Burning Aztec Passion   Leave a comment


Felipe del Bosque Blog March 5th 2012

Cracking Up

We are now well into the dry season and the forest floor is becoming very dry with inch wide cracks opening up.  The rains are not due to arrive until the end of April so we have more than two months more of these conditions.  The plants are looking very dusty especially around the drives where motor vehicles put a lot of dust up into the air which then settles back down on the leaves.

The hot, dry and sunny conditions are very much favored by the visitors to Bosque del Cabo over the wet conditions that prevail in September to October as it means everyone can get out and experience the rain forest and all that it offers in relative comfort.

Spotted at Night

There have been several Puma, (Puma concolor), sightings again this week, both males and both in different areas of the lodge grounds.  It could have been the same male.  On one occasion he was seen lying on the path of the Titi Trail.  Once disturbed he got up and walked for some small distance before lying down again in the sun. On another occasion he was spotted early morning not too far from the restaurant, again just sitting on the path.

One of the Bosque staff saw an Ocelot, (Leopardus pardalis), close up while leaving the property one night.  Although not as impressive as a Puma in terms of size, the Ocelot is still a wildcat.  It has a beautiful orange coat spotted with fused and elongated rosettes of a darker color, broken black lines enclosing black spots.  They are not seen as often as the Pumas because they tend to be more strictly nocturnal.

I saw several more nocturnal animals this week that only occasionally show up.  One night on the night tour I saw a Central American Woolly Opossum, (Caluromys derbianus), climbing a Guapinol Tree, (Hymeneae courbaril).  This is one of the prettier of the opossums, having a honey brown coat, big eyes and a naked tail.  I also saw its less pleasant looking cousin, the Common Opossum, (Didelphis marsupialis), foraging on the forest floor.

Central American Wooly Opossum

Although not rare, Tamanduas and Armadillos are always interesting to see.  They both belong to the mammalian Family: Xenarthra which also includes the sloths.  One evening I stood and watched a Nine-banded Armadillo, (Dasypus novemcinctus), snuffling around in vegetation beside the restaurant long after everyone had retired to their cabins for the night.  I just remained motionless as the armadillo came right around my feet, its nose constantly twitching and sniffing in search of its food which mostly consists of ants and termites.

One day, sometime around mid afternoon, a female Three-toed Sloth, (Bradypus variegatus), slowly made her way across the driveway in front of the restaurant.  Sloths are morphologically adapted for climbing and so are slow, ungainly and cumbersome on the ground.  Should one of the local Pumas had been around the sloth would have met an untimely end.  As it was she made her way to the forest edge but encountered a low growing shrub that would not support her weight.  Sloths are not noted for their stunning displays of intelligent ingenuity and so this individual labored trying to climb into the plant that was too fragile for it.  I watched for a while but then took pity, picked her up and placed her on the trunk of a moderately sized tree where she was much more at home and within minutes had made her way to the uppermost branches.

The Tent-making Bats, (Uroderma bilobatus), have continued to utilize as a roost one of the aging and folded leaves of a palm tree near the restaurant.  The Jamaican Fruit-eating Bats, (Arbiteus jamaicensis), currently can be seen in large numbers around the crown of a large Guapinol Tree that is in bloom.  Not long after sundown they will be circling the upper branches of the tree in huge numbers.  If you stand and watch for a while you will see them briefly alight to feed on the nectar before taking to the wing once again.

Around the grounds of Bosque, in the trees there are still huge numbers of Spider, Howler, White-faced and Squirrel Monkeys.  Red-tailed Squirrels and Alfaro’s Pygmy Squirrel are commonly seen.  On the ground Agoutis and White-nosed Coatis can be seen from the restaurant, while a little further out into the forest, people are regularly seeing Collared Peccaries.

Taking a Lek

There has not been much by way of bird activity to report this week.  The Red-capped Manakins, (Pipra mentalis), are still lekking.  The males can be seen 20 feet or so above the ground performing their high octave version of the moonwalk on a horizontal branch.  I did see a Grey-chested Dove, (Leptotila cassinii), this week walking across the forest floor on the “Zapatero Trail”.  The very closely related and similar looking White-tipped Dove, (Leptotila verrauxi), is common all around the grounds of Bosque.  This was only the second time in 12 years I have seen the Grey-chested Dove which has a very distinctive pinky brown nape and back of the head.

There was a flurry of excitement one afternoon by the bar.  A 4 foot long Parrot Snake, (Leptophis ahaetulla), had flushed an adult Fitzinger’s Rain Frog, (Craugastor fitzingeri), from its daytime cover and was now chasing it across the lawn.  The snake caught the frog by its leg but the resolute victim wasn’t giving up.  It forced itself free and hopped away.  The Parrot Snake is a diurnal hunter; it has large forward pointing eyes and holds its head well off the ground, allowing it to maintain visual contact with its prey.  The frog had disappeared from view but unfortunately for the hapless amphibian the snakes lightning quick response had moved it over the top of and in front of the frog which was now sitting motionless.  Complementing its excellent vision is the snakes other main sensory organ, the forked tongue which was now flicking rapidly in and out tasting the air.  It didn’t take long before it detected the presence of it potential meal beneath it, coiled back and struck again.  This time the small backward pointing teeth lining the mouth of the snake took a hold and the frog was doomed.

Parrot Snake

The frog made every effort to get away but the snake had too good a grasp on its leg enabling it to hold on to it.  Several more futile attempts to hop away only served to exhaust the wounded frog and it finally gave up the ghost as the snake maneuvered around to the head to enable a more effective swallow.  It wasn’t going to be easy though as the frog had inflated itself with air to look larger and unmanageable.  The snake’s upper and lower jaw dislocate where they join and the lower jaw also separates at the front, giving the serpent a much wider gape allowing it to consume things much larger than its own head.  The skin is also very elastic which then stretches to accommodate a very large meal.

Parrot Snake

Over the past ten years I cannot remember a time when the Red-eyed Green Tree Frogs, (Agalychnis callidryas), could not be heard calling, even if they could not be seen.  Amphibians, because they breathe through the skin, tend to emerge once the sun has set, the temperature drops and the air is moister.  During the dry season, the numbers of frogs seen and heard declines markedly, but the Red-eyes are one of the most persistent, at least one or two individuals calling each night, albeit high up in the vegetation on the top of the leaves.  I now have not heard a single one calling for weeks.

Significantly the Marine Toads, (Rhinella marina), have also disappeared, at least from by the pond.  They can still be found in the restaurant at night when all the visitors and staff have left.  While the lights were on, they attracted a great many insects, especially cicadas.  The toads now have an easy meal feeding on the disorientated bugs.

During the day the cicadas are still calling but not with the same intensity and volume of recent weeks.  The main emergence period is over and although they will continue to call throughout the dry season, the main cicada episode is over for another year.

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.

www.bosquedelcabo.com

 Photo Feature

 Heart of the Aztecs

Cercropia trees are very quick growing pioneering species.  If an area cleared of trees is allowed to regenerate or tree falls in the forest opening up a light gap, it is the pioneering species of tree that germinate first and grow very quickly to take advantage of the light available.  They can sometimes grow over 10 feet a year.

Trees need nitrogen for two main reasons; to grow tissue and manufacture defense toxins.  Those plants that do grow quickly need all the nitrogen for the former and therefore don’t tend to produce the latter.  Quick growing plants generally have large light gathering leaves to take maximum benefit of the sunlight.  Large leaves with no chemical defense system make them a nice meal for herbivores.

Cercropias do protect themselves; they just do it in a different fashion.  Running up the middle of the hollow trunk are a series of abutting carton capsules which when seen in section look like a vertebral column.  These capsules have been made by and are the home of the Azteca Ant.

Azteca Ant Domitia

As well as providing accommodation for the ants, the cecropia also feeds them.  At the base of the leaves are small structures called Mullerian Bodies.  These produce glycogen, an animal starch and cecropia is the only plant known to do so.  The Mullerian Bodies only come into production at certain times and at different locations around the tree crown so the Azteca Ants always have to patrol to find the food source.  As they are patrolling, any epiphytes they find growing on the tree, they nip off and throw away so the cecropia can grow completely unimpeded.

Azteca Ants don’t have a poisonous bite or sting, they swarm all over any herbivore potentially feeding on the cecropias leaves, they bite and then rub a caustic secretion into the bite, burning the invading pest.  If the herbivore has hundreds of ants burning it, the result will be to leave the tree very quickly.  You will be able to identify a cercropia tree that does not house an ant colony because up at the top it won’t have any leaves.

A Passion for Poison Deceit

Wending its way through the low lying undergrowth is the new runners of the Passion Vine, (Passiflora vitifolia).  Along its length the vine has produced the bright red flowers characteristic of this species.  The flower opens with the breaking dawn, is pollinated by long billed hummingbirds and by mid afternoon will have wilted away.  Over the next few days the fruit forms, oval in shape, green in color and mottled with pale spots.

Passion Flower

To prevent herbivores feeding on its tissue, various species of Passion Vine have evolved defenses to protect themselves.  The leaves of some Passion Vines contain cyanogenic glycosides, essentially a sugar molecule with a cyanide molecule attached.  When damaged, such as by the mouthparts of herbivore, the cyanide molecule is released which would deter most herbivores continuing with the feast.  Not so the caterpillars of some Heliconiid butterflies which have an enzyme allowing them to sequester the cyanide molecule for themselves, rendering them in turn non palatable to birds and lizards that may feed on them.  So the Heliconiid butterflies feed on Passion Vine hence their collective name as Passion Vine Butterflies.

Passion Fruit

The plants defenses have been breached, so what will it do now.  On the leaf stalk of some Passion Vines, there are extrafloral nectaries which look just like butterfly eggs.  Many of the butterflies will not lay eggs where eggs already exist as the caterpillars are cannibalistic.  The extrafloral nectaries also attract aggressive ants and wasps which may feed on any caterpillars feeding on the leaves.

Extrafloral Nectaries

Some species of Passion Vine have hairs called trichomes.  When the caterpillars try to move from one leaf to another they become impaled.  With some plants, the caterpillars have learned to spin silk over the trichomes allowing them to move around without fear of being skewered.

Once again the plants defenses have been overcome.  The way the butterflies initially recognize Passion Vine is by the very distinctive leaf shape, so now certain species of Passion Vine have changed the leaf shape.  This will temporarily put the butterflies off until they learn their way round the problem and recommence feeding on those species of Passion Vine again.

Passion Vine Leaf

So a small section of vine, when examined closely will reveal, along with their butterfly predators, a host of adaptive natural selective forces that are continually driving evolution along.

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

Mammals

  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • White-faced Monkey
  • Central American Squirrel Monkeys
  • Nine-banded Armadillo
  • Three-toed Sloth
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Agouti
  • Alfaro’s Pygmy Squirrel
  • Red-tailed Squirrel
  • Central American Wooly Opossum
  • Common Opossum
  • Puma
  • Jamaican Fruit-eating Bats
  • Tent-making Bats

Birds

  • Red-lored Amazons
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Mangrove Black Hawk
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Common Paureque
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • Grey-chested Dove
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Long-billed Hermit
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Cherrie’s Tanager
  • Grey-headed Tanager
  • Summer Tanager
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • Golden-crowned Spadebill
  • Rufus Piha
  • Great Tinamou
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

Reptiles

  • Central American Whiptail
  • Common Basilisk
  • Five-lined Ameiva
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Northern Cat-eyed Snake
  • Parrot Snake

Amphibians

  • Banana Frog
  • Fitzinger’s Rain Frog
  • Marine Toad
  • Milky Frog
  • Smokey Jungle Frog

Butterflies

  • Anartia Fatima
  • Antirrhea philoctetes
  • Archaeoprepona demophon
  • Consul fabius
  • Dryas iulia
  • Eueides lybia
  • Eurema daira
  • Glutophrissa drusilla
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Magneuptychia libye
  • Marpesia berania
  • Metacharis victrix
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho menelaus
  • Parides erithalion
  • Philaetria dido
  • Pierella luna
  • Phoebis argante
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pyrisitia nise
  • Pyrrhogyra crameri
  • Siproeta stelenes
  • Urbanus simplicius

Plants

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