Felipe del Bosque Blog March 11th 2013
Cracks Startjng to Show
It has been another dry and waterless week. Not a drop of rain has fallen. Strangely the trails through the forest are only now showing the slightest signs of cracking up. The water level in the creek is low but there is still enough water flowing to service the lodge.
As it continues to dry the amphibians that are still active at night have made their way to places where even the slightest degree of dampness prevails. Several large female Marine Toads, (Chaunus marinus), have found their way into the drains by the restaurant. The water level in the pond is still reasonably high and has attracted a large number of Savage’s Thin-fingered Frogs, (Leptodactylus savagei), which gather after sundown. The Marine Toads have been missing from around the pond for several months now but all of a sudden the males have turned up and started calling. It will be interesting to see if this heralds a change in the weather.
It is not only the toads, the Halloween Crabs, (Gecarcinus quadratus), have also started to emerge in huge numbers once the sun has set. They may be land crabs but they breathe by means of gills which have to remain moist to function. We are in the driest part of the year so the crabs along with the toads may know something we don’t.
February and March as well as being the driest months of the year are also the peak times for butterfly watching. You can walk on any of the forest trails and cast your eyes in any direction, left to right, up and down, and there you will see butterflies. They come in all different colors and have different patterns of flight. Some are bright and garish while others subtly blend in with their backgrounds. There are fast flyers and slow flyers. Some butterflies are large and obvious while others are small and must be searched for diligently amongst the undergrowth.
I can’t imagine there is anyone who does not like butterflies. In temperate regions they are the harbingers of summer. The fly in greatest numbers when the sun is shining and so are always associated with those hot sunny days with beautiful blue skies.
At Bosque the guests are always thrilled to see the shimmering electric blue of the Morphos, of which there are 4 species on the grounds. Both the large size and the scintillating color make them a prize sighting. Around the gardens there are the constantly active and seemingly never settling yellows, creams, whites of the Sulphurs. There are several patches of Lantana camara scattered throughout the gardens. This is the favorite nectar bush of the Nymphalids, particularly the Longwing Butterflies. They tend to have brightly patterned wings sporting bold red, orange and yellow. If you head to the low growing garden vegetation edging the forest and spend a little time looking then you are bound to see some of the Skippers. They are small and move very quickly. If you are lucky you will also perhaps see one or two individuals of the Hairstreaks. Their delicate wings are decorated with spots and fine lines that appear to have been applied with a very fine paint brush and it is that which gives them their name. Flying low to the forest floor are a whole set of butterflies that will only be noticed when spooked and take flight, the Satyrs or browns. When they close their wings the patterning is that of dead leaves and so they disappear from sight. There are other butterflies related to the Morphos but lack the bright iridescence. Instead they have bright eyespots that act as targets, a bulls-eye for predator attacks to deflect the predator away from the body and towards a non-vital piece of wing membrane. These are the Owl Butterflies.
One such butterfly turned up by the pond last week. Overhanging the swimming pool suspended from the underside of a plant midrib there have been several chrysalises. They are bright emerald green in color blending in unnoticed against the green leaves of the plant. Then when day when you look the chrysalis will be a grey colored papery empty shell, the newly ecluded butterfly having transformed from its leaf-eating caterpillar stage has metamorphosed into a winged adult whose sole purpose is to find a suitable mate and reproduce. As the butterflies had simply vanished before they could be seen and their identities ascertained it was a mystery as which species had been present.
Then one day one of the chrysalises that been found near the bar had its inhabitant emerge. Its wings at first were crumpled like scrunched up paper balls thus hiding the pattern that would allow its identity to be finally revealed. As the body fluids flowed through the veins the wings unfurled and stretched the colors and patterns now slowly taking form until finally their fully glory was exposed and we had the species name, Opsiphanes tamarindi. The caterpillars feed on heliconia and bananas, none of which there are shortage of around the restaurant area.
Every so often one or two of the scorpion species will turn up near my cabin. Last week I took out a couple on a walk through the forest after dinner. Just to illustrate how we can use a variety of means by which to find things in the forest once the sun has set I carried with me a hand held black light. When we had walked far enough on the trail away from the restaurant so that conditions were completely dark, I turned on the black light and sure enough within less than a minute I had located a scorpion sitting on a leaf consuming some small insect that it had caught. Scorpions fluoresce a deathly pale blue color under black light and stand out immediately in the darkness. The scorpion we had found was a bark scorpion, (Centruroides limbatus).
A few days later I found an individual of the same species by my cabin. It was in a reasonably good position to photograph so I set the camera up and took its picture. Scorpions tend to be nocturnal predators. They use the pinchers, pedipalps, at the front to capture and hold the prey while the chelicerae or mouthparts chew it up. They normally limit the use of the sting to defense. Anything equipped with venom that causes an instant and acute sensation of pain is usually using it to deter its own predators. This one raised its tail in a threatening stance when I moved the surrounding leaves in order to get a better photograph but didn’t show any signs of striking out.
Another of the visitors to my cabin over the past week was a tiny frog that I noticed tucked up away from the sun. Small frogs are notoriously difficult to identify especially if it is a juvenile that you have in front of you as the colors can so often be totally different to the adults. This one I think was one of the Terrarana group which includes the rain frogs. There has been a recent taxonomical revision of the Terrarana which now has four families and four subfamilies containing 833 species. Previously the Genus Eleutherodactylus contained over 700 species making it the singularly most species rich genus of vertebrates on the planet. The newly revised numbers have been reduced to a more manageable 185 species. Nonetheless the Terrarana contains within its four families 28% of all New World Tropical frogs and 13% of global anurans.
The distinguishing feature of these frogs is their totally terrestrial reproductive habits. They don’t need to return to water to reproduce. The adults pair up and the female lays her eggs amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor. The eggs are few in number, quite large in comparison to the size of the adult and filled with yolk. The whole process of development takes place within the egg so there is no free-swimming tadpole stage. Seven or eight weeks after being laid a tiny little copy of the adult emerges. I am sure that this was a juvenile but as yet have not reached a conclusion on which particular species.
Flowers and Fruit
Before heading out on the trails of Bosque del Cabo in search of adventure and animal sightings, if you take some time to explore the gardens at a more leisurely pace you will still find a wealth of things to hold your interest.
Many of the trees in and around the gardens are not native to Costa Rica but that does not make them any the less intriguing. Each one has its own story. Some of them have decorative or strange flowers while others have fruits that are more fascinating.
The Jackfruit, (Atrocarpus heterophyllus), is closely related to the Breadfruit, (Atrocarpus altilis), and both of them are of the Family: Moraceae which also contains the figs. We have both Jackfruit and Breadfruit trees growing within walking distance of the restaurant as well as a a large variety of fig species growing both in the gardens and the forest. It is thought that Jackfruit originated in India but is now found throughout tropical South East Asia. In fact it can now be found growing in tropical situations globally where conditions are right. The fruits themselves are the largest to be found borne by any tree. The fruit contains a sweet starchy pulp that is used for everything from curries to desserts.
One small tree that captures everyone’s attention is the Rosa de Monte, (Brownea macrophylla). It belongs in the Family: Fabaceae – Caesalpiniodeae and is a native of Panama south into northern South America. There are several individuals gracing the gardens of Bosque and the most captivating feature are the large orange flower heads growing directly from the wood of the branches like large colorful pincushions stuck with long yellow and orange needles. They are used continuously at Bosque for table decorations in the restaurant and bar.
At the moment the Cashews, (Anacardium occidentale), have been flowering and are now producing the distinctive nut for which the plant is famed. Cashews belong in the Family: Anacardiaceae which also includes Mango, Pistachio and Poison Ivy. The flowers are pollinated by insects and once done so the fruit develops. You have to be very careful when handling cashews as the shell of the nut contains highly irritating and caustic volatile oils. If you get them on your skin they can cause an intense reaction and burning sensation. The nuts have to be roasted and even then you need to be careful as the smoke containing the oils can seriously damage the respiratory system. As the nut is growing and maturing the stem of the fruit also grows into a large fleshy structure called the cashew apple or marañón. It has a very distinctive taste, somewhat astringent, but nonetheless sold in the markets in San Jose as a popular fruit.
In direct contrast with the green vegetation and sticking up like red-hot pokers at the forest edge are the flowering heads of the Aphelandra golfodulcensis, Family: Acanthaceae. The bright red coloration which is the complementary color to green stands out in vivid contrast to all that surrounds it and attracts the attention of hummingbirds which have acute color vision and come to the flower to feed. Each day the flowering head produces one or two new blooms which are long scimitar-shaped flowers containing nectar. Only two hummingbirds, the Long-billed Hermit and the Stripe-throated Hermit have the appropriately adapted apparatus to feed from these flowers. They have long bills that fit into the flower, the drink the nectar and while doing so the bill becomes coated in pollen which will be transferred to the next flower it visits, effecting pollination. The fact that the plant only produces one or two new flowers every day keeps the hummingbirds coming back and is known as trap-lining.
In the same area as the Aphelandra are several species of Piper Family: Piperaceae. The Pipers have one species from the Old World Tropics which is known by everyone, Black Pepper. The pipers are called candlestick plants because of the way the flower and fruit stand erect. They are pollinated by insects, namely beetles, and when they produce fruit it is the fruit-eating bats that come in, consume the fruit, defecate and disperse the seeds.
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.
On occasion people head off from Bosque del Cabo to Corcovado National Park on a day tour in the hope of seeing some of the animals they may not see here. One of those animals is the White-lipped Peccary, (Tayussu pecari).
Bosque del Cabo has herds of the smaller of the two peccaries, the Collared Peccary, (Tayussu tajucu). They can be seen in herds of up to 20 on any of the trails, but most commonly on the Titi Trail. They pose no threat and if you come across them on the trail they will generally just move off to one side out of the way. Over the years that Bosque has existed as a rain forest lodge White-lipped Peccary have only been seen on once when a huge herd migrated out of the National Park and along the coast. They passed through the grounds of Bosque over the course of one day and haven’t been since. Until last week that is.
A small herd of 6 found its way into the grounds and initially we thought it may be yet another transient episode and they would come and go very quickly. It was an ideal opportunity for everyone to get photographs of a little seen animal. They didn’t appear to be shy and wandered across the lawn in front of the restaurant 2 or 3 times a day. They could be seen and heard as well as smelled.
White-lipped Peccaries and Collared Peccaries can inhabit the same area but generally the presence of the former drives the latter into higher drier habitat. It is fairly obvious where the White-lips have been feeding as the ground will have been turned over as they did up roots, tubers and grubs. They also feed on fruits, seeds, leaves and any unwary small animal. As they trundle around the grounds you can see them sometimes stop to take some of the palm nuts fallen from the various palm species in the gardens. White-lipped Peccaries are one of the very few animals that will feed on the leaves and stalks of Dumb Cane, (Dieffenbachia spp), which are highly toxic to most everything else.
Many people will have read the exaggerated stories of the peccary’s ferocious nature. As already mentioned the Collared Peccaries are non confrontational. The Whitelips will make a lot of bluff threats accompanied by loud teeth clacking but generally if the bluff is called they will make a hasty retreat. Large pink monkeys are not to be messed with.
One of the reasons to welcome the presence of White-lipped Peccaries to Bosque is that their presence normally indicates the good health of a habitat. Over most of Costa Rica they have either been hunted to extinction in the areas that they formerly lived or as the habitat has been altered and trees disappeared, then so do the peccaries and there number one predator the Jaguar, (Pantera onca). If they stay wandering the forests and lawns of Bosque it might indicate that after 22 years of the lodge operating then a more pristine habitat level has been reached. But anyone having visited the lodge will know that to be the case. I have over the years seen Tapir tracks and several visitors have seen one. It would be nice if we got a small group of Tapirs established. Finally a couple of Red Brocket Deer would complete the set. But for now let’s hope the peccaries stay around for a while longer and maybe even set up home.
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 0.0 ins. Total Weekly Rainfall 0.0 ins
Average Daily Rainfall 0.0 mm. Total Weekly Rainfall 0.0 mm
Highest Daily Temp 99°F. Lowest Daily Temp 75°F.
Highest Daily Temp 37.2°C. Lowest Daily Temp 23.9°C.
Species List for the Week
- Mantled Howler Monkey
- Spider Monkey
- White-faced Capuchin Monkey
- Nine-banded Armadillo
- Common Tent-making Bat
- Greater White-lined Bat
- Western Red Bat
- White-nosed Coati
- Collared Peccary
- White-lipped Peccary
- Red-lored Amazon
- Scarlet Macaw
- Bare-throated Tiger Heron
- Great Curassow
- Crested Caracara
- Roadside Hawk
- Golden-naped Woodpecker
- Pale-billed Woodpecker
- Black-hooded Antshrike
- Chestnut-backed Antbird
- Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
- Short-billed Pigeon
- White-tipped Dove
- Rufus Piha
- Long-billed Hermit
- Rufus-tailed Hummingbird
- Stripe-throated Hermit
- Blue-crowned Motmot
- Blue-crowned Manakin
- Red-Capped Manakin
- Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
- Cherrie’s Tanager
- Bright-rumped Atilla
- Buff-rumped Warbler
- Dusky-capped Flycatcher
- Golden-crowned Spadebill
- Great Tinamou
- Black-throated Trogon
- Black Vulture
- Turkey Vulture
- Barred Ameiva
- Central American Smooth Gecko
- Central American Whiptail
- Clawless Gecko
- Four-lined Ameiva
- Golfo Dulce Anolis
- Litter Skink
- Mediterranean House Gecko
- Pug-nosed Anole
- Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
- Golfo Dulce Poison Arrow Frog
- Masked Smilisca
- Marine Toad
- Milky Frog
- Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
- Savage’s Thin-fingered Frog
- Anartia Fatima
- Anartia jatrophae
- Dione juno
- Dryas iulia
- Eueides lybia
- Glutophrissa drusilla
- Heliconius erato
- Heliconius ismenius
- Heliconius sapho
- Hermeuptychia hermes
- Junonia everete
- Mechanitis polymnia
- Morpho helenor
- Morpho Menelaus
- Philaethria dido
- Phoebis sennae
- Pierella helvina
- Pierella luna
- Pyrisitia nise
- Strymon megarus
- Urbanus simplicius
- Urbanus tanna
- Alamandra cathartica Flowering
- Alpinia purpurata Flowering
- Apeiba tibourbou Fruiting
- Arachis pintoi Flowering
- Arundina graminifolia Flowering
- Attalea rostrata Fruiting
- Bauhinia variegata Flowering
- Brosimum utile Fruiting
- Caryocar costaricense Flowering
- Cascabella thevetia Flowering and Fruiting
- Citrus spp Fruiting
- Clusia rosea Flowering and Fruiting
- Clusia vallerii Fruiting
- Cocos nucifera Flowering and Fruiting
- Crestentia alata flowering and Fruiting
- Costus speciosus Flowering
- Couroupita guianensis Flowering and Fruiting
- Dypsis lutescens Flowering and Fruiting
- Etlingera elatior Flowering
- Ficus citrifolia Fruiting
- Ficus insipida Fruiting
- 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
- Inga spp Fruiting
- Ixora coccinea Flowering
- Lantana camara Flowering and Flowering
- Lagerstroemia speciosa Fruiting
- Morinda citrifolia Fruiting
- Musa acuminate Flowering and Fruiting
- Nephelium lappaceum Fruiting
- Pachira quinata Flowering
- Piper auritum Flowering and Fruiting
- Piper nigrum Fruiting
- Piper umbellatum Flowering and Fruiting
- Pleiostachya pruinosa Flowering
- Plumeria rubra Flowering
- Psychotria sp Fruiting
- Stachytarpheta frantzii Flowering
- Zammia sp Flowering