Posts Tagged ‘Reptiles’

We wake up again. I was fortunate enough to find an extra blanket, which has kept me significantly more comfortable at night. We pack up our things and leave Aula Global. I am sad to leave. This is probably the last time that I will be in this place. I will certainly miss bird watching from the porch, hikes through the primary we montane forest, and the sense that we are alone; isolated from the rest of the world by a stretch of mountainous rainforest. A sense of independence that I rarely feel back home. All I can tell myself, however, is that there are other places like this which I may visit, and there are other fantastic environments which I have yet to experience.

Our class meets Israel where we parked. I think he was the Tico with whom I most connected. We pack our bags in the bed of his pickup, Several of us ride in the back of the truck with the bags. We hop with every bump in the road. The cool, crisp mountain air blows my hair in the wind. This is a great way to travel.

We say goodbye to Montaverde, to Israel, to the mountains, and to the cloud forest. As we ride back, I study for the test, so I see little around me. I do realize, however, that Jeff has gotten lost. We stop at the Crocodile Bridge and wait for Jeff to find us. At the Crocodile Bridge, we see about seven of the large crocodilians: old-timers which have changed little from the time of the late Cretaceous. They must be about 12 feet long! They simply lie in the muddy bank as rain drizzles down, perhaps waiting for an unlucky shore bird to come nearby. I also spot a number of birds on the shore. I see a Purple Gallinule. This is a strange bird with huge yellow feet, probably the size of my hand. It also has a red, yellow, and white bill and multicolored body. Elise spots a large Great Egret, whose white figure quickly flies away. Finally, we see a Great-tailed Grackle in a tree. This large ubiquitous bird looks much like the ones we have back home except twice as big. He swoops down to the ground and puffs up his chest and raises his wings. This is probably an effort to impress two females below. Unfortunately for him, it does not work.

Purple Gallinule


Big Crocodile

Not a caiman

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Eventually, Jeff rejoins the caravan. We depart for Tres Piedras. There, we eat dinner and study for the test tomorrow. I am still a bit nervous about it.

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I wake up early in the morning to do some bird watching. I spot an Emerald Toucanette flying across the front of the porch. This bird has a large yellow and purple bill much like a toucan, but is smaller and colored a brilliant emerald green. We also see a Slate-throated Redstart flitting around the cecropias in front of the porch. It is a small black, sparrow-sized bird with a yellow breast and rusty path atop its head. Jeff put a number of hummingbird feeders around the porch. Soon we pick up a number of bird friends. A Green Hermit, a large green trap lining hummingbird frequents our feeders. Trap lining hummers go to a set order of flowers for nectar. In this way, they have a nearly constant supply and the flowers are pollinated regularly and in a order conducive to their reproduction. A Purple-throated Mountain Gem and Violet Sabrewing, both hummingbirds, come by to check out the feeders. It is nice to simply sit here and not think. Instead, we just exist in that point in space and in that point in time. We also spot a Ruddy Pigeon, a Common Bush-Tanager, whose green and yellow form can often be seen leading mixed feeding flocks, and a Tropical Parula, which has a blue-grey back and yellow-orange chest.

Green Hermit

After breakfast, we move up the hill for a field trip. Over the day, we reach 5,000-6,000 feet. We see some orchids. These flowers have complex reproductive structures geared specifically for pollination by Euglossine bees. Many of the bees pollinate just a single type of orchid. In return, the orchids produce chemicals which contribute to the bees’ longevity.

The moss is similar in color to that found at La Georgina. We also see bromiliads and palm fruit. Further up the trail, we see a heliocampus, a tree with what is known as sunfruit. This early successional tree puts all of its energy into growth, and as a result, has no chemical defenses and often has holes in its leaves.

An eracea elephant ear with its characteristic Jack-in-the-Pulpit-esque flower and heart shaped leaves is found. An aricacea, with is leathery leaves is also found nearby. Due to the dampness of the area, leafy liverworts dominate. This corresponds to the increase in nonvascular plants with an increase in elevation. Nonvascular plants can grow where they cannot in lower elevations, like on vascular plants. this happens because at lower elevations there is more heat and desiccation. There are also fewer flycatchers and insects for vascular plant pollination. Nonvascular plants, on the other hand, only need water for reproduction. Here there is so much water and so many non-vascular plants, that old leaves will become overgrown with bryophytes.

Also near the cabin is a ceracia, a composite flower (multiple flowers in the same head). The ceracia goes from herbaceous to woody. These belong to the rubiaceae, which is part of the coffee family.

Ricardo points out two types of stranglers: figs and eclusea. The figs start out on other trees’ bark and have alternate leaves, while the eclusea starts primarily on branches and have oppositely arranged leaves.

On a stump we find a number of bryophytes. There is a turquoise basidial lichen, which has gorgeous green swirls of color, thallus liverworts, which are flat, club, feather (more common with less moisture stress), filmy, and cushion moss (adapted for drier conditions). Ricardo also shows us a nearby strange seed pod. This brown legume is called makina and is a host plant for Morpho butterfly larvae. It also has a painful urticating hairs. While smelling it (it has an almondy smell), I accidentally stick my nose a bit too close and get pricked. Naturally.


Terrestrial crab

Basidial lichen

A nearby piperaceae, with its candle-like inflorescence/flowers and jointed stem, catches our eye. Nearby is a jelly lichen, as well as a foliose/thallus lichen. We also see a club moss and spike moss, both of which are not true mosses, but are vascular.

Filmy fern

Tree fern


On a nearby stump, we see liverworts which are very green. Most lichen are leathery and dull colored. There is also a hornwort. This bryophyte is thinner than liverworts, which have scalloped thali. Hornworts, on the other hand, have a long pole that splits as its reproductive structure. It takes part in sexual reproduction, as it involves spores. Thalus liverworts have two kinds of reproduction: sexual and asexual. They have little reproductive cups which produce gemmae inside. This is asexual reproduction. It also has a palm tree-like reproductive structure which is sexual (spores).

Toward the end of the hike, we pass through primary forest, where we hear black-bellied wood quail and see a fantastically colored walking stick.

Big tree in primary forest

Walking stick

After lunch, the trail crew heads up with Ricardo to fix up the trail. I spot a weevil and some leaf cutters, which is odd for this elevation.

We have a dinner discussion about the Montaverde are, some of which I already mentioned, after which we study for the upcoming test.

Late at night, we stand out on the porch watching fireflies. Their flashing amazes me, as I rarely see them at home. I recall how sometimes they self-organize to synchronicity. Fascinating behavior, but their sporadic glowing is enough to hypnotize me to slumber.

Evening in the cloud forest

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I wake up to go birding. This morning, we are treated to observing the national bird of Costa Rica: the Clay-colored Robin, which is a surprisingly dully colored selection for the country’s avian pride. We also see a Long-billed Starthroat, a hummingbird with a blue cap and very long bill. Finally, we see the aptly named White-shouldered Tanager.

After breakfast, we take more trees up to the bean field. On our way up, we see a Lineated Woodpecker, which is about the same size as the Pale-billed Woodpecker, but has only a red crest. There is also a big owl butterfly with a yellow eye-spot on the back of its wing which I have seen in the same place on the bean field trail for the past few days.

Owl butterfly

After dropping off our trees, we head back down the hill to do trail work. We decide to change the path near the stairs again by making another switchback in the trail. Once the machete work is done, we pick out an edge in the trail to make it flatter and easier to pass. We then move up to a higher portion of trail. At one point while machete chopping, Sarah cut a liana and a large branch fell but a foot away from me. Naturally, she is very apologetic. At any rate, no harm, no foul, but this is an example of what can happen here. The forest is physically connected by a network of lianas, mycorrhizae, and tangled branches. One small chop can bring something big from the top crashing down. That is a perfect metaphor for the interconnectedness of living systems and how they interact nonlinearly. We finish the switchback and pick it out. Sarah leaves because she was still not feeling 100 percent. Bryan and I work for nearly four hours today. I have to convince Bryan to finish the picking in the trail. The work is exhausting, but rewarding. It also makes the beer taste better.

After lunch we go to a local reptile zoo aptly named Reptilandia. They have an excellent collection of snakes and lizards from Costa Rica, and some from around the world. Perhaps my favorite was the emerald tree boa. It has a beautiful green color that is, as Steve Irwin would put it, “gorgeous!” The Komodo dragon is also interesting to observe. I particularly like how the plates had both Spanish and English. In this fashion, I learn new vocabulary like aves y pajaros (birds), serpientes, viperos, y culebras (snakes), ramas (frogs), murcielagos (bats), and sacco y mojado (dry and wet). Not all the snakes are out in the open and the banality of life in the cages makes me once again consider my stance on zoos. Although they can be a useful educational tool, they can also be depressing and cruel. Perhaps if all animals in zoos were captive bred or being rehabilitated then this ethical dilemma would not be an issue. Strolling in the garden is fun. It was nice to walk slowly and leisurely. I have not done this in quite some time. The one rule of strolling, I find, is that you must have your hands behind your back, as it signifies that you have no fear of falling. On our way out we learn that the owner was bitten by a venomous snake a few days ago. He was administered antivenin and made a full recovery. His passion is amazing to me, especially because it is a dangerous one.

We return to TFI. On the way back, I spot a Barred Antshrike, whose crest and black and white stripped coloration make him look like a jail bird (pun intended). I also see a Blue Dacnis, whose bright blue and black coloration and small size make him impossible to mistakenly identify. We also see a Violacious Trogon, which is a medium size sallying frugivore, that is, he will fly up and dive down, grabbing fruit from trees as he flies. His red orbital ring, purple head, yellow breast, and black and white striped tail makes him easy to identify.

Back at base, we talk about the vast diversity of arthropods here in the tropics. Because of their great diversity and abundance, they in part drive the diversity higher up in the food web. During lecture, while I am scratching my arm, I notice a large bump on my elbow. Upon further investigation, I notice that it is an engorged tick! The little bloodsucker must have been on me for some time, judging from his size. He is quickly removed and terminated with extreme prejudice. After dinner, I pack for Montaverde trip and fall asleep.

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Costa Rica Journal

Well folks, if you were wondering where I have been for the past month, let me clear that up.  I have been in Costa Rica for an internship/tropical ecology class/field work.  So, although I haven’t posted in quite a while, I think I can make it up to all of you by posting my experiences from my journal here.  I will add my pictures to that in order to show you the fantastic place I stayed and the wonderful ecosystem with which I fell in love.  Starting tomorrow, right here, I will post a day from the trip each day.  If you have been following this blog for long enough, then perhaps you remember my virtual trips through Africa and South America.  Well, this will be much like that, except it really happened.  I only hope I can convey, to one degree or another, just how spectacular this place is.  I hope you enjoy it.

Also, just let me know what you think of the new setup and tell me if you prefer this one or the old one.

The new one is up now and here is a picture of the old one.

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Komodo Dragon.  When you hear the name of this magnificent animal, the “Isn’t that the big lizard that has bacteria-filled spit.  Well, in fact, the Komodo Dragon is the world’s largest lizard.  They grow to be up to 70 kilos and 3 meters in length!  And, although it has been widely believed that the bacteria in the dragon’s bite is what kills its prey, the creature also has a snake-like venom in its bite.


A dragons poisonous bite killed Beowulf, King of the Danes.

A dragon's poisonous bite killed Beowulf, King of the Danes.

The venom sends victims into shock and prevents blood from clotting.  This discovery was made when a MRI uncovered venom glands containing a shock-inducing poison which increases blood flowand decreases blood pressure.  After the discovery was made, the team surgically removed a venom gland from a terminally ill Komodo.  Further analysis of the poison revealed that the bite would cause stomach cramps, hypothermia. low blood pressure, and poor platelet performance.   Not a fun way to go.  The research team also discovered that the Komodo Dragon, like saltwater crocodiles and sharks, use a “grip and rip” method of killing prey, which includes birds and mammals. 

The Komodo Dragon is an amazing predator

The Komodo Dragon is an amazing predator

This fascinating species is only found on a handful of islands on the Indonesian archapeligo.  They are considered to be threatened/vulnerable as there are only about 4,500 in the wild.

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