July 21, 2006

7-16 Pin-up Bug: The Art Deco Insect

No one Iíve shown these pictures to has seen one of these insects before, though two people said theyíd seen a similar one with a red-spotted, black carapace. Anyway, itís a bug with a turquoise and black shell that looks like a piece of art deco jewelry, perhaps as colored by someone who decorated too many kitchens in the 1950s. What more do you want?

Turquoise and black insect, top. Coto Brus, Costa Rica, 7-16-06 Ė natashaTurquoise and black insect, side. Coto Brus, Costa Rica, 7-16-06 Ė natasha Turquoise and black insect, underneath. Coto Brus, Costa Rica, 7-16-06 Ė natashaTurquoise and black insect, top slant. Coto Brus, Costa Rica, 7-16-06 Ė natasha

I spotted this one while navigating between the wires of a barbed wire fence around a cow pasture and was already reaching for my camera when I was in the clear. Amazingly, though more of me than I like to think was still between the wires when I saw it, this wasnít the time that morning when I ripped my jeans (and just my jeans) on one of the wires.

It was on a hike to a small grove of white oak with another intern and Eliot of the Finca Project to gather acorns. The entire region here, like nearly all of Costa Rica, used to be covered with rainforest. This particular area was once dominated by two oak species, few of which remain. The three of us were able to collect around 2000 acorns that will be germinated and then grown for a little while at the Finca Project before being planted on the banks of streams and other areas where local people want to restore more of the native forest.

Soil profile in a trail cut. Coto Brus, Costa Rica, 7-17-06 - natashaOne additional nice thing about Costa Rica, and certainly this area, is that a lot of the people are very conservation-minded. With a lot of the population still living in rural areas and/or working in agriculture, many of them just started noticing the state of their rivers and streams or got tired of seeing their soil washed away in the hard rain. They canít always find ways to support themselves sustainably, but theyíre working at it.

The rain in the humid tropics is whatís classed as a hard rain, somewhere around eight times as frequently as the proportion of hard rain in temperate zones. And of course, it rains more often. With the heat accelerating the decomposition of organic matter, you get a standard soil profile thatís not very different from the picture to the left, which shows the side of the trail that leads to oak grove we visited.

You end up with a very thin A horizon, a top layer of soil thatís typically brown or black due to the presence of organic matter, on top of highly oxidized (and so, often red or yellow) soil thatís acidic and high in aluminum. So look carefully for the layer of darker soil just under the greens. That isnít a shadow, itís the topsoil, and for scale it was around five or six feet from the top of the rubble pile to the plane of the field above it. Itís pretty close to the top of a mountain, but in this particular area, there isnít anything that isnít close to the top of a mountain. The description is relative and people still have to grow food here, mountains or no.

Hence, you canít afford to lose that top layer of soil and still expect to have a piece of land thatís worth using. Itís no mystery that the future of the communities here is tied to the fate of the land. No one whoís seen the roads and rain here could believe that the region could be supported entirely by food brought in from the outside.

Posted by natasha at July 21, 2006 10:25 AM | Costa Rica | Technorati links |