Costa Rican nightlife

sunset

Night in the tropics brings out a host of interesting animals that are rarely, if ever, seen during the day.  Hoping to see some of this nocturnal wildlife, I took a headlamp with me on our recent trip to Costa Rica and went out late at night to wander around an area of old secondary forest on the grounds of our resort.  With other family members, I also participated in two organized night walks, one at the resort, and a second offered by Manuel’s tours on a wooded lot near Quepos.

Here are some of the interesting creatures I saw.

gladiator_treefrog
Gladiator tree frog (Hypisboas rosenbergi).  Males of this species build a water-filled nest  which they defend against other males. In combat, they employ sharp “prepollex” spines on their forelegs as weapons.
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While adults tend to be brown with a mottled appearance and a thin black stripe down the dorsal midline, juvenile gladiator tree frogs are green with black spots.
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Common rain frog (Craugaster fitzingeri)
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Another common rain frog
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Savage’s thin-toed frog (Leptodactylus savagei).  This guy was enormous.  In addition to insects, L. savagei eats small vertebrates such as other frogs, snakes, and mice.
glass-frog
Glass frog posing on the lid of a tupperware container.  I think this is a granular glass frog (Cochranella granulosa)
cat-eyed-snake
Northern cat-eyed snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis)
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Anolis species
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Many house geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) gathered around the lights.  This gecko was about twice their size.  I think it is a very pale turnip-tailed gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda)
yellow-headed gecko
Male yellow-headed gecko (Gonatodes albogularis)
tree-crab
Tree-climbing crab.  I have no idea what species this is.
amblypygid
An amblypygid (tailless whip scorpion)
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Amblypygid closeup.
scorpion
bark scorpion (Centruroides species)
walking-stick
Stick insect
conehead-katydid
A conehead katydid, perhaps Copiphora rhinoceros (rhinoceros katydid)
bat
A sadly blurred picture of a tent-making bat (Uroderma bilobatum) eating a fig
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On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a sloth in a sea-almond tree.

Arenas_del_Mar

To celebrate my parents’ golden wedding anniversary, the entire family (my parents, my sister, our spouses and children) all went to Costa Rica for a few days between Christmas and New Year.   It was my first trip to that beautiful country, and I was totally blown away by…well, everything:  the friendly people, the great food, the beautiful scenery, the tropical flora, and the amazing wildlife.

We stayed at Arenas del Mar, a small resort in the lowland rain forest between Manuel Antonio National Park and the Pacific coast town of Quepos.  Several people told me that the dry season came early this year, so I didn’t see many orchids in bloom (sad face).  However, the wildlife exceeded all my expectations.  I expected sloths and frogs, but not crocodiles…

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American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) on the banks of the Tárcoles River

After flying into San José, we rode down to Manuel Antonio (about 170 kilometers) in a van provided by Arenas del Mar.  Just before we reached the Pacific coast, our driver stopped beside a bridge over the Tárcoles River so that we could stretch our legs and ogle the monsters on the banks of the river below.  Somehow they seemed much more menacing than American alligators, and I was glad that we were viewing them from the bridge.

crocodiles2

crocodiles3

Arriving at the resort after dark, we got our first real look at the area the next morning, when we took a guided tour of Villa Vanilla, a spice plantation located a few kilometers inland from Quepos.  At Villa Vanilla, they grow vanilla (of course), cacao, true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), black pepper, allspice, and turmeric.  The tour was fascinating and delicious–we tasted the spices in their raw forms and incorporated into various treats–and the location of the plantation in the foothills is unutterably beautiful.

vanilla-vines
Vanilla planifolia vines
vanilla
Vanilla seed capsules drying in the sun
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Flowers of a Theobroma cacao tree
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The flowers and fruit of Theobroma cacao can sprout anywhere on the tree, including the trunk.
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Cacao pods ready for processing.

The Vanilla orchid is a heavy epiphytic vine which requires support.  Although some of the plants were growing on rough posts, many were trained onto shrubby trees whose flowers added to the beauty of the plantation.

erythrina2
Flowers of an Erythrina species that was used as a support for the Vanilla vines.  This species was used a lot, perhaps because Erythrina grows rapidly and has a fairly open form, allowing lots of light to reach the vanilla.

The paths were also lined with Heliconia plants, ornamental gingers, and wooden frames supporting native epiphytes.

heliconia
Heliconia sp.
torch-ginger
Etlingera elatior (torch ginger)
zingiber
Zingiber species, perhaps Z. zerumbet
epidendrum_stamfordianum
Epidendrum stamfordianum, a native orchid species

While wandering the grounds of Villa Vanilla, we saw our first toucan…

toucan
Chestnut-mandibled toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii)

…and a troop of squirrel monkeys

squirrel_monkey
Grey-crowned Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus).  This endangered subspecies is restricted to the Pacific coast of central Costa Rica, around Manuel Antonio National Park

We also saw squirrel monkeys on the grounds of the resort and at Manuel Antonio National Park, which we visited the next day.  If you plan to visit Manuel Antonio, you will probably see recommendations to hire a guide.  I concur.  If we had wandered around by ourselves, we certainly would have seen monkeys and perhaps a few sloths, but we would have missed many of the smaller animals.  Our guide (from Manuel’s Tours) was enthusiastic and knowledgeable–he was happy to discuss taxonomy of sloths or cannibalistic behavior of basilisks–and he carried a large spotting scope with excellent depth of field which served equally well to enlarge a howler monkey fifty feet up a tree or a tiny bat tucked into a Heliconia just off the path.

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In addition to squirrel and howler monkeys, Manuel Antonio is home to white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus imitator) who hang out at the beach and are always ready to steal your lunch.

After a day or two, we got better at spotting animals, and it became clear that many of the species in the national park also lived on the grounds of our resort.  Here’s a small sampling of what I saw and photographed:

white-faced_monkey2
Troops of white-faced and squirrel monkeys visited us every day.

three_toe1

three_toe2
The trees around our room were home to at least half a dozen brown-throated three-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus)
two-toe
The Hoffman’s two-toed sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni) seemed to prefer the sea almond trees (Terminalia catappa) beside the beach.
kiskadee
Great kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) in the branches of a gumbo limbo tree (Bursera simaruba)
green_iguana
A green iguana (Iguana iguana) that I spotted before breakfast on our first morning
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Common basilisk (Basiliscus basilicus).  At a mangrove lagoon adjacent to Playa Espadilla we watched juvenile basilisks running on water, just like they do in nature documentaries.
spiny-tail_iguana
Black spinytail iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) seemed to love the beach.

Perhaps the most unexpected and exciting wildlife sighting occurred while we were eating lunch at the beach on our third day.  A clutch of olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) emerged from the sand and began to make their way down to the sea.  It was something I never expected to see outside of books and television programs.

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After four days in paradise, we piled back into the van for the drive back to San José, but Costa Rica had one more treat in store.  When we stopped again near the Tárcoles River, I finally got a photograph of a wild scarlet macaw.

scarlet_macaw

Up next: Costa Rican nightlife.

Veltheimia capensis

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The larger of my two Veltheimia capensis bulbs

Happy holidays to all of this blog’s readers and, more specifically, Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate tomorrow.

Blooming in my greenhouse, just in time to decorate a table in somewhat nontraditional fashion, are two bulbs of Veltheimia capensis, the sand lily.   Veltheimia is a genus in the Hyacinthaceae (hyacinth family) consisting of two species native to South Africa. V. capensis grows in arid habitat from the southern and southwestern Cape northwards to Namibia.  The second species, V. bracteata (forest lily) grows in the eastern cape.

Veltheimia_capensis2
My smaller bulb has more yellow at the flower tips.

V. capensis has a large bulb that often grows partially exposed.  In my greenhouse, the plants do well in terracotta pots with the neck and about 1/4 of the bulb above the surface of a well-drained mix of sand, stalite, and a little commercial potting soil.  The grey-green glaucous leaves frequently have undulate or crisped margins, adding to their beauty, but in common with some other winter-growing South African bulbs, the foliage has a tendency to wilt in hot sun.  V. capensis doesn’t want to grow in shade, though, so the trick is to give it as much light as possible while keeping the foliage cool.  During the summer, after the foliage dies back, I keep the bulbs bone dry.

Veltheimia_bracteata
Veltheimia bracteata

While V. capensis has glaucous foliage, presumably for protection in direct sunlight, V. bracteata has shiny green foliage.  The leaves of both species often have undulate or crisped margins. Compared to its sister species, V. bracteata seems to be more tolerant of shade and moisture during the summer.

The flowers of both species are variable, and hybrids have also been produced in cultivation, adding to the range of colors.  The extensive yellow color at the tips of the flowers on my smaller V. capensis makes me wonder if it is of hybrid origin.

Clusia orthoneura, or The Plant That Ate the Greenhouse

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Clusia orthoneura flower

Half the fun of trading or giving away plant cuttings and divisions is seeing what other people can do with the same plants that I grow.  For the past ten years, I have been growing Clusia orthoneura, a strange epiphytic shrub from South America.  My plant resides in a 14″ terracotta bulb pan and is a semi-bonsai.  Every year, I put it outside for the summer, where its branches sprout aerial roots that reach the ground and dig in by the end of the summer.  Each autumn, I cut back those roots and much of the new foliage, so it will fit back into my greenhouse.  As a result, it remains almost the same size from year to year.

About five years ago, I rooted a small cutting and gave it to John Stanton, owner of the Orchid Trail nursery in Morrisville, NC.  John put the cutting in an 8″ diameter pot, and sat it on one of his greenhouse benches.  In the large commercial greenhouse, it wasn’t moved every year, and roots that grew down through the bench weren’t disturbed.  Also, John is an exceptionally good grower.

Earlier this week I stopped by the Orchid Trail in search of a particular slipper orchid species, and John showed me his Clusia.

The plant rises about six feet above the greenhouse bench and is equally wide.

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Under the greenhouse bench, the roots resemble those of a mangrove or a strangler fig.

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The pot is still visible, but most of the plant’s bulk completely bypasses it.  At this point, the pot could be cut away without bothering the plant at all.

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It’s almost unrecognizable as the same species as the stunted little thing in my greenhouse.