Frank Cicela's Diary
Rainforest Caterpillars, Costa Rica

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Monday, May 26, 2003
Sunday, May 25, 2003
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Friday, May 23, 2003
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Monday, May 19, 2003

Sunday, May 18, 2003 (Afternoon)
Sunday, May 18, 2003 (Morning)
Saturday, May 17, 2003
Friday, May 16, 2003
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Saturday, March 29, 2003
Thursday, March 6, 2003

Related Sites

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The bus picked us up at the entrance of the research park at a little after 1 p.m. We were dropped off at the hotel in San Jose around 3:30 p.m. A few of us walked around town and did some souvenir shopping before we met at 6 p.m. for our last supper together.

Personally, I think Michel best articulated the lessons I learned and practiced at La Selva. The lesson was that of learning to see what I didn't know. In many ways, our minds become acculturated to our environment and surroundings. So much of our daily lives is taken for granted and is essentially an intrinsic unquestioned element of our existence. Very often, one doesn't/can't see the reality of what is physically in front of him/her without another person pointing out what is actually there.

The practical lessons of this occurred for me the first several days of caterpillar hunting. An expedition staff member would point out a leaf and ask if there was a caterpillar on it. Without knowing, it was initially impossible for me to see the caterpillar that was there. Cryptic caterpillar species match their environment so well that they were often indistinguishable from their host plant. After several days of learning and beginning to know, I began to see and was able to find cryptic caterpillars on my own.

I wish to take this moment and thank Alcoa for sponsoring and supporting the worthwhile cause of Earthwatch. It is my hope that the program will be continued and even expanded in coming years. I would also like to thank my supervisor, Lisa Kunkel, for affording me the time away from the office to participate on this expedition.

Lastly, I'd like to thank all those who followed along with me and read this journal. I'll carry this experience for the rest of my life and never forget that I've been given a last chance to see....

I encourage you to take a moment to visit my personal website documenting this expedition experience: There you will find photographs, slideshows, an audio soundscape of the forest, a complete unabridged diary, rain forest questions and answers, and additional information and resources regarding ecology and sustainability.

Be well, and may the forests always be with you.

Monday, May 26, 2003

I have been able to share the last several meals at the cafeteria with Dr. Clark (she made the presentation about the forest several days ago). I enjoyed her and her husband's company and listening to them share the experiences/results of their work. During one of our conversations, I shared a bit about myself and what I do for a living. She highly recommended that I purchase and read a copy of a book titled You Can't Eat GNP: Economics as if Ecology Mattered by Eric A. Davidson.

In the morning, Tom and I ran four additional nectary trials. Creatures that we saw during our work included:
  • A scarab beetle (About the size of a cell phone!)
  • A walking stick (insect)
  • The Jesus Christ lizard (This is the lizard that can run across the surface of water—though the one we saw was just running along the ground.)

In the afternoon, Lee presented a brief summary of what we accomplished during the past two weeks. As a group, we found 82 different species, which represented 19 of the 30 families of caterpillars. Two of the caterpillars that we found are new species that Lee has never seen before! One caterpillar was a species that wasn't known to exist in this forest. To date, 900 species of caterpillars have been identified at La Selva. Five thousand caterpillar species are estimated to exist in Costa Rica.

Tomorrow, we will all work in the zoo one last time and help prepare for the next Earthwatch team, which will be arriving on May 28 and staying thru June 11. In the afternoon, a bus will drive us back to San Jose for our departure flights on the 28th.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Today, I was solo zookeeper for the plantation caterpillars. It was a full job to feed 677 very hungry caterpillars. The children's' storybook The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle tells only half of the story. Those 677 hungry caterpillars make a lot of frass! Too bad there wasn't a way to make some money selling it as premium tomato plant fertilizer (and be able to price it like caviar).

In the forest, the frass doesn't go to waste. In the forest, waste equals food. Everything is food for something else. There is even a beetle whose biological niche is to eat caterpillar frass.

Lory, a physician and friend of mine, once shared her favorite quotation with me. I don't recall the exact quote at the moment, but the essence of the statement was the goal of every species is to perpetuate itself.

For me, the most rewarding part of this expedition experience has been to witness firsthand the fire of creation perpetuating itself within the framework laws of the community of life. The forest is a miraculous closed-loop system in which the only external input is that of solar energy.

All organisms produce more seeds or offspring than will survive to maturity.

Variation exists among progeny.

Traits are passed from generation to generation.

Survivors of each generation succeed because they possess a trait (advantage) over those that don't survive. Survivors will pass successful traits on to the next generation and, therefore, the incidence of particular traits will increase within a population over time.

Here is a peacekeeping law for all members of the community of life (which is an enabler of diversity): Give as good as you get, but don't be too predictable. Compete to the full extent of your abilities but do not wage war (i.e., denying another member of the community of life the ability to make a living).

One last observation of the forest is that no creature I observed grew/procreated/multiplied without limits imposed by biology.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

So far, 677 caterpillars have been caught at the banana plantation and 313 have been found in the forest!

It is funny. If you are still and quiet in the caterpillar zoo, you can actually hear the caterpillars eating—munching on their leaves.

Today, Marshall and I ran four trials of the nectary experiment that I described yesterday. We made it without getting stung.

Last night, Dr. Deborah Clark of the University of Missouri—St Louis presented a talk titled Global Change and Tropical Forests: Lessons from La Selva. Deborah and her husband, Dr. David Clark, have lived at La Selva for the last 20 years. She studies the ecology of tropical trees, long-term processes affecting tree growth and survival in lowland forests, effects of climate change on forest productivity, and implications of this for global climate and the atmosphere. Her presentation summarizing the work she and other scientists have completed the last twenty years was mesmerizing.

The mosquitoes and I finally found one another. I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt and shorts the other day and ended up with a half dozen or so bites.

Though I haven't been back to the banana plantation since Thursday, my mind repeatedly drifts back to the images that my eyes took in.

Without the canopy of the forest, the intense humidity and temperature of the tropics hits you hard—stifling. A thick bitter smell of agrochemicals hangs in the air. There were no smiles or laughter anywhere to be seen on the plantation. The workers' bodies appeared gnarled, scarred, and broken from the hard labor of plantation work.

Bananas, I have learned, are an incredibly "wimpy" tree. They are herbaceous, which means that though they are a tree, they are not "made" of wood. The cross-section of a 10-inch (25.4-centimeter) diameter trunk looks like a giant plant stem.

Banana trees are a monoculture. Genetically speaking, they are identical to one another...essentially clones. Consequently, without any genetic variation, the artificial system of a banana plantation is very fragile and therefore treated heavily with herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, fungicides, etc. There are on the order of 23 different agrochemicals that can be applied to banana trees. Exposure to agrochemicals has impacted plantation workers with epidemic levels of sterility and birth defects.

Globally, tropical rain forests are being cleared at a rate of 64 acres (26 hectares) per minute. At that rate, the 3,900 acres (1,578 hectares) of La Selva would theoretically vanish in just about an hour and be replaced with pasture for livestock or land for crops of one variety or another. I find it chilling that so much unknown endemic biodiversity—biomass—is being transformed into human mass. I find it chilling that inherently diverse, stable, and natural biological systems are being replaced with artificial, fragile human-made systems.

After seeing a banana plantation, I can't imagine the amount of embodied energy that a medium-sized, 110-calorie banana contains. The energy of converting forest to plantation, solar/biological inputs of growing a tree from a seedling, the energy of applying chemical treatments, and the intense manual energy of harvest, refrigeration, transportation, sale—I'm sure there are tons of energy inputs I haven't even considered.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Yesterday's unofficial caterpillar count for the three of us who went to the banana plantation was 166. We had several bags full of leps that were not counted because they were given away to another researcher for a different experiment. I'm certain that we caught no less than 200!

Today, Angela, Chris, Luis, and I conducted a practice run and prepared for the nectary experiment that will be run during the next several days. We spent the morning identifying trees that had nests and were home to the BIG bullet ants. Twelve trees along the trail were marked with flags. Little vials of nectar were then mounted to the tree trunk with paper clips and thumbtacks. We left the vials for an hour and then returned to collect them.

Collecting the nectar vials from 15 feeding bullet ants is a bit of a tricky task. One person uses a four foot long bamboo stick to flip the ants off of the vials and the surrounding area. The next person rather quickly switches the vials and then runs away from the tree (just like in a Monty Python movie!). Quickly, both people examine their boots and legs to make sure that no ants crawled up on them. The bullet ants bite and give a severe sting that hurts for an entire day. Chris and I worked well together and didn't get stung.

Below is a brief overview of the nectary experiment:

Paraponera clavata (giant tropical ants) are a natural enemy of caterpillars. Some caterpillars have developed the ability to sequester plant toxins as a defense against such natural enemies. The experiment is designed to screen for chemical defenses present in both plants and caterpillars. Two vials of nectar, one as a control and the other with either a plant or caterpillar extract, are placed along the feeding path of the Paraponera. If they prefer the control over the extract, this suggests some kind of chemical defense. Those nectar solutions which test positive for chemical defense are further analyzed with more sophisticated procedures.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Back to lepping!

I left with Beto and Angela at 8:30 a.m. to go to a different banana plantation today. We collected for about two hours. We won't know until tomorrow when we are done processing how many we caught. I think we brought in more than the 230 we picked up the other day.

During the afternoon, I worked at the caterpillar zoo. Cleaning and and and feeding.... I was surprised to see that several caterpillars were no longer caterpillars but had pupated overnight. Amazing!! The transformation is so radical and takes place so quickly.

Some more creatures I have seen over the last couple of days include:
  • Eyelash palm viper (Yellow variety and in a cage, thank goodness!)
  • Spectacled caiman (Bigger than an iguana but smaller than a crocodile)
  • American crocodile
  • Iguana
  • Boat-billed heron
  • Great kiskadee
  • Blue-gray tanager

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Today is our day off from caterpillar chasing.

Several of us hired a car and driver for a day in order to see the countryside. We drove approximately two hours to a small town called Fortuna, where we visited and toured a botanical garden. We also visited Catarata La Fortuna (which means Waterfall of Fortuna), a spectacular waterfall.

We continued our travels and saw an active volcano called Arenal. One half of the mountain is green and completely covered with vegetation. Drive around to the other side of the volcano, and it is completely barren—covered with volcanic rock and ash. It's difficult for me to imagine the temperature and pressure required to make rock molten. Because of the daylight, we were not able to see the lava flows. But listening, we could hear the Earth's indigestion. Long-rolling percussive noises that sounded like part thunder, part explosion, part gunfire, part falling rock—all rolled into one.

We stopped and had pollo empanadas as a snack prior to our drive back to La Selva. They were tasty—made with corn meal and a salsa on the side—but I prefer the Argentinean variety (smile).

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Vincent, Rich, Beto, and I traveled to a nearby banana plantation to collect caterpillars for Angela's research project.

The bright side of the trip is that in approximately two hours, the four of us collected on the order of...sit down, you are not going to believe this...230+ caterpillars. Yes, you read that correctly. TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY PLUS caterpillars! What a great morale booster in terms of caterpillar catching.

By the way, I learned that among the scientist types, the nickname given to caterpillars is leps. Leps is short for lepidoptera, which is the scientific name for the insect group consisting of caterpillars.

The banana plantation....

Let me back up a bit first and say that the two-hour trip from San Jose to the reserve was essentially up over a mountain ridge (not as rugged as the Rocky Mountains in the western United States but more formidable than the Smokey Mountains in the eastern United States) and in through the back side of the reserve. The mountain area is part of a government protected area. The reserve is a five-square-mile (eight-square-kilometer) peninsula of primary and secondary rain forest that is surrounded by banana plantations, pineapple plantations, and cattle pasture as far as the eye can see.

The trip to the plantation was my first view of Costa Rica outside of the reserve.

The plantation visit, in a certain regard, was the most chilling and terrifying experience I have had in my life.

Read the following paper for more information: The Impacts of Banana Plantation Development in Central America.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Jenny, Marshal, Tom, Michel, and I hunted caterpillars together today. We only found 13, which was a surprise to us. We were only expected to find four to six caterpillars. I found one, which meant that I was allowed to eat dinner tonight (smile). The reason for the low numbers is that we were sent to another area of the forest that is known to have a low density of caterpillars. One of the things the scientists are trying to understand is why certain areas of the forest have relatively few caterpillars and other areas of the forest have lots of caterpillars.

I purchased a small field guide today and thought I'd share the official common names of the creatures I have run across so far (and can positively identify).

  • Spider monkey
  • White-nosed coati (This is a creature related to raccoons.)
  • Collard peccary (This is a wild pig. They have a strong, distinct musky odor, and you can tell when they've been around.)
  • Sloth (Not sure if it was a two- or three-toed sloth.)

  • Central American whiptail (lizard)
  • Unidentified snake

  • Gaudy-leaf frog (This frog had the spectacular lime green, blue, and red coloration.)
  • Cane toad (This frog is as big as a softball.)
  • Blue-jeans dart frog

  • Crested guan
  • Swallow-tailed kite
  • Toucan (85.679% sure that it was a chestnut-mandibled toucan)
  • Common brush tanager
  • Scarlet-rumped tanager

Insects (I don't have an insect guide):
  • Bullet ants (BIG ants that bite and sting)
  • Leaf-cutter ants
  • Termites
  • Tons of bizarre insects
  • Quite a variety of caterpillars!

Tomorrow morning, Vincent, Rich, Beto, and I are heading to a nearby banana plantation to collect caterpillars for one of Angela's research projects.

Sunday, May 18, 2003 (Afternoon)

The one percent of caterpillars that survive and turn into adults (moths) has earned that right!

Caterpillars have many survival tactics. Some are shelter builders. They fold over the edge of a leaf and then silk the fold into position. A part of the leaf is turned into a little tunnel where they live. Other caterpillars build shelters out of debris and silk.

If threatened, some caterpillars drop from their leaf. If this happens, the caterpillar will never be found on the forest floor with my eyes.

Some caterpillars bite.

Some caterpillars thrash about in order to fend off a predator.

Some caterpillars vomit.

Some caterpillars, after they go to the bathroom, throw their frass (feces). They curl the back half of their body, grab the frass ball, and flip it as far as they can—up to a meter (3.3 feet) away. Other caterpillars pile their frass.

There are three colorations that caterpillars use as a defense. The only one whose name I can remember at the moment is cryptic, which means they look very much like their habitat and are therefore difficult to see.

Other features of caterpillars that we are collecting data on are whether they are hairy or have spines. (By the way, if a caterpillar has spines, be careful because it will sting—I am told it hurts very badly). Other caterpillars are smooth as glass. They can even be a combination of the above.

Tips for finding caterpillars:
  • If it is sunny out and there is vegetation above your head, you can see the shadows of caterpillars against the leaf body. You often get fooled by debris that is on top of the leaf.
  • Look for leaf damage (holes in the leaves where they have been eaten). However, a huge percent of leaves have damage from other herbivores.
  • Caterpillars hang out pretty much exclusively on the undersides of plants, so there is lots of leaf turning.
  • Look for leaves that are folded over (shelters) where a caterpillar might be hiding.
  • Look for piles of frass and hope the caterpillar is nearby.

One thing to be aware of that I found out on my own during my hunting today is that some spiders build leaf shelters that (to me) look just like caterpillar shelters. So imagine my surprise when I began unfolding a leaf shelter expecting to find a caterpillar and had a spider jump out! Next time, I'll peek down the tunnel before I unfold the leaf.

One member of our group—Vince—is a machine when it comes to finding caterpillars. He found nine! Some sort of Zen and the Art of Caterpillar Hunting thing going on.

Hmmm...tough going today...conditions were very difficult...lots of rain and no sun.... Overall, our group found 22 caterpillars during three hours of searching.

We walked to a different part of the reserve today in order to look for caterpillars. I was paired up with Angela, who is a graduate student working for Lee. She is studying an individual caterpillar family—geometrids (they are like an inch worm). This particular caterpillar species is a specialist, which means that it only eats one kind of plant (a piper cenocladum). In order to find this kind of caterpillar, we must first find the plant. Then we turn the leaves over one at a time in search of a little cryptic caterpillar that is around one-half inch (1.8 centimeters) long. To my amateur eye, they are really tough creatures to find. Some are only 0.4 inches (one centimeter) long!

Frank: I found one! I found one!
Angela: Uh, not exactly. You have found a piece of moss.
Frank: Oh.
Angela: But over here on the other end of the leaf is a caterpillar.
Frank: Sighhh.

The only caterpillar I found today was one that an ant had also found (ants are one of the biggest predators of caterpillars). The battle started out even-handed—one caterpillar versus one ant. But the ant was quickly joined by two additional ants. The caterpillar thrashed violently to try and free itself from the predators, but things didn't look good for the caterpillar.

Sunday, May 18, 2003 (Morning)

Buenos Dias!

I decided to wake up at 5:45 a.m. today to try and find an available computer. My plan worked. Everyone else is still asleep.

A very few of the many things I learned (and didn't know) about caterpillars yesterday included:
  • All caterpillars turn into moths.
  • Butterflies are a special kind of moth.
  • Features that distinguish a butterfly are that they have clubbed antennae, they are diurnal (this means they fly during the day), and they have fewer scales on their wings than other moths.
  • It can take up to EIGHT (8) YEARS for a caterpillar to turn into a moth!
  • 99% of caterpillars do not survive and turn into moths because of predation or parasitoids. Predators survive by preying on other animals. A parasite lives off of another creature. A parasitoid lives off of another creature but in the end kills the host.

Lots of information and photographs about La Selva can be found on the web. Several things that I learned about the research outpost are that it was created around 1964 and is currently supported by 64 universities from around the world. I was thrilled and proud to learn that my alma mater, Southern Illinois University—Carbondale, is one of those 64 universities!

The research station is situated on 1,516 hectares (3,746 acres), a relatively small parcel of land. The area has been well studied for close to 40 years, and yet so much remains unknown. Species found at La Selva...and counting...include: ants, 400; plants, 1,864; birds, 436; amphibians, 49; butterflies, 500; trees, 350; fish, 43; mammals, 120 (67 species of bats!); and snakes, 56 (seven venomous). More than 100 species of trees can be found in a typical two-hectare (five-acre) plot. This small, five-square-mile (eight-square-kilometer) research park boasts a diversity level that is staggering when contrasted to the diversity of all of North America.

Creatures we saw included a spider monkey in the forest canopy; lots of tiny (dime-sized) red and blue poison dart frogs...they are plentiful; several fast moving lizards; and several coatis. The coati is the raccoon of the rainforest to the extent it looks like a raccoon. To me, they appear to have slightly longer legs. Their faces are much longer. Use your imagination and stretch a raccoon nose in order to make it two to three times longer (a la Pinocchio). The coati's body is also longer. Lastly, it has a really long, skinny tail that sticks up vertically in the air.

We found a spectacular frog (a little smaller than a computer mouse) with vibrant lime green coloring. The underside of the frog was fire engine red and bright sky blue. Her eyes were solid red—like fire. We saw our first snake! A small pit viper of some sort. We took digital pictures, and several people were going to go to the station library and try to identify the snake species in a field guide. We also found ants that are nearly the size of a thumb! Don't try to touch them though—they bite and sting.

Saturday, May 17, 2003


I want to start my entry today by apologizing for the "quality" of this journal. I really hoped to have more "personal time" devoted to writing...but so far, our days have been extremely full with minimal time for reflection and journaling.

Two significant things occurred yesterday that I neglected to mention. Allow me to correct this oversight.

Prior to leaving for Costa Rica, I had requests made by acquaintances. These individuals wanted to experience the forest vicariously through me.

Diamond D. from Indiana requested that while I'm in the forest I eat a bug. I'm happy to say that I fulfilled the obligation. During our orientation hike, our team leader pointed out a termite mound and commented that termites were edible. I (and a couple others) tried some! The termites are described to have a lemony taste. Some of the group that tasted them said they could detect a lemon flavor. Personally, I couldn't discern a lemon taste, but I definitely noted a hint of citrus. We were told today that there is one caterpillar species that we might encounter that is edible (and an important food for many people in the world). I'll advise if I get to have a little caterpillar barbeque.

Don R. from New York asked me to hug a tree for him...which I did, with great ardor and passion.

Breakfast was over by 8 a.m., and we began our training as "Official Caterpillar Collectors."

Three elements of our training included:
  • Basic fundamentals of how and where to look for caterpillars and how to handle them (some can sting).
  • Processing of caterpillars—how to inventory and catalogue the caterpillars so they can be properly tracked throughout their life cycle (and data collected from them).
  • Training on how to be caterpillar zookeepers. The caterpillars are kept fed (fresh leaves), and the frass (feces) is cleaned from the baggies in which the caterpillars are kept until they pupate.

We split into two groups for this training. Seven of us set out to start our quest for caterpillars. We hiked over 6,000 meters (3.7 miles) of trails (and off trail) in our quest today. During 2.5 hours, we found about 30 of the creatures. I found two...wheee!!!

Friday, May 16, 2003

The sun rose in San Jose this morning at about 5:12 a.m. My body woke up at 5:30 a.m.! Breakfast consisted of beans and rice, sautéed plantains (a fruit similar to bananas), other tropical fruit, scrambled eggs, mystery fruit juice, and sausages.

By 8 a.m., we were checked out of the hotel and loading our bags onto the roof of the small charter bus that would take us to the research station. At 8:30 a.m., we began rumbling our way out of town. Two hours later, the bus arrived at La Selva.

La Selva—The Jungle.

I am experiencing sensory overload.

Temperature 84 °F/29 °C

Heat Index 87 °F/31 °C

Humidity 58%

Warm rains greeted us on our arrival and visited us another five times during the day.

By the time we checked in and carried our bags across a suspension foot bridge over a river to our quarters, it was time for lunch.

Tasty rice, beans, a cabbage-like salad, plantains, fruit....

After lunch, our expedition leader, Dr. Dyer, took us on an orientation walk through the research facility. This included a 2.5-hour orientation hike in order to get familiarized with the trail the trails are marked and how the area is gridded.

The entire forest is animate! Unbelievable!

Sensory overload....

Life drips from every square inch of the forest as rain drips off the brim of my hat. Plants...animals...insects...everything is alive...everything moves...everything is prodigal and verdant....

Plants with leaves whose "diameters" are greater than six feet (1.8 meters). The density of the bush is beyond my ability to describe at the moment.

Sensory overload....

The ambient sound of the forest is exotic (to my Midwest U.S. ears)—birds, frogs, monkeys, insects...creatures I can't begin to imagine.

Dr. Dyer presented a 1.5 hour overview of his research activities with time for questions and answers. Tomorrow at 8 a.m. begins the first day of our formal training in the forest.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Frank "The Procrastinator," finally finished packing his backpack at 11 p.m. Wednesday night. It weighed in at 40 pounds (18 kilograms). I also have a small carry-on bag, with camera equipment (and the like) that added approximately 15 pounds (7 kilograms).

Travel Day!

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to get showered, dressed, and make the hour drive to the Indianapolis airport for a 6:30 a.m. departure. The only travel hitch was an initial 45-minute flight delay out of Indianapolis due to bad weather in Atlanta. I was still able to make my connection...and so did my pack. The plane landed at around 12:15 p.m. What a great way to start the trip.

After brief delays and queues at immigration, baggage claim, and customs, I found myself in a very, very, very bright orange Toyota Corolla taxi. Twenty minutes and US$12 later, I arrived at the hotel where I would meet the rest of the research team and spend the night. Interesting town—San Jose—but describing it is beyond the scope of this journal. Sharing my initial impressions wouldn't be fair based on the very few hours I was there.

I arrived at the hotel around 2 p.m. and promptly took a short nap. The hotel is set up dorm style, with four beds to a room. My roommates for the evening were Barry and Tom.

At 6 p.m. we gathered in the dining area to meet one another and walk to a local restaurant for an Italian dinner. Dr. Lee Dyer from Tulane University is the principal investigator leading our team. Team members include:
  • Craig from Grand Junction, Colorado (United States)
  • Marshall from Badin, North Carolina (United States)
  • Nick from Spring Lake, Michigan (United States)
  • Eduarda from Yonkers, New York (United States)
  • Luis from Madrid, Spain
  • Chris from Seattle, Washington (United States)
  • Angela from New Orleans, Louisiana (United States)
  • Jen from Los Angles, California (United States)
  • Richard from Tunbridge Wiells Kent, United Kingdom
  • Barry from Washington D.C. (United States)
  • Vince from Qawra St Pauls Bay, Malta
  • Tom from Oxford, England
  • Michel from Vincennes, France

The members of the group include high school students, college students, business people, and corporate managers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Expedition send off ...

The creative souls I work with on a daily basis put together a little send-off celebration for me my last day in the office. The good news (from my perspective) is that the overall sentiment seems to be that everyone wants me to return from the rainforest.

I walked into the office lobby to the sight of a four-foot by 12-foot banner suspended from the 2nd floor staircase railing that read:

Go Get 'Em Worm Wrangler
Good Luck in Costa Rica, Frank!!!!

Later that morning, they presented me with a "Survival Care Package" that would help ensure my well-being in the jungle. The entire contents of the care package were too numerous to mention, but some of the memorable items included:
  • A butterfly/insect net
  • A caterpillar lasso
  • Fly swatters
  • Bug spray
  • A can of beenie weenies
  • Admonitions regarding snakes in the forest
  • A tikki lamp
  • Antacid
  • A book of easy crossword puzzles
  • Toilet paper
  • Mouse traps
  • A flea/tick collar
  • And my personal favorite: a compass with a can of bread crumbs (as a backup) to make sure I find my way back out of the jungle.

So many well intentioned gifts that in their own way would contribute to my "survival value." It was difficult in the end to choose what to take and what to leave behind ...

Thanks everyone for your thoughts!!!

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Word for the day: Be kind to your travel agent!

Janeen, international travel counselor extraordinaire at American Express Travel One, has me ticketed to fly from Indianapolis, Indiana to San Jose, Costa Rica via a single connection through Atlanta, Georgia. Total flight time is estimated at approximately five hours and 42 minutes for a total of 2,059 miles (3,313 kilometers).

Travel documents required for the trip, aside from tickets, include a passport and visa. A passport is a government document issued to a citizen and allows that person to travel abroad and re-enter their home country. A visa is an endorsement placed/stamped into the passport that allows a person to travel into the foreign country. Some countries require a visa; some do not. Costa Rica requires a visa, which I will be able to purchase upon arrival.

Some countries, such as China, require that a visa application be submitted, approved, and purchased prior to arrival! Travel counselors know tons of things like this! While they cannot guarantee that takeoffs will always equal landings...they can provide you with a wealth of travel information regarding foreign destinations! Remember to be nice to your travel counselor.

Thursday, March 6, 2003

And the winners are ...

On March 6, 2003, I was at one of our manufacturing facilities in Olive Branch, Mississippi. It was a service trip to address problems with a machine that was not running well. At around 5:00 p.m. that evening, I logged onto the network to check my e-mail. I scanned the listing of unread messages ... only one caught my attention: Subject: Alcoa-sponsored Earthwatch Research Experience...Sighhhhh, I took a breath and opened the message.

I exhaled and a feeling of giddiness overcame me!

Congratulations ... read the message.

I’ll be spending two weeks in the Costa Rican rainforest assisting in ecological field research! I can’t say that I have ever felt so simultaneously surprised and relieved! This is a dream come true! I can’t believe it!

Related Sites


Take a Walk in the Rainforest
A self-guided tour of the Costa Rican rain forest by journalists at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).


The Biology of Caterpillars
From World Book Encyclopedia.

FAQs about Caterpillars
Twenty-two frequently asked questions are answered by two Australian educators.

Photographs of Caterpillars
Twenty-six beautiful color photographs of different species.

What's This Caterpillar?
An online search engine to help you identify 800 different caterpillars in Europe.

Factoids about Caterpillars, Moths, and Butterflies
Thirty-two factoids to ponder.

Earthwatch Institute

Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.

Rainforest Caterpillars Expedition

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.

Costa Rican Caterpillars

A Teacher Scholastic discussion about Earthwatch's La Selva caterpillar field site and biological reserve.

Caterpillars of Costa Rica

Facts and photos about caterpillars in Costa Rica and in other countries.

Caterpillars & Parasitoids of a Costa Rican Tropical Wet Forest

An ongoing project to inventory and disseminate information on lepidopteron larvae, their host plants, and their parasitoids.


Explore the butterflies of Central America.

Frank's Personal Web Page

Visit Frank's own expedition web page.