Crazy insects

Adventure Ramblings

Most people are familiar with how the Black Widow spider eats the male after they’ve mated – for nutrition (or maybe just because she can). That’s how they get their name. Black Widows aren’t the only arthropods who do crazy stuff, however. Here’s a list of a few more cool insects:

1. Praying mantis
 Looks like a kung fu fighter. Catches hummingbirds. Female eats the head of the male as they mate. He keeps going anyway.

Martial artist. Martial artist.

2. Cockroach
How come?
Bite off its head and the body lives until it dies from starvation two weeks later.

Master of the universe. Master of the universe.

3. Walking stick
So what? Begins its life as an egg that looks like a seed, which fools ants to carry it into their nest. This “seed” is inedible, and when the walking stick hatches, it produces a pheromone that prevents the ants from attacking them. Once out…

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Are we learning anything here?

Adventure Ramblings

So are we learning anything this term, apart from how awesome Costa Rica is? The answer is yes, believe it or not. Biology and natural history is obviously a big part of what we’re doing, but lots of aha-moments also happen when we do stats.

Measuring bromeliads Measuring bromeliads

In Monteverde we studied phytotelmata, which are little pools of water that form between the leaves of the bromeliad plant. These tiny little pools, as small as a few ml, host whole ecosystems. Who knew.

Scopin' (photo by Ann Dunham) Scopin’ (photo by Ann Dunham)

Some phytotelmata have more species of tiny animals than others, and we wanted to figure out what determines how many species can live in these. We guessed larger pools could host more species, and that turned out to be true, but more species are also to be found in larger plants, plants nearer to other plants, etc, etc, etc. This is where…

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Flamboyant bees

Adventure Ramblings

Spectacular flowers call for spectacular bees. Euglossin bees pollinate orchids, and the level of specialization is high: an orchid is pollinated by only a few species of bee, and one species of bee pollinates only a few species of orchids. Put out a plastic bag with eucalyptus oil, and these guys come zooming as soon as the sun comes out.

Euglossin bee, on a leash. Euglossin bee, on a leash.

According to locals, there used to be a ton of these bees in Monteverde; nowadays they’re relatively hard to find. If euglossin bee species are gone, so are probably their favorite orchid species. Since the orchids grew high in the trees, no one may have ever even seen them before they disappeared.

The red string is part of an experiment investigating how much the bees can carry when they fly. Photo by Ann Dunham. The red string is part of an experiment investigating how much the bees can carry when they fly. Photo by Ann Dunham.

All euglossin bees we see out and about are male, and only the females sting… (photo by Ann Dunham) All euglossin bees we see out and about are male, and only the females…

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Hummingbirds at Monteverde (A.K.A. paradise)

After working extra-hard on both our final (accepted to be published!) versions of our first projects at Palo Verde – as well as submitting our first drafts of our Monteverde projects – we took a scientific break and headed to the Monteverde biological reserve to check out some cool organisms.. namely, hummingbirds!

It was a well-deserved break that allowed us to flex our bird identification muscles – can you name the species in these photos? (Write your answers in the comments!)






We also got to feel what it’s like to have a hummingbird land on your fingers. Here, Miranda and Jenny are having the Disney princess experience:



Pura Vida,



High in the trees

Adventure Ramblings

If asked to think of a rain forest, most people probably imagine a wall of green stuff dripping with rain water, and insects eating you up. In fact, the cloud forest is very different. The forest “floor” is pretty open, the canopy shades the ground, and we haven’t been bothered by biting insects at all. It’s still pretty wet, though.

Cool kids in the jungle. The forest behind them is open enough to walk through. Cool kids in the jungle cloud forest. The forest behind them is open enough to walk through.

C The leaves of these trees make a pretty effective sun shade.

This branch broke and brought its share of the canopy down. Leaves are positioned to maximize sun exposure. This branch broke and brought its share of the canopy down on the trail. Leaves are positioned to maximize sun exposure.

C Looking out over an open area…

C … that was created when this tree fell. All kinds of fast-growing plants are filling the gap.

When a tree falls, “succession” starts, and fast-growing but feeble grasses, brushes and trees race to the top. Soon, they will be replaced…

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High in the clouds

Adventure Ramblings

Your archetypical “rain forest” comes in many flavors, one of them being cloud forestMonteverde, “green mountain,” is a cloud forest biological reserve near a small town in the mountains of Costa Rica. Although we are several thousand feet above sea level, and far inland, you can still see the Pacific, even on a cloudy day. General impression is that it doesn’t exactly rain all that much here (it is the middle of the dry season), but the clouds that roll over the mountain brings in a more-or-less constant drizzle over the dense canopy.

View from the window at Monteverde biological research station. View from the window at Monteverde biological research station.

This cloud forest is anything but jungle, as “jungle” in the biological sense refers to the impenetrable brush that grows once you cut down the forest. The “wall” of stuff at the edge of the forest on the left in the picture above is pretty telling.


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Hakuna Telmata

Miranda, Ann, Fredrik and I spent the past week in breathtaking Monteverde looking at a mini-ecosystem we never would’ve imagined would be so interesting: phytotelmata!


What are phytotelmata, do you ask? Well, they’re tiny pools of water located in plants, like bromeliads, for example.

The challenge with studying bromeliads is that they’re typically located high up on trees in the forest, making them largely unreachable to scientists. Luckily, we had a garden planted outside our research station that let us examine these organisms up close!


We also found some pretty cool stuff when we looked at what these “islands” of water contained: even some organisms that haven’t been seen in almost a hundred years.

Photo credit: Miranda Stein ’16


Pretty exciting!

Pura Vida,




Lyrics by Miranda Stein ’16

Phytotelmata! What a wonderful phrase!

Phytotelmata! Ain’t no passing craze!

It means a tiny pond, in some bromelidae!

It’s a mystery, of biology!