Monday, July 20, 2015

Bajo del Tigre

Me beside the Mrycianthes sp. tree (Photo by Kenji Nishida)

I separated from the group again on Saturday and while they went on a cool canopy walk and zip-lining, I rode down to Bajo del Tigre with Kenji Nishida. There we met Willow Z. in her greenhouse. She is married to Bill Haber, a famous botanist in the area, and she guided us through Bajo del Tigre to see if we could find other galls on plant family Myrtaceae. Willow is very observant and quirky like most scientists, but was amazingly helpful. We hiked down the trails and took our time, well past lunch just stopping to look at different plants and even did some bird watching. She was also sure to wish me luck in working with Myrtaceae, which after the day was through, we discovered was even more difficult to identify than we had thought before. Tiny T-shaped hairs separate this whole family of plants from that of family Malpighaceae. Regardless, we got plenty of new samples to work with and met some well grown Myrtles like Mrycianthes sp. and an undescribed species of Psidium. There were plenty of unique new galls like the one pictured below from a Inga plant. This gall stood up on a stalk from the leaf and Kenji thinks that it is induced by a cecidomyiid (fly) which normally only has one occupant, but he found three exit holes suggesting that the larvae had been parasitized! The most likely culprit would be Tanostigmatidae (superfamily Chalcidoidea).
Inga sp. gall (Photo by Kenji Nishida)

After all of this gally excitement, Kenji dropped me off to re-join my group, bags of plants in-hand. It was about 5pm and I was worn out from hiking so when we got back I laid my plants out for the next day, took a few notes, then took a much needed shower because Saturday night was the night of the local dance and concert. It was a fundraiser for the school with a small raffle and a lot of entertainment. Azul Plato, a fantastic band from Guanacaste showed us how Costa Ricans get down and pretty soon we all braved the dance floor. Ticos can dance; young or old, they are all amazing dancers! It wasn't long before we got the steps down with the help of some local Tico dance stars. Several hours later, my friends and I were about to fall over from exhaustion and joy. If you want a work-out, do a little salsa or merengue for a few hours. Your calves will hate then thank you.
Post-merengue with mis mujeres

Chalcid wasps inside a leaf petiole gall
Sunday was dedicated to plants and galls. I took endless notes, changed out my trap head, and was practically dancing around the lab with all of my specimens. Most of the galls I dissected were empty, but then...there was one. Kenji left an Araceae (Philodendron sp.) specimen in my bag so i was dissecting the petiole gall on the plant. It was a small gall, very inconspicuous. But then...there were THREE WASPS INSIDE. They were chalcid wasps, freshly molted and ready to emerge! Thankfully I was alone in the lab when I found them because I couldn't stop cooing. These guys were beautiful!!! And I had spent all day going through galls with no luck, so when I found these guys my luck had changed. They aren't the Eurytomids that I'm looking for, but I am always happy to wasps! I cried while I watched them crawl around, then quickly deposited them in ethanol for identification and records.

Over the years I have had some complaints about insect collecting. Most are along the lines of the collections being cruel by killing insects. There are millions of insects killed each day by cars, lawnmowers, pesticides, and purposeful human feet.My trap and collection are for the contribution of knowledge. The sacrifice of these wasps allows us to learn about each of their species, especially how they work into their ecology. Research like this also permits the development of our co-existence with nature as we find more natural methods of controlling pests and working with the environment. How can anything be used or preserved without knowing about it first? I welcome any comments here, especially since it's a discussion I think I'll encounter throughout my career.

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