Research Overview

How do tropical insects protect themselves?

Like insects everywhere, tropical insects are just trying to stay alive long enough to reproduce. They use a variety of strategies to avoid predators and to find food and mates. In the tropics, where there are more species of plants and animals than in colder regions, the tricks they use, and their interspecies interactions, can be much more complex.

What are tropical insects doing and why?

They're doing all the regular things that everybody does. Eating and sleeping and reproducing and avoiding predators. There is no end to the intricacies of their forms, behaviors, and defenses. For example, there are caterpillars that make escape holes in their leaves and construct stalactites of fecula and silk to guide them to those holes; others live in rolled leaves and keep their fecula there as barriers to predatory wasps and ants; others live communally in silk sacks, in which they pupate together; still others live together in the open and follow each other on silk trails that they lay from one feeding site to another and to their molting places on their tree trunk.

What can immature stages of insects tell us about their evolutionary relationships?

The immature stages — caterpillars and pupae — are totally different from the adults, and they're evolving independently. That's been shown with frogs. If you do a cladogram for the tadpoles and the frogs, you will get a different set of species relationships. There are limits to that separate evolution, or they wouldn't be able to transform from one to the other.

What can knowledge of host plants tell us about insect evolutionary and relationships?

George Vogt learned that with certain of his weevils. He found that in North America they are on oaks (Fagaceae), where they suffer from predatory weevils that are related to them, and which attack their eggs, but when they get into Mexico and South America, they switch to plants of the Anacardiaceae and they drop their predators. So, the consequences for changing plants can be good ones.


B.A., Biology, magna cum laude, Brooklyn College, 1972

M.A., Biology, Harvard University, 1975

Ph.D., Biology, Harvard University, 1978; Thesis: "A Reexamination of Portlandia (Rubiaceae) and Associated Taxa" (Dr. Richard A. Howard, advisor).

Selected Publications

Aiello, A., Domínguez Núñez, E., & Stockwell H.P. 2010. Nothing is Perfect: Biodegradable Packing Material as Food and Transportation for a Museum Pest, Lasioderma serricorne (Coleoptera: Anobiidae). Coleopterists Bulletin, 64(3):256-257.

Aiello, A., & Vencl, F.V. 2007. One plant, two herbivore strategies: Lema insularis (Chrysomelidae: Criocerinae) and Acorduloceridea compressicornis (Pergidae: Acordulocerinae) on Dioscorea mexicana (Dioscoreaceae), with observations on a Lema co-mimic. Journal of the New York Entomological Society, 114(3): 144-156.

Aiello, A. 2006. Adelpha erotia erotia form "lerna" (Nymphalidae): Exploring a corner of the puzzle. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society, 60(4): 181-188.

Aiello, A., & Solis, A. 2003. Defense mechanisms in Pyralidae & Choreutidae: fecal stalactites and escape holes, with remarks about cocoons, camouflage and aposematism. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society, 57(3):168-175.

Aiello, A., & Balcázar, M.A. 1997. The immature stages of Oxytenis modestia (Cramer), with comments on the mature larvae of Asthenidia and Homoeopteryx (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae: Oxyteninae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society, 51(2): 105-118.

Quintero, D., & Aiello, A. (eds.). 1992. Insects of Panama and Mesoamerica: Selected Studies. Oxford University Press. xxii + 692 pp. [ISBN 0-19-854018-3]

Aiello, A. 1984. Adelpha (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae): deception on the wing. Psyche, 91(1-2): 1-45.

Aiello, A., & Silberglied, R. E. 1978. Life history of Dynastor darius (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Brassolinae) in Panama. Psyche, 85(4): 331-345.

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