La Selva

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Epiphyte covered tree at La Selva (c) Andrew Gray

It’s several years since I last visited La Selva Biological Research Station in the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica, but it seems very little has changed. I originally worked here about 13 years ago with the Splendid leaf frog Cruziohyla calcarifer  (then Agalychnis calcarifer), and it’s pleasing to see that my thesis in the library here’s still in good shape.

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La Selva trail (c) Andrew Gray

This is a world class biological research station set in the middle of dense primary tropical rainforest, and which offers excellent facilities for all the studying biologists as well as having a vast network of trails. These allow access to the 1,600 hectares of protected land, which is owned by the Organisation for Tropical Studies, and to the incredible richness of flora and fauna that occurs within it.

La Selva itself extends to the Braulio Carrillo National Park through a forest corridor. This reserve, consisting of both La Selva’s protected environs and the Park, contains more than 2,000 vascular plants, including 700 species of trees. The fauna is similarly diverse, and La Selva is home to 120 species of mammals, including howler, spider and white-faced monkeys, jaguars, and 60 species of bat. Thousands of arthropod species have been recorded at La Selva and half of Costa Rica’s bird species.

Golden Eyelash Viper, Bothriechis schlegelii (c) Andrew Gray, 2013

Golden Eyelash Viper, Bothriechis schlegelii                 (c) Andrew Gray, 2013

Amphibians and reptiles are also extremely numerous here, and over the past few days I’ve witnessed some species I was particularly interested in seeing. These included some newly metamorphosed leaf frog froglets (Agalychnis  saltator), which had just emerged from the Cantarana (singing frog) swamp, and a beautiful young Golden Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) perched on a palm frond.

I now head back to San Jose, but am already looking forward to returning this summer, and to sharing this and the other wonderful places I’ve visited over the past couple of weeks with all the students and staff on the new University of Manchester field course.

           University of Manchester              Organisation for Tropical Studies

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Strawberry Fields

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Strawberry Dart Frog, Oophaga pumilio, Costa Rica. 2013                        (c) Andrew Gray

I am currently on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, and this morning came across an incredible ensemble of beautiful Strawberry Dart Frogs, Oophaga pumilio, literally where the rainforest of the Talamanca mountains meets the side of the cultivated fields next to where I’m staying.

Seeing these frogs in the wild is always special, and their bright natural coloration and bold attitude never fails to impress me. They are diurnal and use these bright colours to ward off potential predators and indicate their toxic skin secretions. Throughout Costa Rica this particular frog is quite varied in colour, and the ones from this area are solid bright pillarbox red. In the north, and around La Selva Biological Research Station, where I travel to tomorrow, they have bright blue legs and are commonly known as ‘Blue Jeans’. Here is a short clip of a frog from here filmed just an hour ago:     .

   Watch another video featuring the O.pumilio from the Sequires area

Treats of Turrialba

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Turrialba Orchid (c) Andrew Gray, 2013

At the moment I am staying at the Turrialtico Lodge, situated on Costa Rica’s Central Mountain Range. It’s a wonderful wooden lodge set high on a mountain overlooking the small town of Turrialba and where I am always treated very well. The views are just magical, as is the surrounding nature. Tropical plants are particularly abundant at this altitude and the environment is just perfect for many orchids in particular to be able to thrive. There are more than 1300 recognized species of orchids in Costa Rica, and one species growing right here is the rare and fragrant Turrialba Orchid, Cattleya dowiana. It has a stunning single flower which is colourful and large (about 15cm), and it has to be one of the most beautiful orchids I have ever seen. Coming across this species at the very place it was first discovered has been a real treat today.

Rather than being here to search for frogs, this time I am in Costa Rica with a colleague to help arrange a new tropical field course for our 2nd year Zoology and Biology students, which we will initiate this coming summer. It’s such a pleasure to be back here once again, and this afternoon I caught up with my good friend Brian Kubicki at the nearby Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre. Tomorrow we travel to the Caribbean Coast.

                 Turrialtico Lodge                     Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre   

If your’e interested in plants, why not check out HERBOLOGY MANCHESTER