Quirks & Quarks

A moment of distraction leads to near disaster while studying insects in a tropical paradise

Alex Smith studies insects and climate change in Costa Rica and generally tries to avoid venomous snakes

Alex Smith studies insects and climate change in Costa Rica and generally tries to avoid venomous snakes

Alex Smith hiking in northwestern Costa Rica (Alex Smith )

Dr. Alex Smith, an Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph, spent his summer crawling around the leaf litter of forests in northwestern Costa Rica to study insects. 

He wanted to understand how the smallest and most diverse animals are affected by climate change, especially as mountain peaks once covered in almost permanent cloud and mist, are now experiencing warmer and drier conditions. 

Alex Smith studied insects in the rainforest of northwestern Costa Rica this past summer. (Alex Smith )

What he found was that the rise in temperature is causing insect communities along the mountain to move up, threatening communities near the top of the mountain with more competition and predators. 

The long-term trend, according to Smith, is a drop in insect biodiversity and abundance on the mountain. 

Alex Smith had a harrowing encounter with a viper when he came back from sampling (Alex Smith )

Besides the research work, Smith recounts one harrowing encounter in the forest when he came face to face with a viper that hid under his equipment. The venomous snake hissed and lunged at him, but missed by only a few centimetres luckily because it had become tangled in the straps of his equipment.  

Smith said he won't venture into the rainforests of Costa Rica again, without snake antivenom and snake-proof boots.


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