Archive for the ‘Heliconius cydno’ Tag

A Passion for Ant Killing Lions   4 comments

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

No change in the weather this week.  We have had another seven days of hot, sunny weather.  There were two days when the clouds had formed and the sky remained overcast but no rain resulted although the temperatures plummeted from 104⁰F to 96⁰F.

The butterfly numbers are increasing but still way below what would be expected for this time of year which is normally the peak of butterfly activity.  Around the pond at night, the Savage’s Thin-fingered Frogs are starting to gather in greater numbers.  The pond is the last remaining damp area on site.  The flowering period for many of the trees has finished and now some of them have started fruiting.

The major excitement this week has been the presence of a female Puma, (Puma concolor).  She had been seen in several different locations around the grounds.  The high-pitched barking alarm call of the Spider Monkeys is always an indication of where the cat is passing by.  One day, as the sun was setting, the alarm calls of agitated monkeys and agoutis started the fill the air.  The cat was on the prowl.

She left the cover of the forest and walked through an open garden.  That is where I spotted her.  She was in no hurry and it was patently obvious that she could see me.  She crossed the driveway and made her way into some dense vegetation.  The monkeys settling down in that area for the evening were suddenly stirred into action and more alarm calls began to build eventually reaching a fever pitch.

She emerged from the tangle of dense vegetation and slowly walked toward the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean.  An Agouti that was in the same vicinity saw the cat, let out a loud shriek and ran off with its hair stood on end.  The cat immediately looked alert but then just as quickly lost interest.  She sat down and started to clean herself before lying down for a few minutes.  She then rose to her feet, turned her back on me and walked off into the rapidly darkening forest.

There was another predator that I managed to get very close to this week.  Very close.  While I was out conducting my butterfly counts I found a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, (Buteo platypterus), sitting on a low cut tree stump on a trail through an open area of forest.  It was an ideal opportunity to take a photo.  I fully expected the bird to take off and fly away but it remained where it was and just looked at me.  I approached closer and closer but very slowly, each time taking a photo.  Eventually I ended up lying on the ground within touching distance but the bird never even flinched.  I kept a wary eye to my surroundings as it was not beyond the possibility that the parent birds would be keeping watch and attack should I get too close but nothing happened.

Broad-winged Hawk. Accipitridae. Philip Davison.

Juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, (Buteo platypterus)

Broad-winged Hawks are migratory throughout North, Central and South America.  They tend to hunt in the understory of the forest from where they swoop down and take small rodents and lizards from the ground.  The broad wings and short tail are a good visual identification feature.

Buteo platypterus

Close up of Juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, (Buteo platypterus)

A New Passion For Flags

Along the forest trails there are several species of Passion Vine currently in flower but this week I found one species that I had never seen before.  I returned with the camera and took photos for the record and to identify this new species.  –

There are sixteen species of Passion Vine to be found in the forests of the Osa Peninsula.  One is seen throughout the year at Bosque del Cabo Rain Forest Lodge, the Scarlet Passion Vine, (Passiflora vitifolia).  It is hard to miss the bright red flowers suspended on thin, fleshy, green stems that grow up from the ground and entwine the vegetation.  Two others flower only occasionally.

The new species, Passiflora pittieri, is normally found in primary forest but at the top of the canopy or in light gaps.  The flower is very distinctive with its pale cream petals and a corona of yellow-tipped orange filaments and pink-flushed anthers.  This one appears to be insect pollinated as I could see bees visiting the blooms.

Passifloraceae. Bosque del Cabo.

Passiflora pittieri

The leaves of this species are highly cyanogenic.  When physically damaged they release cyanide which would normally deter most creatures from eating them.  But where there is a system then there is a way round the system.  There are many species of longwing butterfly the larvae of which feed on the leaves of various species of passion vine.  The larvae have an enzyme that allow them to sequester the cyanide molecule and use it in turn as a toxic defense.  The caterpillars can only eat the young leaves as the older leaves will have become too unpalatable.

Cydno Longwing. Nymphalidae.

Cydno Longwing, (Heliconius cydno)

Heliconius sapho. Heliconiinae

Sapho Longwing, (Heliconius sapho)

Another insect associated with passion flowers are the flag-legged bugs.  These phytophagous, or leaf-eating, members of the Order: Hemiptera, Su

border: Heteroptera and Family: Coreidae can usually be found clustered around the flowers of passion vine.  Their rearmost legs have a large expanded flat and colored section.

Flag-legged Bug. Hemiptera. Heteroptera.

Flag-legged Bug, (Anisoscelis flavolineata)

Flag-legged Bug. Philip Davison. Bosque del Cabo

Flag-legged Bug, (Coreidae sp)

If a predator approaches a Flag-legged Bug, then the insect will wave one of its two brightly colored expanded rear legs.  This provides a target for the attacker which will end up with little more than a leg for its efforts while the bug will have flown away.  Many Flag-legged Bugs will be observed with either one or both rear legs missing.

The Pit of no Escape

This time of year with the ground having become very dry and friable, there are many small crater-like pits that have appeared all over the trails.  It would appear as if a miniature meteor storm had hit the area.  Further investigation, more particularly by disturbing the sides of the crater wall, will result in small grains of sand erupting upwards towards the source of the disturbance.  Buried and hidden at the bottom of the pit is a larva of an insect closely related to Lacewings and Owlflies, the Antlion, and it is this larva which is responsible for throwing the sand grains.

Myrmelon sp. Neuroptera.

Antlion, (Myrmelon sp), Pit

The Antlions belong to the Family: Myrmeleotidae within the Order: Neuroptera.  Only antlions of the Genus: Myrmelon create the pits.  The larva excavates the steep-sided pit and places itself at the bottom, just beneath the surface and covers itself with the fine sand.  They don’t just feed on ants, any small insect venturing within the crater rim will find itself struggling to leave.  The more it struggles to climb out, the more loose material it will dislodge causing it to slip towards the bottom.  The predatory larva lying in wait will now begin its performance of death to bring down the final curtain on the life of its victim.

Myrmelon sp

Mandibles of Antlion, (Myrmelon sp), Larva Grabbing Hapless Ant

Using the front legs the larval antlion flicks sand up at the ant desperately trying to escape the steep sided crater.  This serves to drag it further down towards the bottom of the pit.  When it finally slips all the way down, then the mandibles of the larva snap shut around the prey’s body.  This is what I was observing.  The unfortunate ant was struggling to escape the deadly grip of the mandibles but to no avail.  Sharp projections on the inside of the mandibles pierce the ants body and the larva sucks the juice out of the ant.  Once it has finished the remaining dry and drained carcass is flicked out of the pit while the larva awaits a fresh potential food item to enter.

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


Supplementary Surprise   4 comments

Felipe del Bosque Blog May 28th  2012

Inevitable Change

It has been a mixed bag with the weather this week.  There have been showers, sun and cloud cover.  This week has also seen the first violent thunderstorm of the season.  In the small hours of Thursday morning, for two hours the sky was lit and the buildings were shaken by the thunder and lightning directly overhead.  This was accompanied by an inch and a half of rain.  But as dawn broke and the sun rose, so did the clouds eventually disappear and it turned out to be a beautiful day.

Amazing Finds

We had a couple staying this week that were evaluating the potential of Bosque del Cabo as a suitable location for clients booking holidays through their travel agency.  Their clients are more nature oriented, which fits the profile of most of Bosque’s visitors; people come because of Bosque’s reputation as one of the best and most biodiverse rain forest lodges in Costa Rica.

Having completed the hotel inspection, it was time to hit the trails.  It wasn’t long before their eyes were opened as to why Bosque has achieved its renowned status.  Once again, as so many visitors before them, they were walking the Titi Trail watching an abundance of monkey activity, when from down the trail came walking towards them a Puma, (Puma concolor).  The cat came closer and closer, it then stopped, looked at them, turned and walked off into the forest.  From the description, “It had a short tail”, it was almost certainly the resident female Puma “Half tail”.

The excitement was not over for the day though.  After relating the tale of their amazing experience over dinner, they returned to their cabin only to be attracted to something making a noise in the tree outside.  They went out onto the deck and there was a Northern Tamandua, (Tamandua mexicana), using its powerful front legs and long sharp claws to rip into the bark of a tree in order to access and feed on the termites inside.  They didn’t manage to get a picture of the cat but they did get a good photograph of the anteater.

Odd Sighting

The Titi Trail seems to be an endless source of great wildlife sightings.  Not long after the Puma episode, one of the Bosque staff was working on the trail when he had waddling down the path towards him a large animal about the size of Shetland Pony, with small ears and a long snout.  This description fits only creature, Baird’s Tapir, (Tapiris bairdii).  I have been walking the trails of Bosque for 12 years and have occasionally come across tapir tracks, even as close as my cabin, but I have never seen a tapir in the flesh on the grounds.

Tapirs are odd-toed animals related to horses and rhinoceroses; they all belong to the mammalian order Perissodactyla.  Baird’s Tapir is the only odd-toed mammal native to Central American.  They are browsers, feeding on low lying vegetation and fruit.  Water is essential to the life of the tapir, they like pools in which they can wallow.  Bosque is at the top of a hill and there is no lying water so this individual was probably a transient on its way somewhere else.

Mango Surprise

The mango trees are now hanging with fruit which is starting to ripen.  This is attracting the attention of many fruit eating animals or those that would just take the opportunity of partaking of the frugivorous feast.  One night while I was walking near the mango orchard I could hear a lot of movement coming from the uppermost branches.  As I stood watching, a creature fell to the ground with a bump along with several of the mangoes.  Initially all I could see was the bright orange eye-shine reflecting back from my flashlight beam.  The fall did not seem to have caused it any trauma as it progressed to climbing back into the tree.

By the time it made its way up in the branches again I could see what it was, a Kinkajou, (Poto flavus).  This one was not alone; several more made their presence know, not by coming into view, but by the distinctive nasal snort followed by short high pitched whistles.  There must have been 3 or 4 above my head which may have been a family all gorging themselves on the abundance of succulent mango flesh surrounding them.

Raining Frogs

It might come as no surprise but when the rains arrive it stimulates the rain frogs into calling.  The rain frogs can be heard throughout the year but with increasing wet conditions, more species and more individuals are induced to call.  This time of year, all night long you will hear the Tink Frogs, (Diasporus diastema), with the distinctive metallic “tink” song.  As the sun sets, you will quite often be aware of soft “chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck” sounds coming from a variety of locations.  These are male Fitzinger’s Rain Frogs, (Craugastor fitzingeri), both calling for a mate and telling other males to stay away.  Unfortunately, the calls also alert those night time predators on frogs, the Fringe-lipped Bats, (Trachops cirrhosus).  The calls usually echo back and forth with a regular time interval which makes it difficult for the bat to isolate where the call is coming from.

         Craugastor fitzingeri         Craugastor fitzingeri

Fitzinger’s Rain Frog is not a very large amphibian but despite its size is quite robust.  It has a mottled fawn and brown skin with small black spots and covered in small raised warts.  As with many frogs they are mostly nocturnal.  The rain frogs also don’t need to return to the water to reproduce.  They pair up and then deposit 10-30 large, yolk-filled eggs in the leaf litter on the forest floor.  The larvae develop within the egg, (there is no free-swimming tadpole stage), until about 8 weeks and then emerge as fully formed but tiny copies of the adults.

Craugastor fitzingeri

This individual I inadvertently disturbed early in the morning.  I took advantage of the good lighting and the fact that he didn’t seem too keen to hop away, or at least not till I had taken some good profile shots of him.

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.

Photo Feature

Protein Supplement

Sadly, as far as I am concerned, with the rainy season the butterfly numbers are past their peak.  There are still enough around but the figures are on the downturn.  One morning, the sun was shining and didn’t have a tour, so I decided to head out with the camera and see what may be around.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular just whatever happened to be there.  At one point I came across at longwing passionflower butterfly, (Heliconius cydno), flitting from flower to flower searching for and feeding on the nectar that provides the butterfly with energy for flight.  I also noticed that this individual had its proboscis coated with a large deposit of aggregated pollen.

Heliconius cydno         Heliconius cydno         Heliconius cydno

Butterflies of the subfamily Heliconiinae are known as “passion vine butterflies” as many species use the genus Passiflora as a larval host plant.  But they are also the only butterflies known to also feed on pollen, specifically from several species of the cucumber vine family, Cucurbitaceae.  The passion vine butterflies have excellent eyesight and color vision allowing them to find the cucumber vine flowers in the forest.  Nutrients in the pollen are essential for egg production and to maintain the health of the females‘ovaries which subsequently enable multiple matings.  Daily feeding on pollen, from which amino acids are derived also allow the Heliconius butterflies to live anything upto 9 months which is almost Methuselah-like in butterfly terms.  They are also metabolized into the production of defensive toxins stored in the butterflies’ body.  The bright colors worn by the Heliconiinae are warnings, (aposomatic coloration), signaling that the insect is not a suitable food item.

Heliconius cydno

Heliconius butterflies are trapliners, visiting several plants, but over the same route, every day.  However if the food plants are in short supply, they become more stationary and defensive of their particular patch of vine.


Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Temperature and Rainfall

Average Daily Rainfall 0.53 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 3.68 ins

Average Daily Rainfall 13.3 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 93.2 mm

Species List for the Week


  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • White-faced Monkey
  • Agouti
  • Red-tailed Squirrel
  • Vesper Rat
  • Kinkajou




  • Mealy Amazon
  • Red-lored Amazons
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Grey-necked Woodrail
  • Great Curassow
  • Black Hawk
  • Crested Caracara
  • Great Black Hawk
  • Laughing Falcon
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Yellow-headed Caracara
  • Golden-naped Woodpecker
  • Lineated Woodpecker
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Streak-headed Woodcreeper
  • Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
  • Common Paureque
  • Brown Pelican
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Long-billed Hermit
  • Blue-crowned Manakin
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Fiery-billed Aracari
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Golden-crowned Spadebill
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Great Tinamou
  • House Wren
  • Slaty-tailed Trogon
  • Masked Tityra
  • Black Vulture
  • King Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture




  • Central American Whiptail
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Common Basilisk
  • Five-lined Ameiva
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Green Iguana
  • Litter Snake
  • Northern Cat-eyed Snake
  • Mediterranean House Gecko
  • Snub-nosed Anolis
  • Tropical Bird-eating Snake




  • Banana Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Gladiator Frog
  • Golfo Dulce Poison Arrow Frog
  • Marine Toad
  • Masked Smilisca
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Smokey Jungle Frog




  • Anartia fatima
  • Eueides lybia
  • Glutophrissa Drusilla
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Marpesia berania
  • Metacharis victrix
  • Morpho menelaus
  • Opsiphanes tamarindi
  • Parides erithalion
  • Philaetria dido
  • Phoebis argante
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pierella luna
  • Pseudolycaena damo
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Strymon megarus




  • Bamboo Orchid Flowering
  • Lacmellea panamensisFruiting
  • Crestentia alata flowering and fruiting
  • Cannonball Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Cashew Flowering and Fruiting
  • Clusia valerii Fruiting
  • Gustavia brachycarpa Flowering
  • Apeiba tibourbou Flowering and Fruiting
  • Naucleopsis ulei Fruiting
  • Symphonia globulifera Fruiting
  • Virola koschnyi Fruiting


Beautiful Deceptions: Mimicking Aposematism   Leave a comment

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

The weather continues to favor the visitors to the Osa Peninsula.  August normally sees the transition from rain to really heavy rain which continues through September into November. But the days remain hot and sunny, and certainly not every night, but definitely last night, we were entertained by an electric storm with lots of lightning illuminating the forest and lodge accompanied by the crashes of thunder which rattled the structure of all the buildings.  All of this, along with the driving rain lashing down, probably made for a sleepless night for one and all.  This morning though, as the sun rose over the Golfo Dulce, it did so without a cloud in the sky, promising yet another beautiful day.

Rainforest Rhythm

The storm seemed to have dampened the enthusiasm of the animal life as there were not many birds active at first light and the butterflies made a slow start of it but as I sit and write at mid day everything appears to have returned to normal activity.  The Scarlet Macaws are making their usual raucous din and a large flock of Golden Hooded Tanagers have been making their way from one fruiting tree to another, eagerly feeding on the ripening feast now available to them.

The grounds have several fig trees which have been producing a copious amount of small figs for several weeks now.  Toucans arrive by the flock on a daily basis.  There are large mixed flocks of multiple tanager species, dacnis, honeycreepers and manikins.  The ever-present large white blooms of the Crepe Gingers are continually attracting the attention of resident Rufus-tailed Hummingbirds and Purple-crowned Fairies which feed on the nectar they provide.  Despite their small size, the Rufus-tailed Hummingbirds zealously guard their food supply, pugnaciously putting much larger invaders of their territory to flight.  The Hermits, both Long-billed and Strip-throated, are more tranquil by nature, and “trapline” the Heliconia blooms, making their daily rounds, flitting at high speed from flower to flower, hovering briefly at each one to take a sip of nectar.

The Hobos or “Hog Plums” have been another month’s long source of fruit now and the Cannonball Tree which has recently been flowering is now starting to produce the distinctive large cannonball shaped fruits from which the tree derives its name.

Rain in A Rainforest:  Life Goes On

This is not the best time of year to see butterflies but nonetheless there are some persistent species, particularly some of the brightly colored long-wings.  I don’t tend to put many guarantees on wildlife sightings, but I can be pretty sure that a visit to one of the constantly flowering Lantanas in the garden areas will reward you with at least four or five species, taking it in turns to move between the orange and yellow flower heads.

Monkeys, coatis and agoutis are not going to be to far away on any day in this area.  Many people ask what the animals do during the rainy season.  It is a rainforest, it rains seven months out of twelve so the animals go about their daily lives as normal.  The Humpback Whales have been giving a fine display today.  Several visitors sitting on the deck of their cabins have seen females with calves close to the shore.

So despite a slow wet start, today turned out just fine, another beautiful day, in more ways than one, here on the Osa Peninsula.

Wildlife spotting is a bit of a hit or miss affair.  No nature guide in his right mind would give cast-iron guarantees about seeing any one particular animal, even it is has inhabited the same spot for a long period of time.  Animal life is not always compliant with ones wishes to see it.  Despite the high levels of biodiversity in tropical rainforests, notoriously they do not reveal their secrets very readily.  It is not like being on the African savannahs inhabited by large mega fauna.  If mammals don’t want to be seen, you will not see them.  I have lived here for ten years and I walk these trails on a daily basis.  In the wet season I can see what has been walking before me from the tracks they have left in the soft earth.  I have seen the tracks of Baird’s Tapir on more than a few occasions.  It is an animal about the size of a Shetland Pony and despite having seen their tracks, even close to my cabin, I have never seen a tapir in this area.

Obviously Aposematic

However there are animals that do want to be seen.  One can think of the bright red color of the Scarlet Macaw.  Along with many other species of parrot, macaws are gregarious birds.  Red is the complementary color to green, the background color of the forest, so it probably aids the macaws as a visual signal within the group.  Think of all those brightly colored, slow flying butterflies, the Heliconiids or Long-wings.  Why would a butterfly want to appear so visibly obvious, they are patently not trying to hide?  The reason is that they contain cyanide.  It would not be in the interests of any predator to feed on the butterfly and nor would it do the butterfly any good to have such a toxic chemical deterrent if nothing new about it.  So those bright flashy colors are warning colors and animals sporting them are said to display aposomatic coloration.

Rainforest butterflies. Lepidoptera. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae. Heliconius sapho

Heliconius sapho

This situation very nicely lends itself to two forms of mimicry.  Batesian mimicry is the term applied to non poisonous butterflies mimicking poisonous butterflies.  This form of mimicry only works where there are far more poisonous butterflies or the predators would never learn.  Mullerian mimicry is where all the poisonous butterfies across the board are co-mimics of one another.  And mimicry really does work, quite often you need the butterflies in your hand to assess subtle differences in markings or coloration to allow you to identify one species from another.

Costa Rican Longwing Butterflies. Lepidoptera. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae. Heliconius cydno.

Heliconius cydo – Can you tell the difference with the species above?

Most amphibians are nocturnal, so any diurnal amphibian hopping around on the forest floor during the day is going to be a fairly easy target.  To this effect many diurnal amphibians have evolved very toxin skin secretions.  But once again, there is no point having a toxic skin secretion if none of the predators know about it.  If they eat the frog it is too late for them and too late for the frog.  Diurnal frogs such as the poison dart frogs have evolved very bright warning colors, another example of aposematic coloration.  The colors tend to be neon-like and almost glow from the forest floor.  If something is sitting there glowing, it is not inviting itself as a meal, it is telling you to keep your distance.

Rainforest Poison Dart Frogs Costa Rica. Amphibia. Anura. Dendrobatidae. Oophaga granuliferus)

You can’t miss it – Granular Poison Dart Frog, (Oophaga granuliferus)

Costa Rican Poison Dart Frogs. Amphibia. Anura. Dendrobatidae. Pyllobates vittatus.

Endemic Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frog, (Phyllobates vittatus)

Rainforest Frogs. Amphibia. Anura. Dendrobatidae. Dendrobates auratus.

Quite literally – Black and Green Poison Dart Frog, (Dendrobates auratus)

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

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