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Bromeliad Biota

DSC_3363Whilst here in Costa Rica I have been learning much more about bromeliads – and particularly about the unusual creatures that live their whole lives within them. In Costa Rica there are more than 2,000 different species of bromeliads, with most being found in the rain forests and higher-altitude cloud forests.

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Fresh water Ostracod, Elpidium bromeliarum, feeding. (c) Chris Sweeney.

We have witnessed many interesting insects and spiders living in the bromeliad vases, but one of our students on the field course, Chris Sweeney, has also been examining the water held in these epiphytic plants. An interesting discovery was that a tiny freshwater ostracod, a crab-like creature, lives in the vast majority of bromeliads.

These aquatic creatures are so small (less that .5mm) that they cannot even be seen with the naked eye. Chris has done a fine job in assessing the water quality of the bromeliad vases and investigating the ostracod (Elpidium bromeliarum) itself using a very high powered microscope as part of his project (see image above).


Isthmohyla zeteki, Costa Rica, July, 2013 (c) Andrew Gray,

Interestingly, these microscopic creatures are able to transfer themselves to other bromeliads on the wet undersides of frogs that also live in the plants. Several frogs are highly adapted to living in the plants here in Costa Rica, including several members of the genus Isthmohyla. 

Last night I joined Brian Kubicki and his wife Aura in the field to look for Isthmohyla zeteki, a species that lives its whole life in bromeliads. It was a wonderful evening spent in a moss and epiphyte-covered cloud forest at 1500 meters above sea level. Above is a picture of a male I.zeteki we found to support Brian’s ongoing research.




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