Mangoes Attract a Crowd   Leave a comment


Philip Davison. Costa Rica. Blog. Nature Diaries

Harvesting Mangoes

The Wet Season

Last year on the Osa Peninsula the wet season started much later than normal. It did not start raining heavily until July.  However, despite the delayed start, by the end of the year there had been more rain than the annual average.  This year the rains arrived at the time when they are normally expected which tends to be mid April.  The month of May and so far into June experienced a lot of rain.  The forest and the gardens are currently looking luxuriantly verdant.  There is a reason why the wet season is commonly referred to as the green season.

Sometimes if the initial rains of the green season are particularly heavy and the downpours are long in duration the force of the falling rain can knock blossoms from the trees that flower this time of year adversely affecting the fruiting season and consequently the amount of food available to the fruit-eating animals.  The year 2005, which will be remembered by many as the year that Hurricane Katrina hit the southern area of the United States, in Costa Rica translated into a very wet green season.  Many of the trees did not produce fruit and so fruit-eating mammals and birds such as Spider Monkeys and Black-mandibled Toucans were dying en masse due to a lack of food.

Conversely if the weather is unseasonably hot and dry, eventually amounting to what is a drought situation, then the plants put a lot of energy into reproduction resulting in a glut of fruit.  These dry periods may be of short duration, eventually the rains will arrive, but in the meantime the animals benefit from a surfeit of food.  This in turn may result in enhanced breeding success.

Mango Bonanza

The small mango orchard at Bosque del Cabo has a two year cycle.  One year the trees produce fruit the next year they don’t.  Sometimes they will produce a bumper harvest and that is what has happened this year.  The boughs of the trees are hanging heavy with fruit.  The ground beneath the tree crowns is covered with fallen fruit.

Mango

Fallen Mangoes Cover Ground

Mangoes, (Mangifera indica), are not native to the Americas, they are originally from South-east Asia, more particularly from India, through Myanmar and into Southern China.  As they produce such a bountiful crop of fruit they now can be found growing in all parts of the tropical world that have climatic conditions suitable for their cultivation.  They are related to both Poison Ivy and Cashew.  Just as with those two plants some care has to be exercised by individuals who demonstrate a reaction to physical contact with them.

Mango

Part Eaten Mangoes

Coati and Monkey Feeding Frenzy

During the day the activity in and around the mango orchard is prolific and intense.  The trees are full of Spider Monkeys crashing around from branch to branch, noisily engaged in minor intra troop disputes.  The monkeys are wasteful feeders.  They pluck a fruit, take a bite and then throw the remainder to the ground.  You have to be very careful standing under the trees when observing their behavior as even a soft fleshy fruit like a mango when dropped from a height can cause concussion if it lands directly on your head.

The discarded fruit on the ground starts to putrefy and ferment giving a pungent fruity smell to the area.  The rotting fruit becomes irresistible to many animals both vertebrate and invertebrate.  Some years ago the White-nosed Coati population suffered a severe crash in numbers; it was very difficult to see them.  An occasional solitary male may have been seen but the large groups of females with young were very noticeable by their absence.  However in recent years the population has rebounded and there are lots of White-nosed Coatis everywhere.  The males tend to very bold and will only move away when approached very close and even then sometimes reluctantly.  The females with young form large groups, sometimes numbering 15 – 20 strong. They are much more wary of an advancing human and will disappear into the undergrowth very quickly.  The juveniles bound away emitting high pitched squeals while the females which hold their ground a little longer huff, puff and growl to voice their discontent.  That was until the mangoes became freely available.

White-nosed Coati

White-nosed Coati Feasting on Mango

The plentiful supply of easily obtainable food falling freely from above guarantees that daily a huge group of coatis will be congregated in the mango orchard gorging themselves on the ripe fruit.  They are not inclined to move away from this bounteous treasure trove of a feast upon which their gluttony can be satiated.  These normally shy and retiring crèches of women and children that disappear so quickly when otherwise approached will now hang on until you are within a foot or so.  Even then they back away reluctantly, keeping an eye on you whilst trying to drag their juicy treat with them.  Due to the number of people walking back and forth through the mango orchard the coatis have probably come to realize that you pose no imminent threat.

Spider Monkey Gatecrashes Party

As I was sitting on the ground taking photographs of the coatis a Spider Monkey descended down to the base of one of the mango tree trunks and sat watching all this activity.  After a few minutes it decided to join in and despite the profusion of fruit above in the branches for whatever reason it wanted to partake of the ground based cornucopia.  Picking up one mango after another, holding it close to the nose to smell, it then selected one which it deemed to be a choice morsel and ascended the trunk once again to consume it.

Butterflies

The coatis and the monkeys are very visible but as you walk through the orchard then there are other smaller forms of life that will briefly take to air from around your feet.  They circle around but the food that had attracted them in the first place is too good to give up and so back they return to continue feeding at the same spot before being disturbed by your footfall.   This is very convenient as you can now slowly position yourself in the knowledge that within a few minutes or less you will be able to get some good shots of the insects.

Common Ur Satyr

Common Ur Satyr

Many butterflies in the adult stage are attracted to and feed from the juices of rotting fruit.  If you can cope with lying on a soft and squishy carpet of putrid mangoes then you can normally fill the frame with your subject.  The Common Ur-Satyr, (Taygetis thamyra), is, as the name suggests, not a rare butterfly but because of its retiring nature and habit of living in dark secluded areas is not often observed.  The mangoes proved to be too much of temptation.  I noticed it from a distance but as I edged closer it took to the air.  I stood very still and back it came alighting on the same spot from which it took off.  I lowered myself very slowly, first to my knees, then leaning forward on my elbows and finally on my belly with the camera held in front of my face to focus on the subject.  Worming my forward until I finally had the butterfly filling the frame, I clicked the shutter and thankfully the flash did not spook the butterfly and I had the shot.

True Flies

Just in front of the butterfly and closer to me was another rotting mango but with a fly feeding from it.  I have a liking for all creatures even things like humble house-flies which take on a different aspect when viewed close up.  All I had to do was re-adjust my position by 90º and the shot was mine.  I squirmed around to the side without disturbing the fly which was preoccupied with imbibing fruit juice and once again I had a series of successful photos.

House Fly

House Fly Species

Flies, like butterflies, belong to the Class: Insecta but unlike butterflies, (Order: Lepidoptera), which have two pairs of wings, flies, (Order: Diptera) only have one pair of wings.  Butterflies have a proboscis which functions not unlike a straw.  The butterflies can suck up and feed upon a liquid diet that normally consists of nectar but also in this case mango juice.  Flies have a similar feeding strategy but the mouth parts can have undergone a lot of modifications to allow them access to a greater variety of liquid sustenance including nectar, fruit juice but also blood, animal secretions, plant sap and decomposing vegetation and feces.  Some, as can be seen in this photo, have a flat sponge-like end to the mouthparts which allow them to soak up imbibe the liquid mango meal.

Moths

At night the orchard is populated by a new set of animals, lured by the heady sweet aroma.  Searching the ground with a flashlight will reveal a great many moths, their eyes lighting up like fire-orange spots burning through the darkness.  You will see many species but unfortunately moths are not the easiest of insects to identify to species level; there are so many species and for the majority we know little of their life histories.  Because they are for the most part nocturnal moths do not receive the attention their day flying butterfly cousins are subject to.  However if you take the time to take a close look then what may have seemed like a dull brown winged insect turns into one of nature’s exquisitely patterned  works of art.

Black Witch Moth

Black Witch Moth

The Black Witch Moth, (Ascalapha odorata), is a fairly common moth in this area.  It is known by native peoples in various parts of the Latin world as the “Moth of Death”.  The story is that should one of these moths enter dwelling housing a sick person then that person will die.  For me it is the richly colored intricately woven patterns crossed by a silvery blue band that kills me with delight in its presence.

Philip Davison is a biologist, photographer and writer based in Costa Rica.

 

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