Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Seven

All insects staring in this blog entry are less than 5 mm long. A reasonably good macro lens reveals amazing textural detail and colorful patterns even in these smaller bugs. I am using a 50 mm 1:2 Macro Zuiko Digital on an E-500 Olympus SLR body. This is an inexpensive hand-held set-up and far superior solutions are available. All the images are taken at night at my black lights which are hanging on out slump block garage wall and on the wall of our neighbors wooden weekend cottage. I support the built-in flash of the camera with a strong LED flashlight to help the camera focus and to brighten up the cast shadow.
 I try to orient the camera so that the flash hits the insect from front to back.  Depending on its position this can be difficult. A secondary flash would be ideal, but I am trying to keep things simple.

Cymatodera aegra-complex
 So here are 7 species that are common at the light right now: Adults of this genus Cymatodera in the family of the Checkered Beetles (Cleridae) are predaceous, some feeding on the larvae of gall wasps, others hunting fruit tree lepidoptera and wood-boring beetles. Identification to species is very difficult.But Cymatodera aegra is one of the smallest around here

Anoplocurius canotiae
This little Cerambycid is a family member of the largest of beetles. Tropical species can be as long as my lower arm, but even the Palo Verde Rootborer (Derobrachus hovorei) that is emerging right now in Arizona can be up to 4 inches long. This little guy is about as long as a Derobrachus foot.

Adelina sp.
The 3.5mm long  Adelina sp. is a darkling beetle and as such related to the big, black Pinacate or stink beetles that cruise the desert floor at dusk and stop to stand on their heads when they are disturbed.

Enchenopa permutata - Female
In this species of Membracidae (Treehoppers), the female wears the horn, the male just has a rounded forehead. Maybe she needs the thorn mimicry more than he while she deposits her eggs on something thorny (?) Just about all plants here qualify...

Lomamyia sp.
Eggs of this little Beaded Lacewing  are stalked, and can be found on wood surfaces near termite nests. The larvae live with and prey on termites, using an immobilizing gas (containing an allomone) discharged from their anus.


The little Rove Beetle was running around, always ready to take wing again. At rest his membranous fore wings can be folded tidily and stored under the short elytra. This little predator is a member of the Staphylinidae, the largest family in the animal kingdom with 55,440 recognized species worldwide.

Aristotelia corallina

This little one is a Gelechiidae (Twirler Moths). The larval habits in this group vary widely: it includes leaf miners, leaf folders and tiers, gall makers, and fruit & seed feeders. The species A. corallina constructs larval webs near the tips of the host plant, the Sweet Acacia. 



Thursday, June 27, 2013

June Nights


This year around Midsummer the largest, most beautiful moon graced our clear desert sky. Randy and I hiked up Sabino Canyon, the mountains on both sides of the road actually benefitting us with the impression of several spectacular moon rises during one evening.



By 10 pm the moon had cleared the mountains and, hanging close to the zenith, was bright enough to read the small symbols on my camera's dial.

Queen of the Night (Peniocereus greggii)

Last night more magic happened. Our first, and this year only, Queen of the Night (Peniocereus greggii) flower opened. Delicate and fragrant it survived into the early morning hours, so I could capture the first rays of sunshine just reaching it. As beautiful as this seems, there is a scary reason for this longevity: right now pollinators are virtually absent. It has been nearly a month that I saw the last Manduca or Whitelined Sphings, and even local feral bees that often do early morning duty have completely disappeared.

So unpollinated and still hopeful, the Virgin Queen lasts into the late morning hours, until the merciless heat of another 108 degree day will brake her spirit and she will die unfulfilled.

There is still hope, though. While in other years all Peniocereus plants in the area seemed synchronized to bloom during the same single night, this year there are still buds that are only about an inch long and will not open before this incredible heat spell ends, the rains begin, and the insects eager to break their estivation pause will awake ... and life will go on. Or so we hope




Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Five

Following in Dragonfly Woman's footsteps, and missing her alliteration by a day this week, here I am presenting five midsummer-nightly co-inhabitants of our backyard. This is just before the monsoon begins (we hope).


These little scarabs, Acoma sp. come to my porch light every year, but only the males. I have yet to find one of the flightless females. As with many other desert spp., the numbers are dwindling.


Temnochscheila sp. are predators of wood-boring beetles and usually associated with conifers. We had an old pine tree which I thought was the source of these beetles, but some years ago it died and was completely removed while the beetles are still going strong. Of course, the idea that our one pine tree, far removed from its normal habitat, would support this secondary guest (a predator of the tree's pests) was a little naive to begin with. This species seems to be a true desert inhabitant and quite independent of conifers.


This little wingless wasp had me wonder whether it was a mutillid or bradynobaenid but in fact its family Chyphotidae is not related to any of those. They just share the features that there females are wingless and their winged stin-gless males come into our house to buzz around the reading lights. This species impressed me because it is suspected to be a brood parasite of Solifugae, sun scorpions


 Kissing Bugs, the blood-sucking cone-noses  Triatoma rubida, are the only bugs that I always kill when I find them in our house. This year at least, they go into the freezer to be shipped off to a collector in Spain. Kissing bugs probably grow up in Packrat nests, but I have found nymphs in our dogs' beds, too. The adults are good fliers who are attracted to lights. Luckily their activity ends with the onset of the monsoon. Arizona has at least three species of Kissing Bugs but T. rubida is the only one I have collected around our house.


Midsummer night brought a tiny new moth, very delicate and pretty: Hileithia magualis, in the family Crambidae. I don't know its host plant. Its distribution is mostly southeastern with very few records west of Texas. (New Mexico and Arizona) A true Southern Belle.















Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lions on (in?) my Mind

Above Turkey Flats on Mt Graham
 Last week a friend urgently needed some life insects from the Pinaleno Mountains. I know that at above 7000 feet elevation my old truck has even less power than usual, so I asked Fred Skillman whether he didn't need to collect Cerambycids up there, and of course he did, and so he drove us up in his stronger vehicle. We camped at in the mixed conifer region above Turkey Creek. Tall pines, beautiful blue spruce and fresh green fir trees form a dense canopy and keep the undergrowth sparse. Where fire or windbreak had toppled the giant trees, white blooming, fragrant Ceanothus greggii was  blooming and  Manzanita bushes and Cliffrose were already setting fruit.

Ceanothus greggii,   Manzanita,and Cliffrose
At one point the dirt road crossed a deep gully that may have been hiding a permanent trickle of water in it's depth. There were Alders, Cherries, Sambucus, and Emory Oaks sprouting from the steep slopes. Here I found my first Giant Ladybugs! The are really much bigger than all of their North American and European cousins, close to the size of a copper penny.

Anatis lecontei, Giant Lady Beetle

At dusk we set up our sheets Mercury Vapor and Ultra Violet lights to attract night-flying insects. While Fred, hoping for bycids, stayed in the campground close to a windbreak with a lot of dead trees, I chose the little riparian area about a third of a mile down the road.

The most numerous visitors on both sheets were  Dichelonyx sp. This genus in the family Scarabaeidae that is not very well represented in Arizona. In fact the only other Arizona entry on BugGuide is my own record from Oak Canyon, Sedona. But the species on Mt Graham is bigger and I hope Bill Warner will id it for me.


Here is a sample of the many species of moths that I photographed. Maury Heiman did most of the identifications. To see all my Mt Graham moths, please click here.
To see all my beetles from this trip, please click this link

Vaejovis electrum Hughes 2011
During the hours that our sheets were up, I walked several miles along the road and several times to the campground and back, searching with my flashlight for night active critters that don't fly to lights. I found Darkling Beetles and Ground Beetles, Camel Crickets and little dark scorpions with small chelicerae. When Warren Savary identified them as  Vaejovis electrum, Hughes 2011  I realized that I had actually been on Mt. Graham with Garret Hughes when he found the first specimens of this species that he described in 2011.

Nomius pygmaeus (Stink Beetle) (2)
Fred picked up a tiny ground beetle that turned out to be the most odoriferous thing I have smelled in my life. Its odor reminded me of the Common Stinkhorn, Phallus impudicus (Mushroom), but it was much, much stronger. It filled the vial the beetle was in, the space around the black lighting sheet, the campground, now my studio... I can smell it everywhere. Did I mention that the beetle is barely 5 mm long?


In the morning I was up early to watch for some moth and beetle species that fly during the cooler day light hours. Along the road I found Silverspotted Skippers already positioned to attack everything from slow flying blue Pleasing Fungus Beetles to darting big Aeshnidae. Several kinds of Lycids and their mimics where also on the wing or nectaring on Ceoanothus flowers.


The road and the roadside vegetation were dusty. Luckily there was no traffic as we had had the place completely to ourselves since the early evening. When I reached deeply carved riparian area my eye caught tracks of a big animal that had climbed up onto the road. Repeatedly, it seemed. I found clear marks: rounded, four-toed with no claw marks where it hadn't been climbing, the pad with three lobes in back. Bigger than my fist, bigger than my wolf-dog's tracks (of course, Laika does have very dainty feet). This was a big cat,  no bobcat but a mountain lion.


I saw that the puma's tracks overlapped mine from the night before. So he had strolled along the road after I left my sheet around 10:30 PM? Then I found a spot where my foot prints covered those of the cat. I also saw paw prints close to my sheet. Then a row of them, leading towards the campground. And again, my own footprints crossing the paw prints, and in some places the paw prints were on top. At a very soft, dusty spot there were clearly much smaller tracks next to the big ones. At least one cub! It seems that I had had a lot of company last night. I hadn't heard a thing.


But by now I was listening to any pebble that fell off the cliffs along the road and any rustling in the bushes. Believe me, there were shadows moving under the overhanging branches of a big blue spruce and on the cliff above fawn colored rocks moved and turned into crouching lions staring down at me.


 But then all I found were some lizards and more skippers bashing each other noisily with their wings. Mysterious little clicks and crackles were identified as the 'song' of Platypedia putnami, the small cicada associated in many places with Ponderosa Pines. I resumed chasing bugs with my net and beating branches over my beating sheet.

Mother Puma was probably relaxing somewhere with her cubs, laughing at those human antics ...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Yard Snakes in June

Our rattlesnake count for 2013 is finally going up. After several months without any visitors we first had the little one that the quail family pointed out. Then two nights ago, Randy, barefoot in sandals, stepped on a Diamondback that was concealed among some garden hoses on the brick terrace in front of the house. My husband is now turning on his flash light, not just carrying it. The rattler hid in a thicket of barrio petunias and could not be convinced to come out.


This morning a big rattler struck at Frodo on the steps of the back patio. It happened so fast, I heard a hiss but at first no rattle. Frodo has finally learned to fear rattlers (after 7 or 8 bites) and he backed off unharmed, only to let Cody take over the snake-barking duty. That rattler (photo) we carried out to the old lime stone quarry. When we crossed our fence to the state land the horses heard the rattle from the transport bin which has great accoustics. They threw up their heads and spooked with Cody in deliriously happy persuit.

When released from the bin, the snake recoiled and rattled. Trying to encourage him to move on, I threw some dry horse manure and sticks, not hitting him but very close. He didn't react at all to the flying objects, just kept his head turned toward me ready to strike. Maybe the  heat-sensing "pits" on his face read my thermal radiation and told him where the living threat was, or he could smell me. Looking at the photo I think his eyes look filmed over, so he may have been temporarily blind because he's close to shedding his skin. I'm wondering: what information do the heat sensors provide when the environmental temperature raises above the core temperature of an endotherm bird or mammal? Of course the rattlers are mainly night active in summer.


On the way home I was speculating how to test my theory (the one about the ignored inanimate clods of horse manure) on a non-viper, when Randy said "Like this one? Camera??"
A four to five foot Gophersnake was beginning his day with a dip in our bird bath. He was lying quietly, and as I watched him breathing while all of his body remained submersed, I found another physiological problem to ponder: He seemed to pump the air rythmically from his gular and neck region into his elongated lung (click to see video).  The entire rest of the body was lying completely motionless. I had never noticed this 'air gulping' in snakes before, just in amphibians. When the snakes left the water, its breathing movement became invisible.
Answer:  the lungs of a snake are usually ventilated almost exclusively by its axial musculature. That is the same musculature that is used for locomotion. What I saw in my 'water snake' was buccal pumping which is indeed a form of swallowing air  (into the lungs, not the digestive tract). It is used in situations where axial breathing is not feasable.

Gophersnake swallowing a rabbit. This is after the strangle hold is released
Another question: how do these constrictors breathe while they are squeezing the life out of a squirrel or bunny? How do they manage not to suffocate themselves? Buccal pumping doesn't seem possible then either, because the mouth is open. Maybe snakes, being heterotherm, just need so much less oxigen than their warmblooded prey that they can afford not to breath during this act. But what if the prey is a lizard?

Friday, June 7, 2013

June Beetles on Mt. Lemmon (sorry, no June Bugs!)


Blister beetle Epicauta liebecki, Sap-feeding beetle Carpophilus sp., and Net-winged beetle Lucaina discoidalis all found on Wait-a-Minute Acacia
It's June, and Tucson and the lower desert are parched. No rain, and none to be expected till July, and temperatures daily above one hundred. So I took a ride up Mt Lemmon yesterday. Surprisingly, not very high up, around Molino Basin, the insect world was buzzing with activity around blooming acacias, and I had to tear myself away to make it all the way up into the conifer area (over 8000 feet) that was my target.

Iphthiminus sp. (Tenebrionidae) and Ealaterid pupa
At Middle Bear I ripped loose bark off a fallen Ponderosa Pine to collect some big Tenebs that I knew would be there. They are for Alejandro Castro Tovar from Spain.

Chalcolepidius apacheanus
 The same piece of bark revealed a huge pupa of an Elaterid. I hope it will hatch. I have collected Chalcolepidius apacheanus there before. Yessss - I was right: C. apacheanus emerged a week later.

View fro Meadow Trail, Mt. Lemmon over Tucson to Mts Wrighston and Hopkins in the Sta Ritas
I always drive all the way up and park high above the ski area to hike the Meadow Trail, even though it leads soon into a jumble of fallen trees from the last big fires that hit the area. Most of the beetles I found were old acquaintances, but one can always get better photos!

Magdalis lecontei, a well hidden  Orimodema protracta, and on a Robinia leaf two Tachygonus centralis
 On the blooming pines there are always weevils, and a very special, tiny species, Tachygonus centralis, can be found on the Locust trees (Robinia neomexicana) that are colonizing burned spots on sunny slopes a little further down.

Enoclerus moestus and Gibbifer californicus
Freshly dead Pine trees are always a great source of Clerids that are hunting for wood boring insects. I had seen Enoclerus moestus in the Chiricahuas last year and recognized him right away when he was rolling around in my beating sheet with his read abdomen flashing. That's of course hidden when he's posing upright with his wings closed.  I also found my first-of-the-year Gibbifer californicus, the pleasing fungus beetle that breeds on shelf fungi on dead or dying trees.
 
Cosmosalia chrysocoma
A gorgeous specimen of Cosmosalia chrysocoma fell out of a blooming pine branch. As it was getting late in the afternoon the beetle was inactive and content to pose for my camera.


After the short hike on top I still couldn't make up my mind to descend back into the heat of the valley, so I stopped in Summerhaven. The big Heracleum along the creek was in full bloom.  I hung around there so long that my favorite pizza and brownies cottage closed in the meantime. Too bad!

Strophiona laeta
But I did find another Cerambycid also in the tribe Lepturini. Several of my friends had described a big wasp-mimicking longhorn beetle from the wildflower meadows of the Huachucas and the Chricahuas, but they were all just 'lep people' or they couldn't find their notes...so I had been curious what they were talking about. The only black and yellow Lepturine that I found so far, Judolia instabilis,  didn't qualify as big. But I think this Strophiona laeta might be it. The id is by Vassili Belov who calls it tentative, but checking A Photographic Catalog of the Cerambycidae of the New World by by Larry G. Bezark I find that of the three species in the genus S. laeta is the only one to occur this far east. Surprisingly there is only one other BugGuide entry for the species, from Miller Canyon, Huachucas, by Charles Melton. Charles always seems to be just one step ahead of me.

Monday, June 3, 2013

BugGuide Gathering 2013 in Arizona

This year the insect enthusiasts and members of the BugGuide community will hold their annual get together at the Santa Rita Experimental Range (SRER) in Arizona on July 25 to 28, 2013.

View into Florida Canyon from the SRER
The SRER is located in Florida Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, in the heart of SE Arizona, one of the most arthropod-species rich areas of the United States. Located in the juniper-oak belt of this sky island the station provides easy access Florida, Madera and Montosa Canyon and to habitats ranging from dry grasslands to high elevation mixed conifer stands. SRER not only provides us wirh affordable bunk style housing, but also with great meeting facilities and electricity and space for black lighting. The station is part of the experimental range of the University of Arizona.

Caterpillars from a night hike at the SRER
 U of A Professor Wendy Moore, curator of the Insect Collection of the University of Arizona (UAIC), functions as our official host who made the use of the station possible.

Since it was conceived in 2005 by Troy Bartlett, Mike Boone, and Pat Coin, BugGuide has developed from an on-line identification help into a citizen science project par excellence. It is now hosted by John K. VanDyk at Iowa State University. Daily thousands of contributions come in from all over the US and Canada, a devoted team of volunteer experts works tirelessly on identifications, and the collected data are easily accessable for lay people and experts alike. I know a number of scientists who value BugGuide as a source of first hand distribution information, links to collectors, and identified on-line images that can be licensed from the individual photographers.

 Wendy Moore at the U of A (a land grant university) has been promoting the local insect collection (UAIC) as a museum for the public and has made many efforts to further public interest in insects, their ecology, and their natural history. She has been instrumental in the creation of the very popular Arizona Insect Festival and is actively supporting many citizen science projects like for example the BioBlitz in the local Saguaro National Park and the online Encyclopedia of Life. So when the BugGuide community needed a sponsor in the U of A faculty to be able to use the SRER, Wendy was the obvious person to turn to and she graciously agreed.  

 The BugGuide Gathering 2013 in Arizona will be an opportunity for established BugGguide members to finally meet each other or see each other again in an environment full of opportunity to find bugs, hike, black light, get sun burned, and mostly to enjoy each others company. With Troy Barlett and Patrick Coin we will have two of the founding members of BugGuide at the meeting!
But we also hope that many newer BugGuide members can take the opportunity to get into the field with a lot of the experts who have been identifying so many of their entries over the years. We will let them in on the secrets of finding our favorite bugs in desert and mountains and let them watch how we get puzzeled by new unexpected finds. It should be great fun! BugGuide members, please sign up by going to the BG home page, column on the left, Gathering in AZ 2013, then click on 'My Account' to input your info and choices, which will appear under 'Who is coming' (make sure you are logged into your account). 

Eric Eaton, Robyn Waayers, Art Evans, and I - all looking forward to the BugGuide meeting at the SRER in July
This is also a chance for local bug enthusiasts and entomologists to take part in the trips we will be organizing and to meet some interesting people. We don't have a fixed program yet but on Thursday afternoon both Art Evans (Author of 'An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles and several other insect books) and Eric Eaton (Author of  Kaufman's Insect Guide for North America) will be at the SRER where we will set up several black lights and mercury vapor lights to attract beetles, moths and more.
Charles O'Brien, our world renown weevil expert, his wife Lois, equally accomplished fulgorid scholar, will also join us at the meeting.   Chip A. Hedgecock a great nature photographer and connoisseur of the local insect fauna will set up his photo studio and allow us to watch his technique. Warren Savary will also demonstrate his new photo equipment and  help with our questions about scorpions. Fred Skillman will add his expertise about cerambycids and Pat Sullivan will help with scarabs, bombylids, and his general knowledge of the area. 

Oh, and the gathering is also registered as a  National Moth Week event!

I hope to see many of you in July

Margarethe Brummermann
reluctant organizer but excited participant of the BugGuide gathering 2013
  


Bird Pointers

Artistic freedom: the ptarmigan covey is flushed. A good bird dog would NOT do that, he'd just freeze on point
In the late eighties I studied circulatory adaptations in the brood patch of Ptarmigan in Norway. To find these secretive birds, I often relied on the sensitive noses and natural pointing instinct of bird dogs. Every family in Trondheim seemed to own a couple of Setters or Pointers.

video

Pointing Gambel's Quail family click for better video quality
To my surprise, I recently observed very similar pointing behavior not in dogs, but in Gambel's Quail. Coincidentally, these birds are close relatives of the northern Ptarmigan. Both species are galliformes,  chicken like ground dwellers with short wings, strong running legs, and strong family bonds that outlast the breeding season so you find them all year round in their typical coveys.

This morning I watched a couple with two fairly grown chicks at the feeding station in front of my studio window. They were long and thin with excitement, their necks stretched and their beaks pointing. They held this pose and focused on a spot on the ground that from my view point was obscured by a rock and an agave. Clearly the chicks were learning to fine tune their maybe instinctive pointing by this concerted effort. In social animals, learning and memory are facilitated by highly-emotional situations. These chicks were learning their lesson well.
But what was triggering the excitement? Different from most bird mobs these guys were quiet and the other bird species were not drawn into the melee. The Mourning Dove seems hardly interested, the Thrasher keeps eating, only a sparrow seems ready to chime in.

Diamondback Rattler
But I got up from my desk and got my snake stick knowing exactly what was hiding under the agave. A Diamondback Rattler was tightly curled, absorbing heat from the warm sand and the morning sun. It is now so hot during the day that he is most likely night-active. The feeding station is visited at night by rodents, so this is a popular spot for rattlers.


This one was a small guy and his rattle didn't make any sounds. The small ones tend to wander straight west from that location, right into our dog run. So we decided to move him several hundred meters north. When he resumes his journey next night, he will hopefully bypass our house and the dog beds.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

La Pura Vida!


So I'm finally back to blog-writing after an excellent, exciting, 8 day trip to Costa Rica. For the following week I was busy trying to identify my hundreds of Costa Rican bug photos and posting them on Flickr. Right then Yahoo decided to really make things difficult for those of us who value information as much as pretty pictures...Oh, well, there is no way I can move my 17 000 pictures with all their ids and collection info, so I'm staying with Flickr.
Last week, my last art show for the season, the Phippen Museum Western Art Show and Sale in Prescott required a lot of preparation - and it (the sales) turned out so much better than expected! It was great fun, too, with beautiful art, artist friends from all over the country, warm hospitality of the Phippen Family and a greatly expanded Museum...more about it on my Watercolor Blog.

But now a big shout-out for the people who organized my Costa Rica adventure, Mark Deering (US) and Ernesto Rodriguez (CR).
Mark had advertised this tour on Facebook. According to his own background it was geared towards ecologists with special interest in insects. (In fact, most of the participants were managers of American and European butterfly houses) The proceeds would go partly to the butterfly farm El Bosque Nuevo in Guanacaste whose manager Ernesto was our other competent guide.

Palo Verde National Park
This was Mark and Ernesto's first attempt at organizing eco-tours. While they certainly didn't lack professionalism where it was needed, they handled the whole trip more like an adventure among good friends or a family outing than a business venture. From the time we set foot on CR soil to the time our planes took off again, we were all taken care of so completely that I never got around to exchanging and using any of my spending money.
 On arrival and departure days Mark was constantly shuttling between hotel and Liberia Airport because we all arrived at different times. Still, he even filled every minute of the waiting time for early arrivals with trips to nature parks and beach...
Mark was joined on this trip by his mother who very much enjoyed herself. She had brought along a step-counter and found out that the bouncy dirt roads that we were traveling by car added many miles to her daily activity count.


During the entire trip there was no down time. Excursions covered different habitats, from riparian areas with waterfalls, to dry forest, cloud forest, places that reminded of deserts, the beach, volcanoes   ... always interspersed by opportunities to take a refreshing dip in a hot spring or a clear creek between fern trees and mossy rocks where basilisks were staring at us.

Rio Celeste
The diversity of the natural world was breath taking. All participants were accomplished naturalists and so many trained eyes were spotting White Witches, iguanas, army ants, monkeys, Puff Birds, Motmots and Trogons in nearly every tree. Cameras were clicking constantly, the collecting of specimens is mostly prohibited in CR.
So Mark and Ernesto kept us busy. From early morning bird walks to nightly (!) bug-lighting there was a constant stream of interesting activities and we only sat down to travel to new destinations and for scrumptious meals. The delicious Costa Rican cuisine consists of fresh fruit, rice and beans, freshly caught fish and grass-fed beef, did I mention rice and beans?

Finca Mariposa el Bosque Nuevo, Butterfly Farm
 The warmest hospitality greeted us at the Butterfly Farm El Bosque Nuevo itself. In the beautiful airy building constructed of homegrown teak we felt at home within hours. The people living and working there seemed a great community and took us in like old friends. They showed us their intricate work with beautiful butterflies, caterpillars and their host plants, and fragile pupae that were prepared for shipment to butterfly houses all over the world.


Ernesto shared the difficult history of a farm struggling to be ecologically sustainable but yet profitable enough to nurture the little community that depends on it. After little success with teak production, butterfly farming seems to be a profitable solution that is easy on the environment and in fact allows the owners to return much of the plantation area to a natural state and even buy surrounding areas to be protected as a preserve.


After three nights at the farm we spent two nights at a hotel at the foot of the active volcano Rincon de la Vieja. The mountain sides are covered in beautiful old-growth cloud forest. Smelly gases bubble from mud pools and hot springs. I hope I get around to detailed descriptions of our hike there. But I also very much enjoyed the gardens of the hotel shaded by flame trees, where trogons greeted us in the morning, parrots screamed in the canopy and jacanas stalked around a pond full of mating Cane Toads (I know, ecologically disastrous, but fascinating). Some of the best beetles showed up at the black light there.

The last two days took us to a very nice beach for snorkling (wear t-shirts in the water, most of us got sun burned, because one ALWAYS forgets the time when the puffer fish are being really cute!) and to a new, posh resort in a desert-like dry area. Close by, lush jungle in a deep-cut canyon provided a most striking contrast, complete with Howler Monkeys and Anolis.
So during our trip we were introduced to many extremely different habitats even though it all happened within only one state, Guanacaste, so we never entered the true rainforest on the Atlantic side of the country.

Along Rio Perdito
Overall, I find it difficult to chose what I liked best. Black lighting in three incredibly rich habitats with fellow insect enthusiasts like Mark Deering and Marty Feathers was definitely among the highlights (especially since Mark sacrificed himself to absorb most of the stings of those hyper-night-active Costa Rican wasps and bees.) Hours of riding with Ernesto in his truck, watching old Costa Rican cowboys (every Costa Rican boy once wanted to be one), learning about the huge Brahman cattle ranches,  butterfly breeding on small family farms, citrus orchards, rice fields, volcanic ash layers, endemic grasses that were mostly just roughage for the cattle and should be replaced by more nutritious grasses- which reminded me vividly of our AZ buffel grass problem - made the whole experience very real and personal.



What I didn't like: how fast the time flew by. I guess I just have to go back next year.