Archive for the ‘Black-winged Dragonlet’ Tag

ARMADILLOS: SUCCESS OF THE ANCIENTS   6 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Transition, that is what is occurring now.  The days remain largely sunny but the rain has started to increase in volume, intensity and duration at night.  The creek running through the area is always a good yardstick by which to measure how dry the ground is.  This year the creek never dried up and as of this week the flow is fast and the level high.  The small cascades along its course are looking very picturesque with the water tumbling from higher to lower levels into the plunge pools, babbling softly as it does so and sounding like playful water nymphs inviting you to join them and cool off in the heat of the day.  The water here is clean and crystal clear, its depth holds no latent or potential disease and the only animal life is the occasional sighting of a tropical crayfish hidden beneath a submerged rock, its bright blue body being visible to only those with the keenest eyes.

The Puma, (Puma concolor), has been seen again and its tracks could be found on several trails around the grounds.  The past week has also been a good one for seeing the Squirrel Monkeys which are normally a little more retiring living as they do in the thickets of secondary forest.  At the moment they have been making daily excursions in large numbers through the gardened areas.

The repetitive call of the Bright-rumped Atilla, (Attila spadiceus), had fallen silent for some months but once again they have started up and bursts of “Read it, read it, read it, read it” can be heard again echoing around the trails in the early morning.  The frog breeding season normally starts with the first rains in May and then by the end of July it is over.  Not this year.  Every evening, just after sunset, the various species of amphibian emerge en masse, the males begin to call for a mate and by next morning the vegetation on and around the pond is covered in frog’s eggs.

Armored Four Sight

It is dark in the forest.  You can’t see much.  Your flashlight illuminates the path in front of you but the beam does not penetrate very far into the blackness and it also casts deep shadows.  There is something moving in those shadows.  You stop and listen.  It is not something small.  You shine the flashlight in the direction of the movement, your eyes peering into the gloom.  You still can’t make out any shape but the sound of the creature advances ever closer.  It crashes forward a few feet then stops for a moment and then moves again.  You can start to see the dead leaves and fallen twigs moving.  Your heart is in your mouth, it is almost upon you.  Then silence.  It is suddenly aware of your presence and it has stopped, motionless, whatever it is probably eyeing you as a meal.  Then crash, it takes flight and rushes across the path in front of your feet.  No wonder it sounded like a small tank rumbling across the forest floor, it is a mini armored insect feeder, a Nine-banded Armadillo, (Dasypus novemcinctus).

Rainforest mammals. Armadillo. Mammalia. Xenathra. Dasypodidae. Dasypus novemcinctus.

Juvenile Nine-banded Armadillo, (Dasypus novemcinctus), grubbing for food

Armadillos rank alongside sloths as one of the mammals that people would like to see when they visit the forests of the Osa Peninsula.  They are not as readily found as the monkeys, agoutis or coatis but they are here and they do show up fairly frequently.  They are encountered more commonly at night but it is not unusual to see them trundling around on the ground during the day too.

Armadillos belong in the ancient mammalian order: Xenathra along with anteaters and sloths.  Nine-banded Armadillos have a large geographic distribution.  They are found from the Southern United States through Central America down into Argentina.  Between 4 – 2 million years ago when the southern part of Costa Rica and Panama rose out of the sea to form the land bridge between the North American and South American continents it provided a means by which terrestrial animals could move between the formerly separated land masses.  Many northern species moved south and survived.  Only three species moved north and survived; opossums, porcupines and the Nine-banded Armadillo. Nine-banded Armadillos have a large geographic distribution.  They are found from the Southern United States through Central America down into Argentina.

There is no mistaking an armadillo for any other type of creature.  The body is covered in a shell composed of bony plates within a keratinous horny skin.  The eyes and ears of an armadillo do not function too well.  The long snout provides an excellent sense of smell which is essential in the location of food.  The majority of the armadillo’s diet is insects.  It has powerful claws which it uses to grub up a variety of ant and termite species from the ground.  With the nose stuck in the dirt, an armadillo can hold its breath for upto 6 minutes while it feeds on a particularly good banquet.  Those claws also dig out burrows in which the armadillo lives.

Reproductively armadillos are very interesting.  The female armadillo can delay implantation of the fertilized egg into the uterine wall if the prevailing weather or feeding conditions are less than optimum for its survival.  The egg always divides into four which means that the female armadillo will give birth to four identical quads.

Last week as I headed out for a walk I saw four of these juvenile siblings snuffling their way through the lawn, heads stuck in the ground, turning over the earth in search of a meal.  They had absolutely no idea I was there.  I took some photos and then lay on the ground to take some photos as they came trundling towards me.  It only dawned on them that I was there when one hit the camera.  The first defense response of an armadillo is to jump, albeit not too high, and then run off.  The first one to make contact with me turned and ran but the others still had no idea of my presence.  The adults are no better.  I have stood still in the past and had large armadillo running back and forth over my feet.  Should anything alarm them and they take flight, their short-term memory is little more than a few seconds before they return about their business as if nothing had happened.  I enjoyed watching these youngsters for a while before heading off and leaving them to feed and hopefully avoid coming across something that might not be as benevolent as I was.

All That Glisters

Down amongst the leaf litter a glitter of polished bronze slips under the leaves.  As it passes from beneath one leaf to the next you can see a metallic object glinting momentarily before disappearing again.  It moved too quickly to truly see what it was but you persist.  There it is again.  You bend down to move the leaf where it went, but nothing.  Then you see it just a hands breadth away.  A small head looking at you with intent dark eyes.  It is a lizard or more particularly a skink.  It is tiny with an elongated body and shiny smooth scales.  The scales catch the light and reflect a bright dark copper.  You find yourself looking at a Brown Forest Skink, (Sphenomorphus cherriei).

Rainforest lizards. Skinks. Reptilia. Squamata. Sauria. Scincidae. Sphenomorphus cherriei.

Brown Forest Skink, (Sphenomorphus cherriei), looking out from under a leaf

Several weeks ago I took photos of yet another small leaf litter dwelling lizard, the Northern Spectacled Lizard, (Leposoma southi), and stated that I really wanted to find and photograph the Brown Forest Skink too.  It is no easy task as they move quickly and once beneath the leaf litter ‘swim’ in a serpentine fashion through the decomposing vegetative material.  This one poked its head out long enough for me to get a quick shot or two.  I will have to keep looking to get the full body shot.

The hard and shiny scales of a skink may serve several purposes.  They help it glide between the material of the substrate making up the leaf litter in which it lives.  But there are lots of birds hopping around close to the forest floor whose keenly acute vision would spot a meal such as skink very quickly.  If caught in the bill of an avian predator the scales allow the skink to slip out and hopefully, as far as the skink is concerned, make its escape.

Rainforest Skink. Lizard. Reptilia. Squamata. Sauria. Scincidae. Sphenomorphus cherriei.

Brown Forest Skink, (Sphenomorphus cherriei), close up of head

Dressed In Black For The Telling Of Dark Tales

Walking on the forest trails you see a something take flight and then settle again on another plant.  The overall aspect is of an insect cloaked in funereal colors.  The body is black and the wings have black banding.  Nonetheless it draws your attention.

The creature is a Black-winged Dragonlet, (Erythrodiplax funeralis), a common dragonfly found inhabiting forest rides or at the edge of open areas.  Dragonflies are restless predators.  They are on the constant look out for a meal.  They are easily disturbed too.  Those huge eyes and mobile head can spot a potential predator or prey item very quickly.  If it is the former they fly to another perch.  The Black-winged Dragonlet has a much more fluttery flight than some other dragonflies which seem to dart back and forth.

They catch their prey on the wing which means they feed on flying insects.  Should a meal fly by the dragonfly swoops in and catches in its legs which form an open basket beneath the thorax.  The legs are covered in spines which make it difficult for the victim to escape.  Once ensnared, the prey will be dispatched, the hard body parts and the wings dumped to the ground and the rest of the body consumed.

Rainforest insects. Dragonflies. Odonata. Anisoptera. Libellulidae. Erythrodiplax funeralis.

Black-winged Dragonlet, (Erythrodiplax funeralis)

Dragonflies can present a challenge to photograph.  They are acutely visually aware, they move quickly and they don’t like being approached.  This one I had to follow, very slowly and patiently, before I managed to get a photograph.  It did take a good few attempts as it kept moving from perch to perch and I was on the point of giving up when it seemed to settle, at least long enough for me to hit the shutter several times.  Anyone out there who has tried photographing flying insects knows that patience is an essential virtue if you are going to obtain any images.

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

A Blue Crown For a Dragon’s Funeral   5 comments


Philip Davison. Costa Rica. Blog. Nature Diaries

Dry and Sunny.  Cold and Wet

We are well into the wet season now.  Both July and August had particularly high levels of precipitation with July receiving a total of 37 inches of rain, (918 mm), and August 33 inches, (842 mm).  Mostly the rain fell in the evening and so did not disrupt the day too much.  The first ten days in September had been very sunny and dry but that has now changed and increasingly the rains are becoming heavier and more prolonged which is the norm for this time of year.  Several days ago over 9 inches of rain dropped from the sky in a 24-hour period.

Heliconius cydno

White-barred Longwing

But when the sun does shine it changes everything.  The dark and dank atmosphere lifts and the butterflies take the air again.  The grounds are teeming with groups of female White-nosed Coatis, (Nasua narica) with the young interspersed among the adults.  They all move slowly in the same direction with heads down and striped tails stuck vertically up.  They are omnivores and so when it comes to food anything is game.  Follow the group through an area and you will see small pits where their keen noses have found a tasty grub or crab and the sharp claws have extracted it.  Any fallen fruit will halt progress and keep the group occupied in a feeding frenzy for a while.

Pyrgus oileus

Tropical Checkered Skipper

Crossing through or sitting to the side of the groups of coatis you will see large rodents which look like oversized Guinea Pigs.  These are Agoutis, (Dasyprocta punctata).  These relatively large rodents are seed eaters and will normally be seen beneath the palm trees feeding on the fallen palm nuts.

Antigonus erosus

Antigonus erosus

The picture would not be complete without the background sight and sound of the birds.  Up in the trees, if not always visible but easily heard, are the Black-mandibled Toucans, (Ramphastos ambiguous) and the visually stunning Scarlet Macaws, (Ara macao).  Hopping around on the ground are the ever present Black Vultures, (Coragyps atratus) which like the coatis take advantage of whatever food presents itself.

Shocking Blue

Last week I was out on doing my weekly butterfly counts.  I always carry the camera with me as occasionally something will turn up out of the blue.  Because my focus is on the Lepidoptera and I don’t want to lug around too much weight I normally only have the 105 mm macro lens and a flash gun with me.  If something larger or farther away appears then I am a bit stuck.  This is what happened on this day.  I had just finished photographing a small butterfly close to the ground.  As I stood up I noticed a Blue-crowned Motmot, (Momotus momatus), about 30 feet away but close to the ground.  I had no real hope of getting a good image but thought I would try for something anyway.  The end result was not brilliant but more than I had expected.

Momutus momata

Blue-crowned Motmot

There are only 9 species of motmot and they are largely confined to Central America.  They are very handsome birds and the Blue-crowned Motmot is possibly the most striking of them all.  The long tail feathers end in two distinctive ‘tennis racquet” shapes below a bare area of the shaft.  While perched on a branch the tail flicks to a fro like a feathered pendulum.  The name motmot comes from the call which is a soft but distinct moot moot.  Motmots are distantly related to kingfishers and share the same habit of bank nesting.  Around the grounds of Bosque del Cabo, if the path cuts through an area leaving steep earthen sides they will quite often have many entrances leading down into tunnels.  Some of them may be land crabs, some of them maybe entrances to a Leaf-cutter Ant nest and some of them maybe Blue-crowned Motmot nest holes.  If they do have chicks, then listening at the entrance you will hear the cheeping of the young inside.

Momotus momata

Blue-crowned Motmot

Flat Top

Later on that same morning as had almost finished my walk I perceived a shape on the ground in front of me that, although bearing the color of dead dry leaves was most certainly not.  The creature was a Helmeted Iguana, (Corytophanes cristatus).  These lizards, if seen at all, are usually found head up holding onto the side of small tree trunks and branches.  When approached they move almost imperceptibly to keep themselves at 180⁰ on the opposite side of the trunk to the observer.  This one however was on the ground so it had nowhere to go.

Corytophanes cristatus

Helmeted Iguana

I slowly lowered myself to my knees then leaned forward till I was lying on my belly close to the iguana.  As I lowered myself the lizard also lowered its head and turned away from me presenting just the large flat expanse of the top of the skull.  I got several body shots and then re-positioned myself for the portrait.  Always moving slowly, I managed a couple of profiles before it took fright, raised up on its hind legs and ran off into the undergrowth.

Corytophanes cristatus

Helmeted Iguana

A Short Jump

When the sun does shine, one group of animals you can count on seeing are the grasshoppers.  Particularly on hot, bright days just strolling along paths in more open garden-like areas your movement will likely as not disturb grasshoppers which are laborious flyers.  Their wings don’t carry them too far before they land in the vegetation again.  To get close, once more stealth is of the essence. They can be seen setting the hind legs in readiness for takeoff again.  If you do spook one, it doesn’t take much to watch where it flies to and lands.

Acrididae sp

Tropical Grasshopper

Although I like grasshoppers I have to admit I do not find them the easiest of creatures to identify.  The reference material available tends to be for American or European species which doesn’t help a lot in Costa Rica.  Nonetheless when viewed close up their almost armor-like exoskeleton make them good macro subjects.

Acrididae species

Tropical Grasshopper

The Funeral Dragon

Although not as obviously abundant as butterflies are the dragonflies.  They can be found around most damp or wet areas from ponds and streams to water filled ruts on the trails.  Each individual has a variety of preferred perches where they settle momentarily before taking to the air to catch prey or chase off neighboring males.  Their activity is endless particularly if it is a hot sunny day.  To capture an image all you have to do is concentrate on one perch then sit and wait, the individual to whom it belongs will return.

Erythrodiplax funerea

Black-winged Dragonlet

This species is Erythodiplax funerea, I am assuming so called because of the black coloration on the lower two thirds of the wing.  It is one of the species that I do not find near water, these ones were in the middle of the tropical garden.  I also commonly find them very low in the vegetation along the forest paths.  Their behavior is the same though constantly taking off flying to a new vantage point then returning a few seconds later.

Erythrodiplax funerea.

Black-winged Dragonlet

So all in all despite the rains, those sunny days still provide for ample opportunity to get out, enjoy the sights and sounds and maybe take some photographs too.

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

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