Archive for the ‘Leaf-legged Bug’ Tag

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

Nuts For Giant Green Flags   1 comment


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

Being Yellow and Burning Nuts

Walking along the trails through the forest can sometimes be a visual feast in terms of animal sightings but at other times you may encounter very little at all.  The air is very still and so there is quite often no sound of rustling leaves as when blown in a breeze.  The temperatures are high, not as high as at the top of the canopy, but high enough to make someone more familiar with cooler climes to break into a sweat at the slightest exertion.  The stifling silence maybe permeated by the white noise of calling insects.

At the moment there are many trees in bloom.  The Nance trees, (Byrsonima crassifolia), are currently covered in bright yellow flowers which change to orange after they have been pollinated.  The Nance flowers attract a lot of bees, particularly species of stingless bees native to the area.  Several months from now the trees will bear huge numbers of the small yellow-skinned fruits that are consumed not only by a large number of animals but people too.  The taste is unique and the fruits can be eaten raw or prepared as a dessert or as a refreshing drink.

Nance. Malpighiaceae. Bosque del Cabo. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Nance, (Byrsonima crassifolia)

One tree that has been flowering for the past month or so and is now producing fruit is the Cashew, (Anacardium occidentale).  It has distinctive large red pear-like fruits beneath which the nut is suspended.  The fruity looking object is the swollen meristem of the actual fruit which is the nut itself.  It is known as the Cashew Apple or Maranon.  This you can eat without concern.  As with the Nance, the flavor is unique.  It can linger for some time at the back of the mouth before fading away.  The nuts are to be treated with a great deal more caution.  Cashew belongs to the same family of plants as poison ivy, Anacardiaceae.  The skin of the nut contains the volatile oil Cardol, which can cause severe blistering when in contact with the skin and more dangerously a burning of the eyes.  Cashew nuts must be roasted or blanched to eliminate the oils.  Even then the utmost caution has to be exercised as the oils can seriously damage the respiratory system, many people who work in the Cashew industry suffer very severe respiratory problems.

Cashew. Anacardiaceae. Philip Davison.

Cashew, (Anacardium occidentale)

While I was looking at the unripe green cashews I noticed another species of Leaf-legged Bug, (Family: Coreidae), that I had not seen before.  A search through the literature would only provide me with the Genus: Acanthocephala.  I have photographed several species in this genus but cannot get them any more specific than that.  This one was feeding on the unripe cashew apple by sticking the dagger-like mouthparts into the flesh and sucking up the juice.

Leaf-legged Bug. Hemiptera. Heteroptera. Coreidae. Bosque del Cabo.

Leaf-legged Bug, (Acanthocephala sp)

Seen As Green With Orange Flags

From here and there bird calls drawn your attention to the distance.  You become attuned to the slight rustles down by your feet.  Further investigation reveals a lizard, one of the whiptails perhaps, scurrying off through dry leaf litter.  Beside you there is a faint buzzing sound, a high-pitched hum.  It is a hummingbird, its wings a blur, coming to scrutinize a piece of red clothing you are wearing.  As far as the bird is concerned this could be a fresh bloom brimming with nectar but no such luck and off it goes.

As I was walking through the forest a quick flash of bright orange caught my eye near the ground.  A male Golfo Dulce Anolis Lizard, (Anolis osae), was displaying to a female.  He catches her attention and tries to gain her favor by flying a bright fiery orange flag, a dewlap, which is a loose piece of skin beneath his chin.  It is supported by a thin rod of cartilage which is attached to the front of the jaw and over which he has muscular control.  The more splendid the dewlap, the better his genetic make-up and the more desirable he will be to father her offspring.  The female is a similar size but lacks the dewlap and has a series of dark diamonds down her back.

Golfo Dulce Anolis. Reptilia. Squamata. Sauria. Polychrotidae.

Golfo Dulce Anolis, (Anolis osae). Male.

Golfo Dulce Anolis. Bosque del Cabo

Golfo Dulce Anolis, (Anolis osae). Female.

While I was lying on the ground photographing the lizards I saw a tiny metallic green fleck moving around.  The movement was jerky as the fleck hopped from one dead twiglet to another.  There was no mistaking that form of movement, it was a jumping spider.  Many of the jumping spiders are minute.  Unless you were looking for them or are familiar with their body movements then it is so easy to miss them.  That would be a shame as they are fascinating little creatures.

Jumping Spider. Araneae.

Unidentified Jumping Spider, (Salticidae). Anterior Eyes.

Normally jumping spiders are inclined to turn and look at you.  This one seemed to be distracted by something else and continually kept its gaze in the opposite direction to me so I could only really photograph its back.  For a fleeting moment it turned to look at me and I managed to get a shot of the huge anterior eyes that the spider relies upon for seeing the prey item that it will actively hunt down.

Salticidae. Osa Peninsula. Philip Davison

Unidentified Jumping Spider, (Salticidae). Dorsal View.

Pussyfooting Around

Mammals, despite their sometimes large size, are notoriously difficult to find.  Monkeys, when active, can make a large amount of noise as they crash through the trees.  They can also be quite vocal.  Coatis and agoutis on the forest floor can be detected b their movement.  Coatis tend to huff and puff a lot as the females with juveniles constantly sniff out any consumable morsel lying in their path.  Agoutis and squirrels can be heard gnawing their way through the shells of various fruit and nuts that form the bulk of their diet.

Cats on the other hand are largely silent.  They are masters of stealth.  Over the past week I have captured videos of an Ocelot walking the Titi Trail.  One of the guests at the lodge crossed the path of a Puma on three different occasions over the last few days.  On one instance the Puma was lying across the trail in front of her and had no desire to move.  She slowly backed away while always facing the cat and finally headed off in a different direction.  The cat could have cared less.  The next day she came across the cat walking down the trail in front of her.  A few days ago the Spider Monkeys were shrieking their cat-specific alarm call and sure enough one the guests staying in the Tropical Garden was lucky enough to see the Puma walking through the forest behind his cabin.

Deceptive Green Stripes and Giant False Bats

The forests, fields, hedgerows and gardens are normally filled with butterflies this time of year and that has been the case.  One distinctive Lepidopteran that has been around in very large numbers over the past month is the Green Urania, (Urania fulgens).  Its striking soot black wings striped with bright metallic green bands make it look so much like one of the swallowtail butterflies that people are surprised when they cannot find it in the butterfly guide books.  It is, in fact, a migratory day-flying moth.

When walking down the forest trails at this time of year people are also fooled by yet another moth.  This moth is so large that it is when it is spooked and takes to the air, its huge wingspan and flapping flight lead people that they are looking at a bat.  This is the largest species of Lepidopteran on the planet, the White Witch Moth, (Thysania agrippina).  If you have the good fortune to see it land you will notice that it orientates itself with the wings up and down.  The light grey ground color of the wings now display in this vertically inclined position darker wavy, zig-zag markings, which if the moth has landed on a pale barked tree, render it almost impossible to see as they resemble crevices in the bark.  Despite they are reasonably common moths throughout Central and South America, very little is known of their life history.

White Witch Moth. Erebidae

White Witch Moth, (Thysania agrippina)

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