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IUPUC student travels to Belize to study insects

Sept. 28, 2016

Many students spend their summers relaxing on the beach or camping with friends, but not David Cool, a biology student at IUPUC. He was collecting bugs in the Central American country of Belize as part of an insect diversity expedition.

David Cool

David Cool, IUPUC biology student | PHOTO COURTESY OF IUPUC

Cool joined students, faculty and other researchers from Sonoma State University and the University of California, Davis, in fieldwork designed to collect and discover a wide variety of insects and other arthropods from various locations in Belize.

Cool considers himself lucky to have had the experience.

"I was part of a group that was going down to do a research survey of the dominant insect species of the Stan Creek District," Cool wrote in his journal about the experience. "During the days, the group members would separate into their different areas of expertise to search for their specimens. Sometimes I would join them and assist in searching for butterflies or beetles. However most of the time I would work on my research in the streams and creeks around the facility." 

The area of Belize where he conducted research was mountainous, with large rock faces covered in palm trees over 50 feet high. But he wasn’t there to check out the sites; Cool was on the hunt for mayflies.

Working together with IUPUC assistant professor of biology, Luke Jacobus, Cool has specialized in mayflies, a group of insects that live in fresh water. To prepare for the trip, Cool not only learned how to collect and identify mayflies, but he also conducted research compiling a list of species already known from the area. He also compiled another list of species to expect, based on what has been found in surrounding areas. He used this information to help pinpoint Belize habitats that had been understudied compared to neighboring areas.

"There are many different types of mayflies in Indiana, but they can be highly varied," he wrote. "For this reason, I was excited to collect specimens in Belize with its significantly different ecosystems.

Unfortunately, because Cool arrived in Belize during a season when there weren’t many mayflies to study, he wasn’t able to conduct as much research as he had planned.

"I was disappointed to find, however, that the flying adults that I was looking for were very scarce, and the larvae in the streams were minuscule," he wrote.

While Cool didn’t have much luck searching for mayflies in the water, he observed many insects at night.

"We had multiple white sheets set up with black lights and other types of lights to draw in insects from the forests and fields," he said in his journal. "Each night there appeared a plethora of insects to choose from. I did not have the proper equipment to collect the beautiful and intricate moths that would come in, so I resorted to taking many pictures."

Cool received funding for his experience through a competitive grant from the IUPUC Office of Student Research. The Bohart Entomological Museum and the Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society provided significant logistical support during Cool’s stay in Belize. A manuscript is being prepared that will share Cool’s new Belize discoveries with the scientific community.

David Cool's experience in Belize aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and global engagement.

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