Experiential Science Education - Yanayacu, Ecuador 2010

Dr. Scott Shaw

Hometown:  Laramie, Wyoming

University/Department:  Bachelor of Science in Entomology (1978), Michigan State University; 
Master of Science (1982) and Doctorate of Philosophy (1984) in Entomology, University of Maryland; 
Post-Doctoral studies at Harvard University (1984-1989); 
1989 to present, Professor of Entomology, Department of Renewable Resources, University of Wyoming.

Why did you decide to go on the Yanayacu Research Trip?  To conduct research and teach about the beneficial parasitic wasps, natural population-regulators of plant feeding caterpillars.  I also wanted to discover new forms of life previously unknown to science.

What was the most important thing you learned?    The most important discoveries are often the ones that you don't expect to make.  For example, we found a new species of wasp that attacks and lays eggs into a caterpillar, but it is actually parasitizing the fly larvae that is already parasitizing the caterpillar.  Using its ovipostitor, the wasp starts at the tail end of the caterpillar and prods the fly larvae towards the front of the caterpillar until it reaches the head.  

How has this experience changed you?  The first time I came to Yanayacu, I came by myself, the second time I came with four students, now I'm bringing twelve students.  I've realized the importance of sharing the experience with other people.  Bringing back images into the classroom is no subistitute for experiencing the cloud forest for yourself.  

What are your plans for the future?  I'll continue studying tropical insects, expecially wasps, teaching insect biology and tropical ecology.  I am also wrting a book about the cosmology of life.  www.uwyo.edu/cosmologyoflife   

What advice would you give a young scientist?   Sometimes it’s not easy to do the exact things you plan.  The insect you’re looking for may be rare and difficult to find.  But if you walk into the forest, you’re surrounded by new and interesting things.  Be flexible and be willing to study the things you do find. Get out there and experience nature, do things you do when you’re young.  I started collecting when I was four years old.  My parents were very supportive of me, they let me play with bugs, they gave me nets and glass jars.  Fear of insects is a learned behavior, and so is appreciation of nature.  Get out there and experience nature for yourself.

If you would like to ask Dr. Shaw a question about science please send him an email at: braconid@uwyo.edu