Beyond beetlemania

For Adam Fowler, a UGA study abroad program in Costa Rica was simply an elective class to help fulfill his biology degree requirements. He never thought it was going to be a life-changing experience.

Fowler and six other UGA students – plus one high school student – arrived on the first day of class completely unaware that beetles are in the order Coleoptera. But most of them left the program knowing the scientific names for many insects.

Costa Rica’s rich insect diversity attracted the attention of UGA entomology professor Darold Batzer, who launched a new summer program that gives students the opportunity to learn about insects and also benefit the Costa Rican and Athens communities.

According to UGA entomologist Floyd Shockley, Costa Rica was the perfect place for this study abroad program not only because of its insect biodiversity but because Costa Rica is the gem of Central American ecotourism.

Before leaving for Costa Rica, the students were given an introductory class where they learned insect form and structure (morphology), how to classify specimens (taxonomy), and basic techniques like how to use a collecting jar or an aerial net to capture them.
Once in Costa Rica, the students collected insects from La Selva (Rainforest) and at Ecolodge San Luis (Cloudforest). Their days sometimes began around 5:30 a.m. to collect insects and students would often work into the night with black lights set up around the station.

“You could go to any light in Costa Rica and find so many insects,” said Fowler, who is currently a UGA senior. “You will find insects in Athens, but ten times fewer.”
After the insects were collected, the students went to the lab at the UGA Ecolodge station to pin them for preservation. They also labeled each insect with taxonomic, location and collector information.

Each student created a collection of at least 50 insects representing many different orders and families. Fowler said it wasn’t hard to find insects for his collection, and one night he even found a large neon green grasshopper and beetles nearly as big as his hand.

As part of the course’s service-learning component, once the students finished their collections, they donated them to two schools in Costa Rica and to the Classic City High School in Athens, Ga. They also presented their collections to the local Athens community at Athfest KidsFest, part of an annual local music and arts festival.

Students and faculty all had the opportunity to interact with the Costa Rican community, said Marianne Robinette, UGA entomologist and director of UGA’s Insect Natural History study abroad program. One night, the local community in San Luis hosted a fiesta at a local elementary school. Students attended this dance and had the opportunity to interact with the local community.