Costa Rica

Hola! For the next 3 weeks I will be blogging from Costa Rica. I am stationed in the Santa Rosa Sector of the Area de Concervacion Guanacaste (ACG) located in north-western Costa Rica. I will be making day trips to various areas within the ACG to take photos, and to behavioural measurements on caterpillars. The main drive to my work here is to study caterpillars with eyespots; their colour, behavioural response to simulated attacks, and morphology (i.e., their shape and the location of the eyespots on the caterpillar).

The reason I am in Costa Rica specifically is because of Dr. Daniel Janzen and Dr. Winnie Hallwachs. After I had settled on my PhD topic of caterpillar eyespots they published a great paper in PNAS on the topic:

Janzen, D.H., Hallwachs, W., Burns, J.M. (2010) A tropical horde of counterfeit predator eyes. PNAS

Check out Dr. Jerry Coyne’s take on this paper posted on his blog [er website.........] Evolutionistrue

The ACG is a giant conservation area composed largely secondary of growth forest (althoguh it is very hard to tell in many areas). For several decades now Dr. Janzen has spearheaded the regeneration of this forest and acquiring land for the park. The ACG is a model for conservation and its story just gets more amazing the more you learn about it.

  • »  Janzen, D.H. 1987. How to grow a national park. Experientia 43.

  • »  Janzen, D.H. 1987. Editorial. Conservation Biology 1 (2).

  • »  Janzen, D.H. 2000. Costa Rica's Area de Conservaci├│n Guanacaste: a long march to survival through non-damaging biodevelopment. Biodiversity 1 (2).

  • »  Janzen, D.H. 2010. Hope for tropical biodiversity through true bioliteracy. Biotropica.

  • Aside: You can help protect ACG for future generations by donating to the endowment fund. Click here for more information

    In this park Dr. Janzen has a long-term research program where he is creating a massive database which details all the butterfly and moth species in the region, all the host plants they are found on naturally, all the parasites (e.g., parasitic wasps or flies), and all of the parasites' parasites (i.e., hyperparacitoids). A network of skilled parataxonomists (part taxonomist and part park manager) locate, identify and rear caterpillars found in the forest at one of 13 rearing barns scattered throughout the ACG. Caterpillars are constantly being reared year-round. This project is amazingly well organized, and the database is meticulously catalogued and rechecked for accuracy. This inventory project is positioned to examine several big picture questions in ecology & evolution.

    I [quite literally] couldn't ask for a better set-up; the caterpillars are already collected, identified, and organized. Over the next 3 weeks I will be visiting various rearing barns to collect data (colour, morphology, and behaviour) from the caterpillars currently being reared at a given station. When I finish at that station I move on to another. By the time I have visited a few different rearing barns, it will be time to cycle back through to the ones I already visited. Of course only some of the caterpillars will have eyespots and the majority will be either aposematic (toxic and brightly coloured) or cryptic. Over 3 weeks I hope to amass a large dataset from examining cryptic, aposematic, spiny and, of course, eyespot caterpillars.


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