A Violation of Women’s Rights in Monteverde

Recently a student on a semester abroad program with the Monteverde Institute (MVI) was raped. The school group was on an out of town trip, and the supervising faculty member respected the victim’s right not to report her rape to the police or go to a clinic, but helped her obtain emergency contraception. Upon returning to Monteverde this rape victim was  repeatedly harassed by the board members of the Institute who attempted to force her to sign legal documents and report her rape to the police, against her wishes, constantly re-victimizing her. The faculty member who helped her obtain the emergency contraceptive was fired for her actions, which were in accordance with Costa Rican rape protocol.

We would like the board of directors to change before any more students study abroad here and are asking both Debra Hamilton (the executive director) and Randal Smith (the president) to step down. Two United States universities have already pulled their support from the program. The universities still associated with the Monteverde Institute include University of Illinois, Ripon, Rollins, University of Miss

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The Biochemistry of Defense: Vinegaroons

Here at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens we have the decepetively named “tailless whip scorpion”, which is not a scorpion at all but an amplypygid. Slightly more difficult to pronounce but a much more accurate name. The amplipygid has no stinger, no venom, no defense mechanism at all really. For capturing prey it has are some modified front legs. She essentially hugs her prey to death via impalement, which is pretty neat, but not nearly as cool as the chemical defense the similarly named whip scorpion possesses.

Tailless whip scorpion, aka Amplypygid

The tailless whip scorpion, aka amplypygid, we have at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

So, kind of related: The whip scorpion, similar to the tailless whip scorpion only by name and being an arachnid, does has a chemical defense. As the name implies, this creature has a tail from which she can quite accurately, aim and spray a chemical defense: acetic acid, aka vinegar, which is where it gets it’s more appropriate name, the vinegaroon. So normally, vinegar is a very low percentage of acetic acid. The vinegaroon actually has the highest concentration of acetic acid found in nature: 84%.

Vinegaroon aka whip scorpion

Vinegaroon ready to spray 1

This chemical is used defensively, primarily other things with exoskeletons. The vinegaroon has a slight problem though. Although acetic acid is quite a wonderful defense on soft fleshy parts, it is water soluble and will roll off of an exoskeleton of it’s attacker without harming it. So it needs to employ another tactic. Mixed with the acetic acid is another acid, caprylic acid, which is able to move through the waxy cuticle of the exoskeleton. This mixture with spread to cover more area as well as actually getting under that exoskeleton so it can do some damage. In the end, when the mixture is actually shot out of two storage compartments in the vinegaroon it is composed of 84% acetic acid, 5% caprylic acid, and 11% water.

A Bombardier Beetle spraying a chemical mixture which is 100 degrees celcius!

A Bombardier Beetle spraying a chemical mixture which is 100 degrees celsius! 2

Chemical defense is quite amazing and is found in many species of insects and arachnids. One famous chemical defense is the bombadier beetle which uses a mixture hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide from two separate chambers and shoots out a 100 degree celsius mixture at it’s predators. As there are many more insects waiting to be discovered and/or studied I’m sure we’ll be learning about many more amazing chemical defenses in the future.

In the meantime, poke insects you don’t recognize with care or you may find yourself smelling kind of funny.

Info from:

For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner
Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions and Other Many Legged Creatures 2005 (Eisner, T., Eisner, M., Siegler, M.)