Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tropical Insects

In New York City, insects are rarely a welcome sight. The densely populated, industrialized, heterogeneous island of Manhattan allows for few species other than cockroaches, silverfish, and pantry moths. During the summer prior to my arrival in Costa Rica, finding one of these critters only evoked disgust within me, and every encounter ended with me scraping squashed bug remains off of the bottom of my shoe. In the city, bugs only exist as a nuisance in need of extermination.
In Costa Rica, insects are a completely different story. With over 1,000 different species of butterflies alone, insects make up the majority of Costa Rica’s extremely diverse collection of known species. Insects here embody a wide range of colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes; so far I have seen insects ranging from the size of the tip of a sharpened pencil to the palm of my hand. Phenotypic characteristics range dramatically not just in terms of looks, but also in sound, and, (sometimes unfortunately), smell. While the scent of a dung beetle may be exactly what one would expect, the sounds that insects produce can be quite surprising; one cicada we caught made a buzzing sound so loud and alarming that I could have mistaken it for a chainsaw or a motorcycle. In general, though, the insects here collectively produce a rhythmic and soothing hum that is much more welcome than the sound of a lone cockroach scuttling across my apartment floor.
Due to my prior negative interactions with insects, I was definitely hesitant when I was first learned about our assignment to collect and identify 10 insects at Las Cruces. However, like any good Sarah Lawrence girl, I approached the project with an open mind and began to look more closely at the insects around me. When I returned to the lab with my new captors, seeing them under the microscope revealed the hidden charismatic features of each insect. Ants turned out to be adorable with the way that they carefully cleaned their antennae after I removed them from the freezer. I suddenly felt sorry for the beetles that I turned upside down as they grasped for a surface to cling to in delirium. Working with insects, I began to sympathize with my former foes, and upon completion of the project, tenderly returned each individual to the location where I found it. While I might not be handling any cockroaches upon my return to New York, I can definitely say I have a newfound respect for the entire Insecta class.

Jocelyn Zorn
Sarah Lawrence College

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