Costa Rica has been a blast! From collecting beetles in pristine rainforest to relaxing outside Kiri Lodge on a warm tropical night, Costa Rica has exceeded my expectations for an international expedition. Firstly, all the people we came into contact with were pleasant, generous people who were always eager to help regardless of our lack language skills. I am very impressed by the Costa Rican people (especially Laura our hostess from Kiri Lodge) and their geniality has added immensely to our overall experience
Secondly, the country itself is beautiful with its misty mountains and luscious rainforests. Our week in Tapanti National Park gave us a glimpse of the diverse fauna and flora that makes this country so ideal for research. Lastly, our collaborators from the Universities of Delaware and Costa Rica were all excellent, amiable researchers. The graduate students from Delaware were always ready to help me with identifications and their jovial dispositions made the trip very entertaining. Despite our lack of communication, the students from Costa Rica helped us set-up traps and collect while their advisor, Monika, was perhaps the most helpful and likable person we encountered during our trip. My time in Costa Rica has been the most memorable trip I’ve experienced and I can say with certainty that I will return to this halcyon country.
I know it sounds cliché, but it’s hard to believe how fast the last two weeks have gone by. I have made plenty of memories: from wading across the Rio Orosi, to scrambling around rock seeps in search of Oocylcus, to humming the Jurassic Park theme with Frazier as we bounced along in the back of a pickup as it hurtled through the rainforest. I know I will never forget my time here in Costa Rica. I left the United States, a young, naïve gringo, and soon I will return a slightly older, ruggedly unshaven, moderately less naïve gringo who has had some of the coolest experiences of his life.
Eve of departure
End of an experience
Soon I will return
At first you won’t see many beetles…” a piece of advice given to me regarding collecting in the tropics. I thought that was a lie. I’ve seen the photos of brightly colored scarabs and blacklight sheets full of insects. This advice echoed in my head today as I entered the Costa Rican rainforest for the first time today. Sure enough, beetles did not throw themselves at me! I had to seek them out as I would in any other place. The beetles that I study for my dissertation research are known as riffle beetles, and they live in fast-flowing streams throughout the world. The first stop on the hunt for riffle beetles was a relatively small stream (or Quebrada as they are known in Spanish) draped in mosses and mist, close to the Lodge. I collected with the help of Frazier and the students from UCR. It took a few tries, but before long, we had collected a diverse batch of elmids. It looks like this is going to be a good trip after all!
I had my first in-the-field birthday today. Monica, a curator and professor at the University of Costa Rica whom has joined us this trip into Tapanti National Park, graciously baked us a b-day cake. I’m not big on celebrating birthdays, and I had in fact forgotten about today, so if it weren’t for, I’m assuming Andrew’s insistent pursuit, my birthday would have gone un-noticed/-celebrated.
Crystal couldn’t finish her dinner today, so I had both our dinners. Two fish heads were also consumed and on another note still no sign of an army ant emigration column. Unfortunate, considering I’ve seen more species, and genera, than last year’s trip in March.
Today’s agenda, for those that are keeping track was sifting, sifting, sifting.
Rain, rain, rain. I am beginning to understand why it is called a “rainforest.” I feel like I have experienced more rain in the past several days than in the previous nineteen years of my existence combined. But hey, you need water to find water beetles, so I guess I shouldn't complain.
Yesterday morning, we went into the old growth part of the forest, where only a select few — including our sciency selves — are allowed to go. We were there to service the FIT traps that we had erected several days earlier. On the way up to the first trap we made an exciting discovery: tapir dung! While that may not seem like an incredibly sweet find to most people, I was really excited. A short while later, we encountered more mammalian awesomeness when we encountered a pair of coatis as they passed through the forest. They were quite wicked (in the New England sense of the word), especially as I had been keeping my fingers crossed in the hope that I would get to see them on this trip. All in all, it was a very successful day, as I finally got my tropical mammal fix (not counting the adorable, fluffy puppies at the lodge) on top of collecting a number of cool water beetles.
Today was a full day of getting trap sites established and the traps up. We started the day (at a relatively ‘late’ 7:30), with the first order of business being a brief meeting with the park superintendent to review our planned schedule and activities. The UCR crew and some of my students worked a nearby stream for aquatic insects, while the rest of the group went deep into the park (in areas tourists can’t go due to safely concerns) to set up some flight intercept traps. Because of the steep mountainsides and rain, landslides and tree-falls that block the road are frequent hazards, and we can only work this area in the mornings when the threat of rain is low. The inner areas of the park are primary forest, while the first 3-4 kilometers are secondary forest (about 80 years old), and one of the goals is to see if there are differences in the fauna of these two types of forest. In the afternoon, Taro took some of the undergraduates out to sift litter. The Delaware contingent spent the day scouring vegetation along the main trails for their study groups.
Upon arriving in Tapanti, I have been stunned by the sheer beauty of the surrounding rainforest. I began yesterday by joining Crystal in her collecting ventures, leading me to a small stream just outside Kiri Lodge. The scenic rivulet was draped by a plethora of vegetation containing moss-covered trees, vines, and other beautiful plants. I’ve seen many pictures of the tropics in books and magazines but these images pale in comparison to a first-hand experience. The forest contains an immense array of sights, sounds, and scents that would take more than a week’s time to fully appreciate. My short time here has me eager for more of this country’s beautiful natural treasures.
The sole purpose of this post is to show off this giant leaf.
I thought I knew what to expect on my first jungle excursion; however, I didn’t. I was overwhelmed by everything. As I was born and raised in western Kansas. Here, the amount of water, trees, and all manner of green vegetation was enough to make my head spin. I felt like I was trapped in “Jurassic Park” and I kept expecting for some sort of dinosaur to coming crashing towards us through the undergrowth, as we set up the FITs (flight intercept traps). However, I did manage to escape the forest without being eviscerated by a velociraptor and I live to blog another day.
Yesterday Taro, Crystal, and the Delaware people arrived and today we met up with the Costa Rica people and traveled to Tapanti Nat. Park. It is beautiful up here, and for $15 a day I think I could move here and live comfortably. I did get nauseous on the car ride here because the driver kept slamming on the breaks then going then slamming on the breaks. Yuck. Once we got here and unloaded everything Andrew, Taro, Clay, and I went into the park and set up FITs. That was an adventure for sure. Trecking through secondary forest and getting our boots suction cupped into the mud was fun. So was trying to keep our balance on the uneven terrain. I look forward to more of that. Maybe we’ll see a sloth or a tapir. One can always hope. Jeremy signing off.
Greetings all, Andrew writing here. Our arrival yesterday went very smooth, and preparations for the fieldwork portion are going well. Today I picked up the collection permits and some gear I’d left in-country from the last trip, as well as changed money, ran errands, etc. I’ve asked the three KU undergrads to write a paragraph about their initial impressions of Costa Rica, particularly as it is the first time out of the country for most of them. Tomorrow, the rest of the team arrives from KU and Delaware, and we will make final preparations with the team from the University of Costa Rica before heading out to Tapanti on Wednesday.
Day 1: arrived in beautiful Costa Rica. This is my first time outside of the states so I was nervous but excited to be here. Everyone seems friendly and the food is very good. First impression is that I would definitely come back here for a vacation, except I speak almost no Spanish. Today, [Day 2] we got a “fast food” breakfast, aka comida rapida (beans, rice, & overeasy eggs = really good) and bought some groceries for our stay at Tapanti. We also took a tour through INBio’s nature park, which was an awesome experience and I took tons of pictures. Basically like going to a zoo but way cooler because it’s in Costa Rica. It made me excited and hopeful for Tapanti and things to come. More from me later. Hasta Luego!
This trip is my first foray out into the world, away from the familiarity of Los Estados Unidos that have been my home for the past 19 years. I anticipated some amount of culture shock when I arrived in San Jose and although I was overwhelmed at first, I feel like I am quickly becoming more and more comfortable in this fascinating new culture (insert comment here about the adaptability of the human nature in order to provoke deep introspective thoughts from blog followers). So far I have greatly enjoyed experiencing all of the sights, sounds, and tastes of Santo Domingo—a suburb of San Jose—and I look forward to all of our adventures that I’m sure this trip will bring.
My previous visit to Mexico gave me some idea what to expect upon entering San Jose but by no means am I experienced in Costa Rican culture. We passed (rather hurriedly) through customs to baggage claim and quickly acquired a cab to take us to INBio. Lacking any practical Spanish-speaking ability required our group to rely on Andrew for communication with the locals. Despite our horrendous pronunciations, the people of Santo Domingo, where INBio is located, have been very friendly and have not scoffed at our American “ignorance." We visited the park at INBio today and I was impressed at the level of biota seen by even the most cursory of glances. Each leaf, flower, or tree trunk provided me with a novel species never encountered before and I am more excited than ever to explore Tapanti.
Regardless of how much preparation is put in to an expedition, the packing process and running around fretting about things one may have forgotten always goes down to the wire (at least for me). I’m calling preparations ‘done’ now at 11pm, with our taxi coming at 4:30am. Part of the reason is the number of ‘small’ things. For example, the checklist for this rather modest expedition is probably on the order of 300 things. The photo here shows what goes into my collecting bag for example — which is no less than two dozen items itself. We have a good travel time tomorrow, and get to INBio at around 3pm, with a bit of time in the afternoon to relax before a full day of in-country preparations on Monday.
In two days, the first half of our group will leave for San Jose, with the rest following two days later. This particular trip serves a number of purposes: first and foremost, we will be continuing survey efforts for aquatic insects at a mid-elevation pristine cloud forest…we do this to both help with an overall inventory of Costa Rica’s biodiversity, but also to understand how insects and water quality are related. Second, it will give a range of students experience in the field — some for the first time — and so is a ‘training’ trip of sorts. Third, we are eager to start new collaborations with the University of Costa Rica, and this trip will allow us to hash out some ideas for future work while we conduct this fieldwork together.
Our first stop and ‘base of operations’ for the start and end of the trip will be Costa Rica’s Insituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio), or National Biodiversity Institute. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with INBio in for the last eight years (this also happens to be my eighth trip to the country). In addition to conducting and assisting with biodiversity research throughout the country, they house most of the Costa Rica’s biological heritage in the form of millions of specimens and their data.
A major Midwest snowstorm during the Christmas holiday delayed the 36-hour journey for our intrepid herpetology team, but we eventually made our way from snowy Lawrence to the Kansas City airport. The very long plane trip to Manila included a layover in Minneapolis and a layover in Japan.