Yesterday I learned to collect beetles with a method called beating. This involves a sheet (fabric or nylon) on a wooden or PVC frame and a stick (e.g., a broom handle) to collect insects from trees and bushes. You hold the sheet under the branches with one hand and hit the vegetation with the stick with the other hand. The insects fall from the plants unto the sheet, and you can then quickly collect them by hand or using an aspirator. It sounds pretty simple, but for a first timer it is not so easy. Being 5’1” tall, it was a little difficult for me to reach some of the overhanging tree branches. Having a long beating stick made for some awkward moves. You also need to be quick to catch the insects before they recover from shock and fly away. Beating needs a lot of practice. Overall, it is an interesting to way to collect insects and also get some personal aggression out at the same time.
Two M.Sc. students in the Chaboo lab presented posters on their research at the annual meeting of the the Entomological Society of America, Knoxville, TN, 11-14 November 2012. The ESA is the largest professional entomological organization in the world, and the annual meeting is a great place to contact other entomologists. Mabel and Sofia were able to get feedback and ideas to improve their research, while catching up many interesting talks in beetle systematics, genomics, climate change, and fieldwork.
The Gyrinidae are a family of charismatic aquatic Coleoptera commonly known as whirligig beetles, for their gyrating swimming style. Gyrinids are peculiar for having completely divided eyes giving them the appearance of having four eyes: two that peer above the water and two that peer below the water. They swim about on the surface tension of the water kicking with two pairs of paddle-like legs. The species selected for this month is a whirligig beetle in the genus Gyretes. Gyretes can be characterized by a furry pubescence that usually outlines most of the beetle´s body. However, the Gyretes selected here is nearly completely covered in this hairy pubescence. It also happens to be one of the largest known Gyretes. It is found here in Venezuela and I (Grey) am hoping that I will have the opportunity to collect this charismatic gyrinid on this trip.
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.
A few days ago I hiked through the forest for the first time covered in DEET. I swatted at every insect that came near me. Finally I conceded that I did come to the rainforest with an entomologist. I was going to have to touch some bugs. About halfway through I got my vial out and started catching beetles. Every time I caught a beetle I'd ask Dr. Chaboo, "What kind is this?" it turns out that, each time, I had caught a chrysomelid, her specialty. I wondered how she could tell what kind were chrysomelids. They all looked different to me. After lunch we had our first art lesson. We all picked something to draw. I chose one of my beetles. We spent about 30 minutes to an hour on our drawings. My eyes followed the little beetle around the vial, wishing it would hold still, and I examined each part closely before trying to replicate it on paper. After I finished my drawing, Dr. Chaboo brought in a vial of specimens she had caught by sweeping the grass with a net. There were all kinds of insects in the vial. As I examined them, I started to recognize several even though they looked different from each other. I asked if some were chrysomelid beetles. She said some were. I realized I could recognize the chrysomelids from drawing the ones I had caught. I told Dr. Chaboo. "Good! The class worked then," she said.
I specialize in chrysomelid leaf beetles. Chrysomelidae (about 40,000 species) forms one of the largest radiations of animals, and they present many interesting research problems. My approach is holistic, with extensive fieldwork to explore life histories, ecology, behavior, and laboratory study of morphology and molecules. In this part of Peru, I am particularly interested in chrysomelids that have become specialists of bamboos and bambusiform grasses, palms (at least the ones a 5-foot tall person can reach!) and a particular chrysomelid species that lives in unopened or slightly opened leaves of monocot plants in the Marantaceae and Heliconiaceae families. This latter group is particularly abundant here – nearly every rolled leaf has a few individuals of different species living in this tight semi-aquatic space. I like thinking of unrolling a leaf in the forest as opening a Christmas present – which specimens, how many individuals, what is their feeding pattern?
I specialize in chrysomelid leaf beetles. Chrysomelidae (about 40,000 species) forms one of the largest radiation of animals, and they present many interesting research problems. My approach is holistic, with extensive fieldwork to explore life histories, ecology, behavior, and laboratory study of morphology and molecules. In this part of Peru, I am particularly interested in chrysomelid that have become specialists of bamboo and bambusiform grasses, palms (at least the ones a 5-foot tall person can reach!) and a particular chrysomelid species that lives in unopened or slightly opened leaves of monocot plants in the Marantaceae and Heliconiaceae families. This latter group is particularly abundant here — nearly every rolled leaf has a few individuals of different species living in this tight semi-aquatic space. I like thinking of unrolling a leaf in the forest as opening a Christmas present —– which specimens, how many individuals, what is their feeding pattern?