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Small Balls of Fire   Leave a comment

Felipe del Bosque Blog June 4th  2012

Flash & Crash

The week started bright and sunny but after a few days the heat built up, the hot moist air rose, condensed in the upper atmosphere and those thunderstorms so typical at this time of year arrived.  Here the storms pass overhead more often than not, bringing with them spectacular lightning shows, thunder that rattles all the buildings down to the foundations and of course the inevitable torrential rain.

The bosque creek still is running very low, but it won’t take too many of these downpours to fill it up.  The ground, which for the time being is soft and sticky, will soon become wet and cloying.

Dripping New Life

Now that it has been wet for a month or so, conditions that have encouraged the male amphibians to be out calling, the females having joined them and we are starting to see lots of eggs.  The Red-eyed Green Tree Frogs, (Agalychnis callidryas), have been laying their eggs in small masses under the leaves overhanging the pond.  The Smokey Jungle Frogs, (Leptodactylus savegei), are foam nesters and their distinctive egg containing frothy masses can be seen around the pond.  The smaller Banana Frogs, (Dendropsophus ebrecattus), lay their eggs on the vegetation floating on the pond surface.

All 3 of the above species have initially taken their eggs out of the water to develop away from aquatic predators.  With each, the eggs develop until about a week, then the larvae will drop into the water where they have to undergo a tadpole stage before metamorphosing into a terrestrial or arboreal frog.

The Leaf-cutter Ants have now been stimulated into 24 hour action on all of the trails.  During the dry season they normally work at night, away from the drying effects of the sun and high temperatures that could possibly desiccate the piece of leaf they are carrying over such long distances thereby rendering all that hard work to useless.  Now, with a change in the humidity it is possible to cut and carry all day and all night.

Stop and You’re Dead

Over the past week it has not just been the Leaf-cutter Ants making their presence obvious; the Army Ants have been out in force too.  Their unmistakable foraging columns can be seen traversing the forest floor, a living river of ants moving with unswerving purpose.

If you are lucky you may see the foraging front that the columns are serving.  This is a relentless forward marching line of ants up to 60 feet across and 10 feet or so in depth.  It is the phase in the recurring cycle of Army Ant activity where they move through the forest killing, dismembering and transporting any unfortunate small creature too slow to escape their advancing numbers.

You will be alerted to the presence of the murderous hymenopterans by the excited activity of so many birds; Antbirds, Antpittas, Ant Wrens, Ant Shrikes, Ant-tanagers, Ant Thrushes, Ant Vireos, woodpeckers, woodcreepers, tinamous and the ever present followers of the Army Ants, the Grey-headed Tanagers.  These birds are here, not to feed on the ants, but to take advantage of the easy meal afforded them by the frantic efforts of the insects to escape the jaws of the ravenous hordes.

There will be a hum in the air near the front of the seething black mass of ants; this is the sound of parasitic Phorid flies that are in the vicinity for the same reason as the birds.  As insects are flushed from their hiding spots, in go the flies, lay an egg on them and then retreat post haste.

The ants return with the mutilated remains of recently dead prey to a bivouac, a massive ball of ants that provide temporary accommodation for the colony by linking together their legs to construct a nest of living bodies.  This shelters the queen and the larvae while they feed and grow.  As soon as they pupate, the bivouac deconstructs and the ants then enter their nomadic phase, moving through the forest until they arrive at new killing fields to start the carnage once again.

All mammal life is as normal with many daily sightings of Howler, Spider, Capuchin and Squirrel Monkeys.  Solitary male White-nosed Coatis can commonly be seen around the grounds of the lodge while out in the forest, large groups of females in attendance of their large litters of offspring have been seen, particularly on the Titi Trail.  Agoutis too have been seen walking around with young ones, which have now left the shelter of the dens, in close proximity.

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

 Ball of Fire

Paper Wasp Nest         Paper Wasp Nest         Paper Wasp Nest

I you look under the leaves of many of the plants around the grounds you will see suspended structures that vary in shape from globular to cylindrical with various forms in between.  These are the nests of the paper wasps.

Paper Wasp Nest

The shape of the nest tends to be unique to the species of wasp making it.  The nests are made from carton which is chewed up plant material, normally wood.  Sometimes the wasps can be seen around the bar and restaurant area scraping away the surface layer of wooden rails with their mandibles.  They chew it into a pulp from which they make the paper that gives them their names.  They pulp is deposited layer upon layer to build the nest which houses the combs that constitute the brood chambers for the eggs and subsequently the developing larvae.  The nest may vary in color depending upon the source of the original construction material.  Some nests may be adorned with decorative features such as hanging flanges.

Polybia sp         Polybia sp         Polybia sp

Wasps are carnivores and feed on a wide variety of small arthropod prey.  The paper wasps generally belong to the genus Polybia.  Depending upon species they range in size from about 1.5 inches to .25 of an inch.  They are generally dark in color but banded with yellow.  They don’t use the sting to kill prey, which they do with the mandibles.  The sting is used for defensive purposes and to that effect contains chemical agents guaranteed to cause maximum pain.  They may be small but they are pugnacious and will defend the nest with vigor.   To that effect it is probably better to view them from a distance rather than close up.

Polybia sp

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 0.37 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 2.59 ins

Average Daily Rainfall 9.4 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 65.8 mm

Highest Daily Temp 90°F.  Lowest Daily Temp 75°F.

Highest Daily Temp 32.2°C.  Lowest Daily Temp 24.2°C.


Species List for the Week


  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • White-faced Monkey
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Common Opossum
  • Agouti
  • Red-tailed Squirrel




  • Orange-cheeked Parakeets
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Red-lored Amazons
  • Crested Caracara
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Grey-necked Woodrail
  • Lineated Woodpecker
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Common Paureque
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Long-billed Hermit
  • Rufus-tailed Hummingbird
  • Blue-crowned Manakin
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Blue-crowned Motmot
  • Long-tailed Woodcreeper
  • Banaquit
  • Cherrie’s Tanager
  • Golden-hooded Tanager
  • Green Honeycreeper
  • Red-legged Honeycreeper
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Golden-crowned Spadebill
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Great Tinamou
  • House Wren
  • Black-throated Trogon
  • Masked Tityra
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture




  • Central American Whiptail
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Common Basilisk
  • Five-lined Ameiva
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Mediterranean House Gecko
  • Norops limifrons
  • Northern Cat-eyed Snake
  • Salmon-bellied Racer
  • Tropical Bird-eating Snake




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




  • Anartia Fatima
  • Arawacus lincoides
  • Archaeoprepona demophon
  • Ascia monuste
  • Autochton neis
  • Battus belus
  • Caligo eurilochus
  • Cupido comyntas
  • Eueides lybia
  • Eurema albula
  • Glutophrissa Drusilla
  • Heliconius cydno
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Marpesia berania
  • Mechanitis polymnia
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho Menelaus
  • Pareuptychia occirhoe
  • Perophthalma lassus
  • Philaetria dido
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Siproeta stelenes
  • Taygetis andromeda
  • Turesis basta
  • Urbanus simplicius
  • Urbanus tanna




  • Alamandra  cathartica Flowering
  • Alpinia purpurata Flowering
  • Anthurium salvinii Flowering
  • Apeiba tibourbou Flowering and Fruiting
  • Arachis pintoi Flowering
  • Aristolochia Fruiting
  • Arundina graminifolia Flowering
  • Astrocaryum standelyarum Fruiting
  • Atrocarpus heterophyllus Fruiting
  • Averrhoa carambola Fruiting
  • Brassavola nodosa Flowering
  • Brownea macrophylla Flowering
  • Calathea lutea Flowering
  • Callistemon viminalis Flowering
  • Cascabella thevetia Flowering
  • Chamaedorea costaricana Fruiting
  • Cocos nucifera Fruiting
  • Crestentia alata flowering and Fruiting
  • Clusia rosea Fruiting
  • Clusia valerii Fruiting
  • Costus speciosus Flowering
  • Couroupita guianensis Flowering and Fruiting
  • Eichhornia crassipes Flowering
  • Ficus insipida Fruiting
  • Garcinia madruno Fruiting
  • Genipa Americana Flowering
  • Gustavia brachycarpa Flowering
  • Hedychium coronarium Flowering
  • Heliconia chartacea Flowering
  • Heliconia latispatha Flowering
  • Heliconia pogonantha Flowering
  • Heliconia psittacorum Flowering
  • Heliconia rostrata Flowering
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Flowering
  • Hymenaea coubaril Fruiting
  • Lacmellea panamensis Fruiting
  • Lantana camara Flowering
  • Lagerstroemia speciosa Flowering
  • Mangifera indica Fruiting
  • Miconia argentia Flowering
  • Morinda citrifolia Fruiting
  • Musa acuminate Fruiting
  • Naucleopsis ulei Fruiting
  • Pandanus tectonus Fruiting
  • Passiflora vitifolia Fruiting
  • Piper auritum Flowering and Fruiting
  • Piper umbellatum Flowering and Fruiting
  • Plumeria rubra Flowering
  • Psidium guajava Fruiting
  • Spathiphylum freidrichsthalii Flowering
  • Symphonia globulifera Fruiting
  • Terminalia catappa Flowering
  • Virola guatemalensis Fruiting
  • Virola koschnyi Fruiting
  • Vochysia ferruginea Fruiting



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