La Selva is a green paradise in the Costa Rican rainforest. In the 1970's I researched the complex community of passionflower vines and two parallel, diverse communities that eat those vines: colorful Heliconius butterflies and a nearly unknown community of tiny, colorful flea beetles. This project is a long-deferred, post-retirement dream to return to La Selva and find out more about the flea beetles and how they compare to the butterflies.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Blame this guy? gal? for our coming to La Selva
On the right is a Black-legged Yellow Flea Beetle, also known as Parchicola D.F. 1. This is a provisional name, needing further work by taxonomists such as David Furth of the Smithsonian National Museum (that's where the "D.F. 1" comes from). If questions about relationships with other beetles are resolved, and someone makes the effort to give the species a formal name, then our beetle will gain an official scientific Latin binomial name. This is important because among the million or so insect species, it is hard to store knowledge and information about any one unless there is an official unique name that everyone can use.
There is a lot to learn about this and most other species of flea beetles. This one is unusual (lucky?) in that we are studying the live beetle in its natural habitat. Notice its rich yellow-orange color that shines in the light, and the lovely green leaf where it is having its picture taken. We still don't know for sure what its larvae look like, and really know very little still about its life cycle and other habits. But most flea beetles are known from sweep samples collected more or less at random, preserved in collections, and then sorted and identified as dried specimens. They turn a dull brown and most definitely lose the "twinkle in the eye" that you can see in the picture.
The main reason I want to come to La Selva and spend six months is to see what I can find out about these attractive little creatures. See which plants they eat. See what their eggs, larvae and pupae look like. Take lots of pictures so everyone else can see also. And, as I said in the introductory paragraph, try to figure out why there are the same number of flea beetles as butterflies using the same set of plants.