July 13, 2006

7-10 Wicked Bitchiní Bugs

Daily do I cuss and loathe the little biting flies that torment me, cursing them unto the seventh generation. Therefore, they are cursed unto about the end of next week. And why, why did I wear the mid-calf length pants on a day with no rain and forget my bug spray? It was an error made gravely manifest to me during dinner, when it suddenly felt as if my ankles were being eaten alive. At least I was probably very amusing to everybody else.

In that vein, Iíve been doing unintentional field testing for one of those antiseptic, liquid bandage products. It smells and is applied like nail polish. Stings like a bee. Also, itís good for papercut-like slices received while yanking at the monster grass laid under the top layer of dirt over a charcoal kiln. It helped get the last of the mud out gradually, staved off infection. The other thing it does is the truly useful whatsit thatís relevant to this post: Itís a lifesaver for getting rid of the itch of a bug bite. I was only trying to put up a barrier to the scratching, but ended up eliminating the need to do so for several of the bites I tried it on. If youíre one of those people thatís tasty to bugs, get some of this stuff and bring it with you camping. I mean it.

With that said, the number of beautiful and/or fascinating insects here that also have no interest in eating me far outweigh the irritation of their delinquent cousins. Admittedly, the few giant spiders and the golf ball-sized flying beetle kind of spooked me, but Iíll live. Itís far more irritating that the gorgeous iridescent green bees I see occasionally zip around too much to get a good shot and never seem to land on anything thatís at a reasonable camera angle. Just two of them can buzz loudly and angrily enough to sound like quite the troop though, so hopefully Iíll be forewarned enough one of these times to catch a picture. If you want to see the ones that have kindly posed for me, head on down Ö

For reasons that Iíll go into later, this last weekend didnít exactly put me in my shutterbugging happy place. Fortunately, Iíve been stocking up for just such an occasion.

Green bus stop bug, Costa Rica, 6-28-06. Ė natashaBlack, blue and orange butterfly, Costa Rica, 6-29-06. Ė natasha

The picture on the left has got to be one of my very favorites so far. I was sitting at a bus stop when I looked down and saw this little green and black striped insect on my knee. I couldnít believe it actually stayed there long enough to get a picture. Then I looked up and realized that as far as the women sharing the bench with me were concerned, Iíd just been taking pictures of my own pants. Figuring that it would be better in this very small town to seem like a slightly goofy tourist than an unhinged one, I turned the camera around to the woman sitting right next to me and showed her the last picture in the viewfinder, pointing out the pretty insect. If the smiles were bemused, hey, at least they were smiles. And dude, check out the cool bug! The next day continued the pants theme, as I was talking with one of the other interns here while he chilled in a hammock. And then I asked him not to move, which he kindly didnít, and took a picture of the butterfly that had landed on his jeans. I was a little disappointed that it kept its wings entirely closed from that point on until it flew away, because the markings on the topside were a very striking orange and black design. And at any rate, both incidents verified for me the assertion of my friends back in Seattle that pants, like monkeys, are inherently funny.

Big spider, Costa Rica, 7-01-06. Ė natasha

I mentioned in my last post that finding things for me to photograph has been a game that the whole family here plays now and again. One delightful day when we walked down to the river and up to a neighboring relativeís cornfield, there were funky things aplenty. This spider that visited us later in the evening though is the one that freaked me out just a tad, mainly because when the attempt was made to shoo it out the door, it skittered straight into my room towards my shoes and knapsack.

White caterpillar, Costa Rica, 7-01-06. Ė natashaBrown butterfly, Costa Rica, 7-01-06. Ė natasha

The caterpillar was found on a leaf near the cornfield & the little butterfly needs no excuse.

Dung beetle, Costa Rica, 7-01-06. Ė natasha

The dung beetle may seem like the least interesting, other than being sodding enormous, but it and its relatives around the world perform a vital ecosystem service. Flowering plants, just about anything that produces what youíd recognize as a seed or fruit, often reproduce through associations with animals. Most people are familiar with the association of insect pollination, but once a flower is pollinated and produces a fruit, that fruit may also depend on an animal to distribute its seeds far enough from its parent that it spreads the species around. Often, these seeds are deposited in animal dung after the fruit has passed through the digestive tract. Once that happens, insects may go after those seeds and additionally, all the organic material in the dung may be subject to rapid decay and its carbon compounds volatilized into carbon dioxide. By rolling dung into balls and burying it, the dung beetle not only plants any seeds present along with a bit of fertilizer, it prevents the rapid loss of that organic material and can improve the health of the soil.

Butterfly in black, gray and orange, Costa Rica, 7-06-06. Ė natashaThese two lovely creatures sat still for me on the same afternoon. It was a good day for Lepidopterae, I guess. The butterfly isnít the most showy, but itís got quite the elegant color scheme, an impression that was heightened after closer inspection.

4 winged moth, Costa Rica, 7-06-06. Ė natasha

The moth, unless Iím completely mistaken and itís also a butterfly, first caught my eye because of the dive bomber-looking style of its four wings. Then I saw it uncurl its tongue, which is longer than its body, and I knew that I had to get a picture. It was sheer luck that I actually caught it with its tongue extended and Iím putting it in here because itís one of those things you just have to see.

4 winged moth, tongue out, Costa Rica, 7-06-06. Ė natashaNotably, the existence of an exceptionally long-tongued insect was one of Darwinís correct predictions based on his initial theories of evolution, as I may have mentioned in a long previous post. On observing a flower that had a nectar cup several inches long, he predicted that it had evolved in tandem with an insect that had a proboscis as long as the cup. He didnít live to know about it, but many years later, a field researcher did indeed observe such an insect feeding at the type of flower in question. I wish I could remember this story more specifically, but you my dear readers have far greater access to Google and other such useful tools than I do at this time. So, and I say this with the utmost of gentleness, you may want to look that up if you feel the need for more detail.

Iíve got a few more, but I think Iíll save them up in case thereís another slow picture week. Iím thinking the odds are usually in favor of something like that happening at least twice. Ciao for now.

Posted by natasha at July 13, 2006 02:47 PM | Costa Rica | Technorati links |

Planting marigolds, scented geraniums (rub the leaves on your skin too), rosemary, catnip, peppermint, spearmint, daisies, verbena, spike lavender (not the sweet French variety), basil, thyme, garlic, allspice, cedar, and lemon grass around the yard help naturally repel insects

Posted by: jr at July 14, 2006 12:25 AM

Clove oil is a chief component of liquid bandages - excellent for zapping bug bites, bramble scratches, and athletes foot, too! (I kid you not!)

Posted by: harshmistress at July 16, 2006 11:35 PM