While the majority of current biological surveys of insects are important in providing information about biodiversity and systematic relationships, vast amounts of basic natural history and ecological information are lost via the generalized methods of collection. Rearing live organisms is a collecting method that allows biologists to keep much of the ecological, environmental, and behavioral context of specimens while still providing taxonomic data. "Caterpillars and Parasitoids of a Costa Rican Tropical Wet Forest" is a project that involves collecting new species of Lepidoptera and associated parasitoid Hymenoptera, Diptera, and Nemata. At the same time the project entails recording basic data on tritrophic interactions between the host plants, caterpillars, and parasitoids in the survey.
Caterpillars from externally feeding lepidopteran families will be collected, photographed, and reared. During this process various data on rearing times, diet (host plants), morphology, and behavior will be recorded in a standard manner along with detailed descriptions of the larval stages. Similar types of information on parasitoids reared from the larvae will be recorded as well. Reared material will be sent to appropriate taxonomists in Costa Rica and the United States where it can be identified, described, and perhaps used to clarify systematic relationships in poorly described taxa. Existing collections in Costa Rica and Colorado of caterpillars, nematodes, and reared adult butterflies, moths, wasps, and flies, will be greatly enhanced. The data will be placed in a searchable database on the world-wide-web. It will complement similar databases compiled by projects currently underway in other climactic zones of Costa Rica. This larger dataset can eventually produce a cohesive set of basic taxonomic and ecological data that can be used to address many important questions in ecology, evolutionary biology, and applied biology.