiful word? Parasitica. It sounds like the name of paradise for me. I know I'm biased with my love for insects, but let anyone else see the diversity in this group that I have and it will move them like a life-sized landscape in the Louvre. I'll have such collections once my I get my supplies next week, but for now I will continue to listen.

Want more? Follow me on instagram at justanothernakedape where I post pictures and videos of creatures daily.

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