A Cheesy Tale of Bee-ing Dead   Leave a comment


Felipe del Bosque Blog September 17th 2012

The Calm Before

There has been no change in the weather to talk of.  The days have been amazingly sunny with the rains arriving in the evening.  As with the last few weeks, the showers have been intense and of short duration.  They are continuing to be accompanied with spectacular lightning storms probably as a result of the hot days producing a great deal of convection within the humid air.

Life in the Dead

It is not so easy to see things amongst the dead leaf litter on the ground despite the fact that there is so much living there.  Most of the katydids I find at Bosque are green, leaf-shaped and tend to be up in amongst the living vegetation.  I was cutting back some of the heliconias that had become densely overgrown around my cabin and noticed a small movement down amongst the dead leaves on the ground.  Closer observation revealed a katydid but this one was very dark brown and mottled closely resembling the withered leaves surrounding it.

Katydid

I got to my knees, camera in hand and tried to photograph it but the light levels were very low and the insect was very dark.  My shifting position in an attempt to get the best possible angle proved too much for the katydid which took flight but it didn’t go very far, eventually settling on the surface of a leaf in a low growing shrub.  The position at first seemed better, but the light wasn’t and there were vines hanging between me and my subject so I had to settle for the images I managed to obtain at ground level.

Katydids are classified as Long-horned Orthopteroids which also includes the crickets.  The long horns are the whip-like filamentous antennae which in grasshoppers tend to be short and stubby.  So if we follow the line of nomenclature reasoning then grasshoppers become Short-horned Orthopteroids.  The base of the male katydids forewings is thickened and modified into a sound producing organ, their calls being produced by stridulation or rubbing the wings together.  Particularly at night the calling males sing to attract a mate but to our ears, with the number of insects calling simultaneously, it sounds like little more than an insect white noise.

If they are using sound to communicate, they also need ears to hear.  The typana or ‘ear drums’ are located on the front legs, the shape and form of the slit on the tibia where they are housed is used as a diagnostic feature to identify the different families.

Many animals feed on Kaydids which is why many of them are so cryptically colored quite often sporting a camouflage so perfect that they blend imperceptibly into the vegetation amongst which they are situated.   Both the color and the texture of this katydid give the impression of little more than a dead and dried up leaf fragment.

Looking Small

Spiders are everywhere if you choose to look for them.  It is estimated that at no point in your life are you any more than 6 feet from a spider.  They are not the kind of creature most people would go out of their way to find but for those who are interested or those who can overcome their fear then with a macro lens spiders make a fascinating subject.

There are some very common species around the lodge area, two of the most frequently observed being the Golden Orb Spider, (Nephila clavipes), and the Silver Orb Spider, (Argiope argentata).  Both are fairly large and have extensive webbing strung between the vegetation.  At night the wandering spiders, (Cupiennis spp), and wolf spiders, (Lycosidae), will emerge and can be seen on the leaves or the ground respectively.  Occasionally tarantulas will turn up but not in the same numbers as in other areas.

But if you poke around looking in amongst the vegetation around the gardens you will find crab spiders, jumping spiders, net-throwing spiders and a whole variety of orb weaving spiders.  The body form and colors of different species give them a “not of this world” look.  The Crab-like or Spiny-bodied Spider, (Gasteracantha cancriformis), belongs in this group.  They are tiny spiders that build the classic orb web strung between the twigs and branches of trees and shrubs.  In typical orb spider fashion they sit in the centre of the web and wait for prey to become trapped.  The females have a wide oval shaped body with 6 spines protruding from the edge.  These thorny extensions may serve to protect the spider from being eaten by a hungry bird or lizard.

Crab-like Spider

Photographing spiders in webs close up is no easy task.  The slightest breeze will move the web consequently causing the spider to shift in and out of focus.  You have to hope for a still day or else use a fast shutter speed and synchronize pressing the shutter as the spider drifts into focus.  One spider made the work slightly easier by making the web across the top of a large bucket.  The spider in question was another Spiny-bodied Spider, (Micrathena breviceps).  Unfortunately I could only get a shot of the ventral surface as the individual was hanging suspended beneath the strands of silk composing the loosely constructed web.

Spiny-bodied Spider

The color of this spider is predominantly black and yellow which also happens to be the most visual color grouping that exists.  Clearly the spider is not trying to hide.  Those colors are aposomatic, warning colors.  Should a naïve bird choose to eat the spider those long spines projecting from its rear and the large dorsal spine serves to lodge the spider in the bird’s bill.  All the time the spider is stuck with the bird trying to dislodge the spiny obstruction; it issues a noxious tasting secretion.  Once the bird finally rids itself of the foul tasting, brightly colored mistaken food item, it will never ever go near anything black and yellow again.

Bee Killer

A commonly seen but not often identified insect that is found around Bosque is one of the bugs belonging to the family Reduviidae.  They are often just dismissed as weird bugs and that they are, but not bugs in the generic sense, rather true bugs belonging to the order Hemiptera, suborder Heteroptera.

The reduviids are assassin bugs, named after their ferocious and predatory habit of killing and sucking the life blood from other insects.  They stealthily approach their unsuspecting prey, then lash out and grab it with their front legs.  You can see beneath the head the long piercing beak-like stylet that injects into the hapless victim immobilizing venom before the six-legged assassin succors nourishment by imbibing its blood.  Don’t mess with them as they can and do hurt when biting under provocation.

This particular specimen belongs to the genus Apiomerus which loosely translates into “Bee Killer”.  They lurk around flower heads for stingless bees; it is thought to this effect they may even release a bee mimicking pheromone to attract the doomed hymenopteran.  Once caught, there is no escape and the drained carcass of the little bee is all that will be left to drop to the ground.

At the rear end of each of the wings, there is a red expanded area which tends to be the most noticeable feature for most people who watch them fly in a most laborious fashion between plants.  This could well act as a target area for lizards and birds whose attention will also be drawn to these visually obvious areas.  They strike and simply receive a small piece of wing membrane for their efforts.  In the meantime the assassin will have slipped away unnoticed to carry out its nefarious practices elsewhere.

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

Fallen From The Sky

The trees in and around Bosque del Cabo support a lot of other plants growing on their trunks and branches.  Plants that grow on other plants are called epiphytes and they are not necessarily parasitic upon their hosts, in fact very few of them rarely are.  Epiphyte is a generic term and plants from lots of different families can have species that are epiphytic.  Here at Bosque we find epiphytic ferns, vines, bromeliads and orchids, (88% of all Costa Ricas orchids are epiphytic).

Sometimes if a branch becomes to heavily laden with epiphytic growth, the tree will cut off the vascular system into that limb, which dies, decomposes and falls to the ground.  Often the pounding from an intense downpour of rain will also knock branches to the ground.  Most epiphytes will not survive when they have been dislodged or discarded from their bright and lofty perches in the canopy, the light levels at the level of the forest floor being too dim to sustain them.

Swiss Cheese Plant

It was with some surprise then that I noticed the large white flower of a species of Monstera blooming on the forest floor in a place it had not been the day before.  Monsteras are hemiepiphytic vines that are known to people as the common houseplant ‘Swiss Cheese Plant”, so called because of the form of the leaves which are split and full of holes.  But the flowers occur at the top of the trees.  In this case, the branch supporting the leaf had snapped and fallen, probably as a result of the brief but heavy deluge the night before.  The flower had just opened and was attracting a lot of insect life, largely bees which appear to be the main pollinators.

Swiss Cheese Plant

The Monstera flower has two parts, the spathe which is like a large white single petal that encloses the spadix, which is like a fat white finger-like structure bearing the spirally arranged bisexual flowers.

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Temperature and Rainfall

Average Daily Rainfall 0.40 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 2.77 ins

Average Daily Rainfall 10.1 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 70.4 mm

Highest Daily Temp 91°F.  Lowest Daily Temp 74°F.

Highest Daily Temp 32.4°C.  Lowest Daily Temp 23.5°C.

Species List for the Week

Mammals

  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • White-faced Monkey
  • Nine-banded Armadillo
  • Agouti
  • White-nosed Coati

Birds

  • Mealy Amazon
  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Great Curassow
  • Black Hawk
  • Crested Caracara
  • Laughing Falcon
  • Roadside Hawk
  • White Hawk
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Long-billed Hermit
  • Purple-crowned Fairy
  • Stripe-throated Hermit
  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Crested Owl
  • Fiery-billed Aracari
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Bananaquit
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Golden-crowned Spadebill
  • Great Kiskadee
  • House Wren
  • Great Tinamou
  • Masked Tityra
  • Black Vulture
  • King Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

Reptiles

  • Cat-eyed Snake
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Common Basilisk
  • Four-lined Ameiva
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Salmon-bellied Racer
  • Tiger Rat Snake

Amphibians

  • Banana Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Fitzinger’s Rain Frog
  • Gladiator Frog
  • Marine Toad
  • Olive Tree Frog
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Smoky Jungle Frog

Butterflies

  • Anartia Fatima
  • Anartia jatrophae
  • Caligo atreus
  • Caligo eurilochus
  • Dryas iulia
  • Glutophrissa Drusilla
  • Heliconius cydno
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Junonia evarete
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho Menelaus
  • Pierella luna
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Siproeta stelenes

Plants

  • Alamandra  cathartica Flowering
  • Alpinia purpurata Flowering
  • Apeiba tibourbou Flowering
  • Arachis pintoi Flowering
  • Arundina graminifolia Flowering
  • Bauhinia variegata Flowering
  • Cananga odorata Flowering and Fruiting
  • Cascabella thevetia Flowering
  • Clusia rosea Fruiting
  • Cocos nucifera Flowering andFruiting
  • Crestentia alata flowering and Fruiting
  • Costus specioas Flowering
  • Couroupita guianensis Flowering and Fruiting
  • Dypsis lutescens Flowering and Fruiting
  • Etlingera elatior Flowering
  • Heliconia chartacea Flowering
  • Heliconia latispatha Flowering
  • Heliconia pogonantha Flowering
  • Heliconia psittacorum Flowering
  • Heliconia rostrata Flowering
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Flowering
  • Hymenaea coubaril Fruiting
  • Hymenocallis littoralis Flowering
  • Ixora coccinea Flowering
  • Lacmellea panamensis  Fruiting
  • Lantana camara Flowering andFlowering
  • Lagerstroemia speciosa Fruiting
  • Mangifera indica Fruiting
  • Musa acuminate Flowering andFruiting
  • Nephelium lappaceum Fruiting
  • Piper auritum Flowering and Fruiting
  • Piper nigrum Fruiting
  • Piper umbellatum Flowering and Fruiting
  • Pleiostachya pruinosa Flowering
  • Plumeria rubra Flowering
  • Stachytarpheta frantzii Flowering
  • Terminalia catappa Flowering
  • Thunbergia grandiflora Flowering
  • Zammia sp Flowering

 

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