Archive for the ‘Veridion Adventures’ Tag

CUCKOO WASPS:  A DAZZLING PARASITE   2 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Now the weather has taken a significant change.  The rains that are expected to fall in September have started in earnest.  The rain is now falling all day and on most days.  This is good news for the frogs and this year the breeding continues on without a drop in intensity.  Every night there are large numbers of calling males.  The females are obviously responding because every morning there are lots of freshly spawned eggs.

After 17 years of data collection for my study, “Using amphibian and butterfly populations as a measure of environmental health”, I have decided to call it a day and now have to sit down and analyze the data.  Essentially I have been collecting data on population dynamics of butterflies and amphibians as well as recording daily weather conditions.  I look at changes in butterfly populations measured against temperature and amphibian populations measured against precipitation.  There are a great many other variables to be taken into consideration but watch this space for news of what the data might be showing us.

Butterflies in the Sun

Due to the constant rain and the trails running like streams, I have not been able to spend as much time outside as I would normally wish.  However, on the one day I did manage to get out and take some photographs I was rewarded with a mixed bag of goodies of which only one was new to me.

One morning the sun was shining and the butterflies were taking advantage of its warming rays.  The Lantana camara bushes are always a big nectar draw for the butterflies and this day proved to be no different.  Although there were nowhere near the number of species found during drier periods of the year there were enough to try and take a few shots.

One very small but distinctive butterfly that I have a particular liking for, (I don’t know why), is the Tropical Checkered Skipper, (Pyrgus oileus).  It is a fairly common skipper with a wide geographical distribution from southern North America and through into Costa Rica.  At a distance the black and white checkered pattern make it stand out against the green of the grass where it is normally found flying close to the ground.  When seen close up the wings and body are covered in a grey/blue fur.  The females tend to be a darker overall color.  The caterpillars feed on plants in the family: Malvaceae, of which there are several species growing in abundance locally.

Rainforests. Butterflies. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures. Hesperiidae. Pyrginae. Pyrgus oileus.

Tropical Checkered Skipper, (Pyrgus oileus)

They belong in the family: Hesperiidae and the subfamily: Pyrginae or Spreadwing Skippers due to their habit of basking with the wings wide open.  There are approximately 50 species in the genus: Pyrgus and they can be found throughout Europe, Asia, North, Central and South America.  You are more likely to find Tropical Checkered Skippers in open sunny locations which is where I found this one.

Feeding on the nectar of the same patch of Lantana was yet another Spreadwing Skipper but one which looked completely different to the Checkered Skipper.  This was a Long-tailed Skipper, (Urbanus proteus), notable for the two long tail-like extensions of the hind wings.  There are several species of Long-tailed Skippers in the immediate area but each one has distinctive markings to the wings.  The dorsal surface of the abdomen and the wings are covered in metallic green hairs.  Again it is a widespread species ranging from southern North America, down through Central America and into South America.  The larvae feed on leguminous vines of which there are many species growing locally.  In North America it is sometimes considered a pest as it feeds on commercially grown beans.

Rainforests. Butterflies. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures. Hesperiidae. Pyrginae. Urbanus proteus

Long-tailed Skipper, (Urbanus proteus)

This individual can be seen using its proboscis to probe for and suck nectar from the Lantana blooms.  One of the changes I have documented over the past 17 years is the progressive increase in annual average temperatures. One of the impacts this may have on butterfly populations is with increasing temperatures there will be increasing evaporation of the nectar.  This in turn causes an exponential increase in nectar viscosity.  We could end up with a situation whereby if the temperature increases to the point where the nectar is too viscous for the butterflies to suck up, then they may well not be able to feed, bringing about starvation, death and a collapse in butterfly numbers.  This is one of many variables I have to take into consideration when looking at the fact that we have had a 35% decline in butterfly species over the past 17 years.

Cuckoo Wasps: A Dazzling Parasite

While watching the butterflies flit back and forth, only stopping momentarily to take a feed of nectar, I noticed a tiny metallic green insect, only about 10mm long.  It was on top of a leaf at eye level and not moving.  It was striking in that the green was very reflective, it looked like a piece of metallic foil.  I was looking at a Cuckoo Wasp.  I have only ever photographed one in the past so if this one did not move then here was a second opportunity beckoning.  I slowly lifted the camera and got the shot but as I moved my position for a head on photo it took to the air and disappeared.

Cuckoo wasps are solitary wasps of the order: Hymenoptera, which includes bees, wasps and ants amongst others.  They belong in the family: Chrysididae, after the Greek word Chrysis – golden vessel.  They are also known as Jewel Wasps and they certainly have a jewel-like quality to them.  The refraction of light produces the spectacular metallic coloration, similar to the iridescent blues of the Blue Morpho butterflies.  In this case it is the multi-layered waxy cuticle of the wasp’s exoskeleton that produces the refraction.  There are about 3,000 named species of Cuckoo Wasps and they are found in most parts of the planet.

Rainforest insects. Hymenoptera. Chrysididae. Cuckoo Wasp.

Dazzling parasite, Cuckoo Wasp, (Chrysididae sp)

The name Cuckoo Wasp refers to the fact that, depending on species, they are either parasitoids or kleptoparasites preying upon other wasps.  Like any parasite dealing with a dangerous host it has to have evolved behavioral methods that allow it to get in and get out without being discovered or be killed.  To that end it has a very sneaky strategy.

A female Cuckoo Wasp will case the joint she is about to infiltrate.  She watches and waits for a female Digger Wasp to begin making a burrow.  When the Digger Wasp starts to bring in paralyzed prey on which to lay her eggs, the Cuckoo Wasp either hangs onto the immobilized victim and will be dragged into the burrow, or she waits until the Digger Wasp has left on another foraging trip and she will stealthily slip into the burrow.  If caught in the act, all is not lost.  Some species of Cuckoo Wasp have a concave underside and can roll into a ball.  The sting of the enraged host will not penetrate the heavily pitted exoskeleton of this now globe-like emerald.  The host has to physically carry the Cuckoo in the nest out in its jaws where it will then sit and watch till it can strike again.

Having subverted the hosts defenses, the female Cuckoo Wasp lays its eggs.  Some species are kleptoparasites, once the egg hatches and the larva emerges it will kill and eat the host larva and then consumes the food the host female is providing for it.  It remains undetected by mimicking the chemical signature odor of the host.  Others wait for the host larva to grow and then kill and consume it before it pupates.  Then like its avian namesake, it is the Cuckoo that thrives within the nest of its unwitting host and eventually emerges as a new parasite.  They parasitize a wide variety of hosts from solitary wasps and bees, to sawflies and walking sticks.  Unlike many other wasps where the ovipositor is modified into a lethal sting, the Cuckoo Wasp has a modified ovipositor and reduced venom sac so has no potentially lethal means of attack or defense.

Who would of thought as I photographed this gorgeous glowing emerald insect that it would have such an insidious life history.

A Collection of Queens

Another wasp nest that I have been walking past over the past month or so has been not only gradually increasing in size but is now populated by more adult wasps tending it.  It is the nest of one of the Social Paper Wasps, (Polistes sp).  The original queen had created a few cells beneath a leaf in each of which she laid an egg.  The eggs hatched, the larvae she provided with a food of chewed up insects until they were large enough.  She then capped the cell of the now pupa and waited for it to emerge.  The new wasp is one of the original queen’s offspring and like their mother they are equally capable of mating and reproducing.

Rainforest insects. Paper Wasps. Hymenoptera. Vesperidae. Polistinae. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures.

Female Paper Wasp, (Polistes sp), guarding her nest.

To begin with they help with the nest, building more cells, tending the larval siblings, foraging for food and helping the nest to increase in size.  The cells are constructed from masticated vegetative material.  Prey is caught and chewed up for the larvae to feed.  The sting is only used defensively.  They will attack any potential predator that approaches too close.  So, my approach was one of great stealth.  I took a few took a few exposures but the flash was beginning to antagonize them and one took flight and started buzzing around my head which was my cue to slowly back off and leave them to their business.

The other females usually have reduced ovarian systems but dominance of the original queen is not always assured.  Fights break out and a new queen can become established within the hierarchy taking over the major reproductive role.  When the male wasps emerge, they may stay on the nest for some time before leaving.

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

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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

FROGS OF COSTA RICA: LARGEST AND SMALLEST   Leave a comment


 

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

The sun sets rapidly in the tropics; there is no real twilight or dusk to speak of.  Last night as the sun dipped below the horizon, the sky darkened and stars started to appear for the first time in weeks.  At this time, sitting low in the west but just above the level of the trees we are treated to the sight of Venus which is by far the brightest light in the currently moonless sky.  Venus is closely accompanied by Mars which is a little lower and has all but disappeared from view by the time it is dark.  As the evening progresses and Venus slips from view, another bright light will have risen in the east, Jupiter, which will make its way across the heavens to set before sunrise.  If the clouds permit, then the Milky Way is a phenomenal sight this time of year, arching like a translucent creamy smudge across the sky from north to south.

Today started as last night ended, not a cloud in the sky, and apart from a few scattered showers throughout the morning, that is how things stayed.  This time of year we have the daily dawn chorus of Chestnut-backed Antbirds, Black-hooded Antshrikes, Bright-rumped Atillas and the raucous din of the Scarlett Macaws.  All of this has, of course, been preceded by the early morning wakeup call provided by the Howler Monkeys.  The ruckus is normally complemented and completed by the arrival of large numbers of Red-lored Amazons, whose higher pitched squawking simply adds to the cacophony.

Walking through a rainforest after a shower certainly gives the overall impression of dampness.  It has been raining since April and so the creeks and rivulets in the forest have a constant supply of running water.  The ground is both soft and sticky under foot.  With the addition of a shower, the vegetation already dripping with moisture, now most certainly completes the visitors’ expectations of how a tropical rainforest should look.

After returning from the four hour “Primary Forest Tour” I went off to the staff canteen to get some lunch.  That was followed by a leisurely stroll around the grounds to see if any new birds and butterflies had turned up.  One did, a butterfly I had not seen before, and guess what; once again I was not carrying my camera.  Here in front of me on vegetation close to the ground was a very conspicuously patterned Metalmark.  These are small and generally insignificant butterflies, but here was one with a dark background with a concentric series of white dashes and a bright red border to the hind wing, a White-stitched Metalmark, (Napaea eucharila).  I ran over to my cabin to get the camera but when I returned, it was gone.  So, I have found two new species in one week and no images to prove it.  At least I have the images in my head and the records in my diary.

As I write, the sun is sinking one more time.  It is amazing how time flies when you are enjoying yourself.  It is a brilliant sunset, a blaze of bright red which is bathing the forest in a deep luminescent orange glow.  It is now time to head out and see what the evening brings.

Costa Rican Frogs: The Largest and the Smallest

Here we are looking at two extremes; one of the largest and one of the smallest frogs on the grounds of Bosque.

Rainforest amphibians. Frogs. Leptodactylidae. Leptodactylus savagei. Savage's Thin-fingered Frog. Felipe del Bosque. Veridion Avdentures.

Male Savage’t Thin-fingered Frog

Savage’s Thin-fingered Frog, (Leptodactylus savagei), is a veritable behemoth of a frog, second only in size to the female Marine Toad.  They are the only amphibian we know of that eats scorpions, but they are opportunistic feeders and will eat smaller frogs, snakes, really anything smaller than themselves.  Like the Marine Toad, it is very poisonous, having skin secretion called Leptodactylin.  If you handle the frog it is very uncomfortable, but if you then rub your eyes, nose or mouth, in fact any mucus membrane it can be become a very distressing situation.  They do have predators though, more or less the same predators as Marine Toads, i.e. Opossums and snakes.  To that effect they have a secondary defense.  When you catch one it will scream like a baby.  The screaming may shock the predator into letting it go or the commotion could attract the attention of any other predator in the area which subsequently may attack whatever is trying to eat the frog, but most importantly, the screams very closely resemble the alarm calls of young caiman.  If there any adult caiman in the area, they will charge in and attack the frog’s predator which will hopefully, as far as the frog is concerned, allow it to make its escape.

Savage’s Thin-fingered Frog is a foam nester.  The male comes to the water first.  He has massive front legs and gives emits a “Whoop, whoop” call.  The female joins him later, he grabs on to her with his massive front legs, he has two sharp spines on his chest which also help secure her until she is ready to lay eggs.  Once the female has spawned, the male fertilizes the egg mass and then using his hind legs he whips the eggs up with water from the pond and mucus from his body to produce froth.  The eggs develop in the froth until about 8 days at which point the froth dissipates and the tadpoles as they now are have to complete the normal tadpole stage in the water.

Rainforest amphibians. Frogs. Craugastoridae. Stejnegers Rain Frog. Craugastor stejnegerianus. Costa Rica. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Stejnegers Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus)

Closely related to the huge Savage’s Thin-fingered Frog is probably one of the smallest frogs in Costa Rica, the tiny Stejneger’s Dirt Frog, (Craugastor stejnegerianus).  These are tiny frogs that live terrestrially on the forest floor.  If you ever spot a slight movement down by your feet as you on the forest trails, close examination will quite often reveal a frog no bigger than your fingernail.

Stejneger’s Dirt Frog is one of the rainfrogs.  They do not need to come back to the water to breed.  They pair up and lay only 10 – 30 yolk filled eggs, fairly large in comparison to the frog, in the leaf litter on the forest floor.  The whole process of development takes place within the egg so there is no free swimming tadpole stage.  After about 8 weeks, you will find emerging from the egg a tiny copy of the adult.

So there you have it, the little and large of the amphibian world.

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

SKIPPERS: BEST SEEN IN CLOSE UP   1 comment


 

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Today started overcast and showery.  I knew it was going to an in day.  I was in town, then I was in my cabin doing research and then I was in the office typing everything up.

Two birds turned up today that I haven’t seen for some years; the Variable Seedeater, (Sporophila americana), and the Western Wood Pewee, (Contopus sordidulus).    The Variable Seedeater is a tiny bird which normally feeds on grass seeds.  The taxonomy of the bird is uncertain as it, as its name suggests, is highly variable and many of the assumed subspecies will interbreed.  The Pewee is one of the Tyrant Flycatchers of which there are 78 different species in Costa Rica.  It can normally be found on a high perch in a tree from where it sallies, catching insects before returning to the same perch.  The individual I saw today was in the company of a pair of Tropical Kingbirds, another species of Tyrant Flycatcher fairly common in the area.

On my way back from town to the lodge, I shared the taxi ride with two of our newly arriving guests.  During the course of the conversation I was asking them how much wildlife they had seen on their previous 10 days travelling around the country.  They  had seen a lot and reeled off a short list of expected sightings from this stage of the trip.  Several hours after arriving at the lodge I saw them again and asked how they had settled in.  The list of sightings they gave me for having been on the grounds for just one or two hours far exceeded all of their sightings in the preceding week and a half.

I do try to impress upon people that when they come to the Osa Peninsula that they are visiting a very special area.  If it is the last stop on your vacation you will very quickly become aware of the fact that you saved the best till last.

A little later in the day the clouds cleared and we actually witnessed a sunset.  As it was getting darker, I was walking behind the pond, where some well established Screw Pines had been dropping fruit.  The fruits somewhat resemble larger pineapples made up of faceted segments.  One particular White-nose Coati has been feeding here for several days, but this evening he was joined by two butterflies attracted to the sap of ripening fruits; Taygetis andromeda, a satyrid, and Caligo eurilochus, which is one of the owl butterflies.  The butterfly is named after the large and obvious spot on the hind wing which looks like the eye of an owl but it does act more as a bullseye serving as a target to deflect the strike of a predator to a non-essential part of the body.  The owl butterflies are large and have a typically slow lazy flight.  They are generally seen flying at the forest edge at dusk.

Skippers: Best Seen In Close Up

 

Rainforest butterflies. Costa Rica. Hesperiidae. Pyrginae. Staphylus mazans. Mazans Scallopwing. Veridion Adventures.

Mazans Scallopwing, (Staphylus mazans)

 

Rainforest Butterflies. Costa Rica. Hesperiidae. Pyrginae. Tropical Checkered Skipper. Pyrgus oileus. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures.

Tropical Checkered Skipper, (Pyrgus oileus)

Skippers, you probably wouldn’t even notice them.  Many of the skippers are small, less than the size of your little fingernail, chocolate brown in color and fly close to the ground.  Even when you do capture one on camera, the diagnostic features required to identify it may not be obvious.  Quite often the female has different coloration and markings to the males.  Literature pertaining to skippers, guides and keys; they are all sadly lacking.  Skipper identification is therefore left to the experts and even then that may take some time.  I too, initially paid small attention to them, at least until I started to photograph them.  For whatever reason they seem to be sensitive to sound, light or the slightest movement, so when it comes to capturing the image you have spent so long composing, as the lens focuses, off they go.  If using flash, you also need to be using a high shutter speed because if you are using anything below 1/250 sec all you will have taken is a photograph of is the leaf where the skipper had been perched.

Anyway, I have posted a few shots so you can see with patience it can be done.

Rainforest butterflies. Hesperiidae. Hesperiinae. Anatrytone potosiensis. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures.

Anatrytone potosiensis at rest

Rainforest butterflies. Hesperiidae. Hesperiinae. Anatrytone potosiensis. felipe del bosque. Veridion Adventures.

Anatrytone potosiensis with flash

 

 

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

FORAGING FOR DEAD MAN’S FINGERS   2 comments


Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Today started overcast, continued to be overcast and finished overcast.  At breakfast the monkeys decided to put on a show, not uncommon.  First Howler Monkeys, then the Spider Monkeys and finally the Capuchin Monkeys came right up in front of the restaurant.  Capuchins are the only one of the four species that will come to the ground on a regular basis and so it was this morning.  The principal photo opportunities were being provided by the antics of a number of young monkeys some of whom were copying the adults in teeth baring displays, not very intimidating coming from the youngsters though.

The visitors to the lodge were entertaining themselves today, so my services were not required.  There was the feeling of a typical Sunday, both quiet and relaxed.  So, I decided to do what any right-minded person would decide to do on a quiet September Sunday, head off into the forest on a fungi foray.

There was a certain plan that had formulated  following a tour that I had conducted through the forest on the “Zapatero Trail” several days earlier.  As I was talking to the participants on the tour, my eyes kept being drawn to the presence of  fruiting fungal bodies on the path.  I started to take mental notes of where everything was with the intention of returning to take photographs.  Today provided me with the opportunity.  The one fungus I had seen that I really wanted an image of was the somewhat gruesomely named “Dead man’s fingers”.  The name is derived from its physical resemble to said item, poking out from the dead wood.

I didn’t manage to get out till a little later in the afternoon, by which time the light under the forest canopy was fading fast .  Still I had a good idea of the whereabouts of my intended subjects.  Now I have walked the “Zapatero Trail” almost every day for many years and this afternoon I walked it in reverse to my normal direction.  I felt confident I could remember where everything was, but looking at things from back to front was throwing my memory.  Then, at last the first fungus, then another and another.  But the one I wanted, I couldn’t find, the Dead Man’s Fingers.  Where had I seen them?  I tried to retrace the tour in my mind in an effort to recall where exactly the fingers were.  The light really was diminishing now and to add to the problems a light drizzle had started.  Finally, the persistence paid off and there they were, the fingers, reaching up from the corpse of a rotten log hidden beneath some low growing shrubs.  I got the photographs and returned before the sun had set.

Tonight when I went out to carry out my nightly amphibian count, I was able to witness something that I have only experienced twice before in all my years on the Osa Peninsula; a Cat-eyed Snake breeding ball.  This is not something that Cinderella would attend.  When a female snake becomes sexually receptive, she releases a sex pheromone which attracts  every male in the area.  That is what happened this evening around the pond.  There were snakes everywhere, males so wholly pre-occupied with getting to the receptive female that my presence was not noticed.  There were snakes slithering along branches and through the undergrowth, from all directions, all with only one intention in mind, to be the first to get the girl.

Foraging For Dead Man’s Fingers

Rainforest fungi. Costa Rica. Agaricales.

One of many fungi I have not been able to identify in Costa Rica

Fungi, along with bacteria, termites and beetle larvae are responsible for the rapid breakdown of organic material in a rainforest.  The warm damp conditions make the forest a perfect incubator for fungal growth.  You generally cannot see the main body of the fungus; it exists as a series of threads, called a mycelium, permeating throughout the substrate, whether it be the ground or dead and dying trees.  Many plants have a relationship with a fungus specific to that particular species. They grow in association with the roots in which case the mycelium now becomes known as a mycorrhiza.  Plants such as orchids cannot live without their specific mycorrhizal symbionts.

A question asked regularly by our guests is, “Why there are so few fungi?  It is not that they are lacking in number, it is just that here conditions are right all year round so they can throw up fruiting bodies, (familiar to most people as mushrooms and toadstools), throughout the year.  Back in the U.K. October was always my favorite month as there was a sudden short lived explosion of mushrooms and toadstools, their ephemeral beauty providing some wonderful photographic experiences.

Rainforest fungi. Sarcoscyphaceae. Orange-cup fungus. Cookeina speciosa. Cookeina tricholoma.

Two species of Orange-cup Fungi. Cookeina speciosa, left and Cookeina tricholoma, right.

There is no mistaking the literally described Orange-cup Fungus, (Cookeina speciosa), for any other type of fungus.  It is fairly common, with the small obvious bright orange cups to be found throughout the year growing out from recently fallen dead branches and trees.

Rainforest fungi. Tricholomataceae. Titan Fungus. Macrocybe titans. Costa Rica. Philip DAvison. Veridion Adventures.

One of the largest gill mushrooms on the planet, Titan Mushroom, (Macrocybe titans)

The fruiting bodies of the Titan Mushroom, (Macrocybe titans) are not a sight you are going to forget in a hurry.  They are typically found growing on top of Leaf-cutter Ant nests.  After a week or so, the mature mushroom cap can be up to almost 3 feet across.  Unfortunately their edibility is uncertain otherwise one cap may have provided accompaniment for a great many servings of bacon and eggs.  Commonly found as a symbiont on Leaf-cutter Ant nests.

Rainforest Fungi. Phallaceae. Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn. Staheliomyces cinctus. Philip Davison. Veridion Adventures. Costa Rica.

Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn, (Staheliomyces cinctus)

The Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn, (Staheliomyces cinctus), is found growing in soil rich with rotting vegetative material.  Once again it is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else.  The grey collar is in fact a glutinous mass containing the spores.  Like so many other species of stinkhorn, it gives off a stench resembling well rotted carrion.  The smell attracts in flies which then get their feet covered in the sticky grey gel, they fly off and consequently disperse the fungal spores.

Rainforesst fungi. Dead Man's Finger. Xylariaceae.

Dead Man’s Finger, (Xylaria sp).

Finally, the reason for my foray into the woods today, The Dead Man’s Finger, (Xylaria sp – possibly).  As with a great many diverse groups of plants and animals, the reference material to identify exactly what you have found is not readily available or simply may not exist.  That is the case with my prize for the day.  I have no idea what species it is.  I am not even sure that the genus is correct.  But for all that, it was fun going out, retracing my steps to find it and then photograph it.  Hopefully sometime in the future I will be able to put a name to it.

Rainforest Fungi. Xyliaceae. Dead Man's Finger Fungus. Costa Rica.

econd species of Dead Man’s Finger, (Xyliaceae sp)

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

 

 

 

 

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