Passionately Spitting Fire   1 comment

Felipe del Bosque Blog January 23rd 2012

Brittle Nut Crunch

The dry season is continuing without a drop of rain.  The temperatures are now in the upper 90’s but unfortunately my thermometer has finally given up the ghost and I will have to replace it to get the daily highs and lows.

Unlike temperate forests or tropical dry forests where the trees are deciduous and shed all of their leaves at the beginning a temperate autumn or the start of a tropical dry season,  tropical wet forest trees are broad leaved evergreen and keep their leaves all year round.

At this time of year the trees start to shed leaf and replace the old leaves with new growth.  The forest floor is now cracked and dry as well as being covered by fallen leaves which are brittle and crunchy underfoot.

The trees here however do not replace leaf one at a time but rather as a flush.  If the tree produces a tender young leaf, high in protein, low in fiber and with no defensive toxins to protect it, that leaf will be eaten immediately by one of the vast number of herbivores in the forest and so the tree will have lost 100% of its leaf production.  If, on the other hand, the tree produces 1000 new leaves and 100 are eaten, it has only lost 10% of its leaf production.  Also the trees synchronize their leaf production so the amount of new foliage is spread throughout a greater number of individuals and so the tree is less likely to lose some of its own leaf.  That is what we find happening now.  The forest canopy is currently a blend of every shade of green imaginable – more than the 40 shades covering O’Rafferty’s wonderful motorcar.

A Passion for Flowers

The flowering of plants here is a little more subtle than in higher latitudes where you might get those amazing expanses of flowering meadow or cornfields.  Even in temperate forests, in the spring before the trees leaf up again, you will get the forest floor carpeted with Bluebells, Foxgloves and Wood Sorrel.

Here in the tropics it is the trees that are the major flowering plants and their blooms occur 100 feet above the ground up in the canopy.  This provides a spectacular display for anyone flying down to Bosque from San Jose this time of year.

Nonetheless there are flowers to be found at the lower level of the forest and some of them are not so subtle.  The Passion Vine, (Passiflora vitifolia), produces unmistakable bright scarlet blooms.  Their vivid color and perfume attract hummingbird pollinators.  The inner ring of upward pointing spines prevents all but the hermit hummingbirds which have long bills from taking the nectar.  The flowers open in the morning but by late afternoon have been pollinated then close and wilt with the setting sun.

Passiflora vitifolia

Red Hot Pokers

There is another distinctive flame orange flowering spike that will be seen in the sunnier areas as you walk through the forest.  These belong to a plant endemic to the area, Aphelandra golfodulcensis.  You won’t find this plant anywhere else in the world, just here on the Osa Peninsula.  Just as the Passion Vine flower, the bright red serves to attract in hummingbirds.

Aphelandra golfodulcensis

The Aphelandra flower is an erect spike which has up to 48 flowers and every day it produces one or two new blooms.  These are long and scimitar in shape with an opening at the end.  They have a specific pollinator, once again the hummingbirds with the long, thin, curved, sickle-shaped bills.  In this area there are two common species; the Long-billed Hummingbird, (Phaethornis longirostris), and the Stripe-throated Hummingbird, (Phaethornis strigularis).  The hummingbirds hover in front of the flower, insert the bill, imbibe the nectar during which time the bill gets coated with pollen, they fly off to repeat the process thereby pollinating the plants.  Like the Passion Flower, they flowers open and in the morning and wilt before dusk.

Who Pays The Piper

The family Piperacae contains well known plants such as Peppers, (which originate in South East Asia), and in these forests the Candlestick Plants.  They are named after the flowers which stand erect and resemble an unlit candle.  The Candlestick plants are pollinated by insects, namely beetles.  Subsequently fruit eating bats arrive, feed on the small fruits, then fly off and defecate thereby dispersing the seeds.


If you go down to any of the Bosque ponds during the day, particularly if the sun is shining brightly, you are bound to see dragonflies.  These formidable predators with their almost ceaseless activity hunt insect prey using their acute vision afforded them with those huge eyes.


The males tend to be more brightly colored than the females and it is that striking coloration that initially attracts the eye.  The females, although not as brilliant as their opposite sex partners, when seen in isolation are still quite dazzling.  This female I saw in a forest clearing.  I wasn’t out to photograph dragonflies but there she was at head height in the sun so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

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

Mini Spitfires

There are many species of bee in Costa Rica and for the most part they are solitary bees.  Honey Bees are a species introduced from Europe for honey production and are therefore alien.  Many of the indigenous peoples in the Americans prefer the honey of the native social bees and here on the grounds of Bosque it is possible to see an occasional strange structure that reveals the location of the nest.

Stingless Bee

For some time now, on the Zapatero Trail, when I stop to let visitors take in the full sight of a rain forest we can seep projecting from the trunk of a large Milky Tree the distinctive tell tale tube that leads to the nest of a stingless bee species.

Stingless Bee

The Stingless Bees have a social system essentially the same as the Honey Bees consisting of foraging females returning to the nest with pollen and nectar for honey production to feed the developing brood.  They have the same method of information transfer using the “waggle dance”.

Stingless Bee

The nest is constructed within a cavity, generally inside a tree but any cavity will do, including the carcass of a dead animal.   Leading from the outside into the nesting chamber is a long tube, the composition of which is waxes and resins collected by the foraging bees from different plant sources.  If you wound a tree and a resinous wax leaks out, it will not be too long before the bees arrive to harvest the serendipitous find.

The bees may not be armed with a painful sting as are their European relatives but they are not to be trifled with.  If you disturb the nest they attack in a wild frenzy, biting your hair, flying into your eyes, nose and ears, there they will bite and some rub a caustic secretion into the bite burning you.  They are not known by the native people as “little spit fires” for nothing.

In Mayan and Aztec culture, tributes of honey from these bees were often demanded by the local ruling chiefs.  Not only was the honey used as food but also as medicine.

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Temperature and Rainfall

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Species List for the Week


  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • Squirrel Monkey
  • White-faced Monkey
  • Tent-making Bats
  • Nine-banded Armadillo
  • Northern Tamandua
  • Mexican Mouse Opossum
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Agouti
  • Red-tailed Squirrel
  • Vesper Rat


  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Great Curassow
  • Mangrove Black Hawk
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Common Paureque
  • Crested Owl
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Brown Pelican
  • Long-billed Hermit
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Gray-headed Tanager
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Great Tinamou
  • Black-throated Trogon
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture


  • Barred Ameiva
  • Cat-eyed Snake
  • Common Basilisk
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis


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


  • Anartia Fatima
  • Anartia jatrophae
  • Antirrhea philoctetes
  • Caligo eurilochus
  • Calycopis isobeon
  • Cithaeria pireta
  • Colobura dirce
  • Consul fabius
  • Dione juno
  • Dryas iulia
  • Eurema albula
  • Eurema daira
  • Glutophrissa drusilla
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Marpesia berania
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho Menelaus
  • Opsiphanes tamarindi
  • Pareuptychia ocirrhoe
  • Philaetria dido
  • Pierella luna
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Pyrisitia nise
  • Pyrrhogyra crameri
  • Siproeta stelenes


  • Aphelandra golfodulcensis Flowering
  • Bamboo Orchid Flowering
  • Black Alligator Tree Fruiting
  • Calabash flowering and fruiting
  • Cannonball Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Clusia rosea Flowering
  • Garlic Tree Flowering
  • Golden Fruit Tree Fruiting
  • Milky Tree Fruiting
  • Monkey Comb Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Figs Fruiting
  • Mountain Rose Flowering
  • Ox Eye Vine Fruit
  • Stinky Toe Fruiting



One response to “Passionately Spitting Fire

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  1. I love your blog! Wish I were there.


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