Aquatic Health, Community Outreach, Uncategorized

Rios Saludables First Workshop in Colegio Puerto Jimenez

Blogpost by Hilary Brumberg, Ríos Saludables Program Coordinator 

Students in bright blue uniforms dip nets into a small stream and retrieve soggy masses of leaves, branches, rocks, and candy wrappers. They comb through the leaves with plastic spoons, and excitedly pluck small insects and crustaceans from the foliage and place them into the stream water filled ice cube tray  – our fancy specimen holder.

The students rush the specimens over to our identification station, a tree stump bearing a laminated booklet with dozens of pictures of aquatic critters. They methodically scan each page of the identification guide, enthusiastically pointing at pictures that look like their specimens. When these young scientists finally decide on the identity of the critter swimming around their tray, they return their specimen to the stream and begin fishing again. Other groups of teenagers wander around the stream in pursuit of litter, tossing snack wrappers in black trash bags to help clean the streams.

Students identifying macroinvertebrates

Students identifying macro invertebrates

These students attend Colegio Industrial Técnico Puerto Jiménez, one of two secondary schools on the Osa Peninsula and the closest one to our biological station. In the yard behind their school is Cacao Stream.  Students usually eat lunch alongside the stream, and often snack wrappers mysteriously make their way into the stream.

Today, these students are surveying the stream for macroinvertebrates, mini mighty organisms that are bio-indicators for river health. Many of the students had never thought twice about Cacao Stream, let alone the crustaceans and insects that call it home.

A group of students measuring the water

A group of students measuring the stream quality

This field activity is part of Rios Saludables’ first ever workshop with the Colegio Puerto Jiménez. Before heading to the stream to sample, I began the workshop with a presentation, assisted by one of the program’s community partners.

We discussed the importance of water and specifically rivers for nature and humans. Reasons they suggested included sources of drinking water, important ecological habitat, and nutrient transport.

One of my favorite parts of these presentations is to show a map of Osa’s expansive freshwater network. Rivers and streams expand like a spider web across the peninsula in every direction. Students always gasp when the map is projected, because they realize the extent that the peninsula’s ecosystems rely on rivers.

Hillary and some of the students

Hilary & students analyze their collections

A trademark Rios Saludables saying is “the problem with water on the Osa is not quantity, but rather quality.” This leads nicely into an explanation of the ways we determine water quality, namely water chemistry tests and macroinvertebrate surveys. These students had recently learned about pH and alkalinity  in their chemistry class, and I described what ranges indicate that a river is healthy. Then I passed around samples of macroinvertebrates I collected with community partners across the region, many from rivers close to students’ homes.

Now it is time for these newly ordained freshwater ecologists to head to Cacao Stream to practice these surveys.

Aquatic Health, Marine Conservation

Aquaculture: A Sustainable Solution to the Global Seafood Crisis?

By: Clara Gomez

The world’s seafood stocks will have completely collapsed by the year 2050, scientists say.  According to a study done by a group of economists and ecologists, the growth of the human population combined with unsustainable fishing practices and the devastating loss of biodiversity will lead to the collapse of fish populations in the next 35 years, if trends continue on their current path.

If the idea of losing all of the world’s fish scares you as much as it scares me, then you’re wondering how we disrupt the current “trend” of unsustainable overfishing.  One option is through the use of aquaculture.  Aquaculture, also known as fish or shellfish farming refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean.  

Although the global community is just beginning to think of aquaculture as a potential solution to the dilemma of depleted oceans, the fact is that it’s not a new practice. In fact, although historians say that the cradle of aquaculture existed in China 4,000 years ago, recent archaeological evidence (2003) suggests that the Gunditjmara tribe of Australia already had a system to raise and cultivate eels in in the southeast of the country 8,000 years ago.  The system was so efficient (after being designed as an alternative method for procuring food) that traditional practices remained stable throughout history!! Or at least not until Stephan Ludwig Jacobi appeared on the scene, at some point in the early XVIII century.

Thanks to Jacobi and his article ‘Von der künstlichen Erzeugung der Forellen und Lachse’, aquaculture became a part of mainstream science due to the success based off of his experiments in the external fertilization of trout and salmon. Not only in terms of self-sustainability, but also of commerce at an industrial level. From then on all manner of projects and investments began, and thus was born the second generation of aquaculture─ the modern aquaculture we all know today, and which is currently reinventing itself to adapt to a society increasingly aware of its impact on the environment.

Part of this shift in the way aquaculture utilized is the utilization of what’s called Integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture.  While it sounds complicated, it’s an idea that involves the raising of diverse organisms within the same farming system, where each species utilizes a distinct niche and distinct resources within the farming complex.  This allows the fish to be raised in a much more biodiverse, nature-like setting. Additionally, this system utilizes a circular economy–the idea that the waste from one product serves as nutrients for another.  So, raising plants and fish together both cuts down on cost and waste. This current of change, in conjunction with the holistic approach that Osa Conservation has in regards to conservation, is what prompted the organization to plan the future fusion between a multi-trophic aquaculture project (still in development), and its already successful sustainable agriculture program. A large number of scientific publications (many published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) support these projects, and the tropical climate of Costa Rica is perfect for local breeding of sea creatures.  What’s the harm in trying?aquaculture, circular economy

If successful, this new project of integrated, multi trophic aquaculture would be extremely beneficial in the following three areas:

Ecology:

The integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system mimics the relationships among organisms in the natural world (not just by raising aquatic organisms and terrestrial plants together, but also by using one organism’s waste as input for others).  It also ensures both the optimal use of resources and the reduction of water pollution and eutrophication levels.

Economy:

This new and improved system of aquaculture represents a positive step towards the self-sufficiency of Osa Conservation, and as such also represents a reduction of costs in terms of food imports from San Jose. Likewise, the implementation of a new food cultivation system could mean new employment opportunities for locals.

Pedagogy:

Not only is the integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system is easy to understand, but it has the potential  to include human waste as part of its cycle. That means that both the system’s facilities (eg tanks external fertilization, duck ponds, rice fields, etc) as food produced through it (eg shrimp species, and native fish) have potential to serve as educational material for both the local community and visitors of Osa. What better way is there to learn about aquaculture, than to see how everything works and then personally taste the final product?  Adopting a system of aquaculture in the Osa will allow OC to expand upon its teaching capacity and further embody its own standards of sustainability.  

 

Sources

1.“Aborigines may have farmed eels, built huts” ABC Science Australia:http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s806276.htm

2.“Analysis of the Aquaculture Market in the Costa Rican Metropolitan Area. Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura (2010): https://www.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-121410-115309/unrestricted/Analysis_of_the_Aquaculture_Market_in_the_Costa_Rican_Metropolitan_Area.pdf

  1. “At a Crossroads: Will Aquaculture Fulfill thePromise of the Blue Revolution?” (SeaWeb Aquaculture Clearinghouse report, PDF): http://www.seaweb.org/resources/documents/reports_crossroads.pdf
  2. “Biomass Accumulation and Water Purification of Water Spinach Planted on Water Surface by Floating Beds for Treating Biogas Slurry”Journal of Environmental Protection (2013, PDF): http://file.scirp.org/pdf/JEP_2013111911133739.pdf

5.“Contribución de la pesca y la acuicultura a la seguridad alimentaria y el ingreso familiar en Centroamérica” Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación — FAO  (2014,PDF): http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3757s.pdf

6.“Culture of Fish in Rice Fields” (FAO, WorldFish Center. 2014) PDF:http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/a0823e/a0823e.pdf

7.“History of Agriculture” FAO Corporate Document Repository. http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/009/ag158e/AG158E01.htm

  1. FAO “Animal-Fish Systems: Integrated Fish-duck farming”

    http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/Y1187E/y1187e14.htm

9.“Food from the sea. Remarkable results of the experiments in cod and lobster,(Pittsburgh Dispatch. aquaculture, 1890): https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3798097/food_from_the_sea_remarkable_results/

  1. Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture: What it is, and why you should care…..

and don’t confuse it with polyculture. (2006, PDF): http://www2.unb.ca/chopinlab/articles/files/Northern%20Aquaculture%20IMTA%20July%2006.pdf

11.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Atmenistration (NOAA): http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/what_is_aquaculture.html

  1. All Seafood Will Run Out in 2050, scientists Say (Charles Clover, 2006)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1533125/All-seafood-will-run-out-in-2050-say-scientists.html

Marine Conservation, Science and Research, Sea Turtles

La Vida en el Paraiso

Written by: Sukee Bennett

There’s something about measuring squirming sea turtle hatchlings that automatically puts a smile on my face. But this batch of babies was extra special. They were from a nest that I relocated on my very first patrol on Piro, way back in the beginning of September. A little over fifty days later, and the ping-pong shaped eggs I once placed in a bucket and buried in the hatchery had resulted in one hundred flipper-flapping babies. I was enthralled.

sea turtle 1Flash-forward two hours later, when my fellow Research Assistant Erin and I were leaning against a palm tree outside of our vivero de tortugas marinas (sea turtle hatchery) and reading. We were waiting on the arrival of a large group of college students and Osa Conservation employees to help us liberate our new hatchlings before sunset. As Casey (the other Sea Turtle Research Assistant in our group of three) whistled, I craned my neck around to say hello. But to my surprise, Casey wasn’t the only one demanding attention. A female Olive Ridley (Lora) was slowly hauling her body up the sandy embankment in front of me to lay her eggs. It looked as if she was using her two not-so-terrestrial but powerful front flippers to head directly to where I sat, which also happened to be directly in front of our hatchery. And it was 4:00 in the afternoon.

Olive Ridleys are in fact known to lay eggs during daylight, but typically in large groups called arribadas (meaning “the arrival” to the people where this phenomenon occurs). However, arribadas do not occur on Piro, or anywhere on the Osa for that matter. The female in front of us was clearly alone.

sea turtle 2Fifteen minutes later, she was hard at work digging her nesting hole, and the rest of our party had arrived to share in this incredibly rare and special moment. Afterwards, over three hundred babies released from our hatchery scrambled across the sand, parallel with the tracks our afternoon visitor had left. They safely entered the waves, illuminated by the setting sun.

sea turtle 3Just a few nights ago, we had another visitor at the hatchery. She was much larger and slightly more ornate; a Green turtle (Verde). And rather than having the light from a setting sun framing her, we had one of the clearest nights I have ever witnessed. Countless constellations blanketed the sky, adorned with the occasional shooting star. As we walked in the sand, the pressure from our bare feet sparked a bioluminescent lightshow: blue, fluorescent, and sparkling. I grew tired as we waited for the Green to dig her nest, but I hardly dared to close my eyes in fear of missing something.

I have less than a week left here now, but moments like these will stay with me for a lifetime. Working in sea turtle conservation is a grand privilege within itself, but there truly is no other place like the Osa.

Science and Research

Stick Insects in the Osa

 

Male of Calynda coronata

In early November 2015 we traveled to Osa in order to research the stick insect fauna of the Peninsula. It was due to the kindness of Max Villalobos, the Operations Manager of Osa Conservation, that we were allowed to search and collect in the Osa Conservation area.

 

Stick Insects (Phasmatodea) can be found in Costa Rica with 3000 species currently known in the tropics around the world.  They are herbivores and well-known for resembling twigs or branches. Therefore, they have great camouflage.  Brightly colored and well-flying winged insects also can be classified as Stick Insects. Stick Insects represent the world’s longest known insects, the largest of all being a Bornean species that measures 56.7 cm from the tips of the fore-legs to the tip of the abdomen. Some 60 species have so far been reported from Costa Rica, but the actual number of species occurring throughout the country is estimated to be much higher.

Spectacular startle display of a female Metriophasma diocles

Due to their good camouflage Stick Insects are most easily found during the night by searching the lower vegetation with torch lights. This method makes the insects easy to spot and often good numbers can be found with rich and diverse low vegetation throughout most of Costa Rica. Rainfalls during the afternoon or early evening usually increase the number of specimens encountered. Most species are night-active and start feeding shortly after dawn.

While only on Osa for eight days we have unfortunately chosen a fairly bad time. The strong El Niño in 2015 has caused a massive decrease of rainfalls in this particular area during the past months and our observations right away showed low numbers of insects. Only few specimens were seen, which was very disappointing for our studies. Almost all of the species observed were common ones, that also occur in other regions of Costa Rica. The most abundant species in the Osa Conservation area were the orange-winged Pseudophasma unicolor and the slender, wingless Calynda coronata.

Mating couple of Calynda coronata – females are either green or brown and bear crown-like spines on their head

Mating couple of Calynda coronata – females are either green or brown and bear crown-like spines on their head

Most of Osa Peninsula and the area of Osa Conservation represent perfect habitats for a diverse stick insect fauna and – mostly based on museum specimens – we know that there are many other species on Osa, but which we were not able to find. The very low abundance of these insects caused by El Niño during our stay in Osa has unfortunately not contributed much to our project, which is a forthcoming book on the stick insects of Costa Rica. Hence, we shall like to encourage all of you to look out for stick insects during your studies at Osa Conservation. Any information, records or photos are helpful and welcome. We will be very grateful for any support! Thank you!

Feel free to contact Frank and Oskar. Just have a look at: www.Phasmatodea.com

Research conducted by: Frank Hennemann, Oskar Conle, Kenji Nishida & Yeisson Gutiérrez

Environmental Education, Miscellaneous, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A little luck and a fun(gi) story

Read about Grace Leppink’s experience in the Osa as she makes exciting fungi discoveries!

Fungi are found throughout the world, but some of the most amazing and diverse fungi are found in Costa Rica.  The combination of deeply shaded forests and a warm, humid climate makes Costa Rica the perfect incubator for fungi.  As a new mycologist, the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica was one that I could not pass up.  On my first day at the Piro Research Station I had an exciting and lucky encounter with fungi.

fungus

Staheliomyces cincta, fresh and erect.

We were in the thick of the forest on the Ajo Trail. As we rounded the corner we found our prey under the canopy of a giant tree. The intricate lacework of its body was accented by the few rays of light the canopy allowed through.  We had come across a stunning specimen – the strangled stinkhorn, Staheliomyces cinctus.  When I first laid my eyes on it, it seemed out of place compared to the brown and green hues surrounding it.  This white alien shape seemed to protrude out of nowhere, like some weird organic artifact. As my professor joked later, it was the best accessorized fungi he had ever met, as it wore a thick shiny black belt – of slime containing its spores.

 

collapsing fungi

Same fungus, same day. Starting to collapse! It was undetectable a day later.

This stinkhorn is uncommon and not well documented. One reason is due to the short time that the fruiting body exists.  The structure rarely lasts more than a day before turning into messy lump of black goo.  If my group had not gone out to that trail on that morning we might only have found a shriveled shadow of its former glory.

In the following weeks I hope to continue my documentation of the fantastic fungi by looking at the secondary and primary forests of the OSA peninsula!

 

Aquatic Health, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

The Future of Sea Turtles

turtle picture

The fluttering of papery wings; back and forth, back and forth. They open and close their tiny mouths. Nocturnal hungry bats, paired with the incessant whir of cicada wings and the low, ominous drone of Howler monkeys are the evening calls of the Osa. These sounds signify the awakening of all things that dwell in the night. Usually, it also signifies our bedtime; unless it’s an evening of turtle patrol.

When I took herpetology as a senior in college three years ago, my professor used to joke that, “Herpetologists are the night-owls and ornithologists are the morning people”. But, working with sea turtles breaks the mold. Sometimes, we rise at 3:30am. Donning our headlamps, we make our way down the winding forested trail to Piro or Pejeperro Beach, and scout for turtle tracks and hatchlings as the sun paints purple and pink ribbons across the sky. Sometimes, we have to sip on coffee (like the local Ticos do) post-dinner to keep us from falling asleep before a night patrol. Patrols typically begin at 8:30pm and can last beyond 1:00am. In my three weeks of being here, I’ve seen five Loras (Olive ridleys) and two Verdes (Greens) gingerly crawl from the surf to lay their eggs. I’ve measured their shells and tagged their flippers . And just last night, we saw a white light flashing ever closer to us on Piro—a sign of poachers. We had to abandon patrol.baby turtle

Poaching of turtle eggs is a sad reality here in Costa Rica. For many, it’s a feasible way to make a living and support a family. But through education, the next generation can learn the importance of conserving their country’s already threatened sea turtle species.

As a sea turtle Research Field Assistant, my main responsibilities are conducting patrols, maintaining the hatchery, and providing a steady presence on the beach. But the Carate Sea Turtle Festival last Saturday reminded me of my experience with outreach education. The enthusiasm and receptivity of the children around me was incredible, whether they be Spanish speaking locals or English speaking visitors. All partook in eagerly picking up and exploring local invertebrates with spoons and forceps, and dashing around the beach like a mother turtle (but a little faster). They learned what sea turtles eat (seagrasses, sponges, jellies, ect.), what they accidentally eat (plastic), and how we can keep plastics out of our ocean by using reusable alternatives. Later, we danced to a local band that sang songs about el bosque and la playa and the animals that call them home. Mid-dance, I helped a local toddler collect hermit crabs in a bucket. It didn’t matter that I hardly speak Spanish; our enthusiasm spoke for us. I can only hope that every child I met in Carate shared a similar enthusiasm and will remember the day we celebrated sea turtles, for their future is in all of our hands.

Birds, Environmental Education, Science and Research

Love-songs and Lovebirds in the Osa

Read about Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero’s research on the singing patterns of birds in the Osa. The intense biodiversity around our stations provided her with a perfect place to conduct her research. We love learning more about the incredible birds of the Osa!

Did you know that many species of birds sing duets? Vocal displays are one of the most researched interactions between and within species. There is a great diversity in the structure of singing behavior. I have been investigating the learning process of duets in Osa songbirds. Duets are complex songs that large groups or paired mates sing in coordination with one another to produce a wide array of performances. Not only are duets complex in how they are structured but several species also have a big repertoire of duets that they use non-randomly. For example, a particular phrase from a female is only sung in response to a particular phrase from a male and vice versa. This coordination is not only hard to produce but also hard to learn.

Riverside Wren

Riverside Wren

I chose to study the development of Riverside Wrens, Cantorchilus semibadius which inhabit the pacific slope of southern Costa Rica. Riverside Wrens are found next to rivers and wetlands and they sing elaborate duets. I decided to conduct my research at Osa Conservation because they have a large population of these Wrens right next to their station.

At this first stage of my PhD I am beginning to describe how juveniles from each sex start to learn and practice their vocalizations. So far I am seeing that in the earlier stages vocalizations are quite atypical, in the intermediate stages single individuals are performing whole duets, and in the latter stages individuals are singing with siblings and their parents. Initially, they sing both male type or female type songs interchangeably. In the latter stages individuals mostly stick to one type of vocalization, either male or female depending on their sex. This means that juveniles need a rehearsal period to learn how to duet and that the interactions with sibling and adults while practicing is essential. I believe investigating the relationship between social influences and duets is important in understanding such an intriguing and complex behavior.

banding

Banding the Wrens

 

 

Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero

PhD Student-St. Andrews University, United Kingdom

Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A Night with Bats

Bats. These nocturnal creatures tend to get a bad rap. Associated for centuries with mythical creatures of the night, and used as Halloween decorations to add eeriness to a haunted house, the real life mammal often gets overlooked. OC aims to change that by collaborating with experts and educating the public on the crucial role bats play in restoration.

Recently, Osa Conservation was honored with a visit from 2 remarkable scientists in the bat world: Cullen Geiselman, bat biologist and board member of Bat Conservation International & Gloriana Chaverri, a University of Costa Rica professor and respected bat biologist who conducts ongoing research at OC’s properties.

Chaverri and Geiselman visited Osa Conservation to brainstorm with OC on how we can help make people aware of how crucial this magnificent animal is to the Osa and the myriad ecosystems they inhabit.

Along with OC Science & Education Director, Jim Palmer, they explored Chaverri’s research sites and visited Osa Conservation’s newest property, Osa Verde. Osa Verde will, among other things, be the site of experimental restoration plots where researchers and students will study the process of forest succession in the Osa to help improve reforestation efforts. (For more information, please visit http://osaconservation.org/visit-the-osa/volunteer/tropical-reforestation/). This site will be important for bat research and conservation efforts as we study their impact on regeneration through seed dispersal and monitor their presence in strategically placed bat boxes.

One night of the visit, under the cover of the dense canopy and the starry Costa Rican sky, these expert bat wranglers set up mist nets to capture and study bats. Volunteers and visitors watched in awe as they collected data on the bats and released them.

It was a fun, successful visit. OC staff and station visitors learned a lot from hearing about the work of Geiselman and Chaverri and taking part in an evening of mist netting. We all gained a great appreciation for these cute mammals and OC looks forward to sharing this information and spreading the message! Bats rock!

Fast Facts About Bats!

  • Bats eat bugs! In the U.S. bats are estimated to be worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
  • Bats are important pollinators! Some of the commercial products that bats help provide include: bananas, peaches, cloves, carob, and agave.
  • Bats play a key role in reforestation! Fruit-eating bats help repopulate tropical forests by dispersing the seeds of fruiting trees over wide areas. Bats are important seed dispersers for avocados, dates, figs, and cashews – to name a few.

Source: Bat Conservation International

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Environmental Festivals in the Osa

World Environment Day, 2nd Anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

In early June, we had three important celebrations: World Environment Day, the 2nd anniversary of the Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and the inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

World Environment Day was celebrated in early June, and had participation from diverse groups of people. We had students from various educational centers participate as well as people from organizations and businesses with various fields of focus, like mangroves in the case of Fundación Neotrópica, sea turtles in the case of LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) and sustainable forest plantations in the case of LACT. The support and participation of local farmers and artisans with the exhibition and sale of their products topped off a great turnout.

Furthermore, this y11011808_442506935917583_1591210675148998070_near we celebrated two important events in forest culture. First, the second anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum was on June 14. This museum of trees on the Osa Peninsula includes emblematic and threatened species like the ajo negro (Anthodiscus chocoensis), the camíbar (Copaifera aromatica), the nazareno or purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea Pittier), the cristóbal (Platymiscium pinnatum) and the breadnut or Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum).

Lastly, on June 15 was the inauguration of the Centenary Forest. This day pays homage to the 100 years of the institutionalization of National Tree Day by President Alfredo González Flores, and also to honor the people and institutions that have worked toward the conservation of the forests like Don Álvaro Ugalde, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwach. This has been and initiative of the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, as a strategy to promote forest culture in the communities of the Osa and to promote an appreciation for the forests and their ecosystem services.

Celebrations like these are crucial to community outreach, especially to the younger generations. By celebrating how far we’ve come and our accomplishments in conservation, we get people excited about nature and inspire more action to protect it in the future!

Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frogs

Submitted by Steven Waldron; Seattle, WA

Twenty years ago, I backpacked and hiked along the wild beaches and coastal rainforests of the Osa peninsula and became acquainted with some of the fantastic wildlife that the region is well-known for. Near the Sirena station at Corcovado National Park, I became intimate with the loud squawks of Scarlet Macaws sailing overhead, the crash of surprised tapirs bolting through the forest, and the pre-dawn chorus of Howler monkeys. One of the sensory aspects I appreciate most about exploring this region is the rich array of sounds that greets the rainforest naturalist. The forests of the Osa are alive with every kind of exotic screech, hoot, cry, whistle and howl. However, there was one voice that alluded me during that first trip many years ago; that of a little poison dart frog unique to the region, Phyllobates vittatus, the Golfo Dulce poison dart frog. Though the call of Phyllobates vittatus was certainly in the mix of the rainforest cacophony that greeted me back then, I just didn’t know how to identify it and discover its secrets within the complex mystery of the jungle matrix. On a recent trip to the Cabo Matapalo region, I was focused on encountering this beautiful red/black/green jewel of a frog and to document some of its natural history and beauty in photos.

From my research, I knew that Phyllobates vittatus is endemic to southwestern Costa Rica and found from Domincal in the north to (likely) the Boruca peninsula in the south. Due to its limited distribution, P. vittatus is listed by the IUCN as an endangered species. P. vittatus is known to inhabit primary forest microhabitats near streams; it’s diurnal and dwells in the leaf litter of the forest understory. Phyllobates vittatus is one of the true poison dart frogs with another sister species found in the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and Panama (Phyllobates lugubris) and three other known relative species in the Chocó rainforest of Colombia (Phyllobates aurotaenia, Phyllobates bicolor and Phyllobates terribilis). The evolutionary links to the Chocó appear to be a common theme in Osa natural history.

19881843978_7859cdbac4_oDuring our first day in the Matapalo forest, my wife and I went for a late afternoon walk along a perennial creek with a rocky stream bed covered in fallen leaves. It seemed like the ideal habitat for Phyllobates vitiates, and it was! My wife found our first Phyllobates vittatus hanging out in a sheltered spot below a fallen log. Interestingly, I found this very frog in the same spot during my informal surveys over the course of the next week. P. vittatus appears to be fairly territorial in its habits. As the night was approaching quickly, my wife and I decided to resume our Phyllobates search for the following morning. A few hours after the next dawn, we were rewarded with the discovery of several vocalizing males singing from the creek banks. Luckily, I was able to photograph the frogs in their microhabitat and witnessed several courting male/female pairs.

Despite their toxic nature and bold coloration, P. vittatus is a fairly shy frog that is more often heard than seen. Once you learn the song of this frog, you realize that they are locally abundant in the Osa forests. However, the calling males will usually quickly fall silent and retreat into rock crevices or leaf litter when they feel threatened or discovered. Without this interruption, the typical reproduction process would proceed as follow:

The male P. vittatus serenades the female as she looks on. If all goes well, and both parties are mutually interested, the pair will retire to a sheltered spot in the fallen leaves where they will lay 7 to 21 eggs. The eggs will hatch in a couple of weeks; during that time period the male will periodically return to the developing embryos and moisten them with water shed from a specialized patch of vascularized tissue on his posterior. When the tadpoles hatch, they will then be visited by their father, climb onto his back and he will hop off into the forest to find a small pool of water for them to complete their development into little frogs some forty-five days later.

As our days of birding, botanizing and frogging unfolded during our relaxing week in Cabo Matapalo, the song of Phyllobates vittatus was a constant companion as it greeted us cheerfully from nearly every creek, spring and stream bed along the forest trails we visited. I came to look forward to hearing it as much as I enjoyed the raucous call of the macaws, the screech of the parakeets, the complaints of monkeys and the crashing of waves along the wild beaches. I realized that Phyllobates vittatus presence in these forests is a small but critical voice in the rich tapestry of biodiversity that gives southwestern Costa Rica its unique and charming character.