Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Today started overcast, continued to be overcast and finished overcast.  At breakfast the monkeys decided to put on a show, not uncommon.  First Howler Monkeys, then the Spider Monkeys and finally the Capuchin Monkeys came right up in front of the restaurant.  Capuchins are the only one of the four species that will come to the ground on a regular basis and so it was this morning.  The principal photo opportunities were being provided by the antics of a number of young monkeys some of whom were copying the adults in teeth baring displays, not very intimidating coming from the youngsters though.

The visitors to the lodge were entertaining themselves today, so my services were not required.  There was the feeling of a typical Sunday, both quiet and relaxed.  So, I decided to do what any right-minded person would decide to do on a quiet September Sunday, head off into the forest on a fungi foray.

There was a certain plan that had formulated  following a tour that I had conducted through the forest on the “Zapatero Trail” several days earlier.  As I was talking to the participants on the tour, my eyes kept being drawn to the presence of  fruiting fungal bodies on the path.  I started to take mental notes of where everything was with the intention of returning to take photographs.  Today provided me with the opportunity.  The one fungus I had seen that I really wanted an image of was the somewhat gruesomely named “Dead man’s fingers”.  The name is derived from its physical resemble to said item, poking out from the dead wood.

I didn’t manage to get out till a little later in the afternoon, by which time the light under the forest canopy was fading fast .  Still I had a good idea of the whereabouts of my intended subjects.  Now I have walked the “Zapatero Trail” almost every day for many years and this afternoon I walked it in reverse to my normal direction.  I felt confident I could remember where everything was, but looking at things from back to front was throwing my memory.  Then, at last the first fungus, then another and another.  But the one I wanted, I couldn’t find, the Dead Man’s Fingers.  Where had I seen them?  I tried to retrace the tour in my mind in an effort to recall where exactly the fingers were.  The light really was diminishing now and to add to the problems a light drizzle had started.  Finally, the persistence paid off and there they were, the fingers, reaching up from the corpse of a rotten log hidden beneath some low growing shrubs.  I got the photographs and returned before the sun had set.

Tonight when I went out to carry out my nightly amphibian count, I was able to witness something that I have only experienced twice before in all my years on the Osa Peninsula; a Cat-eyed Snake breeding ball.  This is not something that Cinderella would attend.  When a female snake becomes sexually receptive, she releases a sex pheromone which attracts  every male in the area.  That is what happened this evening around the pond.  There were snakes everywhere, males so wholly pre-occupied with getting to the receptive female that my presence was not noticed.  There were snakes slithering along branches and through the undergrowth, from all directions, all with only one intention in mind, to be the first to get the girl.

Foraging For Dead Man’s Fingers

Rainforest fungi. Costa Rica. Agaricales.

One of many fungi I have not been able to identify in Costa Rica

Fungi, along with bacteria, termites and beetle larvae are responsible for the rapid breakdown of organic material in a rainforest.  The warm damp conditions make the forest a perfect incubator for fungal growth.  You generally cannot see the main body of the fungus; it exists as a series of threads, called a mycelium, permeating throughout the substrate, whether it be the ground or dead and dying trees.  Many plants have a relationship with a fungus specific to that particular species. They grow in association with the roots in which case the mycelium now becomes known as a mycorrhiza.  Plants such as orchids cannot live without their specific mycorrhizal symbionts.

A question asked regularly by our guests is, “Why there are so few fungi?  It is not that they are lacking in number, it is just that here conditions are right all year round so they can throw up fruiting bodies, (familiar to most people as mushrooms and toadstools), throughout the year.  Back in the U.K. October was always my favorite month as there was a sudden short lived explosion of mushrooms and toadstools, their ephemeral beauty providing some wonderful photographic experiences.

Rainforest fungi. Sarcoscyphaceae. Orange-cup fungus. Cookeina speciosa. Cookeina tricholoma.

Two species of Orange-cup Fungi. Cookeina speciosa, left and Cookeina tricholoma, right.

There is no mistaking the literally described Orange-cup Fungus, (Cookeina speciosa), for any other type of fungus.  It is fairly common, with the small obvious bright orange cups to be found throughout the year growing out from recently fallen dead branches and trees.

Rainforest fungi. Tricholomataceae. Titan Fungus. Macrocybe titans. Costa Rica. Philip DAvison. Veridion Adventures.

One of the largest gill mushrooms on the planet, Titan Mushroom, (Macrocybe titans)

The fruiting bodies of the Titan Mushroom, (Macrocybe titans) are not a sight you are going to forget in a hurry.  They are typically found growing on top of Leaf-cutter Ant nests.  After a week or so, the mature mushroom cap can be up to almost 3 feet across.  Unfortunately their edibility is uncertain otherwise one cap may have provided accompaniment for a great many servings of bacon and eggs.  Commonly found as a symbiont on Leaf-cutter Ant nests.

Rainforest Fungi. Phallaceae. Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn. Staheliomyces cinctus. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures. Costa Rica.

Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn, (Staheliomyces cinctus)

The Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn, (Staheliomyces cinctus), is found growing in soil rich with rotting vegetative material.  Once again it is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else.  The grey collar is in fact a glutinous mass containing the spores.  Like so many other species of stinkhorn, it gives off a stench resembling well rotted carrion.  The smell attracts in flies which then get their feet covered in the sticky grey gel, they fly off and consequently disperse the fungal spores.

Rainforesst fungi. Dead Man's Finger. Xylariaceae.

Dead Man’s Finger, (Xylaria sp).

Finally, the reason for my foray into the woods today, The Dead Man’s Finger, (Xylaria sp – possibly).  As with a great many diverse groups of plants and animals, the reference material to identify exactly what you have found is not readily available or simply may not exist.  That is the case with my prize for the day.  I have no idea what species it is.  I am not even sure that the genus is correct.  But for all that, it was fun going out, retracing my steps to find it and then photograph it.  Hopefully sometime in the future I will be able to put a name to it.

Rainforest Fungi. Xyliaceae. Dead Man's Finger Fungus. Costa Rica.

econd species of Dead Man’s Finger, (Xyliaceae sp)

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica







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  1. All I can say, is I am glad my two grandsons were not close to that pond Sunday night for all of those snakes! Make sure to mark that date on the calander for Kim, so that Ben and Sam are never around at the time, would you? Again great writing and amazing info.


  2. Phil
    Loved your info on fungi and I know Grace will love the photos. I have never seen dead mans finger before and I could say I never want to see it again but I keep finding myself taking another look, very extraordinary and rather creepy. Look forward to your diary, it’s such good reading. Di


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