Archive for the ‘Milky Tree’ 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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Bosque del Cabo June 2011 Nature Review   1 comment


Felipe del Bosque Blog June 2011 Review

June produced some really heavy rain.  The precipitation was not consistent but rather dry periods interspersed with some very heavy overnight downpours.  Two storms in particular were responsible for bringing down a lot of trees and branches this month.

One morning a huge Milky Tree, (Brosimum utile), fell on the far side of the suspension bridge.  The tree had fallen across the path and therefore required the trail maintenance team’s attention.  As they cut through the fallen  trunk to open access once again, the freshly fallen tree bled out copious amounts of the white latex sap that gives the tree its name.

Section through fallen Milky Tree

The wood of the Milky Tree is unusually soft for a tropical hardwood tree.  That fact combined with the freely flowing sap produces a frenzy of insect activity.  Many beetles have larvae that live and grow in dead wood.  Along with termites, bacteria and fungi, the beetle larvae are one the major agents in the rapid decay of a dead tree.

Once the tree had been cut and the middle section moved from the path, within a 24 hour period a whole regime of creatures arrived.  Many of the hymenopterans use plant resins to construct structures within their nests and some almost completely so.  A variety of orchid bee species arrived post-haste, each one desperate to gather up as much of the milky white sticky latex as quickly as possible before the temporarily bounteous supply ran dry.

Orchid Bee

Beetles, most numerously the weevils, arrived too.  One large and impressive species of beetle, the Harlequin Beetle, (Acrocinus longimanus), turned up in very large numbers.  Along with the weevils, if you stood still and watched for a short time you would see them pair up, mate and the females lay eggs in holes excavated in the now dead wood.

Weevil        Weevil        Weevil

Acocinus longimanus

June provided a fair share of exotic grasshoppers, crickets and katydids.  Grasshoppers tend to be diurnal with short antennae whereas crickets and katydids tend to be nocturnal and have long filamentous antennae.

Unidentified Grasshopper        Unidentified Cricket        Unidentified Katydid

Spiders too could be found around the grounds without too much effort.  Although they do exist here, tarantulas are rarely seen.  Maybe if you venture out at night and search the holes in the banking to the roads or walk the forest trails you will be lucky enough to see one.

Unidentified Orb Spider        Micrathena sp        Orchard Spider

Tarantula

The Tendril Stanhopea Orchid, (Stanhopea cirrhata), despite being epiphytic, grows quite low to the ground, in cooler, damper areas and near to streams.  That is exactly where I found this individual which obliged me with the opportunity to photograph it by flowering several times during the course of June and July.

Stanhopea cirrhata

A lot more trees are coming into fruit this time of year which is a boon when it comes to finding help to identify the trees.  The leaves, bark and buttressed roots do not tend to be good diagnostic features as most of the trees look very similar and there are hundreds of species on the grounds.  The fruits however are generally very characteristic, if not to species, then certainly to genus.

Lacmellea panamensis                Ficus sp

Protium sp                Vochisia ferruginea

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming books:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

The Small World of Bosque del Cabo

The Colors of Bosque del Cabo

A Children’s Guide to Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge

Temperature and Rainfall

Average M Temp High 84°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 74°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.85 ins.  Total Monthly Rainfall 25.35 ins

Average Daily Temp High 28.8°C.  Average Daily Temp Low 23.2°C.

Average Daily Rainfall 21.5 mm.  Total Monthly Rainfall 644.6 mm

 

How The Mighty Have Fallen   3 comments


Felipe del Bosque Blog June 5th 2011

 

Right on Time

You could hear it coming, like a distant train rapidly advancing, the sound got louder and louder.  The Howler Monkeys became perturbed and started to loudly voice their disapproval.  And then it hit, a wall of water, thrashing the vegetation as it fell with great force from the sky.  All sounds of nature were now obliterated by the torrential downpour.  Only this downpour lasted most of the day.  Eventually having delivered 3 inches of rain from the time when it started in mid afternoon, to when it let up late into the evening.

This is the kind of precipitation we can expect for the next few months.  Thankfully it normally occurs in the evening when everyone has sat down to eat in the restaurant.  But it does mean that the paths are now going to become sticky.  This was the first occasion of 2011 when I have had to don the rubber boots.

Over the following nights, the intensity of rain never lessened.  One night, overnight, there was just over 6 inches of rain adding to a 24 hour total of 10 inches.  The ground, already being saturated, could not hold any more water and so the run off was flowing like a shallow river over the lawns.  By morning the rain had stopped and the sun was shining once again.

Fading Out The Sound

The butterfly numbers continue to decrease as we advance further into the wet season.  The amphibian numbers remain high.  Tink Frogs and Banana Frogs are out in force every evening, their distinctive calls audible only until the rain comes down, when they tend to get drowned out.

One of the events triggered by the increasing precipitation is the nuptial flights of the ants and termites.  The reproductive termites leave the nest at dusk and their nuptial swarms will congregate anywhere where there is a light source.

The Leaf-cutter Ant reproductives tend to leave the nest early in the morning following a night of torrential rain.  At the beginning of the wet season, the established queen in the nest lays eggs which will be taken away by the queen’s attendants to brood chambers where the prevailing environmental conditions result in genetic masking of certain genes thereby causing the development of the new queens.  The new queens are huge, bearing little resemblance to the other ants in the nest.  They also have wings, which the other ants do not.

At the same time as the new queens are being raised, the resident queen also starts laying unfertilized eggs which will become the males, they too are winged.  Coming as they do from unfertilized eggs, the males only have one set of chromosomes, the new queens have two.

When conditions are right, the new queens and the males leave the nest together and the air is filled with huge flying ants.

May in June

The eye-catching bright yellow blooms of the Mayo Trees that decorated the forest canopy for the past few months have faded and died.  Their work has been done though, attracting insect pollinators, as those same trees are now starting to produce fruit.

There are still many fruits to be found on the forest floor.  The bright red aril surrounding the nutmeg of the Fruta Dorada instantly stands out.  The yellow pyramidal blooms of the Santa Maria continue to blossom in the lower levels and forest edges.

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

Recent heavy rains have caused a lot of tree fall.  Many of the trees that become unstable during the dry season still have the benefit of being “cemented” into the ground by the hard soils.  Once the rains do arrive they soften up the ground.  Trees that were precariously balanced now have the rains adding a burden of weight to the crown that often results in the tipping of that balance and down the tree goes, all of a sudden and without warning.  This is what happened last week when a huge Milky Tree, (Brosimum utile), fell across the path to the Tropical Garden.  The falling botanical behemoth knocked down four other trees as it crashed to the forest floor.

Giant Milky Tree Falls

The trail maintenance team was quick off the mark.  Armed with chainsaws and long levers, they cut a section through the tree which they rolled to one side, once again opening up the path even before lunch was over.

Quick Path Clearance

Milky Trees are named from the copious sap they exude when the bark is damaged.  It is bright white in color and has the runny consistency of cream rather than milk.  It is used by native peoples who tap the tree, collect the sap, which upon hardening is used like chewing gum, one of the original sources of chicle.  The bark is also taken off in large sections, steeped in the water for several days until it is leached.  The bark is then dried and beaten with sticks until it becomes soft and pliable with a nap not too dissimilar to towling, at which point it can be used as blankets or in the making of ceremonial clothing.  One recent discovery of interest is that the sap from the root bark has yielded a cytotoxic isoflavone, which has subsequently been found to be an effective treatment for breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.

This is why it is called a Milky Tree

Anyway, I took the opportunity to photograph the now fallen giant.  As the wood has no great value outside of very light construction and laminates, the Bosque construction team had no interest in the tree other than clearing the section from the path. The rate of decay here is very rapid.  High temperatures and humidity provide an excellent incubator for bacteria and fungi which launch a nonstop attack on the fallen wood.  Then you add to the mix the beetle larvae and termites which will help reduce a solid tree to mush in matter of two years or so.

I will try to photographically record the progressive rotting of the tree by taking a picture at the start of every month.  It will be interesting to see just how quickly the recycling takes place.

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 83°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 73°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 2.33 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 16.32 ins

Average Daily Temp High 27.8°C.  Average Daily Temp Low 22.3°C.

Average Daily Rainfall 59.2 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 414.1 mm

Species List for the Week

Mammals

  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • Capuchin Monkey
  • Red-tailed Squirrel
  • Agouti

Birds

  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Great Currasow
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Lineated Woodpecker
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Great Tinamou
  • House Wren
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

Reptiles

  • Barred Ameiva
  • Four-lined Ameiva
  • Green Iguana
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Mediterranean House Gecko
  • Cat-eyed Snake
  • Terciopelo
  • Tropical Bird-eating Snake

Amphibians

  • Marine Toad
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Banana Frog
  • Masked Smilisca
  • Milky Frog
  • Small-headed Frog
  • Smokey Jungle Frog
  • Stejneger’s Dirt Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Fitzinger’s Rain Frog
  • Tink Frog

Butterflies

  • Anartia fatima
  • Cupido comyntas
  • Detritivora gynaea
  • Dryas iulia
  • Eueides lybia
  • Heliconius cydno
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Hyalyris excels
  • Laparus doris
  • Magneuptychia libye
  • Mechanitis polymnia
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho Menelaus
  • Pareuptychia ocirrhoe
  • Parides erithalion
  • Philaethria dido
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pierella luna
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Urbanus simplicius
  • Urbanus tanna

 

Plants

  • Astrocaryum Palm Fruiting
  • Black Alligator Tree Fruiting
  • Calabash flowering and fruiting
  • Clusia Vine Fruiting
  • Monkey Comb Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Candlestick Plant Flowering.
  • Cannonball Tree Flowering
  • Figs Fruiting
  • Inga Fruiting
  • May Tree Flowering
  • Manglillo Fruiting
  • Nutmeg Fruiting
  • Psychotria Fruiting
  • Rosa del Monte Flowers
  • Rubber Tree Fruiting
  • Santa Maria Flowering
  • Stinky Toe Fruiting
  • Ylang ylang Flowering
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