Being Yellow and Burning Nuts
Walking along the trails through the forest can sometimes be a visual feast in terms of animal sightings but at other times you may encounter very little at all. The air is very still and so there is quite often no sound of rustling leaves as when blown in a breeze. The temperatures are high, not as high as at the top of the canopy, but high enough to make someone more familiar with cooler climes to break into a sweat at the slightest exertion. The stifling silence maybe permeated by the white noise of calling insects.
At the moment there are many trees in bloom. The Nance trees, (Byrsonima crassifolia), are currently covered in bright yellow flowers which change to orange after they have been pollinated. The Nance flowers attract a lot of bees, particularly species of stingless bees native to the area. Several months from now the trees will bear huge numbers of the small yellow-skinned fruits that are consumed not only by a large number of animals but people too. The taste is unique and the fruits can be eaten raw or prepared as a dessert or as a refreshing drink.
Nance, (Byrsonima crassifolia)
One tree that has been flowering for the past month or so and is now producing fruit is the Cashew, (Anacardium occidentale). It has distinctive large red pear-like fruits beneath which the nut is suspended. The fruity looking object is the swollen meristem of the actual fruit which is the nut itself. It is known as the Cashew Apple or Maranon. This you can eat without concern. As with the Nance, the flavor is unique. It can linger for some time at the back of the mouth before fading away. The nuts are to be treated with a great deal more caution. Cashew belongs to the same family of plants as poison ivy, Anacardiaceae. The skin of the nut contains the volatile oil Cardol, which can cause severe blistering when in contact with the skin and more dangerously a burning of the eyes. Cashew nuts must be roasted or blanched to eliminate the oils. Even then the utmost caution has to be exercised as the oils can seriously damage the respiratory system, many people who work in the Cashew industry suffer very severe respiratory problems.
Cashew, (Anacardium occidentale)
While I was looking at the unripe green cashews I noticed another species of Leaf-legged Bug, (Family: Coreidae), that I had not seen before. A search through the literature would only provide me with the Genus: Acanthocephala. I have photographed several species in this genus but cannot get them any more specific than that. This one was feeding on the unripe cashew apple by sticking the dagger-like mouthparts into the flesh and sucking up the juice.
Leaf-legged Bug, (Acanthocephala sp)
Seen As Green With Orange Flags
From here and there bird calls drawn your attention to the distance. You become attuned to the slight rustles down by your feet. Further investigation reveals a lizard, one of the whiptails perhaps, scurrying off through dry leaf litter. Beside you there is a faint buzzing sound, a high-pitched hum. It is a hummingbird, its wings a blur, coming to scrutinize a piece of red clothing you are wearing. As far as the bird is concerned this could be a fresh bloom brimming with nectar but no such luck and off it goes.
As I was walking through the forest a quick flash of bright orange caught my eye near the ground. A male Golfo Dulce Anolis Lizard, (Anolis osae), was displaying to a female. He catches her attention and tries to gain her favor by flying a bright fiery orange flag, a dewlap, which is a loose piece of skin beneath his chin. It is supported by a thin rod of cartilage which is attached to the front of the jaw and over which he has muscular control. The more splendid the dewlap, the better his genetic make-up and the more desirable he will be to father her offspring. The female is a similar size but lacks the dewlap and has a series of dark diamonds down her back.
Golfo Dulce Anolis, (Anolis osae). Male.
Golfo Dulce Anolis, (Anolis osae). Female.
While I was lying on the ground photographing the lizards I saw a tiny metallic green fleck moving around. The movement was jerky as the fleck hopped from one dead twiglet to another. There was no mistaking that form of movement, it was a jumping spider. Many of the jumping spiders are minute. Unless you were looking for them or are familiar with their body movements then it is so easy to miss them. That would be a shame as they are fascinating little creatures.
Unidentified Jumping Spider, (Salticidae). Anterior Eyes.
Normally jumping spiders are inclined to turn and look at you. This one seemed to be distracted by something else and continually kept its gaze in the opposite direction to me so I could only really photograph its back. For a fleeting moment it turned to look at me and I managed to get a shot of the huge anterior eyes that the spider relies upon for seeing the prey item that it will actively hunt down.
Unidentified Jumping Spider, (Salticidae). Dorsal View.
Mammals, despite their sometimes large size, are notoriously difficult to find. Monkeys, when active, can make a large amount of noise as they crash through the trees. They can also be quite vocal. Coatis and agoutis on the forest floor can be detected b their movement. Coatis tend to huff and puff a lot as the females with juveniles constantly sniff out any consumable morsel lying in their path. Agoutis and squirrels can be heard gnawing their way through the shells of various fruit and nuts that form the bulk of their diet.
Cats on the other hand are largely silent. They are masters of stealth. Over the past week I have captured videos of an Ocelot walking the Titi Trail. One of the guests at the lodge crossed the path of a Puma on three different occasions over the last few days. On one instance the Puma was lying across the trail in front of her and had no desire to move. She slowly backed away while always facing the cat and finally headed off in a different direction. The cat could have cared less. The next day she came across the cat walking down the trail in front of her. A few days ago the Spider Monkeys were shrieking their cat-specific alarm call and sure enough one the guests staying in the Tropical Garden was lucky enough to see the Puma walking through the forest behind his cabin.
Deceptive Green Stripes and Giant False Bats
The forests, fields, hedgerows and gardens are normally filled with butterflies this time of year and that has been the case. One distinctive Lepidopteran that has been around in very large numbers over the past month is the Green Urania, (Urania fulgens). Its striking soot black wings striped with bright metallic green bands make it look so much like one of the swallowtail butterflies that people are surprised when they cannot find it in the butterfly guide books. It is, in fact, a migratory day-flying moth.
When walking down the forest trails at this time of year people are also fooled by yet another moth. This moth is so large that it is when it is spooked and takes to the air, its huge wingspan and flapping flight lead people that they are looking at a bat. This is the largest species of Lepidopteran on the planet, the White Witch Moth, (Thysania agrippina). If you have the good fortune to see it land you will notice that it orientates itself with the wings up and down. The light grey ground color of the wings now display in this vertically inclined position darker wavy, zig-zag markings, which if the moth has landed on a pale barked tree, render it almost impossible to see as they resemble crevices in the bark. Despite they are reasonably common moths throughout Central and South America, very little is known of their life history.
White Witch Moth, (Thysania agrippina)
Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica
Felipe del Bosque Blog April 16th 2012
The temperatures are still high but over the past two weeks the rains have started. Whereas recently the forest in general and the lawns in particular seemed to be suffering from the lack of water, as soon as the skies opened, a change was obvious. Those greens that were tinged with yellow and edged with brown have now become verdant green again. Within days, the lawns had changed from burned and crispy in texture to lush and soft once again. The Calabash trees with their trunks covered in ferns and orchids, last week appeared to be enveloped in a shaggy brown coat of withered, twisted leaves. All it took was one overnight downpour and the resurrection ferns transformed into a rich thick mass of luxuriant foliage carpeting the tree trunk.
The initial rains, along with the promise of more to come, did not continue. All the crabs and amphibians that had appeared en masse progressively over the following nights lessened in numbers once more. It won’t be long before the rainy season does kick in and so all those creatures dependent upon or preferring wetter conditions may only have to wait a short time before they can re-emerge. The plants have had an early drink to quench their 4 month enforced thirst but within the next few months their roots will be soaked in water.
They Are Where They Are
People often question where and when they can go and see animals. Unfortunately nature is not compliant with our wishes to observe it. One of the most important aspects inherent to Bosque del Cabo, is that it represents a wonderful microcosm of all that can be found in Costa Rica: the plant and animal diversity is phenomenal. It does not take most visitors long to appreciate that they have found themselves in a special place. Within hours of arriving visitors may have seen all 4 species of monkey, agoutis, coatis, macaws, toucans, poison dart frogs. The trick is seeing all of these animals is to be in the same place at the same time as they are and that is just a question of luck.
Sometimes you don’t need to venture further than your own cabin, other days you just have to choose a trail and walk. Quite often if a trail was seemingly devoid of life one day, 24 hours later it will be teeming with life. If there happens to be a particular tree producing copious amounts of fruit, then you might expect to find a great many fruit eating animals feasting in that tree for several days.
The best time to watch birds is early morning and late afternoon. Most people head out into the open garden areas bordered by a forest edge as these tend to be frequented by many species of bird. Amphibians are best observed as the sun sets. At that time out come the male frogs which can, as with the birds, be heard as well as seen, allowing you to home in on their location.
Time of year and weather both have a profound effect on certain animal behaviors and therefore your ability to see them. Hot dry days will encourage more butterflies to take to the wing than colder wetter days. It is amazing how many amphibians will appear as if by magic given a night of heavy rain following months of little or no precipitation.
So, in answer to the question where can we go to see wildlife, it is where it is, just pick your trail and walk. The diversity of life here is so intense that you will see something, we generally can’t say go to this place at this time and there you will find such and such because invariably it won’t be there. But what better way to start your day than to head out without any expectations and enjoying the serendipity of discovery. I have been here for 12 years and I still find new creatures two or three times a week. Bosque del Cabo forms an endless source of natural intrigue.
Up, Down and All Around
The rains that came over several nights in succession had the amphibian life emerging in huge numbers. One of the first frogs to respond is the Milky Frog, (Trachycephala venulosus), the largest tree frog in Costa Rica. Following one night of heavy rain the pond was full of calling males. The sound was so loud it could be heard from the restaurant. The next morning, the pond was full of Milky Frog spawn. They continued to call for several nights after but not with the initial frenzy of the first evening’s activity.
The Red-eyed Green Tree Frogs, (Agalychnis callydryas) had been noticeably absent over the past few months. Normally at least one or two can be heard calling throughout the course of the dry season but this year not a sound. With the rains came the frogs, not many but the familiar “chuck, chuck” sound could be heard at the top of the vegetation all around the pond. Some males had even made their way down to the lower levels where they could easily be seen.
Several other frogs that had not been seen for 3 or 4 months also re-appeared. Masked Smiliscas, (Smilisca phaeota), with their distinctive “Mwaa” calls, turned up at the pond in small numbers. A lone Gladiator Frog, (Hypsoboas rosenbergi), also turned up for several nights in succession announcing itself with the characteristic “Toc Toc” call somewhat reminiscent of two pieces of wood being knocked together. From deep in the forest that little bell like chime that one closely associates with the wet season, the call of the Tink Frog, (Diasporus diastema), could be heard from one or two individuals.
We had two Puma, (Puma concolor), sightings on the grounds this week. One occurred in the early evening not too far from the construction work area. Some of the staff saw what seemed to be a very young Puma walking away from them. One the workers had a telephone and caught the image. Later on the same day, some the guests to the lodge who were walking along the Golfo Dulce Trail to go to the beach, saw a large male Puma standing momentarily staring at them before heading off into the forest. Unfortunately the moment passed too quickly for them to get the photograph.
One night after dinner as a guest was settling his bill, he had to quickly return to his cabin to fetch his wallet. He was greeted at the front of his cabin by the sight of two eyes glowing in the beam of his flashlight. He remained still and waited to see the form of the creature appear in full. What he found was a beautiful Ocelot, (Leopardus pardalis), standing looking at him. It remained long enough for him to see the fabulous painted markings of its fur before it too turned and slowly walked into the dense vegetation at the back of the cabin.
Young and Old
Last week I showed photographs of an adult Salmon-bellied Racer, (Mastigodryas melanolomus), that I had found. This week, I happened across a juvenile not too far from my cabin. It was a perfect opportunity to compare the markings of the young and mature forms. One of the things that is difficult in identifying young snakes is that they are quite often so completely different in markings and coloration to the adult form. With this one you can clearly see the horizontal stripe of the mature snake but also the distinct brown banding of the juvenile too. The belly as yet lacks the deep salmon pink so noticeable in the adult form.
Over the past week I have seen several other snakes; the Tropical Bird-eating Snake, (Pseustes poecilonotus), two species of Litter Snake, (Rhadinea decorata and Coniophanes fissidens), and the Terciopelo, (Bothrops asper).
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.
That’s No Bat Man!
One night as I returned to my cabin there was a large moth, in fact the largest species of moth that exists, resting on one of the posts of my bathroom. I hurried to get my camera but when I returned it had already flown off. The moth in question, a Birdwing or White Witch Moth, (Thyania agrippina), is not that uncommon in these forests but this one had been at eye level rather than high up on a tree trunk which would have lent itself to a good photograph.
The Birdwing Moth is an impressive Noctuid moth with a wingspan of some 12 inches. They align themselves so the wings are place parallel to the trunk of the tree. The light grey background color is patterned with dark wavy lines so that they closely resemble the striations of tree bark. The forewings are much longer than the hind wings which draw the patterning out. The trailing edges of the wings are crenulated serving to breaking up the outline and blending it in perfectly with the tree bark rendering the lepidopteran almost invisible to the casual observer. They do have a habit of taking flight if approached though and many people are convinced they have seen a large floppy bat fly off into the forest.
Text and Photographs are taken from the forthcoming book:
The Natural History of Bosque del Cabo by Philip Davison
Temperature and Rainfall
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Species List for the Week
- Howler Monkey
- Spider Monkey
- Capuchin Monkey
- Common Opossum
- Alfaro’s Pygmy Squirrel
- Red-tailed Squirrel
- Vesper Rat
- White-nosed Coati
- Red-lored Amazons
- Scarlet Macaws
- Great Currasow
- Yellow-headed Caracara
- Pale-billed Woodpecker
- Black-hooded Antshrike
- Chestnut-backed Antbird
- Common Paureque
- Short-billed Pigeon
- White-tipped Dove
- Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
- Rufus Piha
- Mangrove Cuckoo
- Blue-crowned Manakin
- Red-capped Manakin
- Fiery-billed Aracari
- Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
- Green Honeycreeper
- Cherrie’s Tanager
- Grey-headed Tanager
- Bright-rumped Atilla
- Dusky-capped Flycatcher
- Golden-crowned Spadebill
- Great Kiskadee
- Buff-rumped Warbler
- Great Tinamou
- Little Tinamou
- House Wren
- Masked Tityra
- Black-throated Trogon
- Slaty-tailed Trogon
- Black Vulture
- King Vulture
- Turkey Vulture
- Barred Ameiva
- Central American Whiptail
- Common Basilisk
- Five-lined Ameiva
- Clawless Gecko
- Golfo Dulce Anolis
- Litter Snake
- Northern Cat-eyed Snake
- Tropical Bird-eating Snake
- Banana Frog
- Black and Green Poison Arrow Frog
- Golfo Dulce Poison Arrow Frog
- Fitzinger’s Rain Frog
- Marine Toad
- Masked Smilisca
- Milky Frog
- Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
- Smokey Jungle Frog
- Tink Frog
- Agraulis vanillae
- Anartia Fatima
- Archaeoprepona demophon
- Caligo atreus
- Caligo eurilochus
- Calycopis isobeon
- Dryas iulia
- Eueides lybia
- Glutophrissa drusilla
- Heliconius erato
- Heliconius hecale
- Heliconius ismenius
- Heliconius sapho
- Heraclides cresphontes
- Marpesia berania
- Marpesia furcula
- Mechanitis polymnia
- Metacharis victrix
- Morpho helenor
- Morpho Menelaus
- Philaetria dido
- Pyrisitia nise
- Pyrrhogryra crameri
- Siproeta stelenes
- Temenis laothoe
- Bamboo Orchid Flowering
- Black Alligator Tree Flowering and Fruiting
- Calabash flowering and fruiting
- Candlestick Plant Flowering and Fruiting
- Cannonball Tree Flowering and Fruiting
- Cashew Flowering and Fruiting
- Clusia rosea Flowering and Fruiting
- Hog Plum Flowering
- May Tree Flowering
- Monkey Comb Tree Fruiting
- Mountain Rose Flowering
- Passion Vine Flowering and Fruiting
- Stinky Toe Fruiting