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