In Costa Rica, II

We have had quite a bit of rain so far, nothing you wouldn’t expect in a rain forest, but it makes collecting an episodic affair. The light traps run every night, however, even in the pounding rain. So far (after one night), they have turned up two interesting flies.

The first is an acalyptrate, perhaps a lauxaniid, with interesting lines of color along the wing veins. I don’t know how unusual this is, since I don’t work on lauxaniids, but I have never seen anything like this before.

bad photo of a lauxaniid in alcohol

The second interesting thing is a female bee killing fly, genus Melaloncha, from a group that I have worked extensively on. Bee killing flies are parasitoids that attack stingless bees, introduced honey bees, and bumble bees. They are found throughout the Neotropical Region, except for Chile, and attack their hosts either at flowers or at colony entrances. I worked for years on these flies, and have described many new species. In order to collect them we had to learn a lot about their natural history, the most are active only in bright sun in the warmest parts of the day. But there is also a published record from Panama of them attacking nocturnal sweat bee.


Could this be one of those nocturnal bee killers? Perhaps, and this is one of the great things about using a “new” collecting technique in the tropics-finding different things even in groups you have worked on for many years.

Short post from Costa Rica

My group and I arrived in Costa Rica yesterday. We are still getting our bearings, but today we got at least a little time in the field. No doubt we will continue to find strange and exciting new behaviors and species of phorid flies. As I write this, there is pounding rain outside, hopefully not flooding the two light traps (see previous post). Tomorrow, I should have time and energy to publish a longer blog on what we have found so far

Meanwhile, take a look at this Microdon flower fly from a Malaise trap sample. This is from an area around the town of Guapiles, where we are also staying. I’m not an expert on this group, but this is a pretty amazing looking fly to me. Maybe one of the syrphid experts will comment?

a syrphid fly that caught my eye

New frontiers in Costa Rica

Tapanti NP

My late colleague, the hymenopterist Roy Snelling, used to ask me disdainfully, “why go to Costa Rica; everything is already known from there.” Even Roy knew, however, that this wasn’t true. His mistaken assertion was that so many people had collected in CR that, given the large number of other places that had not received any attention, it would be a waste of time to go back to a small Central American country.

I disagreed with his statement for many reasons. First of all, there aren’t enough dipterists on the planet to make even a tiny part of CR “overcollected.” There are so many habitats and microenvironments in a country with a mountain range down its center in the tropical zone, that doing an inventory of all of Costa Rica is probably impossible. From dry tropical forest in the northwest to the near treeline heights of the Cerro de la Muerte, and all the rain forest inbetween, CR is a biodiversity paradise.

But more interestingly, it is possible to find new frontiers in the same sites by using different collecting techniques. Last year, for some reason, we decided to try blacklight collecting in Costa Rica for the first time since my trips in the 1980s. We used a trap of my design that was so successful, I decided to write it up for publication (watch for it in Entomological News).

Using this “old” technique again, we managed to wring out some incredible specimens of Phoridae and one special sphaerocerid from a mid-elevation site from which we otherwise had no special expectations.

For phorids, our technique yielded new specimens and a new species of a genus previously known from only a couple of females from elsewhere in Costa Rica. This genus is marked by incredible huge palps with outrageously long apical setae. Additionally, we got some parasitic phorids I had never seen before, as if we had gone to an entirely new continent. Believe me, I have gone through hundreds of samples Costa Rica, and have looked at least 50,000 specimens from this country, so when I see a congregation of new things, I take notice.

the phorid with huge palps - a fuzzy photo

The sphaerocerid was the second known specimen and species of the genus Podiomitra of the incredibly rare subfamily Homalomitrinae. Although I’m not an expert on these flies, I knew as soon as I saw it that it was something special.

Podiomitra sp.

Bottom line: we have to keep trying new collecting methods, even if they are old collecting methods. I’m going back to Costa Rica at the end of February, and I’ll be bringing my lights again!