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A Modern Classic

glassfrogAfter the field course I returned to spend some time with my good friends Brian Kubicki and his wife Aura at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre. Whilst catching up on all new things amphibian, as we hiked the many streams of the reserve, we got to share seeing lots of the species of glass frog that first attracted Brian to this amphibian rich area of Costa Rica.

It’s always a privilege to walk the streams with Brian and to share in his enthusiasm for these amazing frogs. I have known him for almost fifteen years now and his passion for gaining and sharing knowledge about Costa Rican amphibians is as strong as ever.

During our time spent together we discussed many things, but one thing that came up time and time again was his wish to share his interest in amphibians with people in the right way – in a way that is lost in so many scientific publications of today.

volume1 cover smallBrian particularly likes the way herpetologists of past eras classically shared their personal experiences about the animals they came across, describing them in fine detail, and their fascinating behaviours. To this end, Brian has started his own publication series ‘Contributions to Costa Rican Batrachology’.  In it he hopes to share information on many aspects of the taxonomy, natural history, biogeography, conservation, and captive husbandry of amphibian species that are native to Costa Rica. If  the first issue is anything to go by, I think we will be teated to some fascinating first-hand accounts of real scientific herpetological value.




Vivarium Closure

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Lashings of eyelashes

eyelash viper

Golden Eyelash Viper, Bothriechis schlegelii, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

Before leaving the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica I was joined by my good friend George Madani, who was particularly interested in looking to see the Golden eyelash vipers this area is so well known for.  Even here these beautiful snakes can be very hard to come across – but this particular day we were lucky enough to find 5 in 5 hours!

It’s always a very special moment when you actually see one of these snakes,  as they come in a wide variety of colours and although you might think a bright yellow-orange snake would be very easy to spot, some can be inconspicuous and very well camouflaged. The yellow-orange form is stunning (pictured above is the more common solid yellow form), but these snakes can be green and orange, lichen coloured, or can even match the grey of the tree branch on which they’re sitting.


Florentino Grenald, Manzanillo, Costa Rica (telephone: 888412732)

Eyelash vipers are totally arboreal and normally sit motionless on vegetation and on branches, waiting for unsuspecting prey. Adults can strike so fast they can literally snatch a hummingbird mid flight. They have a pair of sensitive heat-sensing pits which help them detect prey that is warm-blooded  – and excellent vision to help them catch prey that isn’t. Here is a specimen that was less easy to spot, and that was pointed out by our excellent local guide Florentino Grenald. If you go down to Manzanillo, be sure to ask for Florentino’s services. He is a really good guy, one of the best local guides in Costa Rica, and will ensure you see absolutely loads of cool things of  interest.

Green Parrot Snakes


Green Parrot Snake in hand (c) George Madani

One of the major predators of frogs, and animals of all types for that matter, here on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is the Green Parrot Snake,  Leptophis ahaetulla. Apart from frogs, and frogs eggs, it also feeds on lizards, mammals, and even small birds whenever it gets the opportunity.


Green Parrot Snake, Leptophis ahaetulla, in typical defence posture (c) Andrew Gray

Unlike many other snakes we’ve come across here it’s a diurnal species that’s always on the move during the day in search of food. It can also be a pretty aggressive species when it feels threatened compared to other snakes, and it certainly isn’t scared of defending itself. The one pictured tried to bite several times and opened its mouth wide as a scare tactic – and it worked pretty well until he finally calmed down and we were able to get a proper good look before releasing him.


Darkness makes the light stronger..


Manzanillo National Park, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

This weekend I have been exploring Manzanillo National Park with my good friend George Madani, who arrived on Friday. This is as about as far south in Costa Rica as you can go before you’re at the Panamanian border. The National Park includes some gorgeous beaches and one of the finest reefs in Costa Rica for snorkelling. Along the stunning shoreline we found a mother and baby sloth sunbathing in a tree, literally right on the beach, where they were both clearly enjoying making the most of the cooling sea breeze.  Sloths are are just amazing creatures and it was so good to watch them both laying on their backs on the branch that acted like a hammock as they soaked up the sun – it seems a good dose of UV exposure is good for all of us!

…Unless you’re a nocturnal bat that is! IMG_4677

I’ve seen a fair share of bats on this trip, but this weekend I wanted to see if we could find an old shoreline cave I found many years ago when I very first visited Costa Rica. I remember it being particularly good for bats, but wondered if it would still be the same after all these years?

This was no stinky bat cave, where you’re up to knees in guano and insects, but the Hilton of bat caves, where the tide of the blue caribbean sea washes it out on a daily basis and where the hole in the ceiling allows the bats uninterrupted access to the plentiful insects and fruits of the rainforest above.  We waited for a pause in the breakers that crashed against the rocks at the entrance, that would surely crash us along with them if we didn’t get our timing right, – and with a quick dash we were in.


Chihuahua Bat, Peropteryx macrotis, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

I needn’t have worried – for it was still very  much a 5* bat roost! We found 3 different species within a minute of entering – the smallest species being only approximately 6cms, which was the Lesser Dog-like Bat, Peropteryx macrotis (don’t you just love common names!). I have to say that these little bats do actually look a little like a Chihuahua, with their long ears and funny little faces! Maybe these were the ‘handbag bats’ of this bat Hilton 🙂

Anyway, it was very cool to see them and we managed to take some really close up pictures of them without them seeming at all bothered –  some where so chilled that they hung from one leg right in front of the lens. In close up you could see just how really incredible these little creatures were.

Greater Spear-nosed Bat, Phyllostomus hastatus, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

Greater Spear-nosed Bat, Phyllostomus hastatus, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray


We scanned the cave for more bats, and by a narrow ledge that had sea water frothing below there appeared to be some loud squeaking noises coming from above. Risking the fall I balanced on the ledge, and peered up into the opening of a hole in the rock which was directly over my head.


Flashlight in hand, I raised it to see a large dark brown bat looking straight down at me. This was larger than a vampire bat, and certainly more formidable looking than any Chihuahua bat. I took my photo (above), then let it be.

Emerging from the darkness of the cool humid cave back into such strong tropical sunlight was like waking from a dream – and it brought it home to me just how far apart some groups of neotropical mammals have truly evolved. Whether a sloth in the sun or a bat in the blackness, every single creature I come across just strengthens my wonderment in nature.  – Except maybe for the mozzies!

Orchid bees

IMG_5591-1 (dragged) copyToday was a beach day, for I’m taking time out to chill and enjoy catching up with friends. What better place to do that than the palm-fringed beaches of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. The sun was high and strong, as was the surf. On the way back from the beach, as I cycled down the road to where I’m staying, I saw many beautiful tropical butterflies. As I rode slowly, negotiating the potholes with cow-horn handlebars, I noticed a glimmer of bright blue at the side of me. Thinking it was small butterfly species I had not seen before I stopped to take a closer look. Rather than a butterfly, it actually turned out to be an Orchid Bee, completely iridescent as it shimmered in the sunshine.


Orchid bee, (Euglossini) Costa Rica. (c) Andrew Gray

Orchid bees are stunningly beautiful, as I have witnessed during our field course. We saw some at CATIE, the famous agricultural college we visited in Turrialba, and also at La Selva Biological Research Station, where we spent the whole of last week. There are many species of Orchid bee and they come in almost every colour you can imagine – mostly they are green, but some incorporate all the colours of the rainbow on their reflective shiny bodies.


Dr Dmitri Logunov, Curator of Entomology at The Manchester Museum. (c) Andrew Gray

Dr Dmitri Logunov, our highly respected Curator of Entomology (pictured), who has been teaching on the field course this year, actually supervised a student project that specifically focused on researching these wonderful creatures. Ruby, his student, used a variety of different scents to assess the feeding responses of these neotropical bees and also surveyed for the different species occurring at La Selva.

Below is a super clip of one of the bee species Ruby was working with, that was filmed by Alex Villegas. You may also be interested to read more about  the wonderful work Dmitri does and to learn about some of the other fascinating insects in his department by following his excellent blog: Entomolgy Manchester


Cool bats


Sac-winged bat (Rhynchonycteris naso) (c) A Gray

A couple of the student projects I’ve been supervising on this year’s field course have focused on investigating thermoregulation and roosting behavior in neotropical bats. Apart from recording the sounds made by Sac-winged bats (pictured) when they leave their daytime resting place, the external body temperatures of the sleeping bats were also measured using some of the infra-red equipment we have with us.

Bat body temperatures have been compared and correlated to the changes in daytime ambient temperatures by the 2 students, Irenke and Emma, and they’ve found that the bats appear to be much cooler than the ambient temperature when they return to roost in the early morning. This may suggest that the bats are able to cool down with the breeze on their wings during flight to compensate for heat generated by activity.


Sonagram of sound emitted by the Sac-winged bat (Rhynchonycteris naso). Courtesy of Alex Villegas

With over 100 species of bats occurring in Costa Rica, they fill a wide variety of niches. Many nectar and fruit eating bats help pollinate and disperse the seeds of a huge variety of tropical plants, while others prefer a more bloodthirsty diet – 3 species of vampire bat also occur here!


Tent-making Bat (Uroderma bilobatum) at rest (c) Andrew Gray

Today I arrived to the Caribbean coast, and as it happens found some little tent bats (Uroderma bilobatum) sleeping just outside where I’m staying (pictured). These belong to the family Phyllostomidae, and bats belonging to this family are also commonly known as leaf-nosed bats – because they are characterized by a special leaf-shaped nose structure which extends up from their upper lip. These bats send their echolocation calls out of their nostrils, so the nose may help direct the sounds that they emit, or help them locate food, such as ripe fruit and pollen, through smell. Hopefully they won’t be put out by my smelly rainforest attire, which must certainly remain outside until it’s washed! 🙂