Harlequin Beetle: Hiding In Full View   Leave a comment

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Over the past week the rains have continued, now sometimes during the day as well as at night.  There have been some heavy downpours.  One thing that can occur this time of year are the climatic phenomena known as temporals.  Clouds will settle over an area for some days producing grey, overcast conditions with constant rainfall.

The water level in the creek has risen, not drastically, but enough to secure a steady flow.  The mango orchard is the scene of a lot of activity with so many animals coming to feed from the bumper crop that is presently hanging from the trees.  During the day spider monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys can be seen greedily feasting on the abundant and ripening fruits.  Monkeys are very wasteful feeders, they pluck a fruit from the branch, take a bite and throw the remainder to the ground.  Here the white-nosed coatis and agoutis take advantage of a free meal falling from above.

At night the mangoes are visited by kinkajous in the trees and pacas on the ground, the nocturnal cousin of the agouti.  All manner of insect life feeds on the fermenting mangoes, everything from flies, bees, butterflies and at night, moths.

The Mighty Harlequin Beetle

One night while returning to my cabin I noticed a beetle, a very large beetle, on the vertical surface of a tree trunk.  It was late and I did not want to set up the camera equipment so I placed the beetle in a collecting bottle in order to photograph it the next day.  Beetles, due to the huge number of species are not always the easiest creatures to identify but there was no problem with this one.  The color, the pattern, the long, curved antennae and the thin extended front legs allowed me to identify this one immediately.  This was a Harlequin Beetle, (Acrocinus longimanus).

Coleoptera. Cerambycidae. Acrocinus longimanus. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Harlequin Beetle, (Acrocinus longimanus)

The exquisite geometric black and red markings over a green background of this handsome beetle would appear to make it stand out rather obviously in the hand.  But place it on a lichen covered tree trunk and it disappears from in front of your eyes.

Harlequin Beetles belong to the Longhorns of the family: Cerambycidae and are found throughout the Neotropics.  If a tree noted for producing copious amounts of sap is either injured or damaged then you can expect many Harlequin Beetles turning up as if from nowhere.

Harlequin Beetle. Felipe del Bosque. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Strangely long front legs of a Harlequin Beetle

Both sexes have long extended front legs but the males much more significantly longer.  It is thought that this is in some way related to mating.  The beetles are active both day and night.  The females prefer rotting wood already proliferated with bracket fungus in which to lay her eggs.  The resulting larvae then complete their development within the now dead wood.  For this reason they can be regarded as speeding the decay of non-living trees rather than a pest of live wood.

While I was taking the pictures, I noticed that the beetle was covered, particularly around the head and bases of the wings with a myriad of mites.  Mites are arachnids and can be parasitic or predaceous upon other arthropods.  They sometimes feed on the secretions of their hosts and other times use them as a means of transport, phoresy.  Phoretic mites usually glue themselves to the host in order to hitch a ride without falling.  Mites are a specialized and difficult group to study and the people that do so are few and far between.  It is way beyond my ability to identify these mites.  It could well be that they are one of the nymphal stages.  There appear to be both orange and white colored mites.  Once again I am at a loss as to whether these are of different species.  The beetle did not appear to be too agitated by its infestation.  If anyone has further information to help elucidate what was happening then I would be happy to hear from you.

Coleoptera. Cerambycidae. Acrocinus longimanus. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Close up of the Harlequin Beetle head showing the mite infestation

A Fleeting Glimpse of Blue

At the present there are lots of trees producing fruit, notably the figs.  In some areas the ground is covered with figs in various states of decomposition.  The scent of rotting fruit is irresistible to many insects that come to imbibe the liquifying and fermenting meal it provides.  Some of the butterflies are drawn this intoxicating feast, the commoner ones being species of Blue Morphos.

As I was walking through a sunlit path in the forest I was met with a bright metallic blue morpho taking to the air from down by my feet.  I had disturbed its meal of fig juice from the fruits that were lying everywhere.  It was not going to be so easily dissuaded though and landed a short distance away on a tree trunk.  Here it would wait momentarily for a few moments before circling around and taking up where it had left off feeding on the ground.

While it was stationary I took the opportunity to capture its image.  I noticed one of the hindwings was damaged and the brilliant electric blue coloring of the upperwing for which the butterfly is named was visible.  There are three species of blue morpho in this area, each one distinct from the other.  This one was a male Morpho menelaus.

Lepidoptera. Nymphalidae. Morphinae. Morpho menelaus. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Torn hindwing of male Morpho menelaus reveals blue color of upperwing

Morphos are large butterflies and are unmistakable in flight due to their size and eye-capturing iridescent blue coloration.  In flight they move with slow wing beats up and down, left to right.  Each time they open their wings the bright blue appears but when the wings close then it disappears.  For any predator trying to follow the flight path of a blue morpho, and with flying butterfly then that is generally going to be a bird, all that it is going to see is a stroboscopic flashing of metallic blue from different points in front of it making it impossible to follow.  But there are always around systems and some birds, Jacamars, which are related to kingfishers, have learned how to intercept the morpho on its flight path.  The perches of jacamars will have the discarded wings of morphos littering the ground below where they have eaten the bodies of the butterfly and dropped the wings.

Butterflies belong to the insect order: Lepidoptera, which translates into scaled wings.  From the photograph you can see the lines of overlapping powdery scales that cover the wings.  With the morphos the scales on the upperside of the wing are transparent but layered.  In effect each scale acts as a prism.  Light entering the scale is broken down and the blue light is refracted back out.  So the blue coloration is not due to pigment but rather the refraction of light.

One of the other species of morpho found in this area, Morpho cypris, is one of the most highly iridescent insects on the planet.  It will only be seen in the morning and only found flying at the level of the canopy, 100 feet or more above the ground.  Should you be on a tree platform or a canopy bridge you will be astounded to see what appears to be a diffuse metallic blue sphere floating through the tree tops.  It is an absolutely phenomenal sight.

Unseen Red

One of the more frequently encountered snakes in the area is the Tropical Bird-eating Snake, (Pseustes poecilonotus).  They are one of a handful of larger snakes to be found here, which is good in as much as that limits your choice when it comes to identification.  They can grow to about 6 feet in length.  Most of the individuals I have found are a muted green color with pale red bands along the body.  The belly is usually yellow and the top of the head black.

On one of my walks, in the open before the forest entrance, I heard a rasping sound which I knew immediately as the rubbing of dry scales against each other heralding the presence of a snake.  I looked down and there close to the forest edge was a beautiful Tropical Bird-eating Snake.  This one was so striking as it did not have the normal coloration but was rather an overall vivid scarlet with tinges of orange suffused around the lips.

Reptilia. Squamata. Serpentes. Colubrinae. Pseustes poecilonotus. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Unusually red-colored Tropical Bird-eating Snake, (Pseustes poecilonotus)

As the name suggests these snakes eat birds as well as chicks and eggs from nests.  They are non-venomous but can be irascible.  If you approach too closely they will laterally flatten the neck to give the appearance of being larger than they are.  They open the mouth and hiss which gives them the alternative name of “Hissing or Puffing Snakes”.

Tropical Bird-eating Snake. Philip Davison. Felipe del Bosque.

Defensive threat pose of a Tropical Bird-eating Snake

As I bent down to take a closer photograph, the snake duly obliged by living up to its name, flattening its neck, opening its mouth and letting out a hiss of discontent at my presence.  I didn’t bother it for too long, took the pictures and left to let the serpent continue about its business.

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica


Grasshoppers: Singing In The Sun   Leave a comment

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Over the past week the rains have continued, now sometimes during the day as well as at night.  The water level in the creek has risen, not drastically, but enough so that there is a steady flow.  The mango orchard is the scene of a lot of activity with so many animals coming to feed from the bumper crop.  During the day spider monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys can be seen greedily feasting on the abundant and ripening fruits.  Monkeys are very wasteful feeders, they pluck a fruit from the branch, take a bite and throw the remainder to the ground.  Here the white-nosed coatis and agoutis take advantage of a free meal falling from above.

At night the mangoes are visited by kinkajous in the trees and pacas on the ground, the nocturnal cousin of the agouti.  All manner of insect life feeds on the fermenting mangoes, everything from flies, bees, butterflies and at night, moths.

Hopping Through The Grass

Grasshoppers are one of those creatures that tend to be a subject for more specialist study.  Walking around the gardened areas of the lodge, particularly if it is a hot and sunny day, the disturbance of the longer and more dense vegetation will cause a flurry of activity as various species of grasshopper do as their name suggests, and jump out of the way to safety, others have wings and fly.  Once they land, as long as you approach slowly, then you will be able to observe them at close quarters.

Orthoptera. Acrididae. Cytacanthacridinae.

Unidentified Spurthroated Grasshopper species

The order: Orthoptera is an ancient order of insects and it is divided into two groups, the long-horned orthoptera which includes the crickets and katydids and the short-horned orthoptera which includes the grasshoppers.  The horns referred to in the name are the antennae which in the grasshoppers are distinctively short and stubby.  The majority of grasshoppers belong in the family: Acrididae.

Most people will be familiar with grasshoppers and the way they look.  If it is a still, windless day then you will hear the male grasshoppers “singing” to attract a female.  The sound is generally produced by stridulation or the rubbing of part of the hind leg on the forewing.  If they are communicating with sound then they need receptor organs to hear it and the ears of a grasshopper are located on the first abdominal segment.  The calls may also serve to keep rival males at a distance from one another.

Orthoptera. Acrididae. Cyracanthacrinae.

Unidentified Spurthroated Grasshopper sp. The perfect color of grass.

The majority of grasshoppers live in grassland but there are a few species that inhabit the forest and those prefer the upper levels of the canopy layer.  Grasshoppers are almost without exception herbivores.  In turn grasshoppers, because of their abundance and the fact that they are up to 75% crude protein, provide a large dietary percentage a many mammals, birds and reptiles.

Due to the lack of reference material it is very difficult to identify the grasshoppers to species level.  The two that I photographed this week both belong to the subfamily: Cyrtacanthacrinae or Spurthroated Grasshoppers which are named for a small ventral spur between the front legs and which also includes the locusts.

Papering the Leaves

It does not require too much effort to seek and find the nests of paper wasps at the moment.  All around the grounds the nests which are grey, globular parchment-like structures can be found hanging beneath the leaves of various plants.  Some are small, some are large, some have the brood cells enclosed within a skin while others have the cells open.

I was watching butterflies flitting around the Lantana bush last week when I noticed this wasp on a leaf busying itself with something.  Not having a hand lens with me I could not see what the wasp was investigating.  Sometimes wasps are as difficult as butterflies to photograph.  They will not remain still but this one seemed to be preoccupied and not going anywhere.  I took the photograph but even after zooming in on the image was not entirely certain as to what the object was.

Hymenoptera. Vespidae. Polistinae. Myschocettarus sp.

Long-waisted Wasp, (Myschocittarus sp), investigating mystery object

The wasp itself was one of the social wasps in the family: Vespidae and this one a Long-waisted Paper Wasp of the subfamily: Polistinae.  The genus Mischocyttarus includes about 186 species and is therefore the most numerous of the paper wasps. The female Long-waisted Paper Wasps make a nest suspended by one or more stalks that she anoints with an ant repellant secretion she produces from a gland.  The stalks secure anywhere up to 100 brood cells beneath a leaf.  There is generally only one founding queen, (haplometrosis).  When the new workers emerge from the cells, they help with the care of young developing in the brood cells.  Eventually one of these subordinate female workers make take over dominance and drive the existing queen off.

The adult wasps catch prey and chew it up to feed the larvae as well as chewing up vegetative material to make the nest.  In this case it looked like it was quite possibly a caterpillar that had been caught as there seemed to be leaf material within an enclosing integument.  If anyone could shed any light on the object I would be happy to hear their opinion.

Backstabbing Bug,

While walking through the forest I noticed a small creature stumbling awkwardly across the forest floor.  Sinking to my knees I could see it was an Assassin Bug.  These are true bugs in the order: Hemiptera.  Because they possess uneven wings they belong in the suborder: Heteroptera.  The Assassin bug are placed in the family: Reduviidae.

Hemiptera. Heteroptera. Reduviidae. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica

Assassin Bug with the corpse of a beetle

All Assassin bugs, as is indicated by their name, are fiercely predaceous carnivores.  If you look closely at the photograph you will see protruding from the front of the head is the main weapon of death, a long, segmented beak that is normally held beneath the head and thorax until a victim is spotted that is.  The assassin stabs the dagger-like beak into the prey, piercing the exoskeleton and delving deep into the tissues.  The prey is held tight in the bug’s front legs while at the same time saliva is injected into its body.  The saliva paralyzes the victim and digests its internal organs which are liquidized and then sucked out leaving only a dry and drained husk.  Closer examination revealed the reason for the bugs ungainly gait across the ground, it was still carrying on its beak the now emptied body of a beetle.

Turkey Tail Perhaps

Sometimes there may be no other reason for photographing a subject other than its aesthetic appeal.  That was why I photographed this bowl-shaped fungal fruiting body with the concentric bands of color, I just found it pleasing to my eye.  I think this one is one of the Trametes sp.  Due to the banding these are commonly called Turkey Tail Fungi.  There are approximately 50 species in the genus and they are distributed globally throughout forest habitats.

Trametes. Felipe del Bosque.

Beautiful bowl-shaped Trametes fungus

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica


Tamandua Threatening to Kill   4 comments

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Over the past week the weather has been consistent with that expected this time of year on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.  The days have, for the most part, been bright and sunny and then as the sun sets the rain begins.  Normally there are heavy showers of short duration but occasionally they will be accompanied by thunder and lightning.  Last week there was 7 inches, (178 mm), of rain, so an average of 1 inch per night.  This has resulted in an elevated level in the creek which has started flowing once more after drying up for several weeks.

Now is an excellent time to see the amphibians as they are out in force at the moment.  Every evening by the pond the sound of the calling males begins as the sun sets and the sky turns dark.  The noise level rises over the next few hours until after dinner when it has diminished once more.

Currently there are a lot of parrots visiting the fruiting trees around the grounds, particularly Orange-chinned Parakeets, Mealy Amazons, Red-lored Amazons and their larger brighter cousins, the Scarlet Macaws. It is also possible to see the Brown-headed and White-crowned Parrots in the trees around the restaurant.  The Black-mandibled Toucans and Fiery-billed Aracaris are present in reasonably large numbers and like the parrots are very vocal.  Many of the palm trees are currently producing fruit and this feast is attracting these long-billed fruit-eating birds.  It also gives photographers an opportunity to obtain some excellent close-range images.

Who Are You Looking At

Rainforests of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica are simply teeming with life.  The first-time visitor will have no problem observing mammals such as monkeys, coatis and agoutis.  With a little bit of perseverance Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths can be seen moving slowly through the tops of the trees. There are some mammals that are here but are not seen as often such as Collared Peccaries, Tayras, Pacas, Pumas, Ocelots, Striped Hog-nosed Skunks, Nine-banded Armadillos and Tamanduas.

I normally see the Tamanduas, (Tamandua mexicana), or Collared Anteaters, on video, when, at night, they trundle past the trail cameras located on the forest paths.  Occasionally one will wander past as I am walking the trails or I may hear the sound of ripping wood along with the associated falling wood chips as one tears into a dead tree looking for a meal of termites.  Last week however, I had an individual emerge from the tall grass in front of me and cross the gravel path that runs through the teak plantation.

Tamanduas are not the most aware of creatures, their sensory apparatus appears to fail them.  If you are standing still or even walking slowly and silently, they will have no idea as to the proximity of your presence.  Even if they do detect there is something close to them, they are still not entirely sure of what it is.  As this one was moving quite quickly, (for a Tamandua), I lifted the camera and took the picture.  As the flash went off the dim-witted creature was alerted to what might pose an immediate threat.

For a cerebrally-challenged and relatively slow-moving creature the options of escape are now limited.  Out in the open the choice is not between flight or fight but rather just fight.  The sudden flash of light and movement to its side caused the Tamandua to assume the defense stance.  It stood upright on its back legs and opened its arms wide, wielding a set of razor-sharp claws in front of it.  What was an innocuous, comical and cuddly-looking creature has turned instantly from a termite-eating Dr Jekyll into a dangerous Mr Hyde, adversary warning me to stay out of range or face the consequences of the potentially fatal embrace of death.  Those claws could tear a hole in your windpipe within the blink of an eye.  There are many stories, some apocryphal, of killer predators that have, in a twist of circumstances, become the killed in a fight with an anteater.

Tamandua mexicana. Xenathra. Myrmecophagidae. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Northern Tamandua, (Tamandua mexicana) prepares to defend itself

This one huffed, puffed and wheezed its objection to my taking its picture.  Everytime the flash went off its arms opened wider.  Drool was dribbling from its mouth.  I noticed that the longest claw from the left hand was missing but that was not going to deter it from making a slashing defense of its life.  I got my pictures and backed away.  The Tamandua sunk to all fours again and trundled off into the undergrowth probably forgetting the encounter ever took place even before it had made it into the denser vegetation.

The anteaters belong to an ancient mammalian order: Xenathra which also includes armadillos and sloths.  This order is entirely confined to Central and South America.  Tamanduas are placed in the family: Myrmecophagidae, literally translated as anteaters.  The anteaters are toothless and use a long sticky tongue to scoop up their diet which consists mostly of termites but sometimes ants.  Tamanduas are both diurnal and nocturnal but the activity is larger a matter of preference for each individual.

Northern Tamandua. Philip Davison. Felipe del Bosque.

Northern Tamandua in full threat display. Watch out for those claws.

Tamanduas are adept climbers and will shimmy quite quickly up a tree in search of a termite nest.  Having found one, they use those long sharp claws to rip a hole in the nest.  The elongated skull terminates in a mouth which is little more than a hole through which the 16 inch long tongue is protruded.  The tongue is coated in a sticky saliva.  The anteater takes a quick feed and then makes a hasty retreat.  Within the termite nest is a caste of soldiers that will defend the nest to the death, either physically or using chemical weaponry.  The anteater will travel in a straight line through the forest visiting several nests during the course of the day, each time it takes a quick feed and then returns to its journey.  This strategy is known as traplining and it allows the anteater to keep a food supply continually in production rather than go in and destroy that food supply.  The anteaters will be found tearing the bark from rotten trees in search of termites as here there will only be harmless workers not accompanied by the defending soldiers.

When you come to Costa Rica and you are walking through the forest, don’t just pay attention to the vocalizations of mammals or the calls of different birds but also listen to other clues as to what might be near you.  If it is ripping wood and falling wood chips there will be a good chance a Tamandua is sating its hunger in a tree above your head.

Praying For A Meal

It is not an uncommon situation for me to be passing a tree and notice on the trunk a small praying mantis.  Should I approach and appear to be paying too much attention to the creature then it will run up and around the back of the trunk, out of sight, to escape further scrutiny.  Last week I encountered an individual that obliged me by remaining stationary.

Mantids are carnivores, voracious carnivores.  They feed mostly on insects smaller than themselves and to obtain their dietary intake of unfortunate victims they lie in wait; they are ambush predators.  Many mantids have cryptic markings and use mottled coloration to camouflage themselves against the background.  Some have evolved shapes and colors so closely mimicking leaves that they are rendered invisible within the vegetation where they are lurking in expectant anticipation of a passing meal.

Mantodea. Litergusidae. Litergusa sp. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Tropical Bark Mantid, (Litergusa sp). Who is looking at who?

Because there they are so distinctive in their appearance, there is no mistaking a praying mantis when you see one.  They sit with the head-end of the body raised up.  The front legs are folded beneath the body and it is this posture that gives them the aspect as of someone in prayer, hence the name ‘praying mantis’.  Don’t be fooled, those front legs are deadly killing weapons.  The femur is large and lined beneath with wicked-looking sharp spines.  The tibia too has its undersurface lined with spines.  When a victim passes by the mantids reaction is both lightning fast and terminal.  The selected prey is caught and impaled on the spines that come together in a powerful death grip.  They not only hold but also impale the prey’s exoskeleton.  The carnivorous mandibles set to work, rapidly rendering the meal into small consumable pieces.  Within a short space of time it has been eaten and its existence committed to the past.

Mantids are closely related to cockroaches but form a separate order: Mantodea.  There are about 300 species of mantid in the Neotropics.  The one I was looking at was a Bark Mantid, (Liturgusa sp).  It is one of the commoner species found in this area.  Another regularly encountered species that immediately captures your attention is the Leaf Mantid, (Choeradodis rhombicollis).  With its expanded prothorax and wide flattened wings, both of which are bright green, it looks exactly like a living leaf.  The Leaf Mantis often finds its way into the restaurant at night, landing by the lights that illuminate the table of the dining guests.

Mantids make such compelling photographic subjects as they quite often sit still but the head will follow in whichever direction you move.  The structure of eye and the way that light enters it gives the impression, albeit a false one, that it has a pupil.  These along with the large triangular head, lend an almost humanoid aspect to the insect.

Mantodea. Choeradodis rhombicollis Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Leaf Mantis, (Choeradodis rhombicollis), in a perfect pose

Naked and Exposed

There is one animal that for a long time I have had on my list as a subject I needed to have an image of.  It is a reasonably common animal and I see it more often than not when I am walking on the forest trails.  I always think to myself that I should take a photograph.  The animal in question is a small lizard that lives down on the forest floor amongst the leaf litter.  If disturbed it moves in a labored serpentine squiggly fashion across the bare earth until it reaches the safety of the dead leaves covering the ground and then it disappears beneath.  I saw this one do exactly that but the leaf under which it took refuge was isolated with nothing else around it, there was nowhere else for the lizard to go.  I prepared the camera, knelt down and slowly lifted the leaf.  There it was.  It remained perfectly still allowing me to take a series of photos until eventually it squiggled off to reach the safety of a denser covering of leaves.

Reptilia. Squamata. Sauria. Gymnophthalmidae. Leposoma southi.

Northern Spectacled Lizard, (Leposoma southi), briefly exposed from its hiding place

This particular lizard was a Northern Spectacled lizard, (Leposoma southi).  There are only 13 species in the genus Leposoma.  They range from Costa Rica south into Brazil.  They are small and inhabit the leaf litter on the forest floor where they feed on insects and other small arthropods. When seen from a distance they have a dull brown coloration with a matt lustre.  Scrutinized more closely you will see a very distinctive feature, the prominent keeled scales particularly those plates covering the head.  There is another small lizard that inhabits the same habitat and moves in a very similar fashion, the Litter Skink, (Sphenomorphus cherriei).  It is easy to tell them apart as the skink has very glossy smooth scales giving it the appearance of polished bronze.  That is another creature I need to take a photo of.

Northern Spectacled Lizard. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica. Philip Davison.

Northern Spectacled Lizard – close up showing heavily keeled head plates

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica


Beetles: The Dominance of Diversity   Leave a comment

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Long-horned Heavyweights

Beetles and bugs are two groups of insects that can be both fascinating and frustrating at one and he same time.  There are so many of them in terms of species and they come is so many varieties of shape and color that it really does take an expert to identify them and even then they may find themselves sorely taxed to do so.

I am always happy if I can manage to identify a beetle to species level, bugs are not so hard until you get to the individual species.  I tend, therefore, to enjoy them for what they are, interesting subjects to photograph.  Once I have posted the photograph into the public domain if someone can kindly offer up a name I am always grateful.

This beetle was found by my cabin one day last week.  I did not think it would stay to have its picture take but fortunately it duly obliged.  It was a quite a striking creature at over 2 inches long with bold markings of yellow bars on the ruddy-brown wing cases.  The antennae were distinctive, being long, black and curved upwards and outwards.

Coleoptyera, Cerambycidae, Prioninae, Callipogon lemoinei. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

The Giant Brown Callipogon, (Callipogon lemoinei)

At approximately 320,000, the total number of beetle species on the planet is the equivalent of all known named species of plants.  They constitute over 30% of all known animal life.  In Panama alone, 11,410 species of beetle were found on 70 species of tree.  So you get the idea that there are a lot of different species of beetle and that is just the named species.  Beetles can be found in just about every habitat from forests, deserts and fresh water.  The beetle I was looking at belonged to the family: Cerambycidae or long-horned beetles, (due to the length of the antennae), which is one of the larger families within the order: Coleoptera.  There are 2,200 species of long-horns found in Costa Rica, (1,100 species in the U.S.A.).  I knew it belonged to the Tooth-necked Long Horn subfamily: Prioninae.  I even knew the species, the Giant Brown Callipogon, (Callipogon lemoinei).

Giant Brown Callipogon. Long-horned Beetle. Philip Davison

Look at the wood-munching mandibles of the Giant Brown Callipogon

Some long-horns do not eat in the adult stage but most do and those that do all feed on a variety of plant material.  Those powerful and savage-looking mandibles will allow them to munch their way through the toughest material plants produce.  They are the most important group of beetle pollinators and some of them can be seen visiting flowers where they consume both nectar and pollen.  The larvae feed on dead wood and are a serious pest to the timber industry by damaging recently felled lumber before it reaches the saw mill.

The Prioninae males tend to have longer antennae than the females.  They sit on leaves, antennae extended waiting to pick up a pheromone trail given off by a sexually receptive female.  The females use the heavy-duty mandibles to chew the wood of a branch which kills the distal portion into which she will then deposit her eggs.  Those people with exceptionally good ears can hear the branch being rendered dead from several meters away.

All in all I was happy not only to have found the beetle but also that I actually knew what this one was, (the odds are normally against me), and I managed to get some decent photographs.

Coleoptera. Tooth-necked Long-horned Beetle. Beetles of the world.

Giant Brown Callipogon male waiting to pick up the scent of a female

Bugged by Bees

The cashews, (Anacardium occidentale), have all but finished fruiting.  There are one or two cashew apples left hanging from the branches with their distinctive fruits suspended beneath them.  As I walked past one of the smaller cashew trees I noticed a bug sitting amongst the leaves.  While not being anywhere near as diverse in numbers as the beetles, the true bugs of the order: Hemiptera are every bit as diverse in form.

This one belonged to the suborder: heteroptera, as was evidenced by the divided wing, papery at the end and solid at the base.  This one also had a diagnostically distinctive feature in that the rear pair of legs were flattened and expanded leaving you in no doubt that it belonged to the family: Coreidae, commonly known as the squash bugs or leaf-legged bugs.  A few of the squash bugs are predatory carnivores but most of them are herbivores.  The mouthparts are modified into a long piercing proboscis which is held along the underside of the head and is used to suck sap from the vascular system of plants.

Hemiptera. Heteroptera. Coreidae. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Unidentified Leaf-legged Bug, (Coreidae sp), found in a cashew tree

The bug was not the only imbiber of cashew juice.  On one of the fruits, the swollen meristem or cashew apple, had been damaged and the soft tissue was attracting a small group of stingless bees, (Trigona sp).  Before the introduction of the honey bee, (Apis mellifera), from Europe the main source of honey in the New World was that produced by the stingless bees.  The bees nest in cavities within hollow trees.  The nests can be recognized not only by the presence of the bees themselves but also the entrance to the hidden nest has a long resinous tube sticking out horizontally.

As benign as stingless may sound these bees are not to be trifled with.  Anyone approaching too close to the nest and being perceived as a threat is in for a nasty surprise.  They attack an aggressor in numbers and they are committed to the defense of the nest.  They fly furiously up the nose, into the ears, into the eyes and swarm into the hair all the time biting ferociously, some of them rubbing in a caustic secretion which burns.  Little wonder that their Spanish name of Carafagos translates into Spitfires.

Thankfully the ones I was looking at were more concerned with enjoying their free cashew smoothie than my presence.  Not even the flash from the camera elicited the slightest response.

Hymenoptera. Apidae. Trigona sp. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Little black Spitfires – Stingless Bees, (Trigona sp), drinking the juice of a cashew fruit

A Natural Mashup

Another one of the native Costas has come into bloom throughout the gardens and forests of the area over the past week.  The wild ginger, (Costus laevis), is native to the wet forests of Central and South America and is the commonest of the costas in the wet forests of the Osa Peninsula.

It has a smaller flowering spike with green bracts from which the deep orange and purple striped, yellow-lipped flower emerges.  The principal pollinator of Costus laevis are the females of the orchid bee, (Euglossa imperialis), which have a very long proboscis to probe deep into the flower.  Should the bloom be visited by hummingbirds then pollination is not accomplished.

Costus laevis also has extra floral nectaries which provide a food source for a large variety of ant species.  In return for a feed of nectar the ants protect the plant, probably from the attention of would be seed predators.

Costaceae. Costus laevis. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Native Wild Ginger, (Costus laevis), the bloom of which is pollinated by orchid bees

The damp conditions of the forest prevalent at this time of year allow the fungi to continually produce fruiting bodies.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the identity of most fungi must remain a mystery, not unlike most beetles.  But they can still be appreciated for their exotic shapes and color as well as their ephemeral presence.

One very short-lived mushroom is that of the Pleated Inkcap, (Parasola plicatilis).  Early in the morning just before sunrise, the small white cap makes its way up out of the soil and through the grass.  It opens into a miniature white umbrella and sheds its spores from gills on the undersurface into the air.  Within a short space of time the job is done and the cap continues to evert until all that is left is a delicate translucent umbrella that has almost been turned inside out.

Parasola plicatilis. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

The delicate and spent mushroom of the Pleated Inkcap, (Parasola plicatilis)

There is no mistaking the very distinctive form of the literally described Orange-cup Fungus, (Cookeina speciosa).  Like small flame-colored goblets set on the forest floor for a faerie revel they stand out against the dead wood on which the mycelium is growing.  Unlike the inkcap, the Orange-cup Fungus produces its spores from the surface of the cup lining.  This time of year the forest floor is decorated throughout by these compelling little structures.

Cookeina speciosa. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica

The unmistakable and literally described fruiting body of the Orange-cup Fungus, (Cookeina speciosa)

Another bright orange fungus found growing on dead wood but this time in the form of semi-circular brackets is the Beauty Fungus, (Hymenochaete luteo-badia).  The vibrant orange striped shelf is bordered by a vivid yellow edging.  The spores are produced in pores on the ventral surface.

Hymenochaete luteo-badia. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Beauty Fungus, (Hymenochaete luteo-badia)

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica

Phasmids: A Neotropical Walking Stick   2 comments

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Sticking to the Twigs

There are some animals that live out in the open, right in front of your eyes, and yet you never see them.  That is because they don’t want to be seen.  Only when mistakenly they venture forth onto a background that reveals their presence will you have the opportunity to marvel at their disguises.  One such group of animals are the Phasmatodea, more commonly known as Walking Sticks or Stick Insects.

Last week I saw one that had made such an error.  It had left the vegetation where it lives perfectly concealed from view and had wandered onto the screen of my cabin.  There it stood out like a sore thumb.  Thankfully for the phasmid it was my eyes that saw it before those of any potential predator.  If removed the unfortunate creature and placed it back amongst some twigs from which I could take its picture but also from where it could make its way back into the obscurity of the vegetation.

Phamatodea: Walking stick in Costa Rican Rainforest

The long spindly legs and body of a Walking Stick make enable it to avoid the attention of predators

The body and legs of the walking stick are long and spindly.  They are either green or brown in color and quite often, as this one was, a mixture of the two.  The body and legs are grooved and have small thorns.  They resemble so perfectly a twig that, even when you are looking directly at them, they are imperceptible.  Some species have wings but not the one I was looking at.  They are vegetarian and tend to be host specific.  Walking sticks reach the zenith of their diversity in tropical forests such as these, of the 2,500 species identified so far, 30% live in the Neotropics.

As well as the perfectly camouflaged body form the phasmids use other means by which to complete the illusion.  This one, when disturbed, would rock back and forth as a twig being blown in a breeze.  Then it would freeze and hold the front legs as well as the long filamentous antennae out in front of its head to make to enhance its long twig-like form.

In and Out of the Rainbow

There has been a new wave of plant life that has come into bloom over the past week or so.  The cycle of change in the forest is such that throughout the year you are never short of something new to see or hear each time you venture out onto one of the trails.  As the flowers of certain species turn to fruit, then so do others come into bloom.  The flowers and fruit provide a continual annual transition of color and form.  You only have to keep your eyes open as you walk and you will be rewarded with a visual sensory feast.

Last week one of the most obvious additions to the floral display was the Recadito, (Palicourea guianensis) of the family: Rubiaceae.  The multi-clustered bright yellow flowers are borne on a vivid red stalk at the end of the branches.  They are visited a lot by butterflies, especially if found growing at the forest edge.  It is a small tree with large leaves and is reasonably common in wet habitat from Mexico to Bolivia.  There are 27 species of Palicourea to be found in Costa Rica, 3 of which occur on the Osa Peninsula.

Rubaceae of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

The distinctive floral display of Recadito, (Palicouria guianensis)

Another related plant, but much smaller and subtler is the Cafecito, (Psychotria capitata).  It too, belongs in the family: Rubiaceae but it is a very large genus, 115 of which live in Costa Rica, 40 of those on the Osa Peninsula.  They are not always easy to identify to species level.  This one, Psychotria capitata has small white flowers which when pollinated give rise to small purple berries.  At that point it resembles a rather swollen blackberry fruit.

Cafecito, (Psychotria capitata), Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Delicate white flowers of the unobtrusive Cafecito, (Psychotria capitata)

Crosier for a Green Bishop

Ferns, or pteridophytes, are non-flowering vascular plants that most people who enjoy walking in the countryside will be familiar with.  You will not see fruits or seeds as ferns produce tiny dust-like spores produced in special spore cases on the underside of the leaves.  There are about 800 species of fern in Costa Rica but their form is so distinctive that they are not too difficult to recognize as such.  They are mostly low growing in shady areas of the forest but there are some that grow to a substantial size, the tree ferns.  These behemoths of the pteridophyte world, along with the cycads, were the dominant form of terrestrial vegetation before flowering plants evolved, and can be regarded as the “Food of the Dinosaurs”.

There are tree ferns found growing in these forests but they don’t reach the giant statures of those in other parts of the world.  Most of the ferns here are of the low growing type.  When a new leaf is produced it lies in the center of the plant, wound around itself like a green rope on a spool.  As the days pass it unfurls up and outward, revealing leaves that appear as an organic fractal, repeating the pattern on a smaller and ever smaller basis.  Eventually as the stalk has reached its maximum growth, the final part resembles a Bishop’s Crozier, which ultimately uncurls and the side-branching leaves and leaflets open out to reveal the familiar frond.

Pteridophytes of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

An unfurling fern frond

Mustachioed Murderer

Walking through the forest I entered a more open spot where the sun was lighting up a clearing.  I noticed something move very quickly on the forest floor.  It settled on the surface of a leaf.  I knew what it was but to begin with I was a little puzzled as it looked to possess four large eyes, so in my mind I was looking at one insect perched on top of another.  I bent down to take a closer look and I could now see my mistake.  There were most certainly two very large distinctive eyes but the dark markings contrasting with the yellow ground color of the thorax gave it the appearance of a second insect sitting on its back.  I could now also confirm my identification as that of a Robber Fly, family: Asilidae.

Robber flies are true flies of the order: Diptera and therefore only possess one pair of wings.  A distinctive feature of the robber flies is the cluster of hairs at the front of the head that give them a look of an Edwardian gentleman sporting a rather luxurious mustache.  This is known as a mystax, which is taken from the Greek word for mustache.

Why would a fly have a protective mustache of bristles protecting the front of the head?  The Robber Flies are accomplished predators and will hunt down any arthropod of a suitable size, not too small, not too large, that makes the unfortunate mistake of entering into the killer’s field of view.  The Robber Fly has large eyes and respond with speed to a potential meal.  It uses the stiletto-like piercing mouthparts to stab its victim and to inject a saliva which contains a deadly cocktail of neurotoxins and cell destroying enzymes which render the prey to a corpse being digested from within.  The fly then sucks out the pre-digested meal.  They have no hesitation in attacking wasps and ants which themselves are capable of inflicting a fatal bite or sting.  The mustache serves to protect the fly from such retribution.

Asilidae: Robber fly on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Assassin with stilleto ; Robber fly with cockroach prey

Robber Flies prefer sunny gaps in the forest, which is exactly where I found this one.  They sit on a perch located low to the ground and wait for a meal to pass by.  Their reaction speed is so fast that in a blur of the eye they can snatch a flying insect out of the air.  You can see in the photograph that this one had just caught a tropical cockroach.  Don’t try to catch one in your hand as a stab from that proboscis is very painful.

There are about 7,500 species of Robber Fly distributed around the planet, preferring warmer areas that are arid or receive only seasonal rainfall.  They are not that hard to find, pick a sunny light gap and then you just have to sit and watch for that quick movement.

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica

An Orgy of Green Pain   6 comments

Philip Davison Nature Diaries. Bosque del Cabo Rain Forest Lodge.

Parachuting into an Orgy

The past week has been a mixture of sun and rain.  The days have been gloomy with heavy, brooding overcast skies.  Occasionally the clouds part and the sun has shone down to light up the shadows.  But the menacing grey blanket that covering the area from north to south and east to west always threatened to unleash a downpour.  Sometimes the drizzle filled the air from dawn to dusk but you knew there was more to come.  By late afternoon the light rain would turn to heavy and by the time the sun had set below the horizon then the heavens would open drenching one and all.

The amphibians have been enjoying the onset of the rainy season, their numbers increasing over the last month but these more persistent nightly deluges have had the frogs collecting in huge numbers and rejoicing in a reproductive frenzy.  One frog that responds to torrential rain is the Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog, (Agalychnis spurrelli).

Agalychnis spurrelli. Hylidae. Pseudomedusinae.

Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog, (Agalychnis spurrelli)

One evening, just after sunset it started to rain heavily and by next morning we had experienced 11 inches of rain.  That was the trigger that stimulated hundreds of Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frogs to leave the canopy, which is where they reside out of view, and launch themselves into the air.  This frog has a uniformly colored dark mossy green upper side.  Its flanks are a pale lemon yellow.  It has large heavily webbed hands and feet of the same buttery hue and, of course, it has the large red eyes.  As they leap out of the canopy they spread the fingers and toes so the webbing is stretched tight, quite literally into a parachute of living tissue, which allows the frogs to glide down to the vegetation surrounding the pond without ill effect.

Each male quickly establishes a territorial perch from which he begins to call in an attempt to entice an egg-laden female his way.  The call is a short, soft, almost electronically-sounding sound.  Selecting a male on the quality of his call, the deeper the sound the better, the female makes her way over to the chosen chorister, he jumps on her back and they set off to visit the pond.  The female absorbs water through her skin and fills her bladder.  Now the female, not only with a body full of eggs but also carrying the male on her back, makes her way to a deposition site.  She chooses a broad leaf overhanging the surface of the pond and she commences to lay a sheet of eggs across the leaf.  At the same time as she releases the eggs from her body the male fertilizes them.  This normally take place just before daylight.

Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica. Philip Davison.

Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog Eggs.

As dawn breaks and the sun rises, the frogs have to get out of the light and into the dark as quickly as possible.  They don’t have time to get back to the canopy, parachuting down was a quick descent but the ascent involves a 100 foot climb and there is little time.  The sun continues to steadfastly climb in the sky.  Hundreds of frogs are now scrambling desperately to escape the skin-drying effects of its harsh rays.  This was the point at which I arrived, just in time to see countless small green goblinesque figures running along branches in a desperate effort to find a not already fully accommodated shelter.  I was not the only one.  A Bare-throated Tiger Heron had found itself an early morning breakfast bonanza and was picking off the unfortunate amphibians one after the other.

The larvae will develop in the eggs for about 7 or 8 days before the gelatinous mass liquidizes and the wiggling tadpoles drop into the pond water.  There they will complete the tadpole stage and if they make it through the aquatic stage will finally emerge after 7 or 8 weeks as a tiny froglet which will eventually have to make its way to the tree tops.  The Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog is an explosive breeder and these episodes can only be witnessed following those biblical-like rain storms.

Agalychnis spurrelli. Bosque del Cabo.

Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frogs After Sunrise

Showing Off in the Green Room

The forest flora can be flamboyant and gaudy or subtle and subdued.  The blooms may appear abruptly in a visual feast or occur in small numbers isolated and hidden in the dark green depths the subcanopy.  Some plants flower but once a year, a spectacular show drawing the eye like a beacon which is setting the tree tops ablaze and illuminating the forest canopy in a patchwork of color on natures silvian canvas.  It is no wonder that the largest percentage of insect life resides and thrives at the tree tops.  Here you will find a kaleidoscope of dancing butterflies waltzing from bloom to bloom in search of the energy rich nectar, so vital in allowing these ephemeral beauties to complete the final stage of their short adult lives.  Other plants may flower continuously throughout the year but only producing one or two blooms at a time.

It is not just the butterflies that rely upon the flowers.  Many other insects are attracted by their rich colors and evocative scents.  The plants will sometimes target birds or mammals to do their bidding.  The plants offer the animals rewards but there is method to their bribery.  These are windless forests; a zephyr is the strongest a current of air that will move through the trees.  Pollen needs to be transported from one plant to another in order for the plants to reproduce.  It helps if the plant can target and reward a specific agent to enable its pollen to be deposited in the flower of the same species.

The plants cannot rely on wind for seed dispersal either.  Once more they have evolved the means by which to encourage animals into becoming innocent vectors of transfer and movement of the seeds that will potentially give rise to the next generation.

Over the last week as I was walking along the paths through the forest I could see some of those secretive flowers blooming in the shadows as well as some bright vivid forms, their colorful flower heads breaking up the somber borders of the trails.  One of the more subtle blooms was that of the Spiral Ginger,  (Costus scaber).  The flowering head is a rather stout, deep red spike composed of bracts, each of which will produce a bloom.

Costus scaber. Costaceae. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Spiral Ginger, (Costus scaber)

The fiery orange, yellow-tipped flower sticking out of the bract attracts in hummingbirds which are the principal pollinator of this species.  The colors red, orange and yellow are commonly used by plants to attract hummingbirds, these being the colors in the spectrum that are complementary to the background green of the leaves.  These are also very hot colors whereas green is a cool color and so they readily stand out, particularly to animals that have keen color vision such as birds.  The hummingbirds hover in front of the flowers and probe within searching for the nectaries.  As they do so, the head and bill pick up pollen from the anthers which is transferred to the stigma of the next flower it visits thereby effectively pollinating the plant.

The family Costaceae is closely related to the ginger family: Zingerberaceae.  Most gingers are Asian but there are some gingers native to the Neotropics.  Most costas are American but there are some costas that are native to Asia.  There are 23 species of costa native to Costa Rica, 14 of which are found on the Osa Peninsula.  As they all look similar it is not too hard to identify them as costas but it is a little more difficult to identify them to species level.

Queen of Pain

Insects are fascinating creatures to photograph.  Once you have downloaded the image and zoom in, as long as the picture is in sharp focus, then the body form and colors become compelling.  All of the joints, the body plates and the detail of the head and wings will keep the naturalist mesmerized.  You can conjecture as to the function of all those different hairs and how the body parts articulate.  Not only that but how does the creature live, what is life history and what are the multitudinous, complex interconnected threads that tie it into the ecosystem of its habitat.  Insects complete their lives in almost as many ways as there are species.  Many insect’s lives are a mystery to us, we simply have no idea how they get from egg to adult.  That is not surprising as there are more species of insect on the planet than any other group of animals.  Because we don’t know, then that makes us more eager to study and discover more information to unravel those mysteries.

One groups of animals, the Hymenoptera, bees, wasps and ants, provide an endless source of material for research.  Many of them have well documented life histories and they work to a general pattern but there are variations.  I saw this wasp guarding its brood in a nest under a leaf in the tropical garden.

Although the wasp appeared to be alone, it was one of the social wasps belonging to the family: Vespidae.  The nest is made of carton which is a chewed up fibrous vegetable material, quite often wood, which forms the cells into which the eggs are laid.  The egg hatches and the larva develops, growing rapidly on a diet of chewed up insect prey captured by the queen.  The queen only uses her sting for defense, the prey is caught and chewed-up in the mandibles.  A pale larva lacking in pigment, can be seen in one of the cells.   When the larva pupates, the entrance of the cell is capped by a carton lid from which a new adult will emerge sometime later.

Polistinae sp. Hymenoptera. Vesperidae. Polistinae.

Paper Wasp Queen on Nest, (Polistinae sp)

There were, in fact, two wasps sitting on the nest.  This suggests that they belong to the subfamily: Polistinae.  These colonies consist of one or two queens both of which are responsible for the construction of the nest and raising the offspring without the aid of other workers.

Even if nobody told you, then you would learn very quickly from painful experience to leave wasps alone.  The black and yellow coloration of bees, wasps and hornets is the most visible of all color combinations.  As I have already mentioned, the wasp does not use its sting to subdue prey but rather uses it to defend itself.  But, as in many cases, it is better to use a deterrent rather than become involved in a physical battle where even though you may win, the probability is that you will sustain some damage yourself.  To ward off any potential threat, the wasps use threatening coloration.  It does not take too many painful encounters before most creatures would learn to avoid anything sporting that vividly distinctive black and yellow.

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica

Butterflies of Matapalo   2 comments

Philip Davison Nature Diaries. Bosque del Cabo Rain Forest Lodge.

Life as Normal

Last week we had the continuing alternation of sun and rain.  The frogs are still out in force, in fact several new species have joined the nightly chorus of amorous males.  The significant newcomer that has appeared in ever increasing numbers has been the Mexican White-lipped Frog, (Leptodactylus fragilis).  This species typically calls from the damp ditches very close to the pond but it is heard more often than it is seen.

Butterflies Abound

The clement weather conditions have allowed the late start to the butterfly season to persist until later in the year.  Last week there were some very bright, sunny, clear blue skies which is always good for butterfly watchers, particularly if the nectar producing plants are in flower.  The butterflies did not disappoint and came out in force.

Many of the bright, gaudy butterflies seen flying around the grounds belong to the family Nymphalidae.  This family of butterflies is found all over the world except Antarctic.  They are known as brush-foot butterflies due to the front two legs being reduced in size and covered with hairs.

The bright sunny conditions make it problematic to take pictures of the butterflies because of the high light levels and the fact that they are very active.  A flowering nectar plant provides the best opportunity in these situations as you can pick one blossom and invariably it will be visited by a succession of individuals.  In one of the tropical gardens a blooming Lantana camara was providing that opportunity.

Two fast flying vivid orange butterflies, the Gulf Fritillary, (Agraulis vanillae), and the Iulia Longwing, (Dryas iulia), settled momentarily.  They are both members of the subfamily: Heliconiinae.  The Heliconiinae, except for a few species, are confined to the Neotropics where they proliferate in diversity.   The caterpillars of this subfamily typically feed on passion vine and hence are commonly known as passion vine butterflies.

Agraulis vanillae. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Gulf Fritillary

The leaves of the passion vine larval foodplant contain cyanide in the form of a cyanogenic glycoside.  The caterpillars have an enzyme that allow them to sequester the cyanide molecule which serves to protect them from being eaten.

Dryas iulia. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Iulia Longwing

Another related butterfly landed close by, the Zebra Longwing, (Heliconius charitonius).  I have been trying to take a decent photograph of this butterfly for some time but it just will not stay still.  I managed to get an image but not the best.  Two more heliconiids were flitting from flower to flower, the Postman, (Heliconius erato), and the Hecale Longwing, (Heliconius hecale).

Heliconius charitonius. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Zebra Longwing, (Heliconius charitonius)

The adult heliconiids, just as the larval stage, use chemical defenses in the form of cyanide.  The adults feed not only on nectar but also pollen.  Pollen is nitrogen-rich and this allows the adult butterflies to produce cyanide which is stored in the body.  Having a chemical defense is not effective if the predators are unaware of it.  To that effect the heliconiid adults advertise themselves using brightly colors, the color groupings of which the predators quickly learn to associate with a foul-tasting meal which they will ignore in the future.  This is known as aposematic, or warning, coloration.

Heliconius erato. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae

Postman, (Heliconius erato)

But that aposematic coloration lends itself very well to two forms of mimicry.  Non-poisonous butterflies mimic poisonous butterflies which is known as Batesian mimicry.  Also, many poisonous butterflies are co-mimics of one another in a series of mimicry complexes known as Mullerian mimicry.  Mimicry really does work and quite often it takes a stationary butterfly and a trained eye to distinguish one species from another.

Heliconius hecale. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Hecale Longwing, (Heliconius hecale)

One other nymphalid that was flying around the Lantana was a small Theona Checkerspot, (Chosyne theona).  These butterflies tend to have bold orange and yellow markings on a black background earning them the name checkerspots.  Many of the checkerspots exhibit variations largely due to environmentally sensitive temperature changes.  Just as their heliconiid cousins, they would appear to be distasteful to birds which will avoid feeding on them.  I quite often see them in open areas flying very close to the ground.

Chlosyne theona. Nymphalidae. Nymphalinae.

Theona Checkerspot, (Chlosyne theona)

The forest too provided a couple more nymphalids, the Blue-grey Satyr, (Magneuptychia libye), on the ground and the Sunset Daggerwing, (Marpesia furcula), higher up in the vegetation.  The Sunset Daggerwing was a species that I really wanted a good photograph of as it is quite exquisitely colored.  The males are the most striking but this was a female.  After watching it fly back and forth along the vegetation bordering the path it finally settled beneath a leaf only six feet off the ground which gave me the opportunity to get the picture.  Fortunately it opened its wings several times which enabled me to capture the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the wings.

Magneuptychia libye. Nymphalidae. Satyrinae.

Blue-gray Satyr, (Magneuptychia libye)

Marpesia furcula. Nymphalidae. Biblidinae.

Sunset Daggerwing, (Marpesia furcula)

Sunset Daggerwing. Philip Davison. Felipe del Bosque.

Sunset Daggerwing, (Marpesia furcula)

One final forest butterfly that settled in a position not too far above my head was a cattleheart in the genus Parides.  These are not the easiest of butterflies to identify in the field, especially in subdued lighting and with the wings closed.  They are all a deep velvety black with the markings on the upper surface of the wings being yellow bars and red spots.  It is these markings that help identify them to species level but even these features can be variable and confusing.  I am almost sure that this was a male Wedge-spotted Cattleheart, Parides lycimenes, but not 100% sure.

Parides lycimenes. Papilionidae. Papilioninae.

Wedge-spotted Cattleheart, (Parides lycimenes)

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica

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