Archive for the ‘Rainforest insects’ Tag

BIODIVERSITY MOST ORDINARY   1 comment


Veridion Adventures. Philip Davison. Rainforest animals. Rainforest plants

Day by day the rains lessen.  Day by day the sun is breaking through a little more, warming up the ground and consequently the air.  Evaporation causes the relative humidity to rise.  We are almost there, almost into the dry season.  It won’t be long before we start to lament the lack of precipitation but let us at least enjoy the first few dry weeks without complaint.  There have now been 3 dry sunny days in succession.  It doesn’t take long for the muddy trails to start drying out.

Biodiversity Most Ordinary: Net-winged Planthopper

There are certain insects that you see regularly in a variety of locations but they don’t excite your interest because there is nothing outstanding about them; no bright color, no unusual shape or weird behavior.  They are just a general insect.

Net-winged Planthoppers fall into this category of ordinary.  I see them but I am never inspired to point the lens in their direction.  Last week as I was searching the vegetation, scrutinizing the grass blades and poking around on the ground looking for a subject that I may have never seen before, one of the Net-winged Planthoppers landed in front of me.  Well here was an opportunity to photograph something even if the subject was mundane.

Rainforest insects. Hemiptera. Homoptera. Nogodinidae. Biolleyana costalis. Net-winged Planthopper. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Net-winged Planthopper, (Biolleyana costalis)

I am probably doing the Net-winged Planthopper a disservice as they are as important as everything else within the complex system of interactions that make up the tropical rainforest ecosystem.  They are true bugs and belong in the homopteran family: Nogodinidae, which taxonomically is regarded as being Neotropical.  Information regarding their life histories are non-existent at worst to scarce at best.  I think this individual is one of the 3 known Biollyana species, possibly Biolleyana costalis.  They are plant sap feeders and use the long piercing mouthparts to tap into the plant’s vascular system.

There are 22 families of planthoppers consisting of approximately 12, 500 species.  Despite their method of feeding, very few of them are vectors for plant borne diseases and are not especially known as agricultural pests.

Biodiversity Most Ordinary: Better Red Than Dead

Not too far from the Net-winged Planthopper I found another puzzling creature.  My initial thought was that this is a Hemipteran nymph, probably Heteroptera but as to what family I do not know.

What caught my eye was the fact that this nymph was colored fiery red and I found it on a bright red Heliconia flower.  This invites certain questions.  Red is a commonly found color used by plants for their flowers in a tropical rainforest.  Red is the complementary color to green.  It is a very hot color whereas green is very cool color.  Red will vividly stand out from a surrounding sea of green vegetation.  Many pollinators have acute color vision and will spot the potential food source, (normally nectar), advertised by the plant.  The payback is the transference of pollen and therefore the completion of reproduction for the stationary plant.

Rainforest Insects. Hemiptera. Heteroptera. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Heteroptera nymph

So does the adult bug select for red flowers on which to lay its eggs and the sap-sucking nymph that hatches is red and blends in with its host plant?  Might it be that the nymph upon hatching feeds on the plant tissue and takes in the plants red pigments such as carotenes, which it then stores to subsequently give it the matching color?  It may well be that is was simply a coincidence and the red nymph just happened to be on a red flower, there are many red heteropteran nymphs that feed on green leaves which defies logic as they then become very visible.  But nature has its ways, which unlike the red nymphs on green leaves, is not always obvious.

Biodiversity Most Ordinary: Tales of the Flesh

Flies are distained by most people, and with good reason; they can be both annoying and dangerous.  For the most part, flies possess wings, atypical for insects – only one pair of wings.  Adult flies are liquid feeders and that embraces just about all liquids, including blood, particularly vertebrate blood.  The larvae feed on liquids and solids.

Excellent fliers with unspeakably bad habits, (from a human point of view), and the ability to travel over long distances give the Diptera, (True Flies), a reputation as one of the most serious vectors of human borne disease and pathogens.

Flies require protein in their diet, a first-rate source of which is blood, mammalian blood, human blood.  Mosquitoes are probably the most widely know vectors used by blood living parasites as vectors between species and individuals within a species.  Mosquitoes are not alone, they are joined by Black Flies, Sand Flies and Horse Flies as bringing nuisance, illness and death to their victims.

This Flesh Fly, (Sarcophagidae sp), was perched on a log in the sun.  Flesh Flies could be regarded as a typical dipteran, to look at there is nothing outstanding.  They are not particularly large or have strange anatomical features.  There are about 600 species of Flesh Flies in the neotropics and to the layman they mostly all look the same.

Rainforest Insects. Diptera. Sarcophagidae. Flesh Fly. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Flesh Fly, (Sarcophagidae sp)

Because they are common and widespread, their unsavory habit of feeding on carrion and excrement as well as associating with humans points the finger of accusation in being the mechanical vector in disease transmission.  Unlike most dipterans Flesh Flies are ovoviviparous, the larvae hatch from the eggs as they are laid.  In some cases this may be an open wound in a mammal where the maggot immediately begins to consume the rotting tissue, hence the name Flesh Fly.  Who knows what this individual might have been carrying on its feet and liquid feeding tongue but I was never going to get close enough to find out.

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

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BEETLES: HIDING IN CLEAR VIEW   6 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

It has been another week of sunny days and rainy nights.  Last month the immediate area experienced almost 28 inches, (706 mm), of rain.  That is approximately 1 inch per day.  However, as to be expected, the pattern of precipitation was not that evenly spread.  There were several nights with really heavy downpours which accounted for a third of the total.  There were more nights when it rained hard but not in a deluge and then there were nights when there was no rain.

Atop Cabo Matapalo, at 500 feet, (150 m), above sea level, there is little chance of flooding, all the water is runoff.  This time of year the ground is saturated so when there is a torrential downpour the water may remain on the surface forming large areas of standing water which quickly drains away.  The creek water level is high and rushes down the channels, falling over rapids, cascades and waterfalls and finally flowing into the sea.  After a night of very heavy rainfall, the creek will have turned murky brown with the volume of sediment it is carrying.  Given a few days of sun the water will have returned to its crystal-clear state, inviting you to plunge into its cooling depths as a relief from the hot and humid atmosphere of the forest.

A Typical Rainy Season Day In The Forest

You wake in the morning, opening your eyes but still not fully conscious.  You had a good night’s sleep, restful and undisturbed, but were brought out of your slumber by a distant roaring sound.  It is still dark outside so what time is it?  Early, pre-dawn, and the roar is heard again, this time joined seconds later by a response, louder roaring but much closer to your cabin.  All of a sudden the roars are echoing around the forest.  To many, the first-time visitors to a Central American rainforest, this could only be large ferocious beasts gathering to collectively do you harm.  To the more savvy, seasoned visitor this is a familiar wake-up alarm call, Howler Monkeys, announcing their location to one another so that different troops can keep their distance during the course of the day.

It did its job as far as you are concerned, you are now fully awake.  The first light of dawn starts to brighten the sky, throwing the form of the trees into dark silhouettes.  Here you are only 8⁰ north of the equator so the dawn twilight does not last for long.  The sun rises rapidly and the grey sky turns blue.  The birds are awake now.  Flying overhead are noisy macaws and parrots heading off from their roosts to the feeding grounds.  Their squawking and screeching is not the most melodious of avian calls.  From within the forest the Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-hooded Antshrike and the Bright-rumped Atilla are some of the first choristers to greet the new day.   The males are vocally drawing up the bounds of their territories.

It is after breakfast and the sun is now high in the azure sky.  The temperatures have rapidly risen from the cool chill from when you opened your eyes.  The air is still.  You grab your camera and head off into the shade of the forest.  The only sound is that of cicadas, their loud calls increasing in intensity, volume and pitch as the morning progresses.  Here and there from different points in the unseen depths of the forest, obscured from your vision by the trunks of the trees are more birds calling.  The familiar “Who cooks for you” of the Short-billed pigeon, the high-pitched squeaky call of the Black-mandibled Toucan, it sounds more like a rusty pulley that needs oiling than the call of a bird.

You see many things close at hand to photograph, flowers, fruit, a beetle, a praying mantis, small frogs and lizards.  Up above you the Spider Monkeys put on an impressive display of acrobatics as they swing through the tree tops.  You can’t miss Spider Monkeys with their high-pitched chattering and high-energy crashing through the tree tops.  This is in complete contrast to the languid slow moving and deeply voiced Howler Monkeys.  You come across a troop of White-faced Monkeys, more leisurely in their pursuit of a meal.  You see them peeling away bark and turning leaves, always gleaning, looking for the small creatures that make up the bulk of their diet.

It is approaching midday.  The sun is directly overhead.  Despite being beneath the shade of the canopy, the temperatures have risen dramatically.  Combined with the high humidity, conditions have become like those in a well stoked sauna.  If the air was still outside the forest, within its confines there is not a breath of air.  The sweat is rolling down your face and your clothes are now soaked.  Thankfully you brought a lot of water with you and a packed lunch.  Time to take a break for some respite in order to recover you waning energy levels.

As you sit, taking in the sounds around you, a rumbling can be heard off in the distance, thunder.  You finish your sandwiches, take a swig of water, pack everything into your bag and head off down the trail once more.  You stop to photograph a line of Leaf-cutter Ants.  You need to get close to the ground and have some patience to capture the individual caste members.  You are rewarded a little later with a swarm of Army Ants, incessant in their drive forward flushing out non-flying arthropods.  They are accompanied by a mixed flock of ant-birds, woodpeckers, woodcreepers and Grey-headed Tanagers, all in a heightened state of excitement as they feed on the flying insects driven out of hiding by the Army Ant assassins.  Lots of photographic opportunities here.

It is now much later; the almost unbearable temperatures have dropped and the sun is sinking fast towards the western horizon.  Also, that rumbling is getting louder and the sky is rapidly darkening in the east.  You have filled your memory card with images so it may be astute to pick up the pace now and head back to base.  Before too long a breeze picks up and the tree crowns begin to sway.  Loose leaves and small twigs come tumbling down from the canopy.  It is rapidly darkening and the breeze becomes a wind.  The trees are now swaying more violently and you can hear branches being snapped and crashing down.  All of the monkeys start to shriek in objection to their homes being shaken in this manner.  The advancing storm has no ears and cares not for their protestations. Light rain begins to fall.

Within a shorter time than you would have liked, the sky above you has turned black.  The rumbling thunder has become loud and explosive, now accompanied by almost instantaneous flashes of lightning.  The rain comes out of the heavens with an ever-increasing intensity.  The canopy is being lashed.  Leaves and branches are torn from the trees by the sheer weight and force of the water being poured upon them.  Lightning is cracking and fissing around you, the storm is immediately overhead, these are thunderflashes and this is not a safe place to be.  The path at your feet which moments earlier was soft and damp is now a running river albeit only a couple of inches in depth.  The question is should you stop and find shelter or should you persevere on.  You chose the latter option.

Your step quickens, not too fast as you don’t want to slip and fall.  You hear a sharp crack above you, then a loud snap and a huge branch comes tumbling with force through the understory.  It hits the ground so hard that it stands upright as if it had been planted.  The flashes are lighting up the whole sky in a blinding white light.  Each boom of thunder causes you to flinch.  It is raining so heavily that you can barely open your eyes due to the stinging pain it causes you.  But you are almost there, the path out of the forest is up some stairs and around a bend on the trail.  The steps are now a series of cascades but the tumbling water does not hinder your stride.  You will soon be back in the dry comfort of your cabin.

Just as you step out of the forest and into the open garden area, the driving rain suddenly subsides to that of a light summer shower.  The black sky starts to lighten and the deep rumbles roll off into the distance.  Each flicker of lightning is still causing flashes but now over on the horizon.  Thankfully you had the foresight to pack all of your equipment into a waterproof camera bag before the deluge descended and it seems to have served its purpose well.  The rain becomes drizzle and finally peters out then stops.  The sky is now pale grey and the sun sinks to the point where the final rays light up the underside of the clouds in a deep orange.  You have just experienced a typical September day in a Costa Rican rainforest.

Beetles Hiding In Clear View

Beetles, there are thousands of species and yet if you go out with the intention of finding them you may become aware very quickly that they are not as obvious as you have thought.  Turning over rocks or peeling rotten bark from fallen trees may produce one or two species but nothing in profusion.  That is why when I head off into the forest it is never with the purpose of photographing anything specific, not unless I have seen something that I wanted to return to.  Some people go out having birds or mammals as their goal, I am always looking for smaller things, as regular readers of the blog will already know.  The camera will have my favorite 105mm macro lens attached and will be set to take photos of all manner of mini beasts in darker conditions.  The shots will be hand held as I only take the tripod if I have a certain subject in mind.

Last week I found two different species of beetle out in the open aspect of a sunny forest edge.  They were in separate locations but within the same area.  They were both sitting on top of a leaf, in bright sunshine and would not stay still.  I had to keep maneuvering around the subject to try and get a decent image.  Every time I had things set, they would turn their backs to me and wander off along the opposite length of the leaf.  Finally, after much repositioning, I managed to obtain some acceptable photographs.  One of the problems with photographing beetles is the hard, smooth and glossy exoskeleton that many of them have.  It reflects the light from the flash gun.  To obtain the depth of field that I prefer, with a moving subject I have to use very small apertures and by necessity I need to add extra light with flash.

The first beetle is a Pleasing Fungus Beetle, (Cypherotylus asperus), in the family: Erotylidae.  I am not sure why they are pleasing but fungus beetle refers to their main dietary item which may come as no surprise, fungus.  The bright red blotches against a black background is aposematic, or warning coloration.  If molested or attacked, the Pleasing Fungus Beetle emits a foul-smelling odor that would cause most would be predators to back off.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest insects. Rainforest Beetles. Coleoptera. Erotylidae. Cypherotylus asperus.

Pleasing Fungus Beetle, (Cypherotylus asperus)

The second beetle is a Leaf Beetle in the family: Chrysomelidae.  They typically have the domed body, clubbed antennae and are multi-colored.  But as there are almost 50,000 species in this family I have, so far, been stumped as to which species this is.  Should any beetle expert be reading this and would like to provide a name I would be most grateful.  The clue to the diet is once more in the name.  They feed on the leaves of a variety of vegetation.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest Insects. Beetles. Coleoptera. Chrysomelidae.

Leaf Beetle, (Chrysomelidae sp)

The Earth Moved

Walking through the forest you can often have your attention momentarily attracted by some small movement down in the leaf litter.  It may be ants, spiders, lizards, frogs or a myriad of other small creatures that live concealed beneath the carpet of rotting leaves.  It is the tread of your footfall that will disturb them and have them run for cover out of harm’s way.  Depending on the speed of the animal you may lose sight of it very quickly.  Some move from leaf to leaf.  Generally if any of these litter living denizens gets below the leaves it will be gone and unless you are lucky you will just have to imagine what you saw.  Occasionally though one will freeze when exposed to the light.  Last week, my size 13 boot thudding into the ground caused a tiny frog to jump out of the imminent descending disaster.

There are several small frogs that inhabit the dark and damp environment of the forest floor.  The squat body shape of this one revealed its identity almost immediately.  It was one of the rather delightfully named dirt frogs, this one being a Stejneger’s Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus).

Rainforest animals. Rainforest amphibians. Frogs. Anura. Craugastoridae. Craugastor stejnegerianus.

A tiny Stejneger’s Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus)

The dirt frogs are totally terrestrial frogs, they live their whole life on the forest floor and never need to go to water as many amphibians do.  They still have moist skins through which they largely breath and therefore by necessity can’t leave the confines of the damp environment under the trees.   There are several species that live in this area and Stejneger’s Dirt Frog is one of the commonest.

They belong to the family: Craugastoridae or the Fleshbelly Frogs.  Typical of this family is the reproductive habit of direct development which negates the necessity of them having to return to water to reproduce.  The frogs pair up, (I can’t say I have ever heard these frogs calling), and the female lays her eggs amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor.  There are only about 20 – 30 eggs but they are fairly large in comparison to the adults.  The egg is packed with yolk and the tadpole develops within the egg, there is no free-swimming tadpole stage.  After about 8 weeks a tiny copy of the adult emerges.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest amphibians. Rainforest Frogs. Anura. Craugastoridae. Craugastor stejnegerianus. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Dorsal view of Stejneger’s Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus)

As you are walking through the forest, if you keep your gaze lowered scanning the ground then you will surely see a small piece of the earth move.  Given closer inspection then you will probably find you are looking at a dirt frog.  But take a photograph as they are not always easy to identify.

Fying Dragons.

A few weeks ago I managed to photograph a dragonfly with black bases to the wings, a Black-winged Dragonlet, (Erythrodiplax funerea).  This week I managed to capture another dragonfly but with the inverse situation of having black tips to the wings, the Large Woodskimmer, (Uracis fastigiata).  This one was found in a different area to the previously mentioned species but they had been there for several weeks.  This species was found in secondary forest, in a light gap and always close to the ground.  Once again my attempts to take a picture were always doomed to failure because every time I lifted the camera to my eye, they would fly off.  But as we know with photography patience is a virtue and finally after several weeks I got lucky.  This one stayed still long enough for me to get several pictures.

Rainforest animals. Rainforest Insects. Dragonflies. Odonata. Libellulidae. Uracis fastigiata

Large Woodskimmer, (Uracis fatigiata)

Unlike the dragonflies which can be found in open sunny locations around a body of water that have fast flight and hover, these forest species seem to be more sedentary and perch on low vegetation and only seem to move if disturbed.  Having excellent eyesight adapted to detect movement it does not take much to disturb them.  It could be that they are sit and wait predators just diligently watching for the right sized meal to pass by before taking off to capture it.

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

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

A NEW DECEPTION   3 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Well, what an excellent start to the day.  I was out early this morning doing my bird count when a little flash of white caught my eye disappearing into one of the large white trumpet-shaped blooms of the Crepe Gingers. Butterflies are my specialty and I am looking at them every day.  On the Osa Peninsula I have identified hundreds of species.  But even so, I know when I seeing something that I have not previously seen and that was the situation this morning.  I did not want to scare the unidentified, and as yet,   not really seen, insect that I knew was in the flower head, which was unfortunately facing away from me.  Ever so slowly I bend forward to take a peek inside and sure enough my initial thoughts were confirmed, a little chocolate-brown skipper with a distinctive bright white patch on the trailing edge of the hindwing.  I stood looking at it, taking in the mental image for as long as it would allow me to, as regrettably I was not carrying the camera.  Then, in typical skipper fashion, it quickly disappeared.  I hurried back to my cabin to consult one of the few photographic guide books I have that cover the skippers of the Neotropics and sure enough, there it was, the Virbius Skipper, (Cobalus virbius).  I have not previously seen this species in all the time that I have been here and I may never see it again, (sadly no photographic record), which made it a red letter day for me.

Of the four species of monkey we have in the area of Cabo Matapalo: Spider, Howler, Squirrel and Capuchin, it is the latter that are normally bold enough to come in and around the area of human habitation.  That was the case this afternoon when a troop of bold and daring Capuchin Monkeys, (Cebus capucinus), came to feed on the bananas and coconuts.  For anyone who has ever tried to open a coconut, (that scene from the movie, “Cast Away” springs to mind), you will know it is no easy task.  But I always find myself looking on in amazement at the adept manipulations of the Capuchins.  One bite with those sharp teeth and strong jaws gets them through the husk, a rip with the arms and off comes the husk and finally one more bite and “voila”, they’re in.  Give it a try.  I bet you end up resorting to Tom Hank’s method.

Rainforest mammals. Monkeys. Mammalia. Primates. Cebidae. Cebus capucinus.

White-faced Capuchin Monkey, (Cebus capucinus)

The whales were enjoying themselves again today.  Two adults were breaching and a calf which would just stick its head out of the water.  No definitive answer as to why whales do that but the most plausible is because it is fun, they are enjoying themselves.

Hiding In Plain View

Those walking around the forests of the Osa Peninsula in search of some smaller life forms to photograph may find the task not to be as easy as imagined.  You may come across a rich diversity of fungal fruiting bodies, mushrooms, weird, wonderful and exquisite in form, size and shape that prove an enticing subject.  You may happen across industriously lines of the ubiquitous Leaf-cutter Ants which present an interesting challenge.  The lines of moving green leaf might be regarded as an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture brought to life.  Butterflies quite often will only sit still long enough for you to get the photograph composed before annoyingly fluttering off just as you hit the shutter button.  You can find grasshoppers, katydids and crickets, occasionally a praying mantis or walking stick.  It is never too hard to find spiders; Golden-orb and Silver-orb Spiders exist in sizable numbers all around the outsides of buildings.   They all require you to re-adjust your field of focus.

Rainforest insects. Leaf-mimicking Katydid. Orthopera. Tettigoniidae. Pseudophyllinae

Evolution in action. An amazing Leaf-mimicking Katydid

But no matter how hard you look, there are going to be certain animals right in front of your field of vision that your eyes may never be able to distinguish from the background in which they are hiding.  There are some katydids that are so cryptically colored, their bodies formed into to shapes so little resembling an insect and more like a piece of vegetation that it sometimes beggars belief.  The whole idea of cryptic coloration, camouflage, is that you don’t move because once you move you have blown your cover.

Leaf-mimicking Katydid. Orthoptera. Tettigoniidae.

The living dead. Dead-leaf Katydid among the dead leaves

Above are just a few photographs of examples taken from in and around the forests of Osa where something serendipitously happened to catch my eye.  For every example that did catch my eye there were probably thousands that did not.    The leaf-mimicking katydid whose resemblance to a dead leaf is so perfect it could not be bettered.  Even its legs are textured and colored to resemble small twigs.  The Leaf-mimicking Katydid that looks like a perfect copy in form and color of the dead leaves on the ground where I found it.

Rainforest Moth. Sphingidae. Xylophanes chiron.

Leafy Sphinx Hawk-moth, (Xylophanes chiron),

Finally a hawk moth whose body is covered with dense green hair likening it to the deep cushioned moss on tree barks where it rests.  The wings have the same moss green color and are broken up by a pattern closely resembling the underlying texture of the tree bark.  All three examples would be nigh on impossible to find except opportunistically.  So when you go out, take a second glance because everything may not be as it seems.

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

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