Archive for the ‘Ficus insipida’ Tag

BUGS: HOBGOBLINS OR NATURAL BEAUTIES   Leave a comment


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Following last week’s heavy rainfall, this week the weather has taken a turn in the opposite direction.  We have seen a lot of sun during the day and later as the sun sets clear evenings reveal a sky filled with stars.  Each walk through the forest would result in a return to base with your boots heavy with clinging mud.  Now the ground is still soft but remains in place and not so much covering your feet.

Normally at this time of year the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica experiences a brief, but welcome, climatic anomaly known as the “Veranillo’, or little summer.  For a two-week period in the middle of the wet season the atmospheric and oceanic currents conspire to produce a situation where the conditions dry up.  It is a false dawn giving hope to the ignorant that the wet season is over.  In fact it is a prelude for those experienced in reading the signs of what is imminently about to happen, the full wet season is due to be unleashed.  But at least we can enjoy a short period of heat and light before enduring three months of daily tropical deluges.

Lazy Cats and Strange Sightings

Last week was exciting for a variety of reasons.  One day, late afternoon, a Puma, (Puma concolor), was spotted lying on the ground under a bush just off to the side of the road.  Everyone in the near vicinity was alerted and proceeded to congregate in an area where they could safely observe, video and photograph the wild cat.  The Puma was fairly unconcerned about the mild disturbance to its siesta and continued its nap.

After a short while, it slowly rose to its feet and walked nonchalantly in front of the audience, not even casting a glance at those desperately attempting to takes its portrait.  Everyone’s hearts were now beating heavily in their chests, this was a big cat and it was no more than 30 feet, (10 meters), away.  For many people this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and they captured so many excellent images.  The cat finally made its way toward some denser vegetation and disappeared into the darkness.

Whereas close proximity to a large wild feline causes a lot of excitement, for most people the sighting of a hitherto unseen butterfly would not.  Well, not except for me and one or two others that is.  Last week I saw a new butterfly species that I had previously not recorded for the Osa Peninsula.  The butterfly was so distinctive ensuring there was no possibility of an incorrect identification.  Sadly I did not have my camera in hand so was unable to obtain photographs.

On the day in question, just after lunch I saw a butterfly flying around the garden, not too fast and occasionally landing on the ground.  It was not a sight I could miss as the upper surface of the wings had two bright postbox red stripes running over a black background.  This contrasted vividly with the green of the grass.  I followed the butterfly trying to commit to memory the markings and coloration so that I could remember them later for an identification.  I had an inclination of what it might be but just needed to verify it.

A quick look at the excellent reference book, “The Butterflies of Costa Rica” by Philip J. DeVries solved the mystery.  The butterfly was a Red Banner, (Temenis pulchra).  It ranges from the Amazon Basin and reaches its northern limit of distribution in Costa Rica.  This individual was a male, which despite normally only being found at canopy level, will sometimes descend to the ground to visit mammal dung or urine.  Whatever it was looking for, I was happy to add one more new species for the ever-increasing inventory for the area.

Blue Bug – The Showdown

This has been a good year for bugs, true bugs.  I have managed to photograph a good many species even though I have not been able to put names to them all.  There is one that has eluded me though.  It is a reasonably common Shield Bug, but for whatever reason I could never find one that would stay still long enough to have a photograph taken or if I did manage to get a shot, the resulting image was not of a usable quality.  Last week, all of that changed.  I found one that stayed still, at least momentarily.  I managed to get several shots, even though it took to the air several times, but it always came back again.

Rainforest insects. Costa Rican Stink Bugs. Hemipera. Pentatomidae.

Red-bordered Stink Bug, (Edessa rufomarginata)

This is not a bug that you could easily miss.  The upper side of the head, thorax and abdomen are turquoise blue, with bright red edging.  The antennae are fire orange.  The underside is pale yellow with black stripes and the legs too are orange.  There is no mistaking that you are looking at a Red-bordered Stink Bug, (Edessa rufomarginata).

Stink bugs belong in the true bug order: Hemiptera and the family: Pentatomidae.  It is a widespread species ranging from Mexico in the north to Argentina in the south.  Unfortunately they are a serious pest species on commercially grown species of the plant family: Solanaceae such as potatoes and tobacco, (although some might see destruction of tobacco plants as a good thing).

Rainforest Bugs. Costa Rican Insects. Hemipera. Pentatomidae. Edessa rufomarginata

Ventral view of Red-bordered Stink Bug, (Edessa rufomarginata)

Not having a sense of smell, I miss many odors and scents that people find either delightful or repugnant.  Stink bugs fall into the latter category.  The stench they produce from glands on the abdomen is released in response to being in some way being put under threat.  Apparently it smells very strongly of cilantro.  But, however the less than pleasant odor smells, I was happy to have finally got my picture.

Milk From a Tree

There is a tree fruiting at the moment whose fruits can be seen lying on the ground at various points around the trails.  There are only one or two individuals of this species of tree in this area but the fruits are an obvious indicator of their location.  The tree is Palo de Pico, (Naucleopis ulei).  The fruit is a small woody sphere of green and yellow coloration covered with softer fleshy finger-like protuberances of the same color.

The tree belongs to the family: Moraceae which is a cosmopolitan family composed of over 1100 species found mainly in the tropics but also in subtropical or even temperate areas around the world.  There are 50 different species of Moraceae found on the Osa Peninsula.

Rainforest trees. Costa Rican fruits. Moraceae. Naucleopsis ulei.

The distinctive fruit of Naucleopsis ulei

One of the distinguishing features of many trees in this family is the milky white latex that exudes when they are cut into which gives rise to colloquial names such as Milky Tree, Cow Tree and Rubber Trees.  All of these species can be found in the forests of this region.

Latex producing trees. Moraceae. Brosimum utile.

White latex leaking out of fallen Milky Tree, (Brosimum utile)

One genus in this family that is very important in the forests are the fig trees, Ficus.  There are 750 species of Ficus worldwide of which 23 species are found on the Osa Peninsula.  Figs are one of the most important species of tree in the forest as they produce a year round supply of copious amounts of fruit.  This in turn is important in providing a continuous food supply for so many of the animals in these forests.  Significantly, if climatic conditions result in a low crop then so many fruit-eating animals from monkeys to toucans will suffer and may be unable to raise young during that particular year.  Strangler figs are also responsible for the taking over and killing some of the more mature trees in a forest community.

Strangler Figs. Endemic trees in Costa Rica. Moraceae. Ficus zarazalensis

Amazing Strangler Fig, (Ficus zarazalensis), endemic to the Osa Peninsula

Costa Rican Fig Trees. Moraceae. Ficus insipida.

As the name suggests, not such a tasty fig, (Ficus insipida)

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

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FRUIT COCKTAIL   Leave a comment


 

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Today was more or less a repeat performance of yesterday, the weather being overcast, grey and drizzling.  There was a slight break in the clouds just after breakfast so I could get out and have a look at the various birds that might be around.  Not surprisingly it was the usual players in this daily performance.  Flocks of Golden-hooded Tanagers, colorful and busy, moving from tree to tree, only stopping long enough to sample the fayre on offer, mostly figs.  Bay-headed Tanagers, also feeding on fruit, mixing company with Green Honeycreepers, a male and female of which were taking insects from around the Lantana bush.  Here too, a Mourning Warbler and a Southern Beardless Tyrannulet spent time gleaning for insect prey from among the vegetation.

One brazen male Coati would not give ground as I approached.  He was too preoccupied with extracting the last remaining scraps of coconut flesh from an opened shell left behind by the Capuchin Monkeys that passed this way two days ago.  With one paw resting on top of the fallen coconut holding it steady, his other arm was buried up to the elbow inside in an endeavor to scrape out every last shred of that tasty treat which he then eagerly licked from his paw.

Around the pond, were two ever present species of dragonflies, the smaller blue Micrathyria ocellata and the larger deep red Libellula herculea, were hawking for insect prey.  One moment resting on a perch above the water and the next moment gone, hovering a foot from the water surface, those huge multifaceted compound eyes having spotted the movement of some small insect.  One female Libellula herculea was constantly dipping her rear end into the water, each time dropping an egg, her male consort in close attendance, hovering beside her, possibly to protect her from the harassment of rival males.

And then down came the rain.

One thing rain does, it “cools” the look of the forest, and it brings out the greens. Green is not just green; there are fresh lime greens ranging through to dark bottle greens with every other shade in between.  Each and every one of these verdant shades seem to be brought to the fore with the addition of rainwater.  Another thing the rain does is soften the ground.  Although it may be difficult to see animals in the forest, you may otherwise be aware of their presence by tracks and sounds.  Many mammals have very distinctive vocalizations, each species of bird has a characteristic call, the sound of the wing beats, the way things move through the treetops and the undergrowth, the sound of squirrels or agoutis as they gnaw through the tough shells of the nuts on which they feed.  There is the constant hissing and chirping of the insects and the mating calls of male amphibians.  Your ears play a large part of the experience beneath a forest canopy, sometimes you will hear far more than you will ever see.

While I was out today, I could tell what had gone before me by the tracks in the soft earth.  There was a small herd of Collared Peccary that had passed by not long before, three or four, judging by the fresh cloven hoofed tracks in the ground.  An agouti too had only just passed by, possibly it heard me coming and trotted off to hide somewhere amongst the tree roots.

Oh well, I guess it is going to be a good night for the frogs.  I hope so as I have a large private party coming to sample the nocturnal delights on offer once the sun has set.

There are no climatic constraints on vegetative growth in a tropical rainforest, the plants have heat, light and water in optimum quantities, so vegetation grows at a rate unprecedented anywhere else on earth. However, because the Osa Peninsula is not strictly situated in a rainforest but rather a seasonal forest, where there are five dry months out of the annual twelve, we experience two seasons; wet and dry.  The dry season normally lasts from December until the end of April and the wet season commences in May through November.

The trees in these seasonal forests are broad leaved evergreens.  The leaves will last about a year and be shed off, not all at once as in a deciduous forest, but rather only some at a time.  The time when leaves fall tends to be the coming to the end of the dry season.  The trees then replace leaf in a flush, producing many new leaves at once and synchronizing new leaf production with other trees, so as to provide more new tissue than any herbivores could consume in a short space of time.

Flowering too, tends to occur as we move into the dry season, typically around December into February.  But there are exceptions to this, with different trees flowering at different times of the year and some trees not just flowering once but several times or even continually throughout the year.

Forest Fruit Cocktail

Rainforest plants.  Nutmeg.  Myristicaceae.  Virola koschnyi

Ripe Golden Fruit showing nutmeg seed covered with the aril

Sometime around June and July, at various places on the forest floor you will come across small, almost almond looking fruits.  These are the fruta dorada, or golden fruits produced by one of three species of Nutmeg Trees,(Virola koschnyi), to be found in the forests around Bosque del Cabo.  When the fruit first falls to the ground it is entire, but after a short period of time it will start to dry out and split apart.  As they do, a bright flash of red is revealed.  The color is provided by a membrane, the aril, which covers the seed, the nutmeg.  Birds having acute color vision will see red a long way off in the forest.  Fruit eating birds like toucans will fly in and consume the seed and aril together.  The aril is very tasty and nutritious.  The bird digests the aril but now is left with a crop full of large heavy seeds which is not a condition conducive to flight, so the bird regurgitates the seed, thereby effecting seed dispersal for the plant.  The nutmegs we use in our kitchens are imported from Indonesia.  Dried and ground, the seed gives the spice nutmeg, the aril dried and ground gives the spice mace.

Rainforest vines.  Clusiaceae.  Clusia valerii.

Don’t assume the fruit on the forest floor fell from the tree it is under. This is the fruit of a vine atop a tree, (Clusia valerii)

There are numerous species of trees, shrubs and vines that belong to the family Clusiaceae.  This is the fruit of one of the vines (Clusia valerii), really an epiphytic shrub, which we find at Bosque.  They germinate at the top of a tree and throw down roots which eventually resemble large wooden cables.  The fruit is very easy to identify being an off-white egg shape which when ripe, splits like the nutmeg, but this time into five segments which once again reveals those orangey red aril covered seeds.

Monkey Comb Tree.  Malvaceae.  Apeiba tibourbou.  Osa Peninsula.  Costa Rica.

Monkey Comb – the fruit of Apeiba tibourbou

 

For most of the year visitors to Bosque will find lying on the forest floor these strange little fruits that you could swear were misplaced sea urchins.  Closer examination will reveal they are of vegetative and not animal origin.  Monkey combs come from the tree Apeiba tibourbou, or the Monkey Comb Tree.  The fruits are spiny flattened globes, initially green but later ripening to brown.  They are fairly ubiquitous, found lying on the paths of all the trails.  The fruit derives its name from an imagined, but false, notion that the monkeys will use them to groom their fur.

Rainforest fruits.  Figs.  Moraceae.  Ficus insipida.  Decomposition.  Mold.

After only a few days, a fallen fig will be covered in mold

Just about everyone knows exactly what a fig is.  There are in the region of 750 species of fig around the world.  The area around the Osa Peninsula boasts 23 species.  The fig itself is a synconium, a fleshy receptacle housing the flowers and later the fertile seeds.  Fig trees are so important in the forest because at any time during the year at least one tree in a population will be fruiting.  They provide such a copious amount of fruit which subsequently feeds so much of the animal life in the forest.  Sometimes the food supply is so wholly over adequate that the ground will then become covered with the now overripe uneaten figs which rapidly become covered with thread mould and finally they rot to a mush.

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

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