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!

2 comments to New frontiers in Costa Rica

  1. Jeff says:

    Cool! So what makes black light different? Do some flies see that part of the spectrum more readily? Just curious.

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