Secret Horrors of The Earthenware Coffins   1 comment

Felipe del Bosque Blog Oct 02 2010

Temp High 82°F  Low 75°F          Precipitation 0.19ins

Today was a bright and sunny day.  Apart from the brief passage of intermittent clouds, the sky remained blue for most of the day.  Having been frustrated recently in my attempts to get out and see just what is around, today provided the ideal opportunity to remedy that situation.

Howler, Spider and Capuchin Monkeys were all active in the grounds around the Bosque restaurant.  As I was walking over to the office I heard the sound of some kind of construction coming from the woods.  Further investigation revealed a young Capuchin Monkey systematically dismantling a rotten log in search of grubs, probably beetle larvae, at least one of which I watched it consume with relish.

The Golden-hooded and Bay-headed Tanagers were flying between trees as a large mixed flock.  In the distance I could hear the unmistakable sound of a Laughing Falcon, aptly named for its repetitive “Hee Haw” call, which for the longer it continues, the slower it gets.

After taking the weather readings and completing the necessary records for the day, it was off to the “Titi Trail” with the camera.  I decided to walk up the main driveway and come into the trail from what would normally be regarded as the exit.  The first thing that stood out, over and above anything else, was a small Erythrina sp bush that had 4 or 5 flowers in bloom.  It would be almost impossible to walk by and miss the bright postbox red, machete shaped flowers and obviously I didn’t.

Erythrina sp

On the way up the path, I stopped to watch a group of Chestnut-backed Antbirds and Grey-headed Tanagers hopping excitedly from branch to branch low to the ground in some of the bushes to the edge of the drive.  With my attention directed at the birds and not at my feet, when I finally did look down, there were swarms of Army Ants moving in meandering lines across the road.

Only a few yards in, perched not so high up in the open crown of a Cecropia Tree there was a Broad Winged Hawk.  It was aware of my presence and kept cocking its head sideways to take a look.  Broad Winged Hawks are distributed throughout the eastern U.S.A. but in autumn they migrate south, sometimes together in huge numbers and overwinter in Central and South America.  This was the first one I have seen this year.  I briefly looked away and that was the raptors signal to silently depart because it was no longer in the same place when I looked back.

A little further down the path, about 8 feet above the ground, on the trunk of a tree was a mass of black hairy moth caterpillars, species unidentified.  You will occasionally find these saucer-sized mats of caterpillars all congregated in one spot.  It is thought that the caterpillars convey thermoregulatory, or in this case, it is more likely predator defense benefits by massing together in this way.  There is a cost to such gregarious behavior though in terms of competition for food and possible disease transmission between members of the group when retaining such close contact with your large numbers of your conspecifics.

I had set up the camera to try and capture a constantly moving column of Leaf-cutter Ants that were utilizing the trail that our trail maintenance man had cleared.  While I was kneeling on the ground setting up the shot, a bark, or more of a throaty “woof”, came from the forest not too far away from where I was squatting.  I looked up to find myself being watched by a small herd of Collared Peccaries.  They looked at me, then suitably unimpressed trotted off to continue about their own business.

Just before exiting the trail I had the chance to get a picture of a Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn that had freshly emerged.

Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn

So, it wasn’t a bad day.  As I write, the rain has returned.

Philip is a biologist, writer and photographer as well as the onsite naturalist guide at Bosque del Cabo Rainforest lodge on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Photo Feature

Earlier this year while carrying out my weekly butterfly counts, I had observed and photographed the gradual construction of a Drumming Wasp nest.  Eventually, having raised a brood, the wasps abandoned the nest and it fell into, not just a state of disrepair, but one of complete destruction.  The location must have had something favoring it because as I came past today, I noticed that some Mud Dauber Wasps had used exactly the same site, in fact, within the structural remains of the Drumming Wasp nest.

Mud Dauber Wasp Nests

Mud Dauber Wasps belong to the Hymenopteran family: Sphecidae.  They have very distinctive long, almost impossibly thin waists.  They are not aggressive and unless molested with not harm you.

Mud Dauber Wasp females collect soft mud and fashion it with their mandibles into small flask-shaped nests.  She will then lay one egg in each of her earthen receptacles.  But when the larvae hatch they will need food and she knows exactly where to find it.  The Mud Dauber Wasp female is a specialist spider hunter, it doesn’t matter which species, the spiders just need to be small enough to carry and deposit in their pottery coffins.  The female wasp injects the spider with venom that does not kill the unfortunate beast, it simply paralyzes it.  Fate has an even worse demise lined up for the spider.  The spiders are packed into to the nests, dozens at a time, unable to move and escape the horror that is about to befall them.  When the wasp larva hatches it consumes the still living but immobilized food source, in effect, eating them alive.

The pots were empty so I assume the gruesome spectacle had passed.  But sitting, taking refuge in the centre of the pots, was a Harvestman.  These long legged arachnids are very distant relatives of the spiders, but are incapable of building webs as they have not silk glands.  They are probably more closely related to mites.

There is a myth that Harvestmen are the most deadly creatures on the planet, but with no poison glands, jaws, sting or any other means by which they could administer anything deadly, they have a reputation they simply cannot live up to.

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Species List for the Day


Howler Monkey

Spider Monkey

Capuchin Monkey

White-nosed Coati


Collared Peccary


Red-lored Amazon

Scarlet Macaws

Grey-necked Wood-rail

Long-billed Hermit

Southern Beardless Tyrannulet

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Black-hooded Antshrike

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Cherrie’s Tanager

Bay-headed Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager

House Wren

Crested Caracara

Laughing Falcon

Broad Winged Hawk

Roadside Hawk

Great Tinamou

Black Vulture


Golfo Dulce Anolis

Four-lined Ameiva

Mediterranean House Gecko

Northern Cat-eyed Snake


Marine Toad

Red-eyed Green Treefrog

Banana Frog

Tink Frog

Fitzingers Rain Frog

Stejnegers Dirt Frog


Anartia fatima

Caligo eurilochus

Cissia confusa

Dryas iulia

Heliconius erato

Heliconius ismenius

Heliconius sapho

Hermeuptychia hermes

Pareuptychia metaleuca

Pierella helvina

Pierella luna

Pyrisitia nise


Posted October 3, 2010 by felipedelbosque in Philip's Nature Diary

One response to “Secret Horrors of The Earthenware Coffins

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  1. Chilling information but very facinating, could read your diary for hours and hours.


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