On this Earthwatch Expedition, you’ll be dazzled by the array of shapes and colors that caterpillars come in, most of which serve as natural defenses against their predators. Some of these defend against wasps and flies, called parasitoids, which kill the caterpillars by laying eggs in or on them (this gives their offspring a safe, food-rich place to grow).
Caterpillars and parasitoids live in a delicate and dynamic balance, one that climate change could destroy. This research has shown that warmer temperatures speed up caterpillar growth, meaning parasitoids can’t use them as hosts because their life cycles are out of synch. As a result, the parasitoids die off. With fewer parasitoids to keep them in check, caterpillars breed unchecked. Some caterpillars can eat up to 27,000 times their body weight in just a few weeks, so if they become too plentiful, they can quickly wipe out their host plants.
You’ll trek off trail to scour the forest for these small but spectacular creatures. The specimens you collect will be chemically analyzed and observed in a lab on-site, and will contribute to the data scientists have collected on over 9,500 species of both caterpillars and parasitoids. You will help preserve the complex, wondrous variety of plant and animal life within rain forests in either Costa Rica or Ecuador, while working with some surprisingly fascinating creatures. You may even find a new species—it’s happened before.