Archive for the ‘Skink’ Tag

ARMADILLOS: SUCCESS OF THE ANCIENTS   6 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Transition, that is what is occurring now.  The days remain largely sunny but the rain has started to increase in volume, intensity and duration at night.  The creek running through the area is always a good yardstick by which to measure how dry the ground is.  This year the creek never dried up and as of this week the flow is fast and the level high.  The small cascades along its course are looking very picturesque with the water tumbling from higher to lower levels into the plunge pools, babbling softly as it does so and sounding like playful water nymphs inviting you to join them and cool off in the heat of the day.  The water here is clean and crystal clear, its depth holds no latent or potential disease and the only animal life is the occasional sighting of a tropical crayfish hidden beneath a submerged rock, its bright blue body being visible to only those with the keenest eyes.

The Puma, (Puma concolor), has been seen again and its tracks could be found on several trails around the grounds.  The past week has also been a good one for seeing the Squirrel Monkeys which are normally a little more retiring living as they do in the thickets of secondary forest.  At the moment they have been making daily excursions in large numbers through the gardened areas.

The repetitive call of the Bright-rumped Atilla, (Attila spadiceus), had fallen silent for some months but once again they have started up and bursts of “Read it, read it, read it, read it” can be heard again echoing around the trails in the early morning.  The frog breeding season normally starts with the first rains in May and then by the end of July it is over.  Not this year.  Every evening, just after sunset, the various species of amphibian emerge en masse, the males begin to call for a mate and by next morning the vegetation on and around the pond is covered in frog’s eggs.

Armored Four Sight

It is dark in the forest.  You can’t see much.  Your flashlight illuminates the path in front of you but the beam does not penetrate very far into the blackness and it also casts deep shadows.  There is something moving in those shadows.  You stop and listen.  It is not something small.  You shine the flashlight in the direction of the movement, your eyes peering into the gloom.  You still can’t make out any shape but the sound of the creature advances ever closer.  It crashes forward a few feet then stops for a moment and then moves again.  You can start to see the dead leaves and fallen twigs moving.  Your heart is in your mouth, it is almost upon you.  Then silence.  It is suddenly aware of your presence and it has stopped, motionless, whatever it is probably eyeing you as a meal.  Then crash, it takes flight and rushes across the path in front of your feet.  No wonder it sounded like a small tank rumbling across the forest floor, it is a mini armored insect feeder, a Nine-banded Armadillo, (Dasypus novemcinctus).

Rainforest mammals. Armadillo. Mammalia. Xenathra. Dasypodidae. Dasypus novemcinctus.

Juvenile Nine-banded Armadillo, (Dasypus novemcinctus), grubbing for food

Armadillos rank alongside sloths as one of the mammals that people would like to see when they visit the forests of the Osa Peninsula.  They are not as readily found as the monkeys, agoutis or coatis but they are here and they do show up fairly frequently.  They are encountered more commonly at night but it is not unusual to see them trundling around on the ground during the day too.

Armadillos belong in the ancient mammalian order: Xenathra along with anteaters and sloths.  Nine-banded Armadillos have a large geographic distribution.  They are found from the Southern United States through Central America down into Argentina.  Between 4 – 2 million years ago when the southern part of Costa Rica and Panama rose out of the sea to form the land bridge between the North American and South American continents it provided a means by which terrestrial animals could move between the formerly separated land masses.  Many northern species moved south and survived.  Only three species moved north and survived; opossums, porcupines and the Nine-banded Armadillo. Nine-banded Armadillos have a large geographic distribution.  They are found from the Southern United States through Central America down into Argentina.

There is no mistaking an armadillo for any other type of creature.  The body is covered in a shell composed of bony plates within a keratinous horny skin.  The eyes and ears of an armadillo do not function too well.  The long snout provides an excellent sense of smell which is essential in the location of food.  The majority of the armadillo’s diet is insects.  It has powerful claws which it uses to grub up a variety of ant and termite species from the ground.  With the nose stuck in the dirt, an armadillo can hold its breath for upto 6 minutes while it feeds on a particularly good banquet.  Those claws also dig out burrows in which the armadillo lives.

Reproductively armadillos are very interesting.  The female armadillo can delay implantation of the fertilized egg into the uterine wall if the prevailing weather or feeding conditions are less than optimum for its survival.  The egg always divides into four which means that the female armadillo will give birth to four identical quads.

Last week as I headed out for a walk I saw four of these juvenile siblings snuffling their way through the lawn, heads stuck in the ground, turning over the earth in search of a meal.  They had absolutely no idea I was there.  I took some photos and then lay on the ground to take some photos as they came trundling towards me.  It only dawned on them that I was there when one hit the camera.  The first defense response of an armadillo is to jump, albeit not too high, and then run off.  The first one to make contact with me turned and ran but the others still had no idea of my presence.  The adults are no better.  I have stood still in the past and had large armadillo running back and forth over my feet.  Should anything alarm them and they take flight, their short-term memory is little more than a few seconds before they return about their business as if nothing had happened.  I enjoyed watching these youngsters for a while before heading off and leaving them to feed and hopefully avoid coming across something that might not be as benevolent as I was.

All That Glisters

Down amongst the leaf litter a glitter of polished bronze slips under the leaves.  As it passes from beneath one leaf to the next you can see a metallic object glinting momentarily before disappearing again.  It moved too quickly to truly see what it was but you persist.  There it is again.  You bend down to move the leaf where it went, but nothing.  Then you see it just a hands breadth away.  A small head looking at you with intent dark eyes.  It is a lizard or more particularly a skink.  It is tiny with an elongated body and shiny smooth scales.  The scales catch the light and reflect a bright dark copper.  You find yourself looking at a Brown Forest Skink, (Sphenomorphus cherriei).

Rainforest lizards. Skinks. Reptilia. Squamata. Sauria. Scincidae. Sphenomorphus cherriei.

Brown Forest Skink, (Sphenomorphus cherriei), looking out from under a leaf

Several weeks ago I took photos of yet another small leaf litter dwelling lizard, the Northern Spectacled Lizard, (Leposoma southi), and stated that I really wanted to find and photograph the Brown Forest Skink too.  It is no easy task as they move quickly and once beneath the leaf litter ‘swim’ in a serpentine fashion through the decomposing vegetative material.  This one poked its head out long enough for me to get a quick shot or two.  I will have to keep looking to get the full body shot.

The hard and shiny scales of a skink may serve several purposes.  They help it glide between the material of the substrate making up the leaf litter in which it lives.  But there are lots of birds hopping around close to the forest floor whose keenly acute vision would spot a meal such as skink very quickly.  If caught in the bill of an avian predator the scales allow the skink to slip out and hopefully, as far as the skink is concerned, make its escape.

Rainforest Skink. Lizard. Reptilia. Squamata. Sauria. Scincidae. Sphenomorphus cherriei.

Brown Forest Skink, (Sphenomorphus cherriei), close up of head

Dressed In Black For The Telling Of Dark Tales

Walking on the forest trails you see a something take flight and then settle again on another plant.  The overall aspect is of an insect cloaked in funereal colors.  The body is black and the wings have black banding.  Nonetheless it draws your attention.

The creature is a Black-winged Dragonlet, (Erythrodiplax funeralis), a common dragonfly found inhabiting forest rides or at the edge of open areas.  Dragonflies are restless predators.  They are on the constant look out for a meal.  They are easily disturbed too.  Those huge eyes and mobile head can spot a potential predator or prey item very quickly.  If it is the former they fly to another perch.  The Black-winged Dragonlet has a much more fluttery flight than some other dragonflies which seem to dart back and forth.

They catch their prey on the wing which means they feed on flying insects.  Should a meal fly by the dragonfly swoops in and catches in its legs which form an open basket beneath the thorax.  The legs are covered in spines which make it difficult for the victim to escape.  Once ensnared, the prey will be dispatched, the hard body parts and the wings dumped to the ground and the rest of the body consumed.

Rainforest insects. Dragonflies. Odonata. Anisoptera. Libellulidae. Erythrodiplax funeralis.

Black-winged Dragonlet, (Erythrodiplax funeralis)

Dragonflies can present a challenge to photograph.  They are acutely visually aware, they move quickly and they don’t like being approached.  This one I had to follow, very slowly and patiently, before I managed to get a photograph.  It did take a good few attempts as it kept moving from perch to perch and I was on the point of giving up when it seemed to settle, at least long enough for me to hit the shutter several times.  Anyone out there who has tried photographing flying insects knows that patience is an essential virtue if you are going to obtain any images.

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

Smiles Like a Reptile   6 comments


Felipe del Bosque Blog July 2nd  2012

Up and Down

This has been another week of sunny days and stormy evenings.  We have had some spectacular thunderstorms with terrific lightning shows and heavy downpours but thankfully later in the day or in the evening.  There was enough rain to start filling up the creek again which has gone from dry with a few puddles to a slow trickle of water and then back to dry again.

Lounge Lizards

When it comes to reptiles, I always seem to manage to take pictures of snakes.  This is generally because they are not seen so often and therefore when one does turn up it seems like an opportunity that should not be lost.  But the area is also home to many species of lizard some of which are fairly ubiquitous and so don’t stimulate that sense of urgency to photograph them.  Really I could do it anytime, except that I don’t.

Anyway, I was out on several occasions this week walking the trails with the intention of capturing more butterfly images when it occurred to me that if I should see any lizards lying in the sun I should at least try and get a few pictures for the wildlife portfolio of the area.  It was not as if I needed to look too hard, they tend to lie in the sun flecks on the forest trails everywhere.

So it was that as I walked along, I happened upon many of the whiptails languidly soaking up the sun’s rays but, contrary to my wishes, they didn’t want their pictures taken.  As I slowly approached, using my best butterfly capturing stealth technique, off they would go, scuttling across the forest floor.  Tantalizingly they would rapidly run to the next patch of sunlight off trail amongst the leaves on the forest floor, making a surreptitious approach impossible.  I was set up for doing macro shots so the best I could get were from some distance.

Four-lined Ameiva

There are several species you will see as you walk through the forest.  The ameivas or “whiptails” are the ones that you will see lying on the ground but at your approach they will more often than not run for shelter.  On the sides of the trees you may notice some movement which will betray the presence of the anolis lizards.  Moving like small, highly polished torpedoes through the leaf litter you may catch the occasional glimpse of the litter skinks and water tegus.  Almost certainly by the ponds and creeks you will see basilisks or “Jesus Christ” lizards while if you are lucky you might spot one of the green iguanas in the open areas.  Once the sun sets, the geckos appear, announcing their presence with the “Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep” calls.  Also if you are out and about at night there is a good chance you will see one or more of the diurnal lizard species sleeping at the end of a leaf or branch.

Central American Smooth Gecko         Pug-nosed Anole         Litter Skink

There are 3 species of whiptail that can be found commonly around Bosque; the Central American Whiptail, (Ameiva festiva), the Barred Whiptail, (Ameiva leptophrys) and the Four-lined Whiptail, (Ameiva quadrilineatus).  They are all diurnal sun loving lizards that can be seen basking on most of the forest trails.  The ameivas are insectivorous.  They all have a fairly long head and tail.  The 3 species can be distinguished by their coloring.  The Central American Whiptail has a broad yellow line running down its back which runs the length of the tail where it is blue in the juveniles.  The Barred Whiptail has distinct brown blocks down the sides of the body which give the barred effect.  The description of the Four-lined Ameiva speaks for itself; it has 4 long yellow lines running the length of the body.  The latter is the commonest of the whiptails, being seen everywhere around the restaurant area.

Barred Ameiva

Consuming 100 Legs

I did find one snake this week though that I had only ever seen once before and strangely enough in more or less the exact same spot but 5 or 6 years earlier.  It was actually one of the guests out walking with me that spotted it on the path in front of us and as we had only just left the restaurant, I was able to “bag it” and take some pictures later.  The snake in question was a Coral Crowned Snake, (Tantilla supracincta).  Looking at the colors, those bands of red, black and yellow, it superficially resembles a deadly poisonous coral snake, but if you look a little more closely you will find the bands don’t meet on the dorsal surface.

Coral Crowned Snake         Coral Crowned Snake         Coral Crowned Snake

The reason not many people find these snakes is that they are so small and burrow into leaf litter, moss and soft earth, which is exactly what this individual did as I tried to photograph it.  The Coral Crowned Snake is a venomous rear-fanged specialist feeder on centipedes.  It probably feeds on other invertebrate prey too but not too much is known about its natural history.

Coral Crowned Snake

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

 Broken Chain

While out photographing butterflies on the Titi Trail, I was distracted by a strange and almost luminous glowing ring lying what looked liked eggs on top of a leaf.  I took a closer look and found that it was indeed eggs but eggs that had hatched and the nymphal stage of some insect had formed a ring around the empty egg cases which now contained nothing more than some clear liquid.  The nymphs had formed a ring around their hatchery but there was a missing link.  Strangely enough, one nymph had yet to break free of its confining shell and the space in the chain appeared to be one nymph short.  I don’t know if it was coincidence or a correlation between the number of eggs and circumference that would make the complete ring but it was certainly eye catching.

Homoptera nymphs

I am pretty sure that the eggs belonged to an insect in the order Hemiptera – the true bugs, all of which have piercing mouth parts modified for sucking fluids whether it be of animal or plant origin.  Furthermore I think they belong to the suborder Homoptera – true bugs with equal wings.  It is a fairly diverse group of animals and so the exact identity of the weird luminescent pea-green nymphs will have to remain a mystery for now.  But they certainly catch the eye.

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 0.26 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 2.05 ins

Average Daily Rainfall 6.5 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 45.2 mm

Highest Daily Temp 90°F.  Lowest Daily Temp 73°F.

Highest Daily Temp 30.7°C.  Lowest Daily Temp 22.7°C.

Species List for the Week

Mammals

  • Central American Squirrel Monkey
  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • White-faced Monkey
  • Common Opposum
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Agouti
  • Alfaro’s Pygmy Squirrel
  • Red-tailed Squirrel
  • Three-toed Sloth

Birds

  • Orange-chinned Parakeet
  • Red-lored Amazons
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Great Curassow
  • Crested Caracara
  • Laughing Falcon
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Common Paureque
  • Rufus Piha
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Blue-crowned Manakin
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • White-collared Swift
  • Spotted Woodcreeper
  • Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
  • Cherrie’s Tanager
  • White-shouldered Tanager
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Streaked Flycatcher
  • Masked Tityra
  • Black-throated Trogon
  • Great Tinamou
  • House Wren
  • Riverside Wren
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

Reptiles

  • Basilisk
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Coral Crowned Snake
  • Five-lined Ameiva
  • Green Iguana
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Northern Cat-eyed Snake

 Amphibians

  • Banana Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Golfo Dulce Poison Arrow Frog
  • Marine Toad
  • Olive Tree Frog
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Smoky Jungle Frog
  • Tink Frog

Butterflies

  • Anartia Fatima
  • Anartia jatrophae
  • Archaeoprepona demophon
  • Ascia monuste
  • Caligo eurilochus
  • Chlosyne theona
  • Cithaerias pireta
  • Dryas iulia
  • Eueides lybia
  • Euptoieta hegesia
  • Eurema daira
  • Eurybia lysisca
  • Glutophrissa Drusilla
  • Heliconius cydno
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Junonia evarete
  • Magneuptychia libye
  • Marpesia berania
  • Morpho helenor
  • Pareuptychia occirhoe
  • Parides erithalion
  • Philaethria dido
  • Phoebis agarithe
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pierella helvina
  • Pierella luna
  • Polites vibex
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Pyrrhogyra crameri
  • Quadrus cerialis
  • Siproeta stelenes
  • Sostrata bifasciata
  • Staphylus mazans
  • Strymon megarus
  • Taygetis andromeda
  • Temenis laothoe
  • Urbanus proteus
  • Urbanus simplicius
  • Urbanus tanna
  • Urbanus teleus

 Plants

  • Alamandra  cathartica Flowering
  • Alpinia purpurata Flowering
  • Anthurium salvinii Flowering
  • Apeiba tibourbou Flowering
  • Arachis pintoi Flowering
  • Arundina graminifolia Flowering
  • Aspidosperma spruceanum Fruiting
  • Astrocaryum standelyarum Fruiting
  • Atrocarpus heterophyllus Fruiting
  • Averrhoa carambola Fruiting
  • Brownea macrophylla Flowering
  • Cascabella thevetia Flowering
  • Chamaedorea costaricana Fruiting
  • Cocos nucifera Flowering and Fruiting
  • Crestentia alata flowering and Fruiting
  • Costus speciosus Flowering
  • Couroupita guianensis Flowering and Fruiting
  • Dipsis lutescens Fruiting
  • Ficus citrifolia Fruiting
  • Ficus insipida Fruiting
  • 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
  • Ipomoea Flowering
  • Ixora coccinea Flowering
  • Lacistema aggregatum Fruiting
  • Lacmellea panamensis Flowering and Fruiting
  • Lantana camara Flowering and Flowering
  • Lagerstroemia speciosa Flowering and Fruiting
  • Mangifera indica Fruiting
  • Miconia argentia Flowering
  • Morinda citrifolia Fruiting
  • Musa acuminate Flowering and Fruiting
  • Naucleopsis uliae Fruiting
  • Pandanus tectonus Fruiting
  • Piper auritum Flowering and Fruiting
  • Piper umbellatum Flowering and Fruiting
  • Pleiostachya pruinosa Flowering
  • Psidium guajava Flowering and Fruiting
  • Stachytapheta frantzii Flowering
  • Terminalia catappa Flowering
  • Tocoyena pittieri Flowering and Fruiting
  • Virola koschnyi Fruiting
  • Vochysia ferruginea Fruiting
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