Help scientists untangle the complex relationships between caterpillars, the plants they eat, the parasitoids that eat them, and the changes in climate that will reshape the rain forest.
On this Earthwatch Expedition, you’ll search the forests of Costa Rica for caterpillars and take specimens to the lab for state-of-the-art chemical analysis and observation. Prepare to be dazzled by the array of shapes and colors that caterpillars come in, most of which serve as natural defenses against their predators. You may even find a new species—it’s happened before.
Project scientists have data on over 9,500 species of both caterpillars and the wasps and flies, called parasitoids, that kill the caterpillars by laying eggs in them (this gives their offspring a safe, food-rich place to grow). Caterpillars and parasitoids live in a delicate balance, one that climate change could destroy. For one thing, this research has shown that warmer temperatures speed up caterpillar growth. This means that parasitoids can’t use them as hosts because their life cycles are out of synch, and the parasitoids die off. With fewer parasitoids to keep them in check, caterpillars breed like crazy and decimate their food plants.
Loss of biodiversity—the variety of living things on Earth—is the ultimate price of such imbalances. On this expedition, you will help preserve the complex, wondrous variety of plant and animal life while working with some surprisingly fascinating creatures.