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.)

Monteverde: Exploring, Ziplining and Wilderness Survival

In the last 2 years I have seen snow probably less than 10 times. Most of those times were during the week before I left Canada for Costa Rica, I think I’m doing it right. Monteverde is gorgeous, I had another day off and explored a little more. I’ve been ziplining, night hiking, dancing, learning, teaching and just generally exploring and enjoying life!

The one photo I got of me ziplining. This is during the 1.59 km 'superman' line.

The one photo I got of me ziplining. This is during the 1.59 km ‘superman’ line.

I went ziplining at a place here in Monteverde called Adventura. It included a 1.59km “superman” line, which is when you are attached to the zipline by your back and soar through the air like some kind of weird bird, and a tarzan swing. The tarzan swing is a 45m rope swing. You step off of a platform (by step off I mean some patient employees push you off while you repeatedly say “ohmygod no, no no no”) and then you freefall until the rope catches you. Then you take this awesome swing 45m below the platform. It was amazing, I feel bad for any eardrums within a 100m radius though. As it turns out I can scream like a terrified howler monkey.

A gigantic strangler fig tree you can climb inside of.

A gigantic strangler fig tree you can climb inside of.

I’ve done some fun hiking and exploring, a friend showed me this amazing strangler fig tree that is completely hollow and large enough that you can actually climb up inside of it! The other volunteers here at the garden and I went and checked out another fig tree that has fallen across the river and it’s roots have grown down into the river. Both were absolutely amazing, I am completely smitten by trees right now!

A cute little frog we found on our night hike

A cute little frog we found on our night hike

I’ve been on a couple awesome night hikes. The first was just 4 of us nerdy biology types out for a casual stroll in the woods, which made for a great time with lots of interesting discoveries. We found a male praying mantis and threw him in with our female when we got back then got to watch them mate. It was the most violently interesting thing I have ever witnessed. She literally picks him apart like a crab and eats him while they mate. A few of us also did an official tour with an amazing local guide. We saw all kinds of things, but the highlight for me was probably the bioluminescent mycorrhizal fungus. That’s right, glowing fungus on a tree root. It was amazing. The guide rubbed the tree root and it glowed blue-white in the dark.

Our awesome new staff t-shirts. The Machaca bug is extremely toxic. The locals will know if you've been bitten by one, and there is only one cure for it: you must go to bed with a Costa Rican man within 12 hours. Just kidding, but it makes for a good pick up line/t-shirt.

Mischa, Mike & I modeling our awesome new staff t-shirts: “Have you been bitten by the machaca?”
The Machaca bug is extremely venomous and there is only one cure for it: you must go to bed with a Costa Rican man within 12 hours. Just kidding, but it makes for a good pick up line/t-shirt.

Work here at the gardens is so much fun, I’ve been giving guided tours to people from all over the world. This weekend I was able to run the Young Naturalist Club, a group of kids who get together once a month to learn about science and nature. I put together a wilderness survival type thing. I learned a lot, mostly that I need to be better at organizing children, but hopefully they learned a bit too. We made splints and slings for broken arms with a first aid kit and materials you’d find in the woods, attempted to start a fire with a flint and semi-dry coconut husk, and built a shelter.

The the Young Naturalist Club, I pre-built the structure & put half the leaves on to make sure it would work before turning it over to the young naturalists to finish.

The the Young Naturalist Club, I pre-built the structure & put half the leaves on to make sure it would work before turning it over to the young naturalists to finish.

The kids finished the shelter and made a little sleeping pad inside of it!

The kids finished the shelter and made a little sleeping pad inside of it!

We had two kids with broken arms who had to make splints & slings. As you can see they are in a lot of pain.

We had two kids with broken arms who had to make splints & slings. As you can see they are in a lot of pain.

I’m going to try to do some more science themed blog posts but it’s been rather hectic and I thought I should let everyone know what I was up to! So in summary it’s still amazing down here in Costa Rica, everyone should come visit, and here a bunch of my photos!

Eli had a lot of fun putting scorpions on the stick for Mike & I while we played 'scorpion stick'

Eli had a lot of fun putting scorpions on the stick for Mike & I while we played ‘scorpion stick’

Whoever drops the stick first loses, it was a tie. But I had a lot of scorpions on my face.

Whoever drops the stick first loses, it was a tie. But I had a lot of scorpions on my face.

An eyelash viper. Snakes will actually move around quite a bit after they die and may actually bite themselves. Herpetologists say that snakes "don't know when they're dead"

An eyelash viper. Snakes will actually move around quite a bit after they die and may actually bite themselves. Herpetologists say that snakes “don’t know when they’re dead”

A beautiful orange kneed tarantula we found outside

A beautiful orange kneed tarantula we found outside

Things not to be afraid of: tarantulas. They have never killed anyone. They just get a bad rep for being big and hairy!

Things not to be afraid of: tarantulas. They have never killed anyone. They just get a bad rep for being big and hairy!

A little white faced capuchin monkey came for a visit

A little white faced capuchin monkey came for a visit

This little caterpillar has a really cool predator deterrent. He looks like a snake!

This little caterpillar has a really cool predator deterrent. He looks like a snake!

Enjoying some coconuts with rum

Enjoying some coconuts with rum

Praying mantis sex. A violent affair.

Praying mantis sex. A violent affair.

A butterfly that has just emerged from it's chrysalis

A butterfly that has just emerged from it’s chrysalis

A super cool looking leaf mimicking katydid They hear with ears on their legs and have evolved ears that are structurally very similar to ours! But theirs can hear higher frequency bat noises.

A super cool looking leaf mimicking katydid They hear with ears on their legs and have evolved ears that are structurally very similar to ours! But theirs can hear higher frequency bat noises.

 

We'll end with a photo of a beautiful sphinx moth. Moths can be beautiful too. Sometimes even more beautiful than butterflies!

We’ll end with a photo of a beautiful sphinx moth. Moths can be beautiful too. Sometimes even more beautiful than butterflies!

Someone make a snow angel in my honor, and I’ll drink a coconut or something for you.

Much love from Costa Rica!

Monteverde: the first 2 weeks

Costa Rica has been such an adventure so far and I’ve only been here for 11 days. I’ve been giving tours of the butterfly gardens during the day, reading a lot, hiking and have even gone out dancing a couple times. On a scale of one to terrible, I’m pretty much the worst at dancing but I’ve managed to get by, mostly by finding guys who are half decent at leading and then just smiling and laughing a lot when I screw up.

Climbing on a big fig tree I found on a hike near the butterfly gardens

Climbing on a big fig tree I found on a hike near the butterfly gardens

The tours at the butterfly garden are so much fun, I basically take groups through an arthropod room tell them all about tarantulas, scorpions, beetles, cockroaches and a few other neat things then we go through 4 butterfly gardens. People come in from all different backgrounds so sometimes it’s a little difficult to communicate and I end up doing a lot of weird interpretive dances mimicking scorpion mating…but I think I get the message across! We try to kind of make it funny, but the language barrier kind of annihilates some of my jokes. That and there are definitely some major cultural differences when it comes to humor. So far, I’ve found that German people either think I’m the funniest thing ever, or they just stare at me like an idiot whenever I try to be funny. There is no middle ground.

Some Owl butterflies at the bar. They eat fermented fruit all day, they are the alcoholics of the butterfly world.

Some Owl butterflies at the bar. They eat fermented fruit all day, they are the alcoholics of the butterfly world. And they suffer the consequences, only living for a few weeks!

I had my first day off on Friday, hiked for a solid 8 hours, got kind of lost on a trail, which ended up being really nice because I found a big fig tree! Then I hiked Cerro Amigos, which is this pretty big elevation gain, but it’s worth it because the view is supposed to be aaamazing, except for when it’s cloudy, which it was. So I got a wonderful photo of the inside of a cloud…

Check out that view! Top of Cerro Amigo. I wasn't willing to wait around long enough for the weather to clear up. It was a great hike though, 1842m up!

Check out that view! Top of Cerro Amigo. I wasn’t willing to wait around long enough for the weather to clear up. It was a great hike though, 1842m!

I then went to the bat jungle. It was amazing, I learned so much and am pretty much going to be the hugest entomology/bat nerd after this trip! It was great because one of the guys who works there let me and the other volunteer join him mist netting the night before, so I’d seen a few bats in the wild and learned a bit before actually going for a tour. The mist netting was so much fun! We went out two nights in a row, set up very fine nylon nets along trails and then checked them for bats every 15 minutes or so for a couple hours. We saw a striped palm viper, which I walked right past in shorts so thankfully it didn’t bite me! An orange kneed tarantula, an orange mouthed arboreal tarantula, and 3 silky short-tailed bats. The animals in this country are amazing!

Check out how cute this bat is!

Check out how cute this bat is!

So in summary, everything is amazing and here are a bunch of photos:

The beautiful Julia butterfly

The beautiful Julia butterfly.

Some owl butterflies getting it on.

Some owl butterflies getting it on.

The Asthma beetle. Thought to cure asthma when eaten it turns out they actually cause it by chewing stuff up and making dust!

The Asthma beetle. Thought to cure asthma when eaten it turns out they actually cause asthma by chewing detritus up and making fine dust!

When a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it makes a crysalis out of it's exoskeleton and turns into goo inside, then completely reforms into a butterfly.

When a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it makes a chrysalis out of it’s exoskeleton and turns into goo inside, then completely reforms into a butterfly and emerges!

You can read all about how inside the chrysalis it is just a pile of goo, but there was one that wasn't hatching, sooo we cut it open to see for ourselves! Yup. Pile of goopy wet brown stuff.

You can read all about how inside the chrysalis it is just a pile of goo, but we had one that wasn’t emerging, so we cut it open to see for ourselves! Yup. Pile of goopy wet brown stuff.

Coffee and a sunset before bat research assistance time!

Coffee and a sunset before bat research assistanting time!

Striped palm viper that we walked right past!

The striped palm viper that we walked right past!

"Fishing" for an orange mouthed arboreal tarantula with a katydid on a leash

“Fishing” for an orange mouthed arboreal tarantula with a katydid on a leash

Hello beautiful day! Cerro Amigos.

Hello beautiful day! Cerro Amigos.

No hike would be complete without some impromptu yoga!

No hike would be complete without some impromptu trail yoga!

Totally biffed it on the way down, then I had to walk through town with a questionable looking brown mud stain on my shorts/legs. Good times!

Totally biffed it on the way down Cerro Amigos (super steep), then I had to walk through town with a questionable looking brown mud stain on my shorts/legs. Good times!

Congratulations on making it all the way through my hiking/arthropod photos, here is a cute little mammal. It's a Coati!

Congratulations on making it all the way through my hiking/arthropod photos, here is a cute little mammal as a reward. It’s a Coati!

So, Costa Rica is great. Public education is a blast. Seriously considering doing a masters in science education (apparently Laurentian University has a good program). I’m hoping to organize an event for the young naturalist club here in the next couple months. They are a group aged 6-13 and I’m thinking I’ll probably go for an ethnobotany lesson or something, but I’m not entirely sure yet. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

With love from Costa Rica, see you all back in Canada (or wherever) soon!
Christina

To Monteverde!

I arrived safely at The Monteverde Butterfly Gardens and have started to settle in and learn my way around a little. It was a bit of an adventure getting here though! To preface this post, I was not very prepared for this trip. I forgot to get a typhoid fever vaccination, I didn’t learn nearly enough Spanish, and I bought the guide book at the airport.

I flew out of Vancouver and had a brief stop over in Los Angeles before my overnight flight to San Jose. Once out of the airport in San Jose I completely disregarded my friend’s advice about only taking the orange cabs from the airport and hopped in a Honda Accord with a taxi driver who spoke English quite well. We went through probably the sketchiest area I have ever been through (that being said, I am not that well travelled) and I was dropped off at a Spanish speaking bus station, near the Coca Cola bus area.

Waiting at the bus station forever

Waiting at the bus station forever

Once I’d successfully purchased a ticket, in Spanish (I was pretty proud of myself), I had 5 hours until the bus arrived. I figured I’d have lunch and use the internet at the little cafe near the bus terminal. The good news is, it was $3 USD for a latte and a lunch thing, the bad news is I’m a vegetarian and I think I ate chicken. I just pointed at something behind the counter as I was failing epically at reading the menu. Turns out it had chicken in it, or pork, I’m not entirely sure to be honest. But on the bright side, I now know how to ask if there is meat in things. I then proceeded to hang out at the bus station for 5 hours while diligently guarding my bags. I had to pee, a couple times. You have to pay 200 colones to use the washroom, someone had peed all over the floor, there was no seat on the toilet, and there was a man fixing the sink. So I essentially did weighted squats with my 65L backpack, while trying not to laugh. And I thought I wouldn’t get in any exercise while traveling!

A kitty friend I made at the bus station.

A kitty friend I made at the bus station.

The bus ride up was all Spanish speaking people, lucky for me there was one German girl with broken English and she translated a few things for me. Including “there might be thieves, watch your bag” which the bus driver had tried to get across by pointing at my bag and making a sad face with a pretend tear drop after I confidently told him “No hablo Espanol moy bien”, which is probably spelled worse than I pronounced it. Once on the bus with my bags safely stowed I fell asleep for about an hour, then I woke up and we were driving through these gorgeous forests with huge green trees. We went through a few small towns and then drove up a winding dirt road for about an hour to get to Monteverde. I took a taxi up to the “Jardin de Mariposas” and met everyone. It’s me, another volunteer, the owners, and their 11 year old son all living at the gardens. I have my own room for now, but will be sharing with another female volunteer who is arriving in a couple weeks.

The volunteer quarters, well kind of. This is the kitchen/other volunteers room.

The volunteer quarters, well kind of. This is the kitchen/other volunteers room.

I had my first day, followed a tour, walked through the gardens, memorized some butterfly names and facts, learned how to do a few maintenance type things and attempted to make empanadas.

Just to be clear, I’m not a totally ignorant tourist…I didn’t really think I’d need much Spanish to get to the butterfly gardens and thought I’d just kind of wing it, but for the rest of my trip when I am traveling I’m planning to actually learn to speak enough to get by.

Not a bad view from the balcony

Not a bad view from the balcony

Only the coolest beetle ever: the elephant beetle. It feels soft like velvet.

Only the coolest beetle ever: the elephant beetle. It feels soft like velvet.

An owl butterfly in the low altitude garden

An owl butterfly in the low altitude garden

Silver crysalids from which glass butterflies will one day emerge.

Silver crysalids from which glass butterflies will one day emerge.

A stingless wasp colony

A stingless bee colony

Turns out I have curly hair! Me in my room.

Turns out I have curly hair! Me in my room.

I’m excited to be doing tours and working here for the next 2.5 months! I’ll probably be blogging about neat insects and stuff for the rest of my time here, there is a lot to learn!

Love to Canada from Costa Rica, hope you’re all enjoying winter!

P.S. I saw a tucan and a white faced monkey today! I didn’t get pictures though.

Go with the Flow: Little Isopods in Big Waves Part III


12x2x1 meters, 45,000 liters, a bag of pep-O-mint lifesavers and 12 big rocks: welcome to the flume. My research partner Sam and I met with the research coordinator on station yesterday regarding the use of the flume for part of our experiment. I’ve wanted to put something in the flume since I first came to Bamfield in 2011, unfortunately my research partners weren’t interested in biomechanics so we did a short behavioural experiment with decorator crabs. This summer I researched biotic influences on tide pool chemistry (see my posts on that project here: I & II), a topic which did not lend itself to flume research. But this fall worked our perfectly: our algae course measured drag on kelp in the flume and now Sam and I are going to use it for part of our research on Idotea (see parts I and II of our Idotea research)!

        
Top down view of the flume. It is currently divided in half to increase velocity, normally the centerpiece and wood pieces over the top aren’t there.

The flume is essentially a large rectangular glass box which creates laminar flow by recirculating water. You can change velocity, adjust temperature, use fresh or salt water and rig up all kinds of cool devices. It is equipped with a PIV laser which can be used to visualize flow around objects. Unfortunately we are unable to use the PIV system for our project due to time constraints and lack of training, but I was able to see it in action earlier this summer when an engineer was here looking at flow around tidal turbines.

Classmates Ondine, Angela and I in the flume ready for the PIV system to be turned on. You have to wear heavy duty goggles to block out the infrared light rays. Photo cred: Patrick Martone

We are going to measure flow over different morphologies of seaweeds on which Idotea are commonly found. We’ve chosen 2 seaweeds with very different morphologies: Fucus distichus is thick and highly branched while Ulva lactuca is a thin sheet. We have observed Idotea on both, but more commonly on Fucus at our exposed site and often under or on Ulva at our sheltered site.

Fucus disitichus; a thick, branched brown seaweed

Ulva lactuca; a thin, sheet-like green seaweed

Our plan is to find rocks with either Ulva or Fucus attached to them and tie lifesavers to the rocks so when put in flow the lifesavers sit in the middle of the seaweed. We’ll place them in the flume then compare how much mass the lifesavers have lost. We’ll also remove the Ulva and Fucus from the rocks and repeat the process. This will give us information about the amount of flow experienced by Idotea when they are on these seaweeds, giving us insight into their habitat preferences.

The glamorous side of science: the first bucket of rocks, the first flight of stairs

I picked up some pep-O-mint lifesavers (the industry standard, calibrated lifesaver that is used for mass dissolution projects similar to ours) in Nanaimo last month and we are finally going to use them this Sunday. I’m super excited to get this experiment going, we might have to trouble shoot a little as size and shape of rocks could affect flow, but hopefully we find some significant results!

Hold on Tight: Little Isopods in Big Waves Part II

We’re in our second directed studies week at Bamfield Marine Sciences Center which is devoted solely to research projects. My partner Sam and I have big plans for this week, and although they seem to change every day we’re working hard and getting some interesting results. Our study organism is Idotea, a small isopod, and we’re investigating the biomechanics of the hooks on their legs. As I mentioned in my previous post, our overall question is:

“By what morphological and behavioural mechanisms do Idotea survive wave action while grazing effectively?” 

A baby Idotea under a microscope, you can see the little hooks on the ends of its legs. They are darker in the adults.

Sam preparing the Idotea for part of our experiment: a dislodgment cycle

One way we’re approaching this question is by dislodging Idotea from various substrata. We’re measuring dislodgment force between four seaweeds and comparing them to rock as a baseline. We’ve been running the idotea through dislodgment cycles all week: We tie dental floss “leashes” onto them then randomly assign them to Ulva, Fucus, Macrocystis, Porphyra, or a rock and give them time to attach. Different seaweeds have different material properties, some of which may make better habitat in high velocity waves, and others are preferred because they have high nutritional value. We think that the difference in material properties will make it easier for Idotea to hold on to tougher seaweeds, which may not be as nutritionally valuable. Once the Idotea are attached we measure the dislodgment force by pulling them off the substrate (seaweed or rock) with a spring scale. Each individual Idotea is dislodged from each substrate.

Fun in the field: Sam looking for idotea at Scott’s Bay

We’ve collected from two separate sites, a sheltered area on Wizard Islet and an exposed area at Scotts Bay. So far we’ve had a lot of fun out in the field collecting. We’ve noticed that those from the sheltered site were usually found under Ulva (a thin sheet like green seaweed) on rock but at the exposed site they were almost always on fucus (a thick branched brown seaweed). They seem to be showing differences in dislodgement force between sites, for example the individuals from Scotts Bay hold on to rock with more force than the individuals from Wizard.

Our collection sites: Wizard Islet and Scotts Bay (also called Eagle Bay)

This observation has sparked a lot of new questions. We’re now planning to put out dynamometers to measure maximum wave force at both sites, double our sample size so we can really compare differences between sites, and possibly even find more sites with exposed and sheltered areas.

Two adult Idotea being prepped for dislodgement with their dental floss “leashes”

It’s fun working with someone who has the same ADHD all over the place thought patterns as I do. We’ve revised our project so many times I hardly recognize our proposal and neither of us is particularly attached to previous ideas when new and more interesting ones come up. We’ve been working pretty long days, thinking a lot and analyzing data as we go, but I managed to get a quick surfing break in yesterday! And really, I can’t complain about fun and interesting field and lab work.

Off to learn how to use the flume for another mini experiment, then run some dislodgment trials! I’ll talk more about our work with the flume in another post, assuming all goes according to plan.

Until next time!
Christina