Archive for the ‘Tarantula’ Tag

TARANTULAS AND THE DANCE OF DEATH   2 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

The weather on Cabo Matapalo continues to favor the visitor.  Over the past week the days have been dry and sunny, there has been little rain at all.  The rain that has fallen has been at night after everyone has returned to the comfort of their cabins.  There was one afternoon when an electric storm developed over the tip the tip of the peninsula.  Thunder echoed loudly throughout the forest, the rumbles seemingly shaking the ground beneath your feet, whilst simultaneously lightning sizzled and cracked overhead illuminating the surrounding area with blinding flashes of light.  The rain poured vertically down from the heavens and within no time the paths had turned into running rivers.  The whole event lasted little more than an hour and ended as abruptly as it began.  The thunder rolled off into the distance, a herald of the deluge that was about to be visited upon the neighboring areas.

There would appear to be no letup in the enthusiasm of the breeding amphibians.  Each night the number of calling males remains constant.  The vegetation around the pond is covered in the eggs of many species.  It is strange that this year should have seen a surge in the population of Small-headed Frogs, (Dendropsophus microcephala), which previously have been present in small numbers but this year have exploded to the point where they are the most vocal of nightly serenaders.

This has also been an exceptional year for the White-nosed Coatis, (Nasua narica).  They are normally to be found around the gardens and throughout the forest and therefore are easily encountered.  One of the first animals people see upon arrival are the coatis with their striped tails, slightly curved at the tip, stuck directly up in the air.  The males are solitary and tend to bolder in their approach to people.  The females, which band together in large groups with the young, until recently were more shy and retiring, they would run if you got too close.  At least that is how it used to be.  Now they are not so inclined to move out of the way.  They will look at you with furtive glances, on their toes ready to run if you make a fast movement towards them, but if you move slowly they will continue about their business just maintaining a wary watch.  It could well be that after so many years of being watched in this fashion that they have become familiarized with their human observers and no longer perceive them as an immediate threat.

A Touch Too Much

The sun is setting, its last red glowing rays now only picking out the top of the trees, creating the illusion that the canopy is on fire.  You grab your flashlight knowing that the fire will rapidly fade into the burnt-out embers of dark red and ultimately dampened into darkness.  With this darkness an awakening occurs, creatures of the night are beginning to emerge.  Before all becomes blackness, the silhouettes of bats can be seen against the sky, leaving their daytime roosts to feed on all manner of food.  Here the bats feast on a sumptuous banquet, each of the 80 species on the Osa Peninsula having its own preferred diet.  There are insectivorous bats, nectar-feeding bats, fruit-eating bats, carnivorous bats, fish-eating bats and yes, even blood-feeding bats, the vampires.

In the background, the plaintive whistle of a Great Tinamou can be heard, its three ascending sad notes announce that the day has ended and the night has begun.  As if on a collective cue, the insects start to call.  The soft but rhythmic pulsating sound of katydids and crickets fills the still nighttime air.  The shrill call of parrots and macaws fill the darkening sky as they pass overhead returning to their nightly roosts.  Now, adding to the white noise of the insect symphony comes the call of the amphibians.  They have been tucked away, hidden during the day from the harsh and drying effects of the sun’s rays, not good for creatures that breath through a delicate moist skin.  But as the air cools it becomes damper, perfect for males to begin to emerge, set up a territorial platform and start to call.  If he is lucky, a female will be attracted to the tone of his voice, oblivious to our ears, but sweet music to hers conveying the potential genetic quality that she would wish for her offspring.  Finally the deep roars from the male Howler Monkeys as they settle down for the evening are telling you it is time to venture out.

You step out into the darkness, flashlight up by your eye scanning the area immediately in front of you looking for eyeshine.  You are familiar with the various colors and the distinctive way the eyes of different animals reflect back at you.  There is something.  Fiery orange eyes on the ground, it blinks so it is not a snake, it hops up and down and then it calls and flies off.  That you could identify quite easily as one of the nighthawks, a Common Paureque, (Nyctidromus albicollis). Now over there in a tree, more bright orange eyes staring down at you.  You walk over to see what might be observing you.  Before you get close enough to make out its form it calls, a Spectacled owl.  It opens its wings, leans into the night and silently slips away, gliding like a feathered phantom into the blackness.  So not a bad start to the evening.

There are diamonds sparkling everywhere, on the ground, in the vegetation, all colors, red, orange silver, green and blue.  Anything with a diamond sparkle eyeshine you know is a spider and there are hundreds, no thousands of spiders, in whichever direction you look.  Most of them are little more than the size of a pinhead.

Your free hand is resting on the low branch of a tree sticking out horizontally from the trunk at about hip level.  You are glaring into the tangled vegetation in front of you looking for some of the amphibian choristers that you hear calling when you feel something lightly brush against your hand.  You don’t retract you grasp quickly but rather gingerly lift your hand away and turn the flashlight in the direction of where it was resting.  There you see the creature that had inadvertently made contact with you before withdrawing.  Its body is large and hairy, it has eight stout and hirsute legs.  Your pulse races and a bead of sweat rolls down by your eye from your brow.  It could be due to the heat of the night but it is probably because you are looking at a tarantula.

Tarantula. Rainforest Spider. Mygalomorphae. Therasophidae.

Unidentified Tarantula species in the Costa Rican rainforest

Tarantulas And The Dance Of Death

Now mistakenly putting your hand on a tarantula in the dark would increase the heart rate of most people but like so many other maligned creatures, the poor tarantula has a reputation it does not deserve and nor can it live up to.   Despite their size and grotesquely fearsome appearance, tarantulas are shy and mostly harmless creatures.  They are however venomous and a large, hairy, many-legged venomous arthropod is generally going to suffer bad press amongst their misinformed human observers.

Costa Rican Tarantulas. Mygalomorphae. Theraphosidae. Tarantula.

A rather shy Tarantula does not want its picture taken

Venom is a complex cocktail and quite often it can be very different and peculiar to different types of spiders depending upon their preferred dietary prey species.  Once a spider catches its prey, the victim must be rendered immobile very rapidly, especially if it is not caught in a web and then swaddled in restraining silk.  Most venoms therefore contain fast-acting metabolic toxins that kill or paralyze the prey rapidly.  In this respect, tarantula venom is very weak and does not have much effect on humans but it will kill dogs.  Spiders do not have mouthparts capable of mastication so essentially they have to drink soup, that soup being the digested internal organs of their prey.  The venom contains proteolytic enzymes that break down and liquidize the tissues so that the spider can suck up the rich protein meal and finish the process of digestion within its own alimentary canal.

So why does the tarantula have a reputation of being so dangerous.  The story has its origins in a city located in mediaeval southern Italy called Taranto.  Here lives a wolf spider, (Lycosa tarantula), one bite from which would drive the victim into a state of frenzied madness more commonly known as tarantism.  The unfortunate sufferer was prone to dizziness, vomiting and a heightened sensitivity that compelled them to lose all inhibitions and dance in a wild state of abandon trying to release themselves from the effects of the venom.

Due to these effects, it has been suggested that the spider responsible was Latrodectus tresdecimguttatus, closely related to Black Widow of the U.S.A and the Red-back Spider of Australia.  It may well have been that in a mediaeval Italy gripped by religious fervor that most cases of tarantism were little more than the result of a pious mass hysteria and not a spider induced dance of death.  However the story travelled with European settlers to tropical America and from thereon  the poor tarantula was saddled with the name and its resulting reputation from its smaller, deadlier European cousins.

Tarantula. Mygalomorphae. Theraphosidae.

Tarantula sp – look closely and you can see the fang-tipped chelicerae

The tarantula in these photographs was found last week on the grounds here.  It was not very co-operative and shied away from having its picture taken.  When I tried to get a close-up on the fangs, it pulled all of its legs up against the body.  I did manage to get low down and in front to get an image that if you look closely reveals the two fangs, which in the case of tarantulas are parallel to each other and face forwards.

Small But Deadly

Talking of smaller spiders, there is one species I see commonly around the buildings of the area that could be quite easy to miss.  It prefers dark corners where two walls meet at right-angles.  It is dark ruddy-brown and spends the day with its legs tucked up under the body.  The web is little more than a few silken strands strung between the two wall faces.  What draws your attention is not the spider itself but the size of prey it captures and consumes.  I quite regularly see everything from large kaydids, beetles and moths dangling helplessly from the sticky diaphanous cords as a tiny spider cautiously approaches to deliver the coup de grace.

Although I do not profess to being an expert with regards to spiders, (nor with anything in fact), I think these tiny assassins belong to the family: Theridiidae, which includes the notorious Black Widow, (Lacrodectus mactans).  The venom of the spiders in this family is highly neurotoxic which would explain why prey so much larger than the spider rapidly succumb to its bite.  I don’t know anyone who has been bitten by one of these individuals I commonly find lurking in places like bathrooms and have no great desire to try and find out for myself.

Tangle-web Spider. Araneidae. Araneae. Theridiidae.

Tangle-web Spider female guarding egg cocoon

The individual in the photograph sat guarding a grey sac for many days.  This is the egg cocoon.  She will mate with a male then lay her eggs which she will wrap in silk in order to protect them against the environment and parasites.  When these ones hatched I would see them swarming all over a prey item along with the mother.  I never saw her wrap a victim in silk, they just remained suspended in death pose from the strands upon which they had initially and unfortunately become caught.

Choking On A Poisoned Thorn

One more spider that I found last week in the gardens is so distinctive that it can be identified immediately, at least to genus level.  This is one of the Spiny-bodied Spiders, (Micrathena sp).  They are small but tend to be dressed in bright and contrasting colors so you should not have too much trouble finding them if you are diligent in your searching.  They are orb-weavers but the web, just as its maker, is relatively small.  Spiny-bodied Spiders are more commonly found in the open areas rather that within the depths of the forest.  Their webs can be found strung between the twigs and branches of bushes and small trees.

Once you have located one of the Spiny-bodied Spiders you will quickly appreciate why is bears that name.  The rear of the abdomen is drawn out into two long vicious-looking thorns at the base of which are two shorter spines.  The dorsal surface of the abdomen has a pair of upward pointing spines while the ventral surface has one downward pointing spike.  This whole appearance is not an appetizing prospect for a potential predator.  The coloration of bright vivid primary colors against darker background colors actually make the spider stand out in contrast to its surroundings.  If it is visibly obvious then it is patently not trying to hide.  It is using warning, (aposomatic), coloration to advertise its presence to a predator.

Spiny-bodied Spider. Araneidae. Araneae. Micrathena sp. Rainforest Spiders

The spines covering its body are a clue to the naming of the Spiny-bodied Spider, (Micrathena sp)

Should a naïve predator such as a bird or lizard ignore that warning signal and try to feed on the spider, those thorns and spines will lodge it in the unfortunate creature’s mouth from which it is very difficult to displace.  The spider meanwhile produces a noxious secretion that tastes foul and the hapless predator, rather than relishing a tasty meal, is now stuck with spiny vile dietary experience.  One the spider is dislodged, the predator will never, ever go near anything sporting aposomatic colors again.

Shadowy Parasites – Not Green And Not Seen

While walking the trails I found a weird little plant that could easily be mistaken for a fungal fruiting body.  It grows from the ground with a short fleshy stalk holding up the flowering head.  The overall color is the same as the ground, a ruddy-brown, there is no green to be seen.  In appearance it looks like no other flowering plant.  It contains no chlorophyll because it is an obligative parasite.  It taps into the roots of trees from where it extracts all its nutritional requirements.  This is Helosis cayennensis of the family: Balanophoraceae.  They can be found in northern and southern hemisphere tropics.

Parasitic plants. Balanophoraceae. Rainforest plants. Helosis cayennensis

Strange acorn-shaped inflorescence of Helosis cayennensis

The main body of the plant is an amorphous underground tuber attached to the root it is parasitizing.  The flower head produces both male and female flowers both of which are small in size.  Quite often they can be found in large clusters, especially this time of year, the wet season, growing out from the base of the tree they are sucking the life from.

Balanophoraceae. Helosis cayennensis. Parasitic rainforest plants

No green to be seen – the parasitic Helosis cayennensis

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

In The Heat of The Night   Leave a comment


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

It has now been over a month since the unusually heavy rains ceased falling.  During the intervening period of time there has been barely a drop of water and the rain that has fallen conveniently fell overnight.  How quickly the ground has dried though.  The places on the trails where some of the run off was flowing has now stopped completely.  Most the trails have hardened and become firm under foot once again.  The temperatures too have started to creep up and up with midday temperatures hitting the 100⁰ F, (40⁰ C), mark.  At night the sky is clear and bright.  With no cloud cover the temperatures go back down again hitting a pre-dawn low of around 71⁰ F, (22⁰ C).

This is the season when we start to see the trees producing flowers.  Several trees have already started blooming as have some of the orchids.  In the gardens the flowers attract insects, more notably the butterflies.  As you walk down the forest trails, gaps in the canopy allow light to penetrate to the forest floor and these open sunny glades seem to be favored by both dragonflies and damselflies.  Birds are actively seeking out nesting sites.  So, there is no shortage of subjects to photograph as you leisurely wind your way around the grounds.

Night of the Pale Parasols

Sometimes a structure will appear as if overnight that will then catch the observant eye.  They don’t have to be large structures but there will be something about them that make them stand out.  At the side of the road on a bank where the drive had been cut through a hill and only about 4 feet from the ground I noticed a pale umbrella topped cone suspended from an exposed tree root.  Beneath the fibrous parasol the cone was a squat in dimensions but covered with long pale yellow bodies.  Closer examination revealed that each body had a thorax, wings, legs and a head.   I was looking at wasps, more particularly the aptly named Parasol Wasps, (Apoica pallens).

Parasol Wasp. Hymenoptera. Vesperidae.

Parasol Wasp Nest, (Apoica pallens)

The genus Apoica contains but six species.  Strangely for wasps the parasol wasps are nocturnal.  The nest consists of a swarm of workers with several queens and males.  They are active at night engaged in hunting and nest building.  Should you be near one of the nests after sunset and using a flashlight they will readily be attracted to its beam.  During the day the wasps line up, pressed close together and cover the nest but will have no hesitation taking to the air to vigorously defend it should you venture too close.

A Hole Full of Horror

Once the sun has set then the nocturnal creatures that have been hidden away in nooks and crannies by day start to emerge.  Over the past week or two, about half an hour after sundown a juvenile tarantula has been crawling from its web-lined lair hidden in a crack in tree trunk.  Tentatively at first its front legs ease into the open.  Once it is sure the area is safe it slowly creeps into the open and sits head down not too far from its safe refuge and waits for a meal to come by.  Tarantulas do not build webs, they are ambush predators.  They sit and wait for prey to come to them rather than actively hunt food.  A slight tap of the foot on the tree root and this hairy arachnid behemoth quickly returns to the dark recesses of its den.

Tarantula. Osa Peninsula. Felipe del Bosque

Juvenile Tarantula. Unidentified Species.

Tarantulas have a reputation they don’t deserve.  It is unlikely that anyone has died from an American tarantula bite.  The thought of being bitten by a large, hairy spider is what most likely unnerves most people.  Whereas a tarantula bite is relatively harmless for humans, the neurotoxic venom that is injected will subdue and kill insects reasonably quickly.  The female tarantulas are larger in body size and live longer than the males.  A female tarantula can live anything up to 25 years.  On one occasion last week I saw this juvenile catch and eat a long-horned beetle that had ventured too close.  Tarantulas mash the prey with the chelicerae and suck out the juices.

Therasophidae. Mygalomorphidae

Tarantula. Unidentified Species.

It is never a good idea to get too close to a tarantula in case it becomes threatened.  The bite might not pose a problem for a human but the tarantulas have another means of defense.  Using the legs they flick barbed urticating hairs from the body which can become lodged in a potential predators eyes or upper respiratory tract causing severe distress.

Tarantula.

Tarantula. Unidentified Species.

The tarantulas belong to the spider suborder: Mygalomorphae.  They are a rather older evolutionary group of spiders and can be characterized by the chelicerae, (fangs), facing directly down.  Most of the world’s 903 species of tarantula live in the tropics and form the family: Theraphosidae.  The name tarantula is something of a misnomer as they were named after the European tarantulas which belong to the family: Lycosidae or Wolf Spiders, the bites of which supposedly, (again without any basis in fact), would cause people to go into wild convulsions.

Therasophidae

Tarantula. Unidentified Species.

Unravelling the Thread of Death.

There has been one other nocturnal hunter that I have seen over recent weeks that I don’t normally find with a great deal of regularity, the Brown Blunt-headed Tree Snake, (Imantodes cenchoa).  These long, slender serpents become active as the sun sets.  The body is very thin with the neck drawn out into a super narrow section.  Supported at the end is a short head bearing large bulbous eyes.  The body is triangular in section with a light tan base color interrupted along its length by large dark brown saddle markings.

The presence of this snake spells instant doom for small sleeping lizards that may have taken refuge in a “safe” zone at the tip of a leaf.  Normally the amplified movements of a predator along the length of a leaf would immediately alert the lizard to imminent danger allowing it to jump to safety and flee into the undergrowth.

Brown Blunt-headed Tree Snake

Brown Blunt-headed Tree Snake, (Imantodes cenchoa)

Not so with the Brown Blunt-headed master of stealth.  Its light weight and slender form permit movement without disturbance.  The eyes and tongue search for signs of a meal.  The triangular body section give rigidity enabling the prowling snake to reach out into the darkness and snatch the sleeping victim from its secure perch.

The adults can reach several feet in length.  Over the past week I have found and an adult and a juvenile.  The photo is of the juvenile which I found on several separate occasions at different locations around the pond.

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

 

Bosque del Cabo June 2011 Nature Review   1 comment


Felipe del Bosque Blog June 2011 Review

June produced some really heavy rain.  The precipitation was not consistent but rather dry periods interspersed with some very heavy overnight downpours.  Two storms in particular were responsible for bringing down a lot of trees and branches this month.

One morning a huge Milky Tree, (Brosimum utile), fell on the far side of the suspension bridge.  The tree had fallen across the path and therefore required the trail maintenance team’s attention.  As they cut through the fallen  trunk to open access once again, the freshly fallen tree bled out copious amounts of the white latex sap that gives the tree its name.

Section through fallen Milky Tree

The wood of the Milky Tree is unusually soft for a tropical hardwood tree.  That fact combined with the freely flowing sap produces a frenzy of insect activity.  Many beetles have larvae that live and grow in dead wood.  Along with termites, bacteria and fungi, the beetle larvae are one the major agents in the rapid decay of a dead tree.

Once the tree had been cut and the middle section moved from the path, within a 24 hour period a whole regime of creatures arrived.  Many of the hymenopterans use plant resins to construct structures within their nests and some almost completely so.  A variety of orchid bee species arrived post-haste, each one desperate to gather up as much of the milky white sticky latex as quickly as possible before the temporarily bounteous supply ran dry.

Orchid Bee

Beetles, most numerously the weevils, arrived too.  One large and impressive species of beetle, the Harlequin Beetle, (Acrocinus longimanus), turned up in very large numbers.  Along with the weevils, if you stood still and watched for a short time you would see them pair up, mate and the females lay eggs in holes excavated in the now dead wood.

Weevil        Weevil        Weevil

Acocinus longimanus

June provided a fair share of exotic grasshoppers, crickets and katydids.  Grasshoppers tend to be diurnal with short antennae whereas crickets and katydids tend to be nocturnal and have long filamentous antennae.

Unidentified Grasshopper        Unidentified Cricket        Unidentified Katydid

Spiders too could be found around the grounds without too much effort.  Although they do exist here, tarantulas are rarely seen.  Maybe if you venture out at night and search the holes in the banking to the roads or walk the forest trails you will be lucky enough to see one.

Unidentified Orb Spider        Micrathena sp        Orchard Spider

Tarantula

The Tendril Stanhopea Orchid, (Stanhopea cirrhata), despite being epiphytic, grows quite low to the ground, in cooler, damper areas and near to streams.  That is exactly where I found this individual which obliged me with the opportunity to photograph it by flowering several times during the course of June and July.

Stanhopea cirrhata

A lot more trees are coming into fruit this time of year which is a boon when it comes to finding help to identify the trees.  The leaves, bark and buttressed roots do not tend to be good diagnostic features as most of the trees look very similar and there are hundreds of species on the grounds.  The fruits however are generally very characteristic, if not to species, then certainly to genus.

Lacmellea panamensis                Ficus sp

Protium sp                Vochisia ferruginea

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming books:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

The Small World of Bosque del Cabo

The Colors of Bosque del Cabo

A Children’s Guide to Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge

Temperature and Rainfall

Average M Temp High 84°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 74°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.85 ins.  Total Monthly Rainfall 25.35 ins

Average Daily Temp High 28.8°C.  Average Daily Temp Low 23.2°C.

Average Daily Rainfall 21.5 mm.  Total Monthly Rainfall 644.6 mm

 

A Gripping Tale of Leathery Spiders and Lilies   1 comment


Felipe del Bosque Blog June 26th 2011

More of the Same

There has been some really heavy rain this week, with several days of continuous torrential downpours.  In fact all week has been overcast and even if not raining heavily, there has been a nonstop drizzle.  It seems to be wetter than normal for this time of year but that may even itself out by the end of the month.

He’s Back

Six months ago Bosque was fortunate enough to provide a lot of the guests with Puma sightings.  There was a resident female that had raised two cubs and they were frequently being seen, in full view, by many of our visitors.  This situation continued from last December until April, after which they appear to have moved further out into different parts of their territory.  But now at least one of the young males is back on site.

Over a period of only a few days, lots of families have seen the Puma in the vicinity of the Titi Trail, where it exits onto the main driveway.  Totally at ease, the cat has just stood allowing the guests to photograph it and they did get some good pictures.

We will wait to see if he stays around or is passing through, but for those lucky people who did see him, they are going home happy.

A Fleeting Flash of Color

One bird that I have always wanted to see, right back to my childhood, has been the Sun Bittern, (Eurypyga helias).  Obviously something about the bird struck a chord when I was young, but I had never managed to see one, not that I had ever gone out of my way trying.  But on one walk through the forest last week, I was gifted the opportunity to observe a Sun Bittern at fairly close quarters.

This tour had left the restaurant in reasonably dry, if a little overcast weather, but not so far along the path, the heavens opened and down came the deluge.  It was too late to return to the lodge so we persevered.

It was not actually me who initially saw the bird.  I was with a group of 4 and three of us had walked across a small bridge over the creek.  The last guest in line saw a bird fly up into a tree from the creek bed and settle on a branch some way off.  From the description I was given, I couldn’t think what kind of bird had been seen.  When I finally managed to see it through the binoculars, I knew immediately what I was looking at.  Unfortunately it didn’t stay for long and flew off before I could get a chance to see the spectacularly colored wing patches and I cursed my luck as well as the rain.

We continued through the oppressively drenching conditions and as I approached a stepped incline, as luck would have it, there was the Sun Bittern again, walking on the ground not too far in front of me.  This time I could see the colors as it spread its wings several times in succession giving a quick flash of orange and black.  It flew off, but not far, and this time up to a branch in full clear view so that everyone could get a look at it.

Despite the name, Sun Bitterns are not related to herons and bitterns,.  They may outwardly resemble them in form but its only distantly related relative is the Kagu of New Caledonia.  Anyway, this was one sighting that more than made up for a four hour drenching.  As far as I know, it has been the first recorded sighting of a Sun Bittern on the grounds of Bosque del Cabo.

Heading for the Ocean

We are not really in turtle nesting season right now.  The main turtle nesting season here on the South West Pacific of Costa Rica is between June to December, with the peak occurring between September to November.  There are the occasional out of season nesters, so it is possible to see turtles all year.

The majority of turtles nesting on the beaches below Bosque del Cabo are Olive Ridleys, with some Pacific Greens and once in a while a Leatherback.  This week, a family on the beach caught sight of a lone hatchling making its way towards to ocean, struggling over the undulating ridges and troughs in the sand before entering the water, where it will live the rest of its life as a pelagic nomad.

The hatchling that this family had observed was a Leatherback, (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest of the marine turtles.  It will enter the sea and then if it survives, it will spend the next twenty years of its life patrolling the ocean depths, feeding on jellyfish until one day it is compelled to return to the beach of it birth to breed.

When baby turtles hatch, particles of Magnetite in the brain magnetically lock its navigational system to this area.  The specific chemistry of the water in the vicinity will then have it arrive at the same beach it left all those years ago.  Although with the Leatherbacks, they are not so selective, any beach in the area will do.  But they do prefer beaches with softer sand and fewer rocks than other turtles, on which to nest.

Out of the Comfort Zone

One day last week, one of the barmen approached me with a sealed container which contained something that he obviously was in great fear of.  At arm’s length, he gingerly lifted the lid, somewhat in the apprehensive manner of diffusing an armed device, to show me what he had caught.  Inside was a medium sized tarantula.  I assured him that he had nothing to fear and that if it did bite, which it probably wouldn’t, he was going to experience little more that a pin prick.  He had no reason to keep the creature, so I took it away to photograph before liberating it once more into the forest.

Tarantula

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

Pure and White

Hymenocallis sp

 Down by the pond there has been a plant for many years which most people would not notice.  It is one more, amongst a myriad of vegetative forms that give the perpetual green backdrop to the environment.  But once a year it flowers and then it becomes very obvious and distinct.  The flowers are a bright white and very elegant, like finely modeled porcelain.  Six white curling tails hang from the flower head.  This is the Spider Lily (Hymenocallis sp), normally found on the Caribbean coast but there has been one unidentified species recorded here in the Golfo Dulce area.

Hymenocallis sp

 Get a Grip

One of the features of rainforest structure that I illustrate to people who go out on the Primary Forest Tour is the presence of epiphytes.  Vines, and their woody stemmed varieties, the lianas start their lives either on the ground or in the tree tops.  Those vines and lianas that start on the ground, have the problem of then finding their way up into the light at canopy level.  When they first germinate, they exhibit a condition known as skototropism, which means they are attracted to darkness.  Invariably this will enable them to grow towards the base of a tree, which is going to be the platform they will then climb to find their way up into the tree.  Upon reaching the base of the tree, there is a hormonal change which makes the vines and lianas grow towards light.  They make their way to the top until they are in the light layer, after which they may loop from tree crown to tree crown as they make their way through the canopy.

During the ascent the vines are posed with another problem, namely how to get to hold onto the platform they are climbing.  Different species have different means by which they perform this task.  In some vines, there is a second hormonal change which causes them to spiral, thereby embracing the tree.  Other vines throw out roots laterally from the stem that penetrates any minute nook or cranny.  They then swell with water which holds them tight as they climb.  Others have tendrils that make contact and then spiral around so giving a series of small attachments.  Other vines have tiny little backward pointing barbs that allow them to climb up without slipping down.

Pleonotoma variabilis

Finally, this vine, (Pleonotoma variabilis), has tendrils which reach out like two arms bearing long spindly fingers with expanded suckers at the end.  They latch on like some alien walking stick mountaineer making a vertical ascent of the smooth barked tree trunks.

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Temperature and Rainfall

Average Daily Temp High 84°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 74°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 1.21 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 8.47 ins

Average Daily Temp High 28.4°C.  Average Daily Temp Low 23.1°C.

Average Daily Rainfall 27.0 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 216.3 mm

Species List for the Week

Mammals

  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • Capuchin Monkey
  • Red-tailed Squirrel
  • Agouti

Birds

  • Orange-chinned Parakeets
  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Common Paureque
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Chestnut-backed Antbird
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Blue-crowned Motmot
  • Rufus Piha
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Gray-headed Tanager
  • Golden-crowned Spadebill
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Sun Bittern
  • Great Tinamou
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

Reptiles

  • Barred Ameiva
  • Four-lined Ameiva
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Pug-nosed Anole
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Mediterranean House Gecko
  • Cat-eyed Snake
  • Salmon-bellied Racer

Amphibians

  • Marine Toad
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Banana Frog
  • Smokey Jungle Frog
  • Olive Tree Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Golfo Dulce Poison Arrow Frog
  • Fitzinger’s Rain Frog
  • Stejneger’s Dirt Frog
  • Tink Frog

Butterflies

  • Aeria eurimedia
  • Anartia fatima
  • Antirrhea philoctetes
  • Astraptes fulgerator
  • Chioides albofasciata
  • Cissia confusa
  • Detritivora gynaea
  • Dryas iulia
  • Heliconius cydno
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Junonia everete
  • Magneuptychia libye
  • Metacharis victrix
  • Morpho menelaus
  • Parides erithalion
  • Phoebis agarithe
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pierella luna
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Strymon megarus
  • Tigridia acesta
  • Urbanus simplicius
  • Urbanus tanna

 Plants

  • Astrocaryum Palm Fruiting
  • Black Alligator Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Calabash flowering and fruiting
  • Cedrillo Fruiting
  • Clusia Vine Fruiting
  • Devil’s Little Hat Fruiting
  • Dinner on a Plate Fruiting
  • Monkey Comb Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Candlestick Plant Flowering and Flowering.
  • Cannonball Tree Flowering
  • Figs Fruiting
  • Inga Fruiting
  • May Tree Fruiting
  • Manglillo Fruiting
  • Nutmeg Fruiting
  • Royal Palm Fruiting
  • Santa Maria Flowering and Fruiting
  • Stanhopea Orchid Flowering
  • Stinky Toe Fruiting
  • Ylang ylang Flowering

Spotted Spinning Yarns in Black and White   2 comments


Felipe del Bosque Blog May 1st 2011

Back To Before

The rainy season would seem to have made a false start.  This week has seen no rain at all.  The ground is dry again and while the amphibian numbers have started to fall again, they are still inflated over and above that preceding the April downpours.  Having said that, May is traditionally heralds the commencement of the rains for the next seven months, so we will not shed any tears if they don’t arrive immediately.  At least we get some extra time to bask in the sun before suffering over half a year of dampness.

A Nocturnal Promenade

Normally in the evening, after having taken out 3 tours a day, carried out the field work for my research and then got as much written up as I possibly can, at that point I am generally too tired to go off searching the forest for post dinner nocturnal photographic opportunities.  But one night last week, over a new moon and with the conditions drying following the recent rains, I decided to go out and see if I could find some of the snake species that I have not seen for a while.

In the past when I have gone out at night it has been down the trail that leads to the creek.  Every so often it is possible to find several species of glass frog, which generically prefer running to still water.  I had heard them calling recently and had mentally noted that I should go and investigate.  On previous nocturnal excursions I have found a variety of snakes that I don’t usually find during the day.  But that trip was for later consideration.

I had decided that, given the high productivity of wildlife encounters during the day, the Titi Trail might give some interesting and new finds only to be revealed once the sun had set.  My hunch was not unfounded but in ways other than I had expected.

One piece of advice I will offer people is do not go looking for snakes; it can be one of the most unrewarding and thankless tasks you can indulge yourself with.  Turning over every rock and fallen log in the forest will quite often reveal nothing.  Although I went out with no expectations, I should have followed my own advice.  I only saw two snakes, both of the same species and both that I see every night at the pond, Cat-eyed Snakes, (Leptodeira septentrionalis).  I had also been hoping to see some of the forest amphibians but only caught sight of one female Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog, (Callidryas spurrelli).

The forest was full of other creatures though, small creatures, unnoticed but there if you care to look.  I had a good few roosting butterflies, one, Consul fabius, with its wings closed, has the pattern and venation which resemble nothing less than the leaves under which they sleep at night, hopefully perfectly camouflaged to escape the eyes of nocturnal hunters.  Giant phasmids, walking sticks, sit on top of the vegetation, once again, to all intents and purposes resembling the twigs on which they rest.  I am often asked if we have tarantulas at the lodge and in all honesty I reply that they are very rarely seen, but tonight there was a tarantula every hundred yards or so down on the path actively seeking out small insect prey.

Up in the tree tops there was the continual rustling that marks the presence of the Kinkajous.  Like arboreal fluffy house cats they move through the tree tops at night continually seeking fresh supplies of nectar from tree blooms.  The sound of the Kinkajous is accompanied by the calls of owls, here tonight, Crested Owls and Spectacled Owls.

Negative Comments

Quite often when people approach me with the task of naming something they have seen, I will reply that if you can literally describe that which you have in front of you, then you won’t be far short of naming for yourself.  So it was with two recent bird identifications I was asked to provide.  Both were hawks, one was white with a black bar on the tail and the other was black with a white bar on the tail.  Literally, you were looking at a White Hawk, (Leucopternis albicollis), and a Black Hawk, (Buteogallus subtilis).

White Hawk     Black Hawk

Printed Indelibely In Mud

Tapirs are large mammals, about the size of a Shetland Pony.  Around the world there are four species of Tapir and here in Costa Rica we have one, Baird’s Tapir, (Tapirus bairdii).  Tapirs are perissodactyls, odd toes ungulates, distantly related to horses and rhinoceroses.  You would think that an animal that size would be easy to find it the forest, well you would think wrong.  I have lived here 11 years and have never seen a Tapir in the grounds of Bosque del Cabo.  I know they are here because I have, on occasion seen their prints.  Last week while walking the Teak Plantation Trail I found some tapir prints in the soft earth.  Almost next to them were reasonably fresh Puma prints.

One of the arts of guiding is to get the visitors to use all their sensory apparatus in an effort to experience and appreciate what is around them.  It is not always just a case of there is a large bright noisy bird, a Scarlett Macaw, stimulating your auditory and visual receptors but sometimes something more subtle and not so obvious.  It could be a vague scent or the sound of something moving through the undergrowth.  There a many ways of experiencing the alien world of the rainforest around you.  Even if it is just your eyes, re-adjusting your focus from far to near will completely change the world in which you now find yourself, opening up a whole new spectrum of fauna and flora at which to marvel.

Well Spotted

One lucky couple walking the Titi Trail this week came upon a herd of Collared Peccary, (Tayassu tajacu), some distance in front of them.  This in itself is not an unusual event, but this particular herd of peccary were being closely observed by a spotted cat from just off to the side of the trail.  As the couple approached a little closer, the cat took flight, but not too far, only about 6 feet up a tree.

The first thing our visitor noticed about the cat was the size of the paws, huge.  They were looking at a Manigordo, fat hand, or Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).  It is unlikely that the Ocelot would have been hunting anything as large as a peccary, which normally fall as prey to Pumas, but it may just have been watching them, or it may be our guests saw the peccary and not what the Ocelot was hunting which may have been an Agouti.

It is not that common to see an Ocelot out during the day, so whatever situation was playing out in front of them, they were very lucky to get so close to a beautiful spotted cat.

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

 Having been out one night and seen so many Tarantulas I decided to take the camera and see if I could capture an image of one not too far from the restaurant, on the bank at the side of the road.  I had seen at least one individual sitting outside one the holes in the muddy wall so off I went.

Searching the bank side, there was a lot of activity; Leaf-cutter Ants, Crickets, Tailless Whip Scorpions and any number of Halloween Crabs.  I did not need to look for long before finding the subject of the photoshoot.  Sitting mostly inside a hole with just its legs jutting out, was a Tarantula.  But there was a problem, the hole it was occupying was just behind a long straggly tree root running the length of the vertical bank surface and I could not get the camera, mounted on a tripod maneuvered into a suitable position to get the picture I wanted.

With a little bit of persistence, I managed to get the lens close to the spider, which on several occasions when I disturbed it, retreated into the hole so I had to wait till it re-emerged, but it never did in a position that was any  the better than the one it left.  I tried to get the flash units into place but there was too much vegetation in the way.  I wasn’t happy but had to do the best I could and started firing off shots, one after the other, each time moving the flash units to try and light up the back of the tunnel.  All to no avail, the Tarantula was happy where it was, so my opportunities were limited.

Tarantula

While I was struggling to get the image I wanted, a small movement to the left caught my eye.  I shone the flashlight to find a tiny spider moving along a silken thread.  This spider was little more than a speck, about 3mm long.  As the light beam hit the body, it appeared to have metallic red markings.  I knew I wasn’t going to have a great deal of luck with the Tarantula so I readjusted the position of the tripod and tried to focus on this mere pinhead sized arachnid.  I pressed the cable release, four flash units illuminated the subject, and when I looked at the resulting image on the camera screen, I was delighted to find the most exquisitely colored nimblest of eight-legged hunters, silk being extruded from its spinnerets and coated in sticky globules.

Spider

As with many of my spider photos, I cannot identify the species, but a name doesn’t strictly matter when you look like this.

After some searching of websites and a little bit of luck I can now identify this spider as an Orchard Spider, ( Leucauge venusta).

Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:

The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison

Temperature and Rainfall

Average Daily Temp High 90°F.  Average Daily Temp Low 75°F.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.00 ins.  Total Weekly Rainfall 0.00 ins

Average Daily Temp High 31.8 °C.  Average Daily Temp Low 23.9 °C.

Average Daily Rainfall 0.0 mm.  Total Weekly Rainfall 0.0 mm

Species List for the Week

Mammals

  • Howler Monkey
  • Spider Monkey
  • White-faced Monkey
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Agouti
  • Virginia Opossum
  • Kinkajou
  • Tayra
  • Ocelot
  • Collared Peccaries

Birds

  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Grey-necked Woodrail
  • Great Currasow
  • Lineated Woodpecker
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Collared Forest Falcon
  • Crested Caracara
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Yellow-headed Caracara
  • Bronzy Hummingbird
  • Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
  • Chestnut-backed Antbirds
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • Common Paureque
  • Rufus Piha
  • Short-billed Pigeon
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Blue-crowned Manakin
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  • Grey-headed Tanager
  • Bright-rumped Atilla
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Great Tinamou
  • Little Tinamou
  • Riverside Wren
  • Black Vulture
  • King Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

Reptiles

  • Barred Ameiva
  • Four-lined Ameiva
  • Central American Whiptail
  • Green Iguana
  • Golfo Dulce Anolis
  • Central American Smooth Gecko
  • Clawless Gecko
  • Mediterranean House Gecko
  • Cat-eyed Snake
  • Parrot Snake

Amphibians

  • Marine Toad
  • Parachuting Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
  • Banana Frog
  • Masked Smilisca
  • Milky Frog
  • Smokey Jungle Frog
  • Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
  • Golfo Dulce Poison Arrow Frog
  • Fitzinger’s Rain Frog
  • Tink Frog

Butterflies

  • Anartia fatima
  • Anartia jatrophae
  • Anatrytone potosiensis
  • Anthanassa ardys
  • Antirrhea philoctetes
  • Arawacus lincoides
  • Arteurotia tractipennis
  • Astraptes egregious
  • Astraptes fulgerator
  • Battus polydamus
  • Chloreuptychia arnica
  • Cissia confuse
  • Colobura dirce
  • Dione juno
  • Doxocopa clothilda
  • Dryas iulia
  • Eurema albula
  • Glutophrissa drusilla
  • Heliconius erato
  • Heliconius hecale
  • Heliconius ismenius
  • Heliconius sapho
  • Heraclides cresphontes
  • Hermeuptychia hermes
  • Hyalyris excels
  • Junonia everete
  • Laparus doris
  • Magneuptychia libye
  • Marpesia berania
  • Marpesia furcula
  • Mechanitis polymnia
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho menelaus
  • Panthiades bitias
  • Pareuptychia ocirrhoe
  • Parides erithalion
  • Philaethria dido
  • Phoebis agarithe
  • Phoebis argante
  • Phoebis sennae
  • Pierella luna
  • Pompeius pompeius
  • Pyrgus oileus
  • Remella rita
  • Tigridia acesta
  • Turesis basta
  • Urbanus proteus
  • Urbanus simplicius
  • Urbanus tanna

 Plants

  • Astrocaryum Palm Fruiting
  • Balsa Fruiting
  • Black Alligator Tree Flowering
  • Cashew Flowering and Fruiting
  • Calabash flowering and fruiting
  • Clusia Vine Fruiting
  • Monkey Comb Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Garlic Tree Fruiting
  • Candlestick Plant Flowering and Fruiting
  • Cannonball Tree Fruiting
  • Figs Fruiting
  • Guanacaste Tree Fruiting
  • Gustavia Flowering
  • Hog Plum Flowering
  • Inga Fruiting
  • Lady of the Night Orchid Flowering
  • May Tree Flowering
  • Manglillo Fruiting
  • Milky Tree Fruiting
  • Nutmeg Fruiting
  • Passion Vine Flowering
  • Pochote Tree Fruiting
  • Psychotria Fruiting
  • Rosa de Monte Flowering
  • Royal Palm Fruiting
  • Rubber Tree Flowering and Fruiting
  • Santa Maria Flowering
  • Sombrerito Fruiting
  • Stinky Toe Fruiting
  • Ylang ylang Flowering
%d bloggers like this: