Sunday, July 5, 2015

Night Hiking and San Jose

Dichotomius sp. of dung beetle
On Sunday night a little beetle decided to hang out with me. He was a cute guy, fairly large, and seemed to be really happy on my wrist, so much so that when I tried to let him go, he kept hanging around. However, this little guy was a dung beetle, so I started taking it as a good sign that I needed to take a shower. I bathe daily here, but things rarely dry and each day my small pack of clothes gets re-worn. I'm finally caving in for laundry before I start attracting more dung beetles.

Newly emerged black witch moth
Monday night was when I finally went on a night hike through UGA's campus. The sun sets early here, about 6pm and normally my hiking for the day goes with it, but all sorts of neat critters--especially insects--crawl out at night. George, one of the campus' naturalists led our group through a neatly winding trail and pointed out each tarantula home that he knew about. Most of the hairy friends were home, waiting for dinner to creep by. We also found a leaf cutter ant queen (Atta cephalotes) who was really docile with a golden ocelli that looked like a crown. On the stranger side, we also spotted slug-like lepidoptera larvae and aggregations of seed bug larvae (family Lygaeidae). A newly emerged Black Witch moth (Ascalapha sp.) was hiding behind a leaf, probably getting ready to go munch on some overripe fruit. These guys are considered to be harbringers of death in Central America, but I like to think she was a sign of good luck for our trip. Not all witches are bad witches ;)

For Wednesday, I bummed a ride with a group going to the airport and then made my way to the University of Costa Rica in San Jose. While there I briefly met Paul Hanson, another local entomologist who is familiar with gall wasps. I picked up the supplies I was sent from the Smithsonian from him and almost cried when I saw my Malaise Insect Trap. These traps are expensive, but they catch a lot of insects--mostly flying ones like wasps. I'm thrilled to see what will fill up my trap heads, but more importantly I felt completed. I have worried a lot about getting my supplies, so much so that it has inhibited my excitement about the trip. No need to worry now though!

From San Jose, I took a bus, which I read would be unreliable. We left at 6:30am, made a few stops, but were in Santa Elena/Monteverde by 11am. With my heavy pack of supplies I wasn't very willing to explore the city so I went back to UGA and made it back in time for lunch. The bus wasn't hot or unreliable as I had been told to expect, but most importantly I traveled all that way for about $4. I highly recommend taking the bus!

Sloth-pose selfie
After my one night in San Jose, I was thrilled to come back to the Moneteverde region though. Although I was exhausted from my trip, I skipped around once I got back on campus and unloaded all my supplies to organize them. Afterwards, I spent some time running the trails, happy to be surrounded by foliage again. I even climbed a few trees and embraced my inner sloth(or monkey) by hanging upside down. While running along the trails out of joy, I was also scouting out some areas to set-up my malaise insect trap that was sent from the Smithsonian. Now that I have a few spots picked out, the only thing keeping me back is catching Jose, the research coordinator, for long enough to have the site approved. Jose is newly taking charge and his passion for entomology has thrown him into several projects. In the past, UGA's campus has been more about having students study abroad, take classes on Spanish and local biodiversity or ecology, while naturalists, who have learned the local flora and fauna give guided tours. But now, Jose wants to implement more research. There are a few researchers on campus from UGA who have different projects from soil to bird movement. Still there is a lot to study! With the naturalists each having a research project, more information could be churned out of this rural lodge and each tourist or visiting student could learn more about the local ecology, but also how research is conducted to perhaps inspire the next generation. This exposure to research also gives visitors an opportunity to realize the importance of scientific research and possibly motivates them to care more for the environment. I really like Jose's ideas and enthusiasm, now we just have to wait and see how things grow.

A very confused Blue-crowned motmot in the
laundry room caught by Cody
We have also gotten to hear from the local researchers on campus to learn about their projects. Cody Cox, who is working on his PhD from the University of Georgia, is here for a 5 years project on animal movement. He's been focusing on birds so far, more specifically the blue-crowned motmot. He catches the birds using fine mesh mist nets, tags them, then tracks where all they move to document their home ranges and if they are limited to certain types of forest. Research like this is critical to improving conservation efforts because it sheds light on what kind of forest conservation may be the most efficient. Cody is also investigating what communities seem to support conservation efforts more and see if there is an overlap in their localities and the forest that needs to be conserved the most. On top of all of that, Cody plans on translating his data into computerized models that can predict where and how animals will move if forest in certain regions is restored or taken away. We have to learn how to coexist because we obviously can't conserve everything and this research is not only fascinating, but crucial to that development. I love being surrounded by such brilliant researchers who are pioneering our way to a better future!

While I wait for my trap to collect wasps, I have been doing research on local flora and fauna. In my research I have found some very valuable tools and made a list below.

Great online databases for plants in Costa Rica that includes live plant photos and plant voucher specimens:

If you're interested in learning more about wasps, WaspWeb's Wonderful World of Wasps has some great online exhibits:
For information specifically on gall wasps, they also have this exhibit:

Most online information on gall wasps covers wasps belonging to superfamily Cynipoidea, but wasps from other familes like Eurytomidae (superfamily Chalcidoidea) also form galls. Chalcids, or wasps belonging to superfamily Chalcidoidea.
Wasps of Family Eurytomidae

As always, I post daily photos and videos on my instagram, justanothernakedape AND there is a ugacostarica_blog where other students have reflected on their study abroad experiences.

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