Hi! My name is Sara Prado, and I’m an Entomologist.
Why insects, you may ask? Well, for three consecutive summers (2007-2010) I spent 4 months in the Amazon jungle of Puerto Maldonado, Peru. For the first two years, I volunteered as a resident naturalist at Explorer’s Inn (http://www.explorersinn.com/) and the third year I was a researcher at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica (http://www.inkaterra.com/en/reserva-amazonica).
My first year at Explorer’s Inn was one of self-discovery. Originally I wanted to study primates, because, well…monkeys are just so damn cool! But, I quickly realized that monkeys are hard to study, since you always have to be looking up in the trees, and they’re not always easy to find or follow. So instead of looking up, I decided to look down. (I really had no choice since there are so many above-ground roots to trip on!) But, when I looked down, I saw a whole new world…one that I had completely disregarded all my life: the world of ants!
I saw leaf cutter ants and army ants mostly, but there were also those evil tangarana ants on the Tangarana trees and acacia ants on the acacia trees. My first real experience with ants wasn’t exactly positive, since I just so happened to walk into several lines of army ants that had just come out of their bivouac (nest made out of their own bodies). So, it was actually quite painful, but in the end it increased my interest in the little creatures.
I became so interested in ants, after the second year, that during the third year, I returned and created this ‘Ant plate’ (http://www.inkaterra.com/downloads/pdf/PLATE-HORMIGAS.pdf). You can see my name in the extra tiny font in the bottom right corner of the first page.
Anyway, after my jungle experience, I decided I wanted to study insects. I got accepted to North Carolina State University to study biological control of aphids. Basically, a really tiny wasp (Aphidius colemani) lays its egg inside an aphid by stinging it, and then the egg hatches inside the aphid. The immature parasitoid starts developing inside the aphids body, gradually killing it. Then it cuts a little hole in the aphids ‘skin’ and makes its way out into the world as an adult wasp.
I defended my thesis in August 2012. In October 2012 I started studying bee bees in Puerto Rico.
In 2015, I began my PhD studying coffee pollination in Puerto Rico. More specifically, I study the effects the shade trees have on coffee pollination. I’m interested in finding out if shade trees attract more pollinators to the coffee plantations, if they compete with coffee plants for pollinators, and what effect they have on coffee bean quality. I plan on graduating in May 2018 (let’s hope I get my analyses and writing done in time! 🙂 )