WEIRD PLANTS: BALANOPHORACEAE   Leave a comment


 

Veridion Adventures. Philip Davison.

Today was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the birds and butterflies were out not only in force but in equal numbers, 35 species of each recorded for the day.  It looked as if the sunny conditions might hold out all day and so following a successful bird count in the morning I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to complete what may be the final butterfly count of the season.

We have a small photographic group staying at the moment and they echoed the sentiments of the group that was leaving as they arrived, namely, in the one afternoon and morning that they had been on the Osa Peninsula, they were stupefied by the sheer number of animals they were seeing.  I gave them some advice as to where they should go to photograph the various subjects they were after, left them to it and off I went to walk my transect.

Add a little sunlight to warm air temperatures and out will come the butterflies.  They must exist in numbers that are inactive during periods of inclement weather because today they appeared almost spontaneously.  It was nice to see three species of Sulfur; medium sizes yellow butterflies that grace the open garden areas.

Rainforest insects. Butterflies. Cloudless Sulfur. Pieridae. Coliadinae. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Cloudless Sulfur, (Phoebis sennae)

On the forest trail, I knew there was an Agouti, (Dasyprocta punctata), and White-nosed Coati, (Nasua narica), nearby because of the fresh tracks on the ground.    For the same reason, I knew there was a herd of Collared Peccary, (Tayassu tajacu), not too far ahead.  As I walked up a muddy incline, listening to the soft trilling call of a Black-throated Trogon, (Trogon rufus), my attention became redirected to a clacking sound that I know very well.  Up on top of the ridge were the peccaries, the males snapping their teeth together in a signal of alarm.  Peccary, like the coati, have exceptionally bad sight and hearing but an excellent sense of smell.  If you are downwind of them they quite often have no idea that you are there.  If you are upwind of them they will pick up your scent immediately.  And so it was with this herd of about ten or twelve, they knew I was there, but also probably had no real fear as they have not been hunted on the grounds for the past ten years.  As I continued to walk up the hill they just walked off into the forest to continue about their business.

Rainforest Mammals. Artiodactyla. Tayassuidae. Collared Peccary. Tayassu tajacu. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Collared Peccary, (Tayassu tajacu)

There were two other noteworthy sightings today, one a new species of butterfly and the other an occasionally seen species of damselfly.  The butterfly was one of the Firetip Skippers, Myscelus assaricus, the forewing divided between orange and black in color with a broad white band.  The most eye-catching feature though is the fast “buzzy” flight so typical of some of the skippers.  That now makes three new species of butterfly in one week.  The damselfly was the Helicopter Damselfly, one of the largest damselflies on the planet.  There are several species but this was the impressively large Megaloprepus coerulatus.  Helicopter Damselflies are named after their flight pattern, the four transparent wings tipped, in this species, with opaque white and a dark blue/black band, appear to move in the fashion of a helicopters rotors.  They are specialized feeders on spiders.  They can be seen hovering vertically up and down or horizontally in and out searching spider webs for their occupants.  When they find one, they grab it, reverse away from the web nip off the head and legs and then consume the soft body parts.

Rainforest Damselflies. Odonata. Zygoptera. Pseudostigmatidae. Helicopter Damselfly. Megaloprepus caerulatus. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Helicopter Damselfy, (Megaloprepus caerulatus)

 

 

Weird Plants: Balanophoraceae

When people think of a flowering plant, it brings to mind something with roots, a stem, green leaves and when in season, flowers and fruit. Flowering plants evolved 100 million year ago and from that time to this have evolved into thousands of forms, the nearest estimate being in the region of 250,000 species.  There are as many as 90,000 species of flowering plants in the Neotropics of which 9,000 species occur in Costa Rica.  Flowering plants have flowers; sometimes they are large, showy and colorful, yet other times totally inconspicuous.  In shape they make exhibit what we imagine as a typical flower but others may be a bizarre as visual copies of the sex organs of a female bee.  Some flowers have a delicious perfume while others may emit the somewhat less attractive odor of rotting flesh.  But whatever their size, shape, color or scent, flowers are a plants way of manipulating, amongst other things, insects, birds and bats to do their bidding in terms of bringing about pollination.

Rainforest Plants. Balanophoraceae. Helosis cayennensis. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Helosis cayennensis

Now that is a typical flowering plant, but as with everything else, there are going to be some atypical forms.  I will quite often have people come into restaurant at Bosque in the evening and ask me to identify some of the plants and animals they have been photographing during the course of the day.  One puzzling sighting is a weird little mushroom they may have found growing at the base of a tree.  The plant in question is not a fungus, although it takes a lot of convincing of that fact before people will believe it, but rather a strange looking flowering plant, Helosis cayennensis, belonging to the family Balanophoraceae.  Arising from subterranean tubers, Helosis cayennensis is a root parasite of other flowering plants.  They lack chlorophyll and have a uniform tan color.  It is not uncommon to see them but they only occur sporadically at the bases of trees.

Take a look at the photographs and try to decide if having seen this, you would have identified it as a flowering plant.

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

 

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