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Costa del Crocs

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Rainforest bound © Matthew O’Donnell

It’s that time of year again, where University of Manchester students have the opportunity to visit Costa Rica, to experience the full diversity of life that the tropics has to offer. This annual field course, gives students an introduction to a huge range of scientific practices, from field research to scientific drawing and many more.

This year I have the opportunity to assist with the field course and help educate the students on the wonderful range of amphibian and reptile diversity of Costa Rica.

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Our pacific base for the next week – Macaw Lodge © Matthew O’Donnell

In a change to the regular format this year’s cohort have the chance to visit both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the country. Split down the middle by formidable mountains, the two coast of Costa Rica are very distinct. The plants and animals found on one side can be completely different from those on the other! Some might look similar but have some subtle distinctions that separate them.

This all adds to the excitement for both staff and students alike, being able to understand the changes in plants and animals between ecoregions is a key skill for any budding biologist. We are currently compiling information from the pacific and will use it to compare with our findings on the Atlantic coast next week.

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Students hunting for wildlife on the Tárcoles river © Prof. Amanda Bamford 

First stop on our pacific adventure was to visit Rio Grande Tárcoles (Tárcoles river), where we boarded the “Jungle Crocodile Safari” tour to spot some of the rivers most infamous residents. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first American crocodile (Crocodylus actus). These formidable animals have declined across much of their range, due to habitat loss and overexploitation resulting in their classification as vulnerable to extinction, however, this region of Costa Rica represents a stronghold.

A few large males have attained huge sizes of five meters plus, meaning they are at least 60 years old. Some impressive animals have even been affectionately named, such as one known as Lady Gaga!

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Over five meter American Crocodile (Crocodylus actus) © Matthew O’Donnell

We were also treated to a delightful variety of bird species, including a fabulous flyby from the scarlet macaw (Ara macao). What a start to my first day on the job! 

Costa Rican Field Course

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