Stinging Insult Drives You Up A Tree   2 comments

Felipe del Bosque Blog March 27th 2011

Leptophis ahaetulla

Caught in the Rain

This week started with a couple of surprise downpours which occured on two consecutive evenings.  The precipitation was not enough to substantially affect the ground conditions or the plant life, other than perhaps washing away some of the accumulated dust, but it did result in some spontaneous amphibian and crab action, more of which later.

Following the unexpected rainfall, things went back to normal weather-wise, with hot dry and sunny days and clear star filled night skies.

Turning the Tables

This week the Puma sightings continued unabated.  One of Bosque’s barmen, Harry was close to the workshop when a female and cub walked by.  At the time I was lying on the ground about 20 feet away photographing a snake.  The Pumas walked past me but under the cover of the undergrowth, so I was totally unaware of their presence until Harry gestured that they had just passed by.

The next day, early in the morning, some visitors were walking the Titi Trail in search of wildlife.  As they emerged onto the main driveway they were amazed to see “Half Tail”, one of the resident female Pumas running towards them.  They were not the object of her attention, rather what was behind her.  She was being chased by three irate Collared Peccaries, from whom she escaped by rapidly climbing a tree.  The Peccaries agitated by losing their adversary, now stood grunting and puffing at the open jawed visitors.  The peccaries soon tired of the confrontation and trotted off, leaving “Half Tail” with a clear exit to a safe retreat.  She jumped to the ground in front of her awestruck audience, flashed them an indignant glance and left for the forest.  They were fortunate enough to be carrying cameras in hand, took the photographs, and came to breakfast with huge beaming smiles.

In the evening, about an hour after the sun has set, the Jamaican Fruit-eating Bats can still be seen in large numbers feeding from the nectar producing flowers at the top of the Guapinol Tree, but the blooms are rapidly fading and soon this spectacle will be over for yet another year.

Forked Tongues and Lies

This has been a good week for the snakes, or rather a good week for those who like snakes, with several good spots.  Not always everyone’s favorite creature, they still evoke a sense of awe and wonder whenever they are encountered.

One family this week photographed what they thought was a Coral Snake on the trail.  This in itself would not be unusual; there are Coral Snakes at Bosque, two species.  But when they showed me the photographs, they were happy to learn that it was not a Coral Snake that they had seen, it was a Coral Snake mimic, the Coral Crowned Snake, (Tantilla supracincta).  These are normally fossorial, (burrowing), snakes which specialize feeding on centipedes.  Due to their subterranean life style, they are very rarely encountered.

One morning when I had a group out with me on the Zapatero Trail, I found a little brown snake, which although not uncommon, is rarely encountered, the Elegant Litter Snake, (Rhadinea decorata). I popped it into my water bottle so that I could photograph it later in the day.  On arriving back at the bar, there was some commotion around the pool with people photographing something in a small bush.  It could only be one thing, another snake.  This one was a very beautiful Parrot Snake, (Leptophis ahaetulla).

Later that night on a night tour, there was a lot a snake activity, with one Cat-eyed Snake, (Leptodeira septentrionalis), after another moving urgently through the bushes behind the pond.  These were all males intent on finding a female that was obviously releasing sex pheromones announcing her readiness to mate.

Staying with things reptilian, I also recorded a new species of lizard for Bosque del Cabo last week, Norops pentaprion.  This is one of the Anolis lizards, several species of which can be found on the grounds of Bosque, some of them in large numbers.  Norops pentaprion is a stocky Anolis, normally found in the canopy.  It has a grey mottled reticulated skin pattern, with some green on the throat and a cherry red dewlap.

There have been several clutches of Green Iguanas hatch over the past week.  In three or four separate areas in the vicinity of the restaurant, groups of young bright emerald green hatchlings can be seen sunning themselves on the tops of the leaves of low lying vegetation.

Sisterhood of Pain

While out one day, I noticed, not too far from the restaurant, a tree stump with a lot of insect activity.  On closer investigation I found a wasp nest, the exit simply being a hole in the stump.  The wasps were coming and going with frequent industry but I could not see them returning to the nest with anything.

Polybia Wasp

The wasps themselves were one of many species of Polybia wasps which normally construct paper nests occasionally found hanging from the underside of the leaves.  The nests can contain several “Queens” which are reproductive females; all the remaining wasps have reduced reproductive abilities and serve as foragers for food or nest builders.

Polybia Wasp

Polybia wasps are not normally noted for their mild mannered disposition.  They are active predators that catch and chew their prey into smaller pieces.  The sting is used solely for defense and they will defend the nests with a passion.  As the sting is used only for defensive purposes, the venom it contains has evolved to cause the maximum amount of pain to the aggressor.  The wasps will swarm and enthusiastically sting repeatedly, at the same time releasing an alarm pheromone which attracts more belligerent yellow striped defenders to the fray.

Polybia Wasp

I wanted to get some photographs, but the closer I got to the nest, the more I was attracting the attention of agitated investigators which began started flying around my head in ever increasing numbers.  Thankfully, I obtained enough images without provoking any vicious reprisals.

Not Forgetting…..

Still the butterflies continue to impress with sheer numbers of individuals and species.  They are currently joined in their daily carousel of swirling colorful dances by huge numbers of the Green Urania day flying moths, which roost head down on leaves until prompted by your approach into whirling clouds of metallic emerald green.  If you stand still for a few minutes the mini verdant tornado will slowly settle in peaceful repose on the vegetation once more, but ready to resume the vortex at the slightest hint of disturbance.

The briefly damp interlude to the week encouraged the land crabs out of their burrows on nocturnal foraging adventures.  If you were to have ventured into the forest after sundown, you would have been initially greeted by the sound of countless thousands of armored legs scuttling through the dried leaves.  Shine your flashlight in the direction of that sound and you would have found the bright purple and orange form of Halloween Crabs, (Gecarcinus quadratus), urgently trying to escape the beam.

Gecarcinus quadratus

The night of the heaviest rain brought out huge numbers of Costa Rica’s largest tree frog, the Milky Frog, (Trachycephala venulosus),  the males of which were making the most horrendous noise attracting the females to the pond.  The following morning, the pond was quite literally covered in Milky Frog eggs floating on the surface, so the collective choral clamor had obviously served its purpose.

Fruit Salad

Many of the trees that flowered earlier in the dry season have started to produce fruit.  The very arid conditions appear to be making it a very productive year.  Floating around the grounds are small bundles of filamentous threads containing a single dark seed.  These are from the Balsa Trees, one of the few wind dispersed seeds around Bosque.  Another tree that uses air currents to disperse its seeds is the Manglillo which has large flat silvery grey seed pods at the crown.  As they dry, they split releasing oval shaped paper thin and tissue light winged seeds that drift on the faintest of zephyrs.

There are several more substantial fruits to be found around the gardens of Bosque at this moment.  The Cashew is fruiting, bearing the distinct Cashew nuts beneath a swollen meristem which is known as the Cashew Apple or Marañon.  You can eat Cashew Apples but you cannot eat Cashew Nuts; they are very dangerous.  The shell of the nut contains a lot of volatile oils and if you get them on your hands they burn.  Cashews need to be roasted and even then you have to be careful, because if you breathe in the smoke, that can seriously damage your respiratory system.

Another fruit related to Cashew, although not native to Central America, Mango, is also now fruiting.  Cashews and Mangoes belong to the same family of plants as poison oak and poison ivy, so have a care if you suffer any bad reaction to these two plants.

While many of the trees are fruiting this time of year, there are others that have come into bloom and provide a spectacular back drop of color to the multifarious greens of the leafy canopy.  Right now we have floral shows in yellow from the Mayo and Santa Maria Trees standing in contrast to the pastel purples of the Jacarandas.

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

Snakes are notoriously difficult animals to photograph.  Unless they are coiled up and not moving they can prove to be a nightmare to capture in a fashion that you would like.  Being linear creatures, if they at full stretch you have to back off and all you have is a long piece of colorful string.  That leaves you with the option of trying to get the head and neck shots so that at least you can record those salient features that may prove vital in making a valid identification.

So now you are charged with the sometimes Herculean task of getting a snakes profile shots, a situation that does not always suit the subject.  Trying to use small apertures for a better depth of field requires more light, generally flash.  But that causes the background to be dark.  The subject will quite often not want to stay still, so again, faster shutter speeds, so more light therefore even more flash.

Being very close to the snake with a camera mounted on a tripod means that as soon as the snake moves, and they do move a lot and quickly to boot, they are suddenly out of focus.  I try not to use autofocus as I like to get the eyes in focus so there is a great deal of manual twisting of the focus ring.

All of this is by way of saying, to obtain the following shots my patience was being tried to the limit.  But if I had some mega creature flashing intermittent bright lights at me I too might not be so eager to pose.  After much effort I ended up with the following.

Parrot Snake, (Leptophis ahaetulla)

These are exquisitely colored long graceful tree snakes.  As mentioned above, this one was found by the lodge swimming pool.  Being found in trees by water, their main food item are frogs but they will also take small lizards, nestling birds and I have watched them eating frogs eggs too.  They are diurnal snakes.  That beautiful green body and head allows them to blend in perfectly and disappear into the background vegetation.

Leptophis ahaetulla

If the snake feels intimidated, it will open its mouth wide and face its antagonist presenting a huge gape threat display.  It is generally just bluff and even if they do bite the teeth barely break the surface of the skin.

Leptophis ahaetulla

This one would not stay still.  Sometimes it would reach out towards the lens as if it was going to make its escape over the camera and down the tripod leg.  Eventually I managed to get some half decent shots of it.

Leptophis ahaetulla

Elegant Litter Snake, (Rhadinea decorata)

This is a fairly common little snake but because it lives in leaf litter on the forest floor, it is not generally seen.  If they do get caught out in the open on the trails, they normally make haste under the leaves and at that point they will be gone.  The brown coloration makes them indistinct from the forest soils.  But once you get close up you can see why they have been given the moniker, Elegant Litter Snake.  The brown body now takes on shades of red, with two white stripes along the body, white spots behind the eyes and a gorgeous deep flame orange ventral side.

Rhadinea decorata

They are another diurnal snake that specializes feeding on Rain Frogs along with their terrestrial eggs on the forest floor.


Rhadinea decorata


Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Temperature and Rainfall

Average Daily Temp High 94°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 75°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.13 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 0.9 ins

Average Daily Temp High 34.1 °C.  Average Daily Temp Low 23.6 °C.

Average Daily Rainfall 3.3 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 22.9 mm

Species List for the Week


  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • Capuchin Monkey
  • Jamaican Fruit-eating Bats
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Red-tailed Squirrel
  • Agouti
  • Collared Peccaries
  • Puma
  • Virginia Opossum




  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Great Currasow
  • Grey-necked Woodrail
  • Marbled Wood Quail
  • Crested Caracara
  • Laughing Falcon
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Crested Owl
  • Rufus Piha
  • Tawney-winged Woodcreeper
  • Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
  • Chestnut-backed Antbirds
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Common Paureque
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • Long-billed Hermit
  • Golden-crowned Spadebill
  • Blue-crowned Manakin
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Grey-headed Tanager
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Masked Tityra
  • Riverside Wren
  • Great Tinamou
  • Black-throated Trogon
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture




  • Basilisk
  • Barred Ameiva
  • Four-lined Ameiva
  • Central American Whiptail
  • Green Iguana
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Mediterranean House Gecko
  • Barred Forest Racer
  • Boa Constrictor
  • Cat-eyed Snake
  • Elegant Litter Snake
  • Parrot Snake
  • Teriopelo
  • Tropical Bird-eating Snake




  • Marine Toad
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Masked Smilisca
  • Smokey Jungle Frog
  • Milky Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Fitzinger’s Rain Frog
  • Rough-skinned Dirt Frog




  • Adelpha boeotia
  • Adelpha cytherea
  • Anartia Fatima
  • Anartia jatrophae
  • Anthanassa ardys
  • Arawacus lincoides
  • Archaeoprepona demophon
  • Astraptes fulgerator
  • Callicore lyca
  • Chioides albofasciata
  • Colobura dirce
  • Consul fabius
  • Dione juno
  • Dryas iulia
  • Eueides aliphera
  • Eueides lybia
  • Eurema albula
  • Eurema daira
  • Glutophrissa Drusilla
  • Heliconius cydno
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Hyalyris excelsa
  • Junonia everete
  • Laparus doris
  • Marpesia alcibiades
  • Marpesia berania
  • Marpesia furcula
  • Mechanitis polymnia
  • Melinaea scylax
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho Menelaus
  • Morpho theseus
  • Pareuptychia ocirrhoe
  • Philaethria dido
  • Phoebis agarithe
  • Phoebis argante
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pierella luna
  • Pyrisitia nise
  • Pyrrhogyra crameri
  • Quadrus cerialis
  • Tigridia acesta
  • Urbanus proteus
  • Urbanus simplicius
  • Urbanus teleus



  • Almendra Fruiting
  • Balsa Fruiting
  • Cashew Flowering and Fruiting
  • Cercropia fruiting
  • Calabash flowering and fruiting
  • Monkey Comb Tree fruiting
  • Black Alligator Tree Fruiting
  • Garlic Tree Fruiting
  • Candlestick Plant Flowering.
  • Cannonball Tree Fruiting
  • Figs Fruiting
  • Heisteria fruiting
  • Jacaranda Flowering
  • May Tree Flowering
  • Manglillo Fruiting
  • Passion Vine Flowering
  • Pochote Tree Flowering
  • Psychotria Fruiting
  • Rubber Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Stinky Toe Flowering and Fruiting
  • Guanacaste Tree Fruiting
  • Santa Maria Flowering
  • Astrocaryum Palm Fruiting
  • Schelea Palm Fruiting
  • Ylang ylang Flowering



2 responses to “Stinging Insult Drives You Up A Tree

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  1. Loved the report and snake pictures Philip. You are right, they are hard to photograph but are really fantastic to see in the wild. We were lucky enough to see a coral snake in Belize last summer which was a thrill.

    It is great to hear about all the wildlife sightings. We have to figure out a way to get back their soon.


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