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This site is the result of an on-going inventory of the insects on Isla Colon, a small island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago off Panama’s Caribbean coast. The main feature is a visual catalogue of insect specimens and associated data recorded during repeated visits to the island, primarily the northern end in the vicinity of Boca del Drago, beginning in 2009. In addition, this site includes basic information about Isla Colon’s natural history and geography. is offered as a free resource for anyone working with, or simply interested in, the insects of the Neotropic zone.






















Caligo atreus attracted to banana bait, Isla Colon, Panama


My goals and methods for this project are straightforward and common to many investigations into insect diversity (Godfrey et al 1999; Magurran 2004). Since the project involved collecting and transporting insect specimens, I first had to acquire a permit through ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, now Ministerio de Ambiente de Panamá). Because I’m an independent worker, the first step was crafting a research proposal on my own for both ANAM and STRI (the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute), which hosts and facilitated naturalists working in Panama This excerpt from that proposal describes the basics:


Regarding Panama, a search of online resources reveals a dearth of sites documenting the presence of insect species in a given environment there… As part of an effort to fill this gap, this project will document the insects of Isla Colon, a small island in the Bocas del Toro Province, and use the data and images to build a free, searchable website. In addition to providing a universally accessible resource of images and data, this project may contribute significantly to the field of island biogeography. There is much work yet to be done on the biogeography of insects, and the process is hindered by the multiplicity of insect species, coupled with our inadequate knowledge of distribution and phylogeny [[J. Linsley Gressitt, Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan 1, 1974, Annual Review of Entomology, Volume 19 (1)]]... The methods of this study are standard and time-tested, including passive bait and light traps. All material will be preserved, catalogued, and stored in a publicly accessible study collection. Ultimately, it's hoped that this project may help defend the wild areas of Panama from the encroachment of development by definitively documenting species of concern that occur in the area and publishing that data online. 


Accordingly, this site may be particularly useful to people interested in the field of island biogeography. Biologists working in this field study the ways in which populations of organisms on islands are influenced by distance, island size, and other factors. Isla Colon is part of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, a collection of islands sometimes referred to as “the Galapagos of the Caribbean.” The presence, or absence, of insect species on Isla Colon compared to the other islands might provide data for work of this kind.


A word about collecting: Insect collecting, which by definition involves killing and preserving specimens, can and should be performed in an ethical manner. A good source for guidelines to collecting is outlined in the Lepidopterists' Society statement on collectingSections 1.1 through 1.6 of that document are especially relevant to this project: 





  • 1.1 To create a reference collection for study and appreciation.


  • 1.2 To document regional diversity, frequency, and variability of species, and as voucher material for published records.


  • 1.3 To document faunal representation in environments undergoing or threatened with alteration by humans or natural forces.


  • 1.4 To participate in development of regional checklists and institutional reference collections.


  • 1.5 To complement a planned research endeavor.


  • 1.6 To aid in dissemination of educational information.



These are basic, time-tested guidelines and I follow them closely. Accordingly, I never buy, sell, or trade specimens. I will, however, be more than happy to loan material and share data with other workers or institutions.



From the beginning, I have relied on the help, advice, and encouragement of others. This project would not be possible without the patient help and guidance of Dr. Peter Lahanas, Enrique Dixon, and the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC). This remote but fully equipped research station sits among acres of old-growth rainforest, and hosts students and researchers from around the world. Working here is equally demanding and rewarding. The station provides me with a place to put my gear, food in the form of sustaining meals, and a bunk to sleep on when I'm not in a tent in the forest. 


Pete and Enrique make ITEC a home away from home for me, but more importantly, they offer real-world field experience for students in pursuit of degrees in the natural sciences. When class is in session at ITEC, the learning is real -- watch these young people come and go, snake in one hand, notebook in the other, and you see individuals who might someday literally save our planet.



I have also benefitted from my relationship with the kind people at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). From the start I have connected with great people at STRI, and the complex, ever-changing proces of obtaininig permits wouldn't be remotely possible without them, especially Lil Camacho, whose patience I have pushed beyond human limits. I am particularly in debt to Dr. Annette Aiello, whose role of advisor on this project has meant more to me than she could know. From her guidance with donating specimens to the Universidad de Panama collection, to her often-entertaining help with "mystery moths," Dr. Aiello has been there at every turn. 


In the end, the existence of this site is due to a life-long fascination with insects. I’m an independent, avocational naturalist, without funding from any institution. I make my own bait traps and pay for my own airline tickets — DIY in almost every respect. Some years ago I approached the staff at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), with a proposal to collect, photograph, and catalogue the insects on Isla Colon, which I had previously visited as a traveler. Now, years later, I go to the rainforests of Isla Colon to set up lights and bait stations whenever my limited resources permit. As I have worked with Isla Colon’s spectacular array of moths, butterflies, and beetles, I have seen first-hand the intricate ways in which these animals are connected to their environment and to one another. It’s my best hope that visitors to this site find this site useful, as well as a thing of beauty.


Frederick Mosher








About This Project

Panama Insects Tropical Insects

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