Posts Tagged ‘Entomology’

Today, my alarm does not go off, so I cannot go birding. After breakfast we go to Rolando’s property to plant trees. On our route there, I spot a Southern Rough-winged Swallow sitting on a telephone wire and a Crane Hawk soaring, which I identified by a white stripe running down the wing near the tips. It is much easier going today as it is cooler in the shade and we only need to plant half as many trees as yesterday (it is still one hundred, but that is one hundred less than previously). We finish our last planting job in about an hour.

Southern Rough-winged Swallow

After lunch we go play soccer with the locals. Jeff, Sarah, Bryan, Jose, Luigi, Roy, Rolando, and I all played. I scored two goals again. About half an hour into the game, it begins to pour. This is not a rainstorm; it is a deluge. It is raining so intensely that the water stings my back. As it rains, a large tree branch collapses. A tremendous crack rings out and everyone turns around to see half of the 80 foot tree slough off. The tree falls away from the field and toward the bullring. By the end of the game, we are playing in two inches of water. The field is a swamp. Everyone slide tackles because you fly five meters, as the ground is like a slip-and-slide. You cannot dribble as the ball floats in the water. When it is kicked, it just dies on the ground. Everyone is splashing, falling, rolling, and sliding. This is one of those moments which I will never forget.

Sarah and I go on a night hike after the rain lets up. We see several spiders and wonder if spider silk strength at all correlates to spider size (especially per unit mass). We also wonder if the three dimensional webs that we see everywhere here are a result of the necessity for increased robustness to deal with rain and/or larger insects. The spiders here have far more insects to eat than those in the temperate forests, which only produce two dimensional webs. Another hypothesis, we learn, is that extra strands which may seem superfluous actually help birds to see the otherwise invisible webs. Creating these extra strands is much easier than having to produce a whole new web if a bird flies through it. Sarah also notes the water gathering adaptation of heliconia flowers. They are like little cups . A small frog jumps from leaf to leaf. Finally, we see a strange caterpillar creature. It is brown with lime-green splotches on its sides and tiny legs which do not seem to be particularly effective. Most noticeably, they have four long, pink antennae-like protrusions from their heads near their large black eyes. They are eating the leaves of a small sapling. Initially, we think that this may be a cordyceps fungi, which infect insects’ brains and drive them upwards where they die. The fungi then bursts out of the head and grows to a tip, which then splits, sending spores outward, infecting more insects. However, we see that there are two of the same kind and they are both eating calmly. Still, these are very strange creatures which look like a mishmash of various animals or aliens.


Spider making web

Wolf spider




Unknown spider: Is it a Brown Recluse?


I head back and go to sleep, but not before almost stepping on a cane toad. The giant toads are very common here. If run over on a motorcycle, they pop. This is a popular game amongst Ticos, perhaps it is their version of bubble-wrap. The toads are simple creatures, they register the world in shadows. If the shadow is larger than them, they hop away. If the shadow is smaller, they try to eat it. Sometimes they do not know what is making the shadow so they run directly into you.

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I wake up early again and make eggs. I think I am getting the hand of this. Our Green Hermit and Violet Saberwing are back. Unfortunately, the weather here is erratic and what began as a pleasant morning has degenerated into a downpour. Israel meets us and tells us that although the forest would be beautiful, hiking to the Santa Elena Preserve is out of the question.

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

We go to the cars instead. I drive with Israel and Sarah in his blue pickup. We learn much about his family, including his wife’s battle with leukemia, epilepsy, and osteoporosis, his daughter’s education (one, coincidentally, is studying at Nichols High School in Buffalo) and his experiences in the rainforest.

All of us arrive at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. I am initially struck by the low numbers of people here, but this could be explained by the rain. Beginning the hike, we enter 20 year old primary forest. The climate becomes wetter and wetter as we gain altitude, peaking at a ridge. Ricardo points out leaves of the begonia family, which are identifiable due to their asymmetrical leaves and toothed edges. He also shows us costas, which have spirals, as well as solenacae, which are tomato-like plants with alternating leaves and a red fruit. In front of us, a Slaty Nightengale-thrush bobs up the trail. As we are at a lower elevation than La Georgina, we encounter more diversity of trees, vascular plants, and bryophytes. We see many aerial roots, which are developed by epiphytic plants for more efficient nutrient uptake. Thanks to the moisture here, they do not dry up.

A huge gap, probably a result of high winds in January, is pointed out. Here, tree ferns, rapid colonizers, are seen in abundance.  Ricardo shows us a perfoliate plant, which has its stem in the middle of the leaf. He also notes that the higher elevation makes the trees smaller and cooler temperatures make lianas and climbers uncommon.

Hiking in the cloud forest

Professor Israel, as we lovingly call him, explains that the candle-like flowers of piperaceae are a food source for bats. Also the cecropia leaves that fall here provide hiding spots for insects and other animals in the understory.


As we pass through more primary forest on the other, drier side of the ridge, Israel says that he saw a Quetzal fly by. I wish I had his eyes. A Quetzal sighting would be very rare now, as they are much more active earlier in the year when they are looking for mates. Despite that, we see a mixed flock including a Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Bush Tanager, and a Redstart. A hummingbird interested by my red coat hovers but an inch away from me. Discovering that I am not a flower, he darts away, his iridescence shining in the sun.

Exiting the park, I spot a big black bird in the undergrowth. This is a Black Guan. We eat lunch and head back to the cabin. Before dinner we talk about coevolution, the evolution of two species together as a result of pressure put on each other. This can be caused by mutualistic, parasitic, and predatory relationships. After dinner, we once again are treated to fireflies. It is nice to forget the would-haves, could-haves, should-haves of the day and simply clear the mind. I am amazed by the silent beauty of this place as we watch the sun set. The cloud forest calls to me with its sounds, in a whisper; nearly inaudibly, but it is intoxicating. The deep greens of vegetation shrouded in blue grey mist excite my eye. the smell of fresh air, clean water and dark decaying leaves fill my nose, and the sound of silence rings out deafeningly.

Jeff, Sarah, Bryan, and I go out on a night hike. We see a number of spiders and walking sticks, but nothing else.

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Most of the time, experts at London’s Natural History Museum pride themselves on being able to identify species from around the globe.  But in this instance, they cannot identify something they found in their own back yard. 

The almond-shaped, red and black insect, about the size of a grain of rice, was first seen in March 2007 on some of the plane trees that grow on the grounds of the 19th century museum.  Within three months, it became the most common insect in the garden.  It was also spotted in other central London parks.

The Arocatus roeselii

The museum has more than 28 million insect species in its collection, but none is an exact match for this one. Still, the museum is not willing to call it a new species just yet.  “I don’t expect to find a new species in the gardens of a museum,”  said collections manager Max Barclay.  “Deep inside a tropical rainforest, yes, but not in central London.”  The bug resembles the Arocatus roeselii, which is usually found in central Europe but is a brighter red and lives on alder trees. Entomologists suspect the new bug could be a version of the roeselii that has adapted to live on plane trees, but acknowledge it could be a new species.

Either way, it appears the museum’s tiny visitor, which appears harmless, is thriving as it managed to survive the cold British winter.

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