Archive for the ‘Saddleback Moth’ Tag

Grumpy and Toxic if Touched   Leave a comment

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

Last week continued to be hot and sunny.  There was not a drop of rain.  The trails through the forest are now becoming heavily cracked.  The lawns around the lodge are definitely more brown than green.  The forest however remains vibrant, there is no sign of drought stress.  The huge volume of water that fell as rain last November has ensured that the creek is still running quite well, more so than would be expected for this time of year.  The dry season is typically when a lot of leaf fall occurs.  That is the case at the moment.  The trails are cleared and a few days later there is a layer dry, brittle brown leaf covering the path once more.  Some of the trees that have been in bloom over recent weeks are coming to the end of the flowering period.

Felipe del Bosque. Philip Davison.

The Forest Floor is Rapidly Drying and Cracking Up.

Brushing Toxic Hair

Although I spend my days monitoring butterfly populations and see plenty of the adults flying around, it is only very occasionally that I see the larvae or caterpillars.  It may well be that because I am not actively searching for them that I am not seeing them.  There are over 7,000 named species of butterfly in the Neotropics and that number is dwarfed by the number of moth species.  Many butterflies and even more moths have unknown life histories.  Quite often we don’t know what the larval form looks like or what host plant they feed on.

Unidentified Moth Caterpillar.

Unidentified Moth Caterpillar

Caterpillars are the feeding and growing period of the butterfly or moth life cycle.  Feed and grow they do and at an amazing rate.  Caterpillars are quite often restricted to feeding on a single species of plant, sometimes on a few species within one genus or sometimes several species in the same family.  Each species does not have a large variety of choices.  After hatching from the egg, the caterpillar can increase in size by over a hundred times before it pupates.

Being a large, constantly and rapidly growing creature, the caterpillar has to remain unseen by predators or if seen, then has to have a secondary range of defenses such as irritating spines or hairs or to feed on plants poisonous to other creatures, store the toxins within its own tissues and warn off potential predators with bright warning, (aposomatic), coloration.

Over recent weeks I have stumbled across several caterpillars as I was out walking around the forests of the Osa Peninsula.  I was not looking for them, they just happened to catch my eye.  Any caterpillar sporting a battery of spines or hairs is one that you should avoid handling.  The spines and hairs may exude toxin secretions that can cause intense irritation.

Saddleback Moth Caterpillar. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Saddleback Moth, (Acharia hyperoche), Caterpillar.

The caterpillar of the Saddleback Moth, (Acharia hyperoche), usually hides on the underside of the palm leaves on which it is feeding.  It has green coloration that helps it blend in with its background.  The saddle marking may help to break up its outline.  If the ruse does not work and it is spotted by a keen-eyed predator, then it has a second line of defense.  The body anterior, posterior, laterally and dorsally has fleshy protuberances that carry batteries of sharp urticating spines.  The slightest brush against this living, toxic slug-like creature will result in a red itchy rash and a certain degree of pain.  Many other species of moth in the same family, Limacodidae, are protected in the same fashion.

Limacodidae. Philip Davison. Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge.

Unidentified Limacodidae species.

Another group of species which belong to the Silkmoth family, Saturniidae, more particularly of the subfamily, Hemileucinae and the genus Automeris also have caterpillars which protect themselves in a similar fashion.  The body is green and quite literally covered in urticating bristles.  The adult Automeris moths are very distinctive too.  The dorsal surface of the forewings are colored and patterned to resemble dead leaves.  Should anything disturb these particular leaves though they are in for a shock.  The forewings swing forward which reveals two large eye-spots on the dorsal surface of the hindwings.  As far as the predator is concerned it could well be looking at a much larger predator staring back at it from the ground.

Automeris sp.

Automeris sp. Caterpillar

Saturniidae. Hemileucinae.

Automeris sp. Adult.

Sometimes it may prove prudent to let a potential predator know that you are likely to cause them harm when touched.  Some of the Dagger Moths, (Acronicta spp), caterpillars are covered in long lemon yellow hairs with contrasting black tufts.  If touched these hairs can break and become embedded in the skin.  The longer black hairs are attached to a gland than secretes a toxin that will leave a nasty little rash on human skin.

Acronicta sp.

Dagger Moth sp. Caterpillar.

As well as the finding  of caterpillars is difficult, then locating the chrysalis’s is equally, if not more, challenging.  Admittedly I don’t go looking for them and so if I do discover one then it is entirely by chance.  The one species that I find more than others is the Narrow-banded Owl-butterfly, (Opsiphanes tamarindi).  That may be due to the fact that the larvae feed on Heliconia, Maranta and Bananas of which there are many plants around the bar and restaurant areas of Bosque del Cabo.  A chrysalis has little by way to defend itself and so crypsis might be the best option.  Green coloration is a good way of camouflaging yourself against a background of green vegetation.  This one I noticed hanging from the underside of a leaf beside the bar.

Narrow-banded Owl-butterfly. Nymphalidae. Morphinae.

Narrow-banded Owl-butterfly, (Opsiphanes tamarindi). Chrysalis.

Grumpy Big Head

There are six species of Anolis lizards living on the Osa Peninsula.  On the grounds of Bosque del Cabo Rainforest lodge I have encountered five of those species and the remaining one as an ,isolated population several miles away.

When I was out walking the Titi Trail this week I saw a the Big-headed Anole, (Anolis capito), lying languidly on the root of a large fig tree.  As I slowly approached with the camera in hand, it opened one of its eyes and looked at me with a doleful expression as if to say don’t even think of bothering me.  But I did take some photographs and each time the flash went off the lizard moved, almost imperceptibly, further around the root in a direction away from me.

Big-headed Anole. Polychrotinae. Igunaidae.

Big-headed Anole, (Anolis capito).

The Big-headed Anole is one of the larger anolis lizards in this area.  It attains a length of 9 inches including the tail.  It’s body color is a mottling of greens, greys and browns.  It can be found on the trunks of trees where it normally perches head down waiting for food items, arthropods or small lizards, to pass by.

Slender Anole.

Slender Anole, (Anolis limifrons).

Two of the more commonly seen anolis lizards are the Slender Anole, (Anolis limifrons), and the Golfo Dulce Anole, (Anolis osae).  Both of these species can be commonly found around human habitation.  The Slender Anole as the name suggests is a small slim species, mottled brown in color and with a white underbelly.  The Golfo Dulce Anolis is slightly more robust and uniform brown in color, (at least the males), with a distinctive white stripe along the body behind the shoulder.  Both of these species live close to the ground, again facing head down but usually at the end of large leaves.

Golfo Dulce Anolis. Polychrotinae. Iguanidae.

Golfo Dulce Anole, (Anolis osae)

Green Canopy Anole. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Green Canopy Anole, (Anolis biporcatus)

The last two species in this immediate area is the Green Canopy Anole, (Anolis biporcatus), and the Lichen Anole, (Anolis pentaprion).  They both tend to live higher up in the canopy.  I see the Canopy Anole more often at night where I find it lying asleep on the tops of leaves.  It’s bright lime green coloration stands out quite nicely in the beam of a flashlight.  The Lichen Anole I have found at the top of the canopy.  It is grey in color with pale spots.  Both of these two anoles I only find very occasionally whereas the other three can be found without much effort.

Lichen Anole. Polychrotinae. Iguanidae.

Lichen Anole, (Anolis pentaprion)

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




Exploding Fatimas – A Gruesome Way to Go   Leave a comment

Felipe del Bosque Blog Jan 17th 2011

Average Daily Temp High 85°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 73°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.0 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 0.0 ins

Average Daily Temp High 29.4 °C.  Average Daily Temp Low 22.7 °C.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.0 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 0.0 mm

This has been another hot and dry week at Bosque del Cabo.  The temperatures are slowly creeping up.  Daytime temperatures are now reaching the upper 80’s, but it still has to be remembered that the daily average temperature range here is greater than the annual average temperature range.

The butterflies are now coming out in force.  There has been a population explosion of the White-banded Fatimas.  This butterfly is commonly observed around the Bosque grounds and it usually has two peaks in numbers during the year, one now and another …..

It is not alone; many of the heliconiids are out in force too.  As they are brightly colored and relatively slow flying, they are fairly easy for the visitors to observe.  They also like to feed from the Lantana flowers next to the driveway near the garage, so it is hard to miss them.

I have seen one of my personal favorites several times this week on the Zapatero Trail, a clear winged Satyr, Cithaerias pireta.  The diaphanous wings are suffused at the trailing edge with a hint of smoky scarlet lending an air of delicate ethereal and ephemeral beauty.

As ever the grounds are full of monkeys, Agoutis, currasows, toucans and macaws.  We had an experienced Costa Rican guide who brought two bird watching clients from the U.S. staying with us.  One their first morning out, they happened across a Puma cub which growled at them and then ran into a sunlit clearing, not too far from the Tropical Garden.  Sitting waiting for the cub in the sun dappled glade was mother.  The three observers watched as mother and cub walked in the direction of the suspension bridge and disappeared.  Their stay continued in a similar vein with one sighting after the next of birds they had only hoped of seeing.

Talking to the guide before he left, he told me that thankfully this had been the last stop on their journey around Costa Rica, because if it had been the first it may well have given a false impression of what his clients might be expecting in other parts of the country.  He had never known such a diverse, abundant and easily seen fauna anywhere.

There was another Puma sighting later in the week up near the Titi Trail.

The bird life is in full swing with courting manakins, parrots, macaws, hummingbirds well just about everything.  The Great Kiskadees have a nest in the fork of one of the Guanacaste trees near the Bosque pond.  The pair can be seen constantly during the day flying back and forth delivering insect food to the rapidly growing chicks housed within the loosely thatched ball shaped nest.

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

I have featured the caterpillar of the Saddleback Moth on other occasions in the blog.  It is an interesting looking creature that metamorphoses into the most indistinct little brown moth.  The heavy armament of urticating hairs carried on batteries around the body would be enough to deter most predators, but not all.

Saddleback Moth Caterpillar

Saddleback Moth Caterpillar

The larvae of butterflies and moths are prone to attack by a myriad of predators, everything from mice, birds, lizard and spiders which rank amongst the more obvious, but there are others with a more insidious means of preying on these huge eating machines that comprise the growing stage of the organism’s life history: parasites and parasitoids.

Saddleback Moth Caterpillar

But even this arsenal of weapons won't protect it

Parasites feed on their host but generally do not kill it as they depend upon it for sustenance.  If the host dies, the parasite dies.  Parasitoids are nastier.  The eggs are laid by the adult parasitoid, namely certain wasp families, in the caterpillars living tissue.  They eat it from the inside out consuming its internal organs.  When all the viscera have been consumed from within the unfortunate caterpillar, the wasp maggots themselves pupate, to later emerge as adult wasps which fly off and repeat the grizzly process over again.

Saddleback Moth Caterpillar

From its nemesis - the Braconid Wasps

The caterpillar below has fallen victim to this gruesome end.  The wasps responsible for its demise are probably of the family, Braconidae, tiny but nonetheless deadly for their prey.  The typical cotton like wasp pupae can be seen covering the whole body of the now gutless caterpillar.

As I write, I have received a new toy; a set of extension tubes for the camera.  I am hoping that they will serve to promote my passion for taking close up photographs a step further, so that I can increase the ability of my macro lenses to just get that fraction more magnification.

If all goes well I should be post the results on this site over the coming weeks.

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Species List for the Week


Howler Monkey

Spider Monkey

Capuchin Monkey

Three-toed Sloth

White-nosed Coati


Red-tailed Squirrel

Central American Squirrel Monkey

Collared Peccary


Red-lored Amazon

Scarlet Macaw

Great Currasow

Black Hawk

Roadside Hawk

White Hawk

Lineated Woodpecker

Pale-billed Woodpecker

Long-billed Hummingbird

Stripe-throated Hummingbird

Short-billed Pigeon

Blue-crowned Manakin

Red-capped Manakin

Black-hooded Antshrike

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Rufus Piha

Common Paureque

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Fiery-billed Aracari


Cherries Tanager

Grey-headed Tanager

Great Tinamou

Bright-rumped Atilla

Great Kiskadee

Plain Xenops

Brown Pelican

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture


Cat-eyed Snake

Clawless Gecko

Mediterranean House Gecko

Common Basilisk

Golfo Dulce Anolis

Four-lined Ameiva


Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog

Marine Toad

Red-eyed Green Treefrog

Milky Frog

Fitzinger’s Rain Frog


Anartia Fatima

Anatrytone potosiensis

Antirrhea philoctetes

Archaeoprepona demophon

Battus belus

Battus polydamus

Cithaeria pireta

Colobura dirce

Consul fabius

Dione juno

Dryas iulia

Eueides aliphera

Eueides lybia

Eurema albula

Glutophrissa drusilla

Heliconius erato

Heliconius hecale

Heliconius ismenius

Heliconius sapho

Heraclides cresphontes

Hermeuptychia hermes

Hyalthyrus neleus

Magneuptychia libye

Mechanitis polymnia

Metacharis victrix

Morpho helenor

Morpho Menelaus

Morys valerius

Pareuptychia ocirrhoe

Parides erithalion

Philaethria dido

Phoebis agarithe

Phoebis argante

Phoebis sennae

Pierella helvina

Pompeius pompeius

Porphyrogenes passalus

Pyrgus oileus

Pyrisitia nise

Pyrrhogyra crameri

Quadrus cerialis


Yellow-trumpet Vine flowering

Calabash flowering and fruiting

Monkey Comb Tree flowering and fruiting

Garlic Tree Flowering

Candlestick Plant Flowering.

Cannonball Tree Flowering

Hule flowering

Heisteria fruiting



Veridion Adventures. Philip Davison. Rainforest animals. Rainforest plants

Orgy of Frenzied Frog Sex

Today has been a reasonably quiet day, overcast with no sun or rain, but with a gentle breeze constantly blowing.  The subdued atmosphere was briefly interrupted by some visitors who had been up and out walking before breakfast.  They had been over to the tropical garden area where there is a large pond.  Just before sunrise they had witnessed a frog orgy, an explosive breeding episode of the Parachuting Red-eyed Green Treefrog, (Agalychnis spurrelli).

The previous night, they had emerged on mass; throwing themselves from the tops of the trees they use the large, heavily webbed bright yellow hands and feet as parachutes to glide down to the ground level vegetation.  What the visitors had then come across were hundreds of paired up males and females laying sheets of eggs on the upper surfaces of the leaves around the pond.  For those who went a little later to see the spectacle, it was too late.  As the sun rises, the frogs make their way higher into the bushes and shrubs and then they tuck themselves up under the leaves to avoid the potentially desiccating effects of the sun’s rays.  You can still see them; they are all lined up, appearing as little silhouettes as the rising sun shines down through the plant leaves.

Rainforest frogs. Hylidae. Phyllomedusinae. Agalychnis spurrellii. Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog, (Agalychnis spurrelli)

More or less the same species of birds and butterflies have been seen in the grounds.  There has however been another migrant turn up, one more warbler, the Yellow Warbler, (Dendroica petechia).  As the name suggests, it has a yellow head and breast, with a dirtier yellow color to the back and wings.  The distinguishing feature is the male’s breast which is streaked with a series of orange dashes.

Some Mammals: Familiar or Not

Monkeys are a common sighting around the grounds of Bosque but there are two or three other mammals that visitors will see and quite often get mixed up even though they not related and do not remotely resemble one another.

The White-nosed Coati, (Nasua narica), is related to the raccoon familiar to most people in North America.  They have a deep rich brown fur and a little bit of white coloration around the muzzle which gives them their name.  The tail is sometimes ringed with dark and pale alternating bands and is generally held straight up in the air while the head is down foraging.   Just like their northern cousins, coatis are omnivorous and they will eat anything they can their paws on; grubs and crabs dug out of the ground, eggs and chicks from nesting birds as well as fruit.  They are accomplished climbers and today I watched one up a Coconut Palm, working away in an effort to dislodge the prized meal from its point of attachment.

The males are solitary and if you ever hear of one being referred to as a coati mundi, that is a single solitary male.  The females are gregarious and will be found in large groups accompanied by the young ones.

The other mammal commonly seen around the grounds is a large rodent, the Agouti, (Dasyprocta punctata). They are big caviomorph rodents, the closest relative of which people will be familiar with are the Guinea Pigs.  Agoutis are seed eaters.  Today there were several sitting under a large fruiting palm tree in front of the cabins, feeding on the fallen palm nuts.  Agoutis have the ability to sit on their haunches and you will quite often see them with large, tough shelled nuts, turning them in their front paws to gnaw through and get to the nutritious seed inside.  A common question I get is “What is that large rabbit-like creature with tiny ears and no tail”?  Easy, it is an Agouti.

A Lucky Escape

Tonight, after dinner, as I was talking to some guests in the restaurant, there was a splat behind me.  Normally anything going splat would be a treefrog jumping, freefalling and hitting the ground.  They don’t seem to suffer from the experience.  But on this occasion it was not a treefrog but rather surprisingly a young Grey Four-eyed Opossum that had lost its footing in the roof beams and fallen.  To be honest, it looked as if the impact had killed it.  I picked it up to remove it and could feel its heart was still beating, so I took it out into the entrance, kept it warm and within 5 minutes it had made a full recovery.  Not only that but in terms of thanks, it ran up my arm and sat on my shoulder so that I could return and show the diners that the day had a happy ending.

Caterpillars: Don’t Be Too Rash

One of the more surprising things about the area is that given the number of species of butterfly I have recorded, and bear in mind that number will be dwarfed by the number of moth species there are in the area, I very rarely see caterpillars.  When I do, I try to get a photo to add to the records.  A sentiment that I have now repeated on several occasions, is to bemoan the lack of adequate reference material to help identify certain organisms.  Caterpillars fall into one of two categories; very distinctive or not.  Even those you think may pose no problem in identifying turn out to be not as distinct as you first thought.  Over the past couple of weeks I have happened upon two caterpillars that have proved slightly easier to put a name to than normal.



This is the caterpillar of one of the Hawk moths, a Sphinx Moth, (Xylophanes chiron).  I found it on the underside of a leaf in the tropical garden.  The adult I found near my cabin.  The adult moth is to be found resting during the day on mossy covered tree trunks.  The body of the moth is covered in dense green “fur”.  The wings too, are a mossy green and both these features blend the moth in perfectly with its background.  The camouflage is aided by the wings having a broken band patterned as an exact copy of tree bark.

Rainforest caterpillars. Sphingidae. Xylophanes chiron. Hawk moth. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Hawk Moth, (Xylophanes chiron), caterpillar

Rainforest Moths. Sphingidae. Xylophanes chiron. Hawkmoth. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Hawk Moth, (Xylophanes chiron)


The second caterpillar is so very distinctive there should be no problem identifying it.  But there would be a big problem if you got too close.  The caterpillar belongs to yet another moth, a very insignificant small brown moth, the Saddleback Moth, (Acharia stimulea), belonging to the family Limacodidae.  The adult is the equivalent of what birders refer to as a “little brown job”.  Take a look at the caterpillar again though; its body has many protuberances bearing a covering of sharp spiny hairs.  If you touch the caterpillar, even ever so slightly, these urticating hairs deliver a chemical that will immediately result in a painful ulcerated rash that will last for several days.  So with the caterpillars, don’t be too rash to touch.

Rainforest caterpillars. Limacodidae. Arachia stimulea. Saddleback Moth. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Saddleback Moth,(Arachia stimulea), caterpillar

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


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