Archive for the ‘Dragonflies’ Tag

BEETLES: HIDING IN CLEAR VIEW   6 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

It has been another week of sunny days and rainy nights.  Last month the immediate area experienced almost 28 inches, (706 mm), of rain.  That is approximately 1 inch per day.  However, as to be expected, the pattern of precipitation was not that evenly spread.  There were several nights with really heavy downpours which accounted for a third of the total.  There were more nights when it rained hard but not in a deluge and then there were nights when there was no rain.

Atop Cabo Matapalo, at 500 feet, (150 m), above sea level, there is little chance of flooding, all the water is runoff.  This time of year the ground is saturated so when there is a torrential downpour the water may remain on the surface forming large areas of standing water which quickly drains away.  The creek water level is high and rushes down the channels, falling over rapids, cascades and waterfalls and finally flowing into the sea.  After a night of very heavy rainfall, the creek will have turned murky brown with the volume of sediment it is carrying.  Given a few days of sun the water will have returned to its crystal-clear state, inviting you to plunge into its cooling depths as a relief from the hot and humid atmosphere of the forest.

A Typical Rainy Season Day In The Forest

You wake in the morning, opening your eyes but still not fully conscious.  You had a good night’s sleep, restful and undisturbed, but were brought out of your slumber by a distant roaring sound.  It is still dark outside so what time is it?  Early, pre-dawn, and the roar is heard again, this time joined seconds later by a response, louder roaring but much closer to your cabin.  All of a sudden the roars are echoing around the forest.  To many, the first-time visitors to a Central American rainforest, this could only be large ferocious beasts gathering to collectively do you harm.  To the more savvy, seasoned visitor this is a familiar wake-up alarm call, Howler Monkeys, announcing their location to one another so that different troops can keep their distance during the course of the day.

It did its job as far as you are concerned, you are now fully awake.  The first light of dawn starts to brighten the sky, throwing the form of the trees into dark silhouettes.  Here you are only 8⁰ north of the equator so the dawn twilight does not last for long.  The sun rises rapidly and the grey sky turns blue.  The birds are awake now.  Flying overhead are noisy macaws and parrots heading off from their roosts to the feeding grounds.  Their squawking and screeching is not the most melodious of avian calls.  From within the forest the Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-hooded Antshrike and the Bright-rumped Atilla are some of the first choristers to greet the new day.   The males are vocally drawing up the bounds of their territories.

It is after breakfast and the sun is now high in the azure sky.  The temperatures have rapidly risen from the cool chill from when you opened your eyes.  The air is still.  You grab your camera and head off into the shade of the forest.  The only sound is that of cicadas, their loud calls increasing in intensity, volume and pitch as the morning progresses.  Here and there from different points in the unseen depths of the forest, obscured from your vision by the trunks of the trees are more birds calling.  The familiar “Who cooks for you” of the Short-billed pigeon, the high-pitched squeaky call of the Black-mandibled Toucan, it sounds more like a rusty pulley that needs oiling than the call of a bird.

You see many things close at hand to photograph, flowers, fruit, a beetle, a praying mantis, small frogs and lizards.  Up above you the Spider Monkeys put on an impressive display of acrobatics as they swing through the tree tops.  You can’t miss Spider Monkeys with their high-pitched chattering and high-energy crashing through the tree tops.  This is in complete contrast to the languid slow moving and deeply voiced Howler Monkeys.  You come across a troop of White-faced Monkeys, more leisurely in their pursuit of a meal.  You see them peeling away bark and turning leaves, always gleaning, looking for the small creatures that make up the bulk of their diet.

It is approaching midday.  The sun is directly overhead.  Despite being beneath the shade of the canopy, the temperatures have risen dramatically.  Combined with the high humidity, conditions have become like those in a well stoked sauna.  If the air was still outside the forest, within its confines there is not a breath of air.  The sweat is rolling down your face and your clothes are now soaked.  Thankfully you brought a lot of water with you and a packed lunch.  Time to take a break for some respite in order to recover you waning energy levels.

As you sit, taking in the sounds around you, a rumbling can be heard off in the distance, thunder.  You finish your sandwiches, take a swig of water, pack everything into your bag and head off down the trail once more.  You stop to photograph a line of Leaf-cutter Ants.  You need to get close to the ground and have some patience to capture the individual caste members.  You are rewarded a little later with a swarm of Army Ants, incessant in their drive forward flushing out non-flying arthropods.  They are accompanied by a mixed flock of ant-birds, woodpeckers, woodcreepers and Grey-headed Tanagers, all in a heightened state of excitement as they feed on the flying insects driven out of hiding by the Army Ant assassins.  Lots of photographic opportunities here.

It is now much later; the almost unbearable temperatures have dropped and the sun is sinking fast towards the western horizon.  Also, that rumbling is getting louder and the sky is rapidly darkening in the east.  You have filled your memory card with images so it may be astute to pick up the pace now and head back to base.  Before too long a breeze picks up and the tree crowns begin to sway.  Loose leaves and small twigs come tumbling down from the canopy.  It is rapidly darkening and the breeze becomes a wind.  The trees are now swaying more violently and you can hear branches being snapped and crashing down.  All of the monkeys start to shriek in objection to their homes being shaken in this manner.  The advancing storm has no ears and cares not for their protestations. Light rain begins to fall.

Within a shorter time than you would have liked, the sky above you has turned black.  The rumbling thunder has become loud and explosive, now accompanied by almost instantaneous flashes of lightning.  The rain comes out of the heavens with an ever-increasing intensity.  The canopy is being lashed.  Leaves and branches are torn from the trees by the sheer weight and force of the water being poured upon them.  Lightning is cracking and fissing around you, the storm is immediately overhead, these are thunderflashes and this is not a safe place to be.  The path at your feet which moments earlier was soft and damp is now a running river albeit only a couple of inches in depth.  The question is should you stop and find shelter or should you persevere on.  You chose the latter option.

Your step quickens, not too fast as you don’t want to slip and fall.  You hear a sharp crack above you, then a loud snap and a huge branch comes tumbling with force through the understory.  It hits the ground so hard that it stands upright as if it had been planted.  The flashes are lighting up the whole sky in a blinding white light.  Each boom of thunder causes you to flinch.  It is raining so heavily that you can barely open your eyes due to the stinging pain it causes you.  But you are almost there, the path out of the forest is up some stairs and around a bend on the trail.  The steps are now a series of cascades but the tumbling water does not hinder your stride.  You will soon be back in the dry comfort of your cabin.

Just as you step out of the forest and into the open garden area, the driving rain suddenly subsides to that of a light summer shower.  The black sky starts to lighten and the deep rumbles roll off into the distance.  Each flicker of lightning is still causing flashes but now over on the horizon.  Thankfully you had the foresight to pack all of your equipment into a waterproof camera bag before the deluge descended and it seems to have served its purpose well.  The rain becomes drizzle and finally peters out then stops.  The sky is now pale grey and the sun sinks to the point where the final rays light up the underside of the clouds in a deep orange.  You have just experienced a typical September day in a Costa Rican rainforest.

Beetles Hiding In Clear View

Beetles, there are thousands of species and yet if you go out with the intention of finding them you may become aware very quickly that they are not as obvious as you have thought.  Turning over rocks or peeling rotten bark from fallen trees may produce one or two species but nothing in profusion.  That is why when I head off into the forest it is never with the purpose of photographing anything specific, not unless I have seen something that I wanted to return to.  Some people go out having birds or mammals as their goal, I am always looking for smaller things, as regular readers of the blog will already know.  The camera will have my favorite 105mm macro lens attached and will be set to take photos of all manner of mini beasts in darker conditions.  The shots will be hand held as I only take the tripod if I have a certain subject in mind.

Last week I found two different species of beetle out in the open aspect of a sunny forest edge.  They were in separate locations but within the same area.  They were both sitting on top of a leaf, in bright sunshine and would not stay still.  I had to keep maneuvering around the subject to try and get a decent image.  Every time I had things set, they would turn their backs to me and wander off along the opposite length of the leaf.  Finally, after much repositioning, I managed to obtain some acceptable photographs.  One of the problems with photographing beetles is the hard, smooth and glossy exoskeleton that many of them have.  It reflects the light from the flash gun.  To obtain the depth of field that I prefer, with a moving subject I have to use very small apertures and by necessity I need to add extra light with flash.

The first beetle is a Pleasing Fungus Beetle, (Cypherotylus asperus), in the family: Erotylidae.  I am not sure why they are pleasing but fungus beetle refers to their main dietary item which may come as no surprise, fungus.  The bright red blotches against a black background is aposematic, or warning coloration.  If molested or attacked, the Pleasing Fungus Beetle emits a foul-smelling odor that would cause most would be predators to back off.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest insects. Rainforest Beetles. Coleoptera. Erotylidae. Cypherotylus asperus.

Pleasing Fungus Beetle, (Cypherotylus asperus)

The second beetle is a Leaf Beetle in the family: Chrysomelidae.  They typically have the domed body, clubbed antennae and are multi-colored.  But as there are almost 50,000 species in this family I have, so far, been stumped as to which species this is.  Should any beetle expert be reading this and would like to provide a name I would be most grateful.  The clue to the diet is once more in the name.  They feed on the leaves of a variety of vegetation.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest Insects. Beetles. Coleoptera. Chrysomelidae.

Leaf Beetle, (Chrysomelidae sp)

The Earth Moved

Walking through the forest you can often have your attention momentarily attracted by some small movement down in the leaf litter.  It may be ants, spiders, lizards, frogs or a myriad of other small creatures that live concealed beneath the carpet of rotting leaves.  It is the tread of your footfall that will disturb them and have them run for cover out of harm’s way.  Depending on the speed of the animal you may lose sight of it very quickly.  Some move from leaf to leaf.  Generally if any of these litter living denizens gets below the leaves it will be gone and unless you are lucky you will just have to imagine what you saw.  Occasionally though one will freeze when exposed to the light.  Last week, my size 13 boot thudding into the ground caused a tiny frog to jump out of the imminent descending disaster.

There are several small frogs that inhabit the dark and damp environment of the forest floor.  The squat body shape of this one revealed its identity almost immediately.  It was one of the rather delightfully named dirt frogs, this one being a Stejneger’s Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus).

Rainforest animals. Rainforest amphibians. Frogs. Anura. Craugastoridae. Craugastor stejnegerianus.

A tiny Stejneger’s Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus)

The dirt frogs are totally terrestrial frogs, they live their whole life on the forest floor and never need to go to water as many amphibians do.  They still have moist skins through which they largely breath and therefore by necessity can’t leave the confines of the damp environment under the trees.   There are several species that live in this area and Stejneger’s Dirt Frog is one of the commonest.

They belong to the family: Craugastoridae or the Fleshbelly Frogs.  Typical of this family is the reproductive habit of direct development which negates the necessity of them having to return to water to reproduce.  The frogs pair up, (I can’t say I have ever heard these frogs calling), and the female lays her eggs amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor.  There are only about 20 – 30 eggs but they are fairly large in comparison to the adults.  The egg is packed with yolk and the tadpole develops within the egg, there is no free-swimming tadpole stage.  After about 8 weeks a tiny copy of the adult emerges.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest amphibians. Rainforest Frogs. Anura. Craugastoridae. Craugastor stejnegerianus. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Dorsal view of Stejneger’s Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus)

As you are walking through the forest, if you keep your gaze lowered scanning the ground then you will surely see a small piece of the earth move.  Given closer inspection then you will probably find you are looking at a dirt frog.  But take a photograph as they are not always easy to identify.

Fying Dragons.

A few weeks ago I managed to photograph a dragonfly with black bases to the wings, a Black-winged Dragonlet, (Erythrodiplax funerea).  This week I managed to capture another dragonfly but with the inverse situation of having black tips to the wings, the Large Woodskimmer, (Uracis fastigiata).  This one was found in a different area to the previously mentioned species but they had been there for several weeks.  This species was found in secondary forest, in a light gap and always close to the ground.  Once again my attempts to take a picture were always doomed to failure because every time I lifted the camera to my eye, they would fly off.  But as we know with photography patience is a virtue and finally after several weeks I got lucky.  This one stayed still long enough for me to get several pictures.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest Insects. Dragonflies. Odonata. Libellulidae. Uracis fastigiata

Large Woodskimmer, (Uracis fatigiata)

Unlike the dragonflies which can be found in open sunny locations around a body of water that have fast flight and hover, these forest species seem to be more sedentary and perch on low vegetation and only seem to move if disturbed.  Having excellent eyesight adapted to detect movement it does not take much to disturb them.  It could be that they are sit and wait predators just diligently watching for the right sized meal to pass by before taking off to capture it.

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

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Typically Tropical   4 comments


Felipe del Bosque Blog Jan 24th 2011


A Riot of Color

The dry season is now well and truly upon us.  The daily temperatures are now reaching into the nineties and the rain has all but stopped.  The skies are cloudless and azure blue giving you the feeling of a typically tropical day.

The rising temperatures and drying air have resulted in a profusion of color.  Many of the trees are in bloom and even if you can’t see the flowers because of their lofty position at the top of the canopy, you can certainly see them when they fall.

Areas of the forest floor are now carpeted with the spent blooms of the trees, around the trunks of which they form brightly colored circles which contrast with the dark browns of the rapidly decomposing leaves and the deep reds of the iron rich soils.  The Golden Cortez has flowered for the second time since the rains have diminished.  The Ajo or Garlic Trees are flowering throughout the forest and their discarded bright lemon yellow flowers break up the monotony of the forest floor.  They emit the faint odor of garlic, from which they derive their name, evoking thoughts of French and Italian cuisine as you walk the forest trails.  Fruits of the Heisteria Trees dot the ground here and there.  Commonly known as “Dinner on a Plate”, the bright green fruit sits at the centre of a circular scarlet fleshy veil.  The red color attracts small fruit-eating birds such as manakins whose attention is rewarded with a juicy fruity nutritious pulp, the consumption of which results in the transport and distribution of the plants seeds.

Many of the plants have weird and wonderful looking flowers and fruits, two of which are in evidence everywhere at the moment; the spiny sea urchin like fruits of the Monkey comb Tree and the small doubled layered ear-like flowers of the Hule, or Rubber Tree.

Entomologists Delight

Butterflies, like a kaleidoscope of color against the bright blue sky are everywhere now.  Out in the open areas the gaudy warning colors of many Heliconiids, or Passionflower Butterflies, are swirling around the flame orange and red flowers of the Lantanas.  A host of Satyrs, with their more subtle but nonetheless, captivating colors can be seen flitting in abundance just above the level of the forest floor. The impressively giant and highly iridescent Blue Morphos fly along the forest trails and drying stream beds, erratic flight paths with opening and closing wings give the stroboscopic effect of flashing electric blue lights.  Their equally imposing cousins, the large Owl Butterflies fly in late afternoon.  They look like large bats floppily haunting the forest edge in the dying light.

Around pools, streams and ponds there are now a multitude of Dragonflies and Damselflies.  Aerial acrobats and proficient hunters briefly perching on the vegetation, then off at high speed to pursue some unsuspecting insect prey or chase rival males, their presence is announced by a variety of colors.  The large Helicopter Damselflies, stealthy hunters of spiders, never fail to amaze anyone witnessing their distinct seemingly rotational wing beats.

Predator and Prey

Last week I saw a large Tiger Rat Snake which had been basking on the trail from the Tropical Garden.  The snake saw me at the same time as I saw it, but was a lot quicker than myself and disappeared very quickly into the undergrowth.

Not long afterwards I could hear the Hee Haw sound of a Laughing Falcon which seems as if it will continue forever.  They are specialist snake feeders and so it could well have been to Tiger Rat Snake’s advantage that it was me disturbing it, rather than be caught up in a terminal grasp of its aerial predator.

Now that some of the trees are coming into fruit, the small rogue company of Capuchin Monkeys that were eating the toucans and stealing food from the bordegas have made themselves scarce.  I have seen them moving through the forest, although I would not swear it is one and the same troupe.  But having been a daily feature, they are somewhat noticeable by their absence.

Philip is a biologist, writer and photographer as well as the onsite naturalist guide at Bosque del Cabo Rainforest lodge on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

www.bosquedelcabo.com

Photo Feature

There are in the region of 320,000 species of named beetle around the world, making beetles the most numerously named group of animals on the planet.  The tiny country of Costa Rica is almost unique in the diversity of its fauna and flora.  Within the confines of its borders 47,000 species of beetle have been named.  As with many other groups of plants and animals here there is a distinct lack of reference material to help you make positive identifications, and Costa Rica is far better than most other tropical countries at providing keys, guides and references.  Anyway, I am happy as a non specialist coleopterist, if I can identify some of my photographic subjects down to family level.

Longhorn Beetle Longhorn Beetle Chrysomelidae larva

The first two photographs are of two different species of Long Horn Beetle, family Cerambycidae.  If the adults are difficult, the larvae are impossible.  This red one I am convinced is the larva of a Tortoise Beetle, family Chrysomelidae but I would be happy to stand corrected.  I noticed it climbing up a tree trunk and the first thing that struck me was its superficial resemblance to the totally unrelated trilobites that last inhabited the earth 250 million years ago.  Although we see trilobites as fossils lacking any color, I wondered if it might be that they displayed such flamboyant colors such as this bright red beetle larva.

As you walk through the forest, if you care to look at the ground down by your feet, you will become aware of many things moving through the leaf litter.  Occasionally a tiny little frog will jump out of your way, only to blend in perfectly with its background.  Closer examination will reveal one of several different species.  This one is a juvenile Rough-skinned Dirt Frog, (Craugastor rugosus).   Close up and in profile leaves you in no doubt as to its name.

Craugastor rugosus

Craugastor rugosus

Finally I have just included some random photographs that I took around the grounds of Bosque del Cabo today just to try and capture the colors of a tropical summer day.

White-banded Peacock Flambeau Sapho

Orchid Tree Lantana Water Hyacinth

Dragonfly Giant Owl Butterfly Dragonfly

Please feel free to leave comments about any of the content, your experiences in Costa Rica or if you think you can provide identies to the beetles.  See you next week.

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Temperature and Rainfall

Average Daily Temp High 89°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 72°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.01 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 0.06 ins

Average Daily Temp High 31.8 °C.  Average Daily Temp Low 22.1 °C.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.2 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 1.5 mm

Species List for the Week

Mammals

  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • Central American Squirrel Monkey
  • Agouti
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Red-tailed Squirrel

Birds

  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Great Currasow
  • Lineated Woodpecker
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Laughing Falcon
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Rufus Piha
  • Chestnut-backed Antbirds
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Common Paureque
  • Crested Owl
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Blue-throated Goldentail
  • Rufus-tailed Hummingbird
  • Stripe-throated Hermit
  • Mangrove Swallow
  • Brown Pelican
  • Fiery-billed Aracari
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Cherrie’s Tanager
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Great Kiskadee
  • House Wren
  • Great Tinamou
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

Reptiles

  • Basilisk
  • Four-lined Ameiva
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Pug-nosed Anolis
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Mediterranean House Gecko
  • Cat-eyed Snake
  • Tiger Rat Snake
  • Tropical Bird-eating Snake

Amphibians

  • Marine Toad
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Banana Frog
  • Smokey Jungle Frog
  • Milky Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Rough-skinned Dirt Frog
  • Stejneger’s Dirt Frog

Butterflies

  • Adepha basiloides
  • Adelpha cytherea
  • Anartia Fatima
  • Battus belus
  • Battus polydamus
  • Caligo atreus
  • Calycopis isobeon
  • Charis auius
  • Cissia confuse
  • Cogia calchas
  • Consul fabius
  • Dione juno
  • Dryas iulia
  • Epiphile adrastra
  • Eueides aliphera
  • Eueides lybia
  • Euptychia westwoodi
  • Eurema albula
  • Eurema daira
  • Glutophrissa Drusilla
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Junonia everete
  • Laparus doris
  • Lerodea eufala
  • Magneuptychia libye
  • Marpesia albiciades
  • Marpesia berania
  • Marpesia petreus
  • Mechanitis polymnia
  • Moeris submetallensis
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho Menelaus
  • Morpho theseus
  • Panoquina evansi
  • Pareuptychia ocirrhoe
  • Parides erithalion
  • Philaethria dido
  • Phoebis agarithe
  • Phoebis argante
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pierella luna
  • Polites vibex
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Pyrisitia nise
  • Pyrisitia proterpia
  • Pyrrhogyra crameri
  • Pyrrhogyra otolais
  • Remella vopiscus
  • Siproeta stelenes
  • Staphylus mazans
  • Temenis laothoe
  • Urbanus simplicius
  • Urbanus tanna

Plants

  • Yellow-trumpet Vine flowering
  • Calabash flowering and fruiting
  • Monkey Comb Tree flowering and fruiting
  • Garlic Tree Flowering
  • Candlestick Plant Flowering.
  • Cannonball Tree Flowering
  • Golden Cortez Flowering
  • Hule flowering
  • Heisteria fruiting
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