Monday, June 20, 2016

Bringing Everything Together In Santa Chiara

The Santa Chiara Study Center was one of the first things we ever encountered in Italy besides the airport in Rome and like many things it has taken me a while to find the time to truly appreciate it. Santa Chiara has essentially been our home in Italy where we eat, sleep, and study when we aren’t busy traveling. Located on the southeast edge of town, Santa Chiara used to be a covenant of the Order of Poor Clares but was renovated and reopened in June 1989 as a study center by Texas A&M where students from multiple universities and disciplines come to study. Staying here we have had the opportunity to truly be immersed in Italian culture, both just by living a simpler lifestyle, namely less access to wifi, and by being so involved in the local comings and goings of Castiglion Fiorentino. From the center’s courtyard we are able to observe the Italian countryside and observe some of the local plants and wildlife. One animal I noticed early on was an insect that at first glance I had assumed was a hummingbird, a hummingbird hawk moth. Macroglossum stellatarum is found throughout the warmer regions of the northern Old World and is an example of convergent evolution with its similarity to hummingbirds. This species can be found in Italy all year round and are especially fond of nectar rich flowers with a long calyx such as star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). One interesting fact about these moths is that they are especially active in high temperatures and can remain active up until the heat limit of insect muscle activity. While this species is not directly involved with horticulture, it is a part of an important group of beneficial insects, pollinators. Approximately 75% of the world’s major food crops require or benefit from pollinators such as bees, wasps, and other insects. Before taking entomology, I don’t think I would’ve appreciated the presence of this insect let alone associated it with horticulture, but the more I learn about horticulture the more connections I see with other sciences and everyday life.

-Lisa C. Maciques

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