Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Walking in the Jungles of Costa Rica, January 14, 2010, Part 1


The beauty of Costa Rica rain forests is astounding. Even with months of reading books and research about rain forests, I was not prepared for what I would see. The mountains, clear blue skies, sounds of wildlife, and lush trees nearly brought tears to my eyes. Experiencing Costa Rica was a dream come true for me.

small postman

The sunrise caused the morning wildlife to stir. When the loud cicadas stopped their nighttime singing, they were replaced by screeching Scarlet Macaws and chirping birds. With the heat increasing, butterflies soon began to take flight. One of the first butterflies I saw was the Small Postman butterfly (above).


The dragonflies and damselflies in Costa Rica are decorated with variety of colors. From stripes to the colors of purple, pink, and red these winged insects are enough to capture the attention of any nature lover. One difference between dragonflies and damselflies is that dragonflies rest with their wings open while damselflies rest with their wings closed.  (The insect above is a damselfly Hetaerina occisa).


Watching what you grab hold of and where you place your feet is important in rain forests! I observed many different trees that had sharp spikes along their branches. I’m glad I didn’t bump into the tree above! These spikes probably serve as a protection against plant eating animals and larvae as well. From experience, I know that caterpillars can cause major damage to plants.

chrysalis with holes

In the wild, plant eaters are kept controlled by parasites, diseases, and even weather. During my morning explorations, I found a large pupa with several holes in it. The mysterious holes had caused death to the pupa. My sense of curiosity came into play, as I slipped on my gloves to take a closer look.


This pupa had held a winged insect before parasitoids infected it. This chrysalis most likely had held a developing butterfly, not a moth. Moths make silken cocoons unlike butterflies. I labeled the chrysalis above to show where the parts of the butterfly would have developed.


So what caused the death of this chrysalis? I inspected some nearby leaves and soon found a suspect. A tiny wasp like insect was resting on the underside of a nearby leaf. Its body was the exact size of the holes on the chrysalis! I decided for the completion of my studies to perform a dissection and see where the tiny wasp came from.


After I gained enough courage, I carefully opened the dead chrysalis. Inside was an unpleasant sight! The soupy butterfly remains were feeding tiny wiggling creatures. The larva inside had protection, food, and a place to complete their own life cycle.


This close up view shows the larva that now live inside the pupa.

This discovery is unpleasant, but it shows the interdependence in nature. These parasites help plants by controlling caterpillars that feed on their leaves. The delicate balance between predators and prey is amazing. One creature going extinct can severely alter this balance in nature. Humans play an important role in the preservation of our environment. Living sustainably and using our local resources wisely will help preserve rain forests and wildlife for generations to come.

Elizabeth’s Travel Tips: Be cautious touching any plant or insect in the wild. I brought leather work gloves with me.

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