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A breeding frenzy of gliding tree frogs!

Blog written by Abigail Fields, Osa Conservation DC Intern

Imagine hundreds of tiny green and yellow masses moving all around on a leaf. They shift up and down, sashaying side to side, stepping on top of one another as they move in different directions. Small, light green buds can be seen around the masses as well. No, these aren’t bugs, but actually an army of gliding tree frogs and their eggs.

Each year during the rainy season explosive breeding takes place, leading to these gatherings of frogs. The frogs mate and lay their eggs on long leaves that overhand a body of water. After 6-8 days, the babies, or tadpoles, hatch and fall into the water below, where they will transform and grow into adult frogs.

The gliding tree frog is a small species of frog (generally 2-3 inches in length) characterized by its changing appearance. It is light, yellow-green color during the day and a much darker green at night, so as to camouflage itself.  They have slim bodies and broad heads adorned with very large red-black eyes with reticulated eyelids (a translucent third eyelid that can be draw across the eye for moisture and protection!). Interestingly, their webbed feet allow them to glide through the air. The webbing acts as a parachute when they jump, which is why they were named the “gliding” tree frog.

Mostly, the gliding tree frog inhabits tropical and subtropical wetlands (as is necessary for laying eggs) in Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and of course Costa Rica! They live in the tree canopies of the forests year-round until they come lower to mate by the water sources. The gliding tree frog hunt mostly bugs such as crickets, flies, and moths. When moving between trees, they use their webbed feet and powerful legs to propel themselves and glide between the branches.

Gliding Tree Frog, by Manuel Sanchez

Like most amphibious species, habitat loss, pollution, human encroachment and more are threatening them and leading to a trend in decreasing populations. They are still, however, listed as a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, as the rate of decrease is slow. Though this is complicated by the frog’s traditional tree habitat, which makes them notoriously difficult to monitor and see. Even so, conservation efforts to protect this species, as well as the countless others threatened by climate change and habitat loss, are essential to protect their futures.

Despite being difficult to locate in the trees, the breeding frenzies are another story.  Earlier this year, Manuel Sanchez  captured an excellent video of one of the breeding frenzies that came along with the beginning of the rainy season in Costa Rica! As you can see, the frogs have no problems with personal space!

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Exploring the waters with Rios Saludables

Blog by Megan Tudor, previous Sea Turtle Volunteer

The wet season in the Osa Peninsula is just that—very wet. For the past three weeks, I have been out trekking in torrential rain, both first thing in the morning and late at night, while working on the sea turtle program. I also had the opportunity to help with various other important field research tasks being carried out by the incredible team at Osa Conservation.

Megan performs a pH test from a water sample

Megan performs a pH test from a water sample

One project that I especially enjoyed helping with was the Rios Saludables program,  coordinated by Hillary Brumberg. I had fun working in the water and seemed to always be getting wet! Water quality testing here in the Osa Peninsula is incredibly important, as it affects many people in the area. The testing includes looking at the pH, alkalinity, nitrate levels, conductivity and temperature of the water.

We set off down to Piro River armed with a big box full of equipment and a homemade surber sampler (a rebar cube used to sample sections of the river with a net attracted to capture interesting river wildlife). Since it’s the rainy season, the river is currently flowing fast, so walking through and along it was a challenge in itself; one which I did not manage with dry feet! With one misstep into a deep section, the river was over my boots and soaking through my socks!

Several volunteers conduct water quality tests

Testing the different aspects of river health took about two hours, with detailed instructions to follow for the more complex tests. I looked at the pH and the nitrates while others analyzed other aspects. Good news – Our tests showed that everything was in a healthy range in this part of the river! Lastly, we used the suber sampler to gather leaves and sediment from the river bed in hopes of finding some macro-invertebrates. After combing through what we gathered in the nets in five different locations along the river, we identified a couple of species of mayfly before returning them to the water.

This experience was fascinating and gave me insight into the wider range of research taking place in the Osa Peninsula and a deeper understanding of the importance of this conservation work. I loved it!

 

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Do you know of the white-lipped peccary?

Blog written by Juan Carlos Crus Diaz, Feline Program Coordinator

The white-lipped peccary is a species that represents the tropical forests of Latin America just as much as the jaguar or tapir; however, they are often not nearly as well known.

The white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), or “chancho de monte,” has a range from Southern Mexico to Northern Argentina. They are a very important species for tropical forests because they directly benefit the regional biodiversity. When they search for worms and seeds on the ground, they move around the soil  making it possible for certain plant species to flourish. In addition, peccaries are the main prey of the jaguar, the top predator of the continent. For this reason, white-lipped peccaries are often considered one of the best indicators of ecosystem health.

 

Two white-lipped peccaries

Two white-lipped peccaries walking through water

 

Unfortunately, peccaries are threatened due to excessive hunting and loss of habitat from deforestation. They are protected by law in every country where they are found and are included in the Apendix II  of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and considered ‘Vulnerable’ in the Red List of Species from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). In the Osa Peninsula, this species faces great hunting pressure, which has diminished their numbers so greatly in the past few years that they are currently at their lowest abundance in the last 25 years.

To combat this, Osa Conservation, in conjunction with the Costa Rican government (SINAC-ACOSA), is starting a  project to learn more about the ecology of the white-lipped peccary in order to inform and improve a conservation monitoring plan for them.

Two white-lipped peccaries

Peccaries foraging in the Osa

This project will “tag” individuals from different groups with GPS collars which will be monitored and used to generate a distribution map of the species to better understand their habitat-use and to know their real-time location. With this information, we will work with our partners to not only improve the conservation efforts of the peccaries, but also strengthen the conservation efforts for the wildcat predators that rely on them for survival.

 

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Wildcats, like this jaguar, rely on peccaries as their main prey.

 

In addition, the communities located in the areas next to Corcovado National Park, where the peccaries and many other species live, will be our allies for the biological monitoring of populations of the white-lipped peccary, as well as 19 other species of terrestrial mammals, including the 5 species of wildcats found in the Osa.

Four local communities (Alto Laguna, Los Planes, Rancho Quemado and Rio Tigre) will perform biological monitoring using camera traps and tracks. Osa Conservation is excited to provide the logistic and technological support and start an environmental education project with local schools and communities. Visitors to Osa Conservation’s biological station will also have an opportunity to more more about this project during their stay.

 

A white-lipped peccary snout

The white-lipped peccary

We are excited to be a part of this initiative that brings conservationists, communities, scientists and governments together for a united goal to help protect the health of Osa’s ecosystems!

 

 

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Spider Monkeys: Architects of the Rainforest

Video Blog by Dr. Andrew Whitworth, Director of Ecological Restoration and Biodiversity Conservation

Osa Conservation has recently started a new research project to investigate the role of the endangered spider monkeys in dispersing seeds and restoring tropical forests in the Osa.  In this video blog below, Andy and his group of researchers are searching out the nightime sleeping trees of the spider monkeys and shows us some of their exciting “latrine site” discoveries. Check out the video below to learn more about this new project:

 

 

Stay tuned for more information about this project in future blog posts by research student Danielle Connor and others.

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More elusive than a jaguar…

Blog post by Eleanor Flatt, Restoration and Biodiversity Field Assistant 

Collecting 60 camera traps is no easy task, especially when 52 of them are off-trail in the dense tropical rainforest and getting to them involved river crossings and scrambling up steep muddy ridges. These camera traps were part of a study where we combined forces with PhD student Juan Sebastian Vargas (University of Toronto). This work will continue and become part of the growing Camera Trap Network made up of conservation organizations, ecolodges, researchers and land owners that all share an interest and passion for conserving wild cats. This collaboration will help achieve long-term monitoring and an understanding of wild cat presence, movement and behaviour here on the biodiverse Osa Peninsula, including Piedras Blancas and Corcovado National Park.

You will all have heard of jaguars, pumas and ocelots. All species of wild cat that are normally picked up passing by camera traps on trails here in the Osa Peninsula and you may even have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of one. We were fortunate to catch these species on our camera traps, along with many videos of a range of different interesting species such as agouti, coati, tamandua, opossum, paca, great curassow, green iguana, grison, tayra, tapir, peccary and armadillo! ( Images below show an agouti and peccary captured by the cameras)

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But there is one illusive wild cat where sightings are incredibly rare or near impossible: the jaguarundi. We could not believe our eyes when we stumbled across footage from one of our cameras of the mysterious jaguarundi. The challenging work of setting up cameras off-trail had paid off! The jaguarundi was not so mysterious anymore as this awesome footage gave us a spectacular insight into its behavior as we watched it mark and scent its territory. Although the jaguarundi is thought to be an elusive wild cat, we were very pleased to find out it is not camera shy!

 

Video of a jaguarundi captured by the camera trap

To find more about the mysterious Jaguarundi, visit https://news.mongabay.com/2016/06/mystery-cat-requires-more-conservation-and-research/

 

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The Circle of Life: Jacobin Chicks

Blog post written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Research Field Assistant

Several months ago, while returning to the station after spending a long morning working to build a new hatchery, some volunteers from the University of Costa Rica and I spotted the nest of a white-necked jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) close to the trail. We were very lucky to see the mother incubating her eggs in a nest made of soft vegetation and cobwebs. This delicate nest was on the surface of a large leaf covered and protected by other leaves.

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Picture 1: Female of white-necked jacobin incubating her eggs in the middle of the wild jungle.

I was fascinated by the discovery, so almost every day after patrolling Piro beach, I would go to check on the nest.

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Picture 2 and 3: Two hungry white-necked Jacobin babies waiting for their mother to come back with some food.

The white-necked jacobin not only feeds on nectar, but on flying insects as well, catching them one by one in shorts flights. The plumage of the male is of beautiful bright colours, which he displays during the breeding season by dancing around the female to show off his attractiveness.

screen-shot-2017-09-05-at-4-38-28-pmPicture 4. The two babies ARS growing up strong and healthy

The chicks grew up quite fast, as in just a few weeks they were ready to leave the nest and find their own adventures. One of them left first while the other stayed in the nest for four more days. It is always difficult to leave our comfortable home and make the big jump, however, as it is said: those who do not jump will never fly.

screen-shot-2017-09-05-at-4-47-10-pmPicture 5. The last one to leave the nest, too comfortable at his home.

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The Osa Camera Trap Network

Blog post written by Juan Carlos Cruz, Feline Program Coordinator

Osa Conservation is excited to have worked with our partners to host the very first workshop for the Osa Camera Trap Network!

 

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Photo of Osa Camera Trap Network Workshop

 

This Network gathers together those in the Osa interested in doing research on wildcat conservation – including partners from communities, private companies, research institutions and conservationist organizations- to help inform conservation decision-making and provide a baseline of wildcat data for generations to come.

Wildcats are keystone species, which are crucial for the balance and full function of tropical ecosystems. As the top predators in our ecosystems, they are highest on the trophic chain. This means that they have no natural predators and play a significant role controlling all the subsequent levels on the food web – especially ungulates and other herbivores.

 

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Camera trap photo of a puma

 

Wildcats are also known as “indicator species” and help to assess the health of their ecosystems. Since these species are highly territorial and need large areas to fulfill their ecological needs, they are sensitive to fragmentation and respond to decreases in population of their natural prey (such as loss due to hunting pressures).

 

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Camera trap photo of a jaguar

 

Thus, the presence of wildcats, such as jaguars and pumas, is a sign of good ecosystem health. For this reason, monitoring population of wildcats is an effective and precise approach for monitoring the quality of tropical ecosystems.

Due to the urgent need to understand the conservation status of our focal species and ecosystems, Osa Conservation, in collaboration with several stakeholders in the Osa, started the “Osa Camera Trap Network” in 2013.  Each member of the Network provides their own camera traps and expertise of their site, while Osa Conservation’s Wildcat Program helps to provide the technical support in the placement of cameras and processing of data collected. At this time, the Network is composed of more than 20 members in the Peninsula, including Corcovado and Piedras Blancas National Parks, the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve and Private Reserves. Additionally, more members are expected to join the initiative – producing one of, if not the largest camera trap systems in Central America!

As part of the workshop, this Network identified several of the key priorities for this upcoming year, including:

  • Estimating the current density of Jaguar in the Osa Peninsula.
  • Estimating abundance of terrestrial mammals among the different protected areas in the Osa Peninsula.
  • Identifying anthropogenic and environmental factors affecting the distribution and abundance of terrestrial mammals in the Osa Peninsula.
  • Evaluating the biological corridors in the Osa Peninsula.

Working together, we will be able to take on this ambitious and exciting work.  We see this workshop as an important stepping stone to mark the beginning of this essential collaboration to help conserve these amazing species and their ecosystems.

 

Osa Camera Network

Photo of Osa Camera Trap Network Workshop

 

We look forward to continuing to work together with the following current members of the Osa Camera Trap Network (and others who might wish to join):

  • Lapa Ríos Eco Lodge
  • Saladero Eco Lodge
  • Nicuesa Eco Lodge
  • Playa Cativo Lodge
  • La Leona Eco Lodge
  • Danta Lodge
  • Esquinas Eco Lodge
  • Asociación de Desarrollo integral Carate-Corcovado
  • Estación Tropical La Gamba (Universidad de Viena)
  • Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica
  • Beatriz López (estudiante Universidad de Florida)
  • Juan Vargas (estudiante Universidad de Toronto)
  • Investigadora Leslie Hay
  • Hacienda Rio Oro
  • Empresa Propietaria de la Red (EPR)
  • MINAE (ACOSA) – SINAC
  • FONAFIFO
  • Comunidad Rancho Quemado
  • Comunidad Los Planes
  • Comunidad Alto Laguna
  • Comunidad Rio Tigre

 

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Unexpected guests for supper

Blogpost written by Dr. Andrew Whitworth, Director of Restoration Ecology & Biodiversity Conservation

 

Last night, as I prepared my evening feed (rice with something), I heard a strange and unfamiliar squeaking sound from outside. I grabbed my head torch (aka.flashlight) and out I went. This is what I found.

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Eyelash pit viper starting its meal (Photo by Andrew Whitworth)

 

I couldn’t believe it. Ever since moving to live on the Osa Peninsula in February, I have been desperate to see the stunning eyelash pit viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), but so far they had eluded me. This isn’t surprising considering their awesome camouflage- forest green broken up with strokes and flecks of red and yellow. However, this chappie had been given away, by the poor little robber frog (Craugastor fitzingeri) who was now … supper.

I rushed back inside, still barefoot, to grab my camera; and for the next twenty five minutes, watched and photographed (without flash!) while the whole process unfolded. Many people believe that snakes can dislocate their jaws, but this isn’t really true. They do however have some unbelievably loose fitting and complex bone structures in the jaw and head. These can expand away from each other and allow the left and right side of the jaws to move independently; left first, then the right and then the left, and so on and so on…until they finally swallow their supper whole!

What was strange about this encounter for me was that the snake ate the frog from the back first. Most snake species will actually make an effort to search out the head of their prey first, and begin swallowing from there, to ensure no problems in fitting awkward pointing limbs in their mouths. Maybe this froggy was small and flexible enough to pose no issues.

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Eyelash pit viper eating its meal, legs first (Photo by Andrew Whitworth)

 

What was very cool though was that as the right sided fang of the snake moved along, a young secondary fang was visible, tucked away in the protective sheath. Vipers frequently lose these fangs and so new ones grow quickly behind. These cheeky little vipers are never caught without their weapons, just in case a meal is rightly available.

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Eyelash pit viper, close-up of the secondary fang (Photo by  Andrew Whitworth)

 

It wasn’t long until all that was left … was a foot –  just hanging from the viper’s mouth.

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Eyelash pit viper, finishing up its meal (Photo by Dr. Andrew Whitworth)

 

The frog then travelled down through the snakes body, pushed by the rippling muscles and inner organs, where over the coming few days, intense gastric juices would digest the frog, bones and all. This froggy snack could actually sustain this little snake for the next month at least, if food is scarce-  a feat I am extremely jealous of… as I seem to need to feed every couple of hours or so.

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Eyelash pit viper, digesting its meal (Photo by Andrew Whitworth)

 

According to my neighbour and reforestation fanatic, Agustin Mendoza, these snakes aren’t so common in the low lying areas of the peninsula next to the ocean. They typically thrive higher up on Cerro Osa, where there is a cool refreshing breeze; who says snakes aren’t smart?! What an incredible snake and one of my top five herping moments in my life so far!

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Eyelash pit viper (Photo by  Andrew Whitworth)

(To see some of Andy’s free amphibian and reptile field guides from the Amazon, click here, here and here.)

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The Greater Grison: a bit of a mystery in the Osa

Blog Post by Lesley Mould, DC Office Intern

Osa Conservation’s rainforest camera traps have been capturing some very exciting footage recently! One camera recorded a particularly remarkable video of a Greater Grison. Watching clips of the camera trap footage in the D.C. office motivated me to investigate some of the more unusual species that are native to the Osa, starting with the Greater Grison.

The Greater Grison is a member of the weasel family. It is native to South and Central America and inhabits forest and cerrado habitats. It is typically found near rivers or streams, and in elevations ranging from 500 to 2,000 meters. The Greater Grison population is actually doing very well, despite the fact that they are rarely seen in the wild. In fact, there is considerable debate in the scientific community over whether the Greater Grison is diurnal or nocturnal, which makes it all the more exciting that we got a video of one exploring the rainforest in the daylight!

Greater Grison

Photo by linnaeus1758

When the weasel-like carnivore is not hunting, it spends its time hidden away in dark and isolated spaces, such as hollowed out trees or abandoned animal burrows. It feeds on various vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, and small mammals. The grison has a particularly interesting hunting style. It begins by moving in a zig-zag pattern, stopping occasionally to lift its head and sniff the air. When it finally locates its prey, it gets very low to the ground and commences a series of grunts, which escalate to barks, and culminate in a single scream while fiercely baring its teeth. Once the grison catches its prey, it delivers a fatal bite to the back of the neck. Although the predators of the Greater Grison are not entirely known, they possess a distinct defense mechanism. When threatened, they will spray a yellow-green musk produced by its scent glands to thwart predators and mark its territory.

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Although they spend the majority of their time alone, grisons seek out multiple partners during breeding season in January and February. Females produce litters of two to four. Newborns weigh around 50 grams and are blind for the first three weeks of their lives, but grow quickly and reach full adult size in just four months. If you haven’t seen the video from our camera trap yet, check it out below:

 

 

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Put an End to Harmful Plastic Pollution

Blogpost written by Emily Bartone, Sea Turtle Research Field Assistant

Working with the sea turtle program, I feel lucky to spend my mornings patrolling Osa’s picturesque beaches looking for nesting sea turtles. However, one feature that can often distract from the beauty of these beaches is the presence of plastic waste that still finds its way to the coastline. While this pollution is unsightly, more importantly, it’s harmful to wildlife.

Volunteers clean up trash on Piro Beach

Despite ongoing beach clean ups,  plastics can accumulate on our beaches because it washes up with the tide. What doesn’t make it to shore likely gets caught up in one of the several massive gyres of trash floating in the world’s ocean. Because plastic is non-biodegradable, these gyres are forever growing. Every single piece of plastic that has ever been produced still exists in some form. It may break down into tinier pieces, but it will never disappear.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Sea turtles are particularly susceptible to the dangers from marine plastic. Throughout the oceans, sea turtles are commonly found tangled in discarded fishing nets, unable to swim for food or air. Some turtle species that rely on jellyfish for food, such as the endangered leatherback, mistake floating plastic bags for this prey. Sea turtles are unable to digest the plastic they eat, so it accumulates in their gut and creates deadly blockages. As more and more plastic pieces enter the ocean, it’s becoming impossible for turtles to avoid consuming it.

Volunteers clean up beach trash

 

While our efforts to complete beach clean-ups in the Osa make an important difference in reducing the plastic in these ecosystems, there are many ways that the average person can also help prevent the plastic from arriving in the first place.

Consider the waste that you create in a day – how much of it is plastic? Bottles, bags, packaging… likely all plastic! One small lifestyle change people can make to reduce their plastic waste and help protect sea turtles is to minimize their use of single-use plastics. This includes things like packaging of individually wrapped snacks. Instead, buy in bulk and store your purchase in your own container; carry reusable water bottles and shopping bags; ask for your drink without a straw at a restaurant; carry silverware in your bag to avoid plastic cutlery. Remember to ask yourself: While it may be more convenient for a moment, is it worth endangering wildlife and polluting the planet for eternity?

Help us protect sea turtles and minimize the plastics that make their way to our oceans.