Aug 272010

After last night’s escapade, I took the opportunity to sleep in, and ended up missing breakfast. I’ve had enough rice, beans and eggs to last me awhile so I wasn’t too upset. My feet were in no shape to be shoved back into rubber boots, so I took what was left of the morning off from collecting and worked inside. I wish I could have explored one last area, a meadow that was over-filled with mantisflies (Mantispidae), but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it this time. After lunch everyone prepared to leave, and before we knew it, we were pulling away from the ACG and headed back to San Jose. Our luxury bus was a nice ride, and it wasn’t long until we pulled into Puntarenas for dinner, meeting up with another group of dipterists who traveled to Monteverde while we were at ACG. Our dinner wasn’t too bad, but the stray cat wandering around the restaurant created a strange ambiance. Another hour and a half and we were back at the Adventure Inn in San Jose. A quick repacking of gear for our flight home, and it was time for bed one last time in Costa Rica.

Our travel day started bright and early at 5:30 in order to grab our complementary breakfast before heading off to the airport. We were pleasantly surprised to find no lines throughout the airport, and we breezed through exit taxes, check-in, and security without any significant waiting. A quick stop in the airport gift shop, and soon we were ready to board our flight back to Dallas. For whatever reason our flight was chosen for a secondary security check, including bag searches for everyone and pat downs for an unlucky few. An uneventful flight gave me the chance to start and finish a new book (Generation A by Douglas Coupland, watch for a review in the near future) and before I knew it we were descending into Dallas. Due to some complications with our export permits, Gil (who is traveling on a student visa to start with) was tasked with carrying all of our specimens into the country, and since our final flight destination was Detroit, we were all a little unsure how customs and agriculture would react to our insects. Our fretting was compounded slightly by a short lay-over (<2hr) and the long line out of the baggage area had us all slightly concerned. Luckily none of us ran into any prolonged issues, including Gil, and everyone made it to the gate in time for our next flight (which was ultimately delayed 30 minutes anyways). Dinner was a Big Mac that tasted like filet mignon (a guilty pleasure of mine after every trip to the tropics) and our flight into Detroit was fast and comfortable. A late night drive back to Guelph and after 2.5 weeks I was back home.

Although no longer than any of my previous Neotropical trips, this trip felt like I was away for months. My theory is the multiple locations we traveled to combined with a heavily intellectual load at the congress created this illusion, but the trip still stands as one of my more memorable adventures. The number of kind, generous people we met, both locals around Costa Rica and dipterists from around the globe, was fantastic and was definitely the leading factor in the success of the trip. Costa Rica lived up to all that I had heard of it, with beautiful habitats, fantastic infrastructure, and friendly smiling people. The photos and memories I brought home with me all add to the experience, and I know that this won’t be my last trip to Costa Rica!

Aug 132010

Sorry there wasn’t a bug of the day yesterday, I ran out of steam and couldn’t get an image edited before I fell asleep! Here’s today’s:

ICD7 Logo

What’s this you say? A graphical representation of a fly? Well today I’m looking for one of the families that this fly could be based on the head morphology (I’m giving you a break since the wing veination isn’t really visible). I’ll give 5 points to each correct family name (scientific or common). Have fun, and spelling counts!

Aug 132010

The long days and late nights finally caught up with me this morning, so I slept in until a little after 8. I know, pretty adventurous of me! I felt much better this morning than the last few mornings however, and refreshed for the last 2 days of the conference and the field work following. The plenary session this morning was by Marty Condon, an ecologist/evolutionary biologist who works on the speciation patterns of a tropical genus of fruit flies (Tephritidae). Her research shows that 3 closely related but distinct species of fruit flies utilize 3 different regions of the same species of plant (one laying eggs in the flowers, one in the seed heads, and one in the stems I believe), a phenomenon that is relatively unheard of elsewhere in nature. When we think of niche partitioning, we generally think of one species as parasite and one species as host, so to have 3 species on the same plant at the same time and not getting confused over which of the other species they should be mating with (they look very, very similar until you look very closely at wing patterns and female ovipositor shape) or where to insert their eggs is pretty remarkable. Further proof that evolution is amazing and that assumptions can never be made about the natural world!

The rest of the day I spent in a symposium on using new technologies to increase the efficiency of Diptera taxonomy. There is a large push in the systematics community in general to develop and implement database systems at various stages of the taxonomic process, from species capture and curation, through to description and analysis of species, and finally to dissemination through resources such as keys or resources like the Encyclopedia of Life. The symposium today highlighted several models of these databases and briefly explained how each is being used, and highlighted the utility of each and where improvements might need to be made. This area of research (bioinformatics) really resonates with me, and I’m hoping to help implement and develop some of these programs during the course of my Ph.D. (eventually…). I signed up to participate in a half-day workshop learning how to use one of these systems, ScratchPads, and I’ll report back tomorrow night how that goes and my initial impressions. At the end of the day myself and most of the rest of the Ottawa and Guelph student crew caught a cab to downtown San Jose to have a nice dinner out at a restaurant that was recommended to us as the best restaurant in Costa Rica (Tin Jo Asian Restaurant)! The food fully lived up to the hype, with some fantastic appetizers and the very best curry I’ve ever had, and all at reasonable prices! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sorbet sampler we had for dessert, with the passionfruit being my favourite of 5 unique flavours. Add in an extremely friendly front house manager recalling his stories of Canadians and our use of the word “eh” and it was quite the evening. One more day of the congress left, and then back into the wilds for some more collecting and shooting before heading home!

Most of this morning’s new digital tools talks were recorded and posted online, including my advisor Steve Marshall’s talk (although it seems the messed up and only recorded the audio, plus I can’t get it to work at the moment…). Additionally, all of the Powerpoint presentations themselves will be uploaded to The Diptera Site (they will probably be listed under the attachments link, although there are only 2 up there as of now)

Another buzz-worthy talk today was on the potential utility of the reflective properties of wings as thin films as identification and taxonomic characters. What this complicated sentence means is that when you shine a light on fly wings and have a black background behind them, a full spectrum of colours will shine off the wings (much like the rainbow you see on the outside of a bubble) and that there is evidence that these patterns might be species specific! Some really amazing photographs of these patterns. I’ll definitely be checking out the wings of my micropezids as soon as I get back to Canada!

Stores close really early down here (like 7pm at the latest for most it seems).

We saw a surprising number of “ladies of the night” openly working the corners of downtown San Jose on our cab ride back to the hotel. Definitely didn’t expect that profession to be so easily spotted!

I’ve included some (mostly poor) photos of some familiar faces giving their talks. I’ve also put in a few of the other people who have been doing talks:

Andrew Young Presenting at ICD7

Andrew giving his talk on Platycheirus

Gil Goncalves Miranda Presenting at ICD7

Gil introducing one of his 3 talks at this congress

Morgan Jackson Presenting at ICD7

Me, presenting my work (thanks Joel for snapping the shot!)

Joel Gibson Presenting at ICD7

Joel Gibson, a friend from Ottawa presenting his work on Conopidae

Michelle Locke Presenting at ICD7

Michelle Locke, another friend from Ottawa discussing Dasysyrphus

Monty Wood Presenting at ICD7

Dr. Monty Wood, one of the preeminent Canadian dipterists, talking about Tachinids on Wednesday

Dr. Marty Condon Presenting at ICD7

Dr. Marty Condon giving her Plenary Address on Tephritidae speciation

Aug 122010

I think the long days of intellectually stimulating talks are starting to stack up against me, so I slept in an extra half hour today! I know, I know, lazy! I still made it to the plenary session on time, and I’m certainly glad that I did! William Eberhard was today’s speaker, and he was discussing several mechanisms of sexual selection. He showed some fantastic SEM (scanning electron microscopy) shots of weird Sepsidae fore legs modified to hold female’s wings during copulation, a short clip of X-ray video showing the internal structure and function of Tsetse fly mating (Glossinidae) and discussed the different ways in which female and male insects are constantly competing to increase their own reproductive fitness. A very informative talk, and one that I learned quite a bit of relevant information from. After the morning coffee break I sat in on some tachinid talks, and then headed over to the Syrphidae symposium to watch a streak of Ontarians give their talks. Gil, Andrew and Michelle all did a great job with their presentations, and I think each received some nice feedback from those in the audience. Lunch was a little different today, with lots of seafood and some Costa Rican dishes. Not as good as yesterday, but still ok since it was free! The early afternoon brought more Syrphidae talks, including Gil’s discussion of affordable technology for imaging fly genitalia, a talk which I was a co-author. Again he did well, and there were a lot of people who stopped in to see the talk. I believe we’ll be putting a note out detailing some of our methods in Fly Times, the newsletter for the North American Dipterists Society, in the near future. The best symposium of the entire conference followed the afternoon coffee break, with the Acalyptratae being on display! Of course I may be biased since I gave 2 out of the 7 talks, but I think it was still the best symposium. I presented my work on the Tephritidae of Ontario, the paper I submitted a few weeks back, as well as an overview of my Master’s thesis work. Both were well received, with several questions after each, and I had a couple of people come up to me afterwards to discuss some points further. I’m definitely glad to be done with my talks now, although I wasn’t too worried about either.

I had a bit of a rushed evening however when I realized that I hadn’t received a ticket to the banquet with my registration package. I ended up running back up the road to our hotel to find my receipt and make sure I had indeed paid for it, then scooping someone’s cab and getting back to the conference centre, only to find out it was no big deal and that they had a full checklist anyways! Oh well, at least I didn’t miss the bus at least. The banquet was a bit different than other conference banquets I’ve been to. The guest speaker was Dan Janzen, who is in the process of trying to identify every caterpillar, host plant, and parasitoid within the national park that I’ll be traveling to this weekend. Unfortunately he takes a fairly strong stance that DNA barcoding is the way of the future and that everyone else is stupid for not realizing it, almost reaching a crazy old man status. Not to mention his 30 minute talk ended up being 75 minutes, so there were a lot of hungry, cranky dipterists by the end of it! The dinner itself was pretty good, but the live Caribbean band had a very limited playlist, so we heard the same 3 or 4 songs over and over again. An open bar did create some rather funny moments however when a large group of researchers decided to get up and dance! Lets just say that perhaps some should stick to reserach… The only other unfortunate thing was the party ended at 11, only about an hour after the guest speaker finished, making for not a lot of time to socialize and even less time to take advantage of the bar! Only 2 more days of the congress left, and tomorrow should be a good one with a symposium on developing new technologies to help in the study of flies.

The X-ray video of mating flies was expanded upon by another researcher this afternoon. What a fantastic methodology and some fantastic footage of what goes on during copulation! Too bad they needed a large nuclear facility to carry it out…

I think that the entire Calyptrate symposium was recorded today, and there were some really good talks featured, so make sure to check out the videos of the congress today!

I think there is more that happened today, but I’m just too tired to remember right now, I’ll post an update tomorrow morning if I think of anything else.


Aug 112010

Another day, another few dozen fly talks! Today started a little later than yesterday so I took the opportunity to sleep in a bit and get caught up on my sleep. This morning’s plenary was by Dalton Amorim on fossil Diptera and the process of establishing origins for old fly lineages and the role of the Gondwanian split in speciation. I’ll be honest, a lot of his talk went straight over my head, until the 3rd last slide when I finally understood what he was getting at! At least I didn’t regret breakfast like yesterday. Pretty well the rest of the day I spent in a symposium discussing the Orthorrhaphorous Diptera (Stratiomyidae, Tabanidae, Bombyliidae, etc). Seeing all the work that still needs to be done on the soldier flies (Stratiomyidae) certainly rekindled my interest in these flies (I did my undergraduate honour’s thesis on the Stratiomyidae of Ontario). After talking to the Stratiomyidae presenter later in the day, I’m hoping to collaborate on some work in the future (as another side project; I like to be busy). Besides that, hearing about all the advanced taxonomic studies being undertaken around the world kept me on my toes and like usual, made me want to get back to the lab and do some more work! Today’s lunch was the Costa Rican version of Italian, which went surprisingly well, including the brandy-spiked tiramisu for dessert. After lunch were a large number of talks from Brazil, where the fauna appears to be starting to get some much needed attention. The Brazilian insect fauna has essentially been inaccessible to foreign systematists because of multiple layers of paperwork, permits, and legislation that over eagerly attempted to thwart biopiracy, and which only served to isolate Brazil from the entomological community in many ways. Hopefully these obstacles will begin to decrease and more collaboration and collecting can be accomplished in the near future! A quick walk through the poster session, and today ended a little earlier than usual. A little extra time to do some last minute work on my talks and a call home made for an excellent evening, topped off with more PB & Nutella! It’s good being a student!

I met the student presenting his work on Neriidae tomorrow and had a good chat with him about his work (the Neriidae are the sister group to the Micropezidae).

I’ve noticed a number of people head-bobbing through some of the more, lets say technical, talks. Pretty funny to watch professors doing what their students get in trouble for!

One of the scientific posters on display today was on the Tephritidae of the Netherlands, and after talking with the author and looking through his book, the similarity between his work and my Tephritidae of Ontario project was amazing! Pretty serendipitous really, so I invited him to come see my talk on the project tomorrow.

Likely the most exciting poster on display was on the use of infra-red spectrometry for species identification! Apparently the author can make not only species identifications simply by analyzing the infra-red light reflected off the molecular composition of insect cuticle, but can even distinguish between populations. Pretty amazing work, but unfortunately his talk is at the exact same time as mine is tomorrow. I guess I’ll just have to wait to learn more when his work is published, but it certainly sounds exciting and created a buzz in the community.


Aug 102010

Today was the first full day of the 7th International Congress of Dipterology, and were there ever a lot of flies discussed! The morning started with breakfast in the hotel restaurant followed by another group taxi ride to the conference centre (only $1 each this time). The plenary session this morning featured Dr. Lee Goff. Not many people likely recognize his name, but pretty well everyone will recognize the TV character based on him… Gil Grissom from CSI! Dr. Goff is a medical forensic entomologist in Hawaii and also works as a scientific consultant for CSI: Crime Scene Investigators. In fact, a few of the cases that he’s worked in real life have inspired episodes of the show, or rather the entomological evidence that he deciphered did. Let me tell you though, seeing true life murder photos and the ensuing entomological evidence is not as tidy as TV may have you believe. His talk was incredibly interesting and entertaining, but there were certainly some gruesome photos of victims in various states of decay that made me regret the ham and cheese omelet I had for breakfast! As an aside, it is absolutely horrible what some people do to other human beings. I can confidently say that I’ll not be looking to work in this field down the road!

Most of the rest of the day was filled with talks on the fly fauna of Africa, and included some really interesting discussions about how poorly the flies of Africa are known. Most of the major fly families that have hundreds if not thousands of described species in Central and South America are only known to have dozens or a few hundred species in Africa. Clearly there are orders of magnitude more species, but it just goes to show how understudied that area is. With the announcement of the new Manual of Afrotropical Diptera project (similar to the Nearctic Manual I discussed a few months back) the push is on to discover as many flies as possible and really get a hold on the Diptera fauna of Africa finally. Should be a busy few years for those dipterists who volunteered to undertake this massive project!

Nichelle had her presentation today, and did a really good job. Being her first scientific conference, it was a little like trial by fire, but she did well and had many interested people come to further discuss her work afterwards.

Torsten Dikow’s presentation of the Afrotropical Mydas flies (Mydidae) was great, and I’d recommend people check out his mydid information site for more info about his research on these huge and rarely collected flies!

The opening ceremonies featured an address by the Deputy Minister of the Environment of Costa Rica, who perhaps should have had her speech writers check what the congress is about before giving her a speech. Nothing too major, just that she went on about the importance of Drosophila and the role it plays in human genetics. Unfortunately for her, this sort of research isn’t at all what the people at this conference are concerned over, which is largely a meeting about the taxonomy of flies!

Had Subway for dinner at the local mall, felt really exotic…

Finally, apparently some of the talks being given this week will be recorded and streamed online for everyone to watch. It seems the talks are chosen at random to be “taped”, but there are already 20 talks online for you to watch. I’d recommend B.J. Sinclair’s talk on African Empidoidea, and A. Friedberg’s talk on the Fruit Flies (Tephritidae) of Africa to start. Check back to the site regularly (and possibly live, I’m not sure if they are streaming it or not) to see more fly research from around the world! Who knows, maybe one of my talks will make the cut!


Aug 042010
Time to head down south for some fun in the jungle and the largest gathering of Dipterists this grad student has yet to see! I figured I’d try and make a travelogue of short entries for this whole experience day-by-day (including the days when I have no internet, so expect some days with multiple posts) which will include some of the highs, lows and miscellaneous stories each day.

Overall today was probably the least eventful travel day I think I’ve ever had, which is good news for my stress levels, but really lame for this report….

Had the nicest TSA agents despite them all coming off the night shift, and only one person letting a little power go to their head.

Flight from Detroit–>Dallas didn’t offer any snacks or entertainment. I wish airlines would stop being so cheap and provide some customer service again! Seriously, a 2.5 hour flight with only a Dr. Pepper offered? Come on!

Lunch in Dallas airport, m’eh. Overpriced and under flavoured, but not the worst I’ve had. At least the chairs were comfortable…

Flight from Dallas to San Jose was alright as well, although we misunderstood the time change and were getting a little concerned when we were 20 minutes late for our touchdown without an explanation from the cabin crew! Turns out they don’t use daylight savings time down here… good to know! At least they served a meal on this flight, although nothing special or good. Also, apparently American Airlines no longer accepts cash for food, drinks, or headphones. That’s right, you need to pay $2 by debit or credit if you forget your headphones at home! I’ll pass thanks!

Started and finished another popular science book on taxonomy and biodiversity today, watch for a review in the coming weeks after I get home!

Staying at the Adventure Inn while in San Jose over the next few weeks. Seems great with nice rooms and a great pool that I look forward to testing later this week!

Bonus real life joke: A dipterist tries to walk into a bar but gets stopped by the plate glass window, gains first hand experience of what his flies must feel! (It wasn’t me either)
That’s it for tonight! We’re off to El Copal Lodge tomorrow to scout some new locations for collecting, and I’m guessing there won’t be any internet access. No worries though, I’ll be taking notes and expect a bunch of blog posts on Sunday when we come back to San Jose! Hasta luego!