Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Last Friday Sarah and I ran off to Costa Rica. It's a trip for work, but we flew down early and squeezed in a few days of fun in the sun rainforest.

With only 48 hours to burn, we decided splurge on one of Costa Rica's eco-lodges for the first day. It was a great decision for our situation. Our schedule was packed, from the the night hikes to the early morning bird walks and afternoon tram rides through the canopy. We had a private guide, Leo, that accompanied us on every adventure into the forest, naming plants, describing the symbiotic relationships between plants and animals, and of course pointing out the poisonous snakes as we passed.

It's rare to see a tree in the rainforest without moss and epiphytes growing on its bark. This weight can be dangerous for the trees because it makes them more vulnerable to falling over in the wind. But the tree above? It's bark remains free from growth because it contains nutrients that are beneficial to red squirrels. The squirrels scrape off bits of bark and in doing so keep the tree clean.

Snakes? We saw pit vipers a-plenty. The two snakes above are actually the same species, but they come in three different colors ~ green, brown, and yellow. The little green guy was perched on that leaf outside our cabin for the first day, letting us check in with him whenever we passed.

And it wouldn't be a rainforest without ants. There were army ants, leaf-cutter ants {our faves!}, and then there was this little ant colony that was made of mud on the underside of a palm leaf.

The lodge had a butterfly house. We peaked our head in one morning to see these guys feeding on bananas.

Near the back of the house, cocoons are hanging as the larva matures.

We were lucky enough to stop in the house later in the day just as three butterflies were drying their wings before their first flight. The blur in the photo below was a camera shy butterfly that decided to take off as the shutter closed.

The reserve was filled with a maze of trails that took you into the thick of the jungle. But remember, only a fraction of the rainforest species stay near the forest floor; the canopy is a different ecosystem with its own mix of life. The reserve's aerial tram took us into the mid and upper layers of the canopy for a closer look.

The tram was the brainchild of a US scientist that wanted a non-invasive way to study the upper canopy. In the early days of this research, scientists would wait for trees to fall before they could study was was living and growing up their. Unfortunately within a day or two of falling, organisms on the tree were already making their way back into the canopy, making the precision of this work difficult.

The tram was built using low-impact techniques. All materials {except for the large support poles} were transported into the rainforest on foot or by hanging cables so that the weight of the materials would not disturb the forest floor. The poles holding up the tram were installed by helicopter so that they would not have to clear a path through the forest.

This is the rainy season in Costa Rica. Of course, it's not raining all the time. Usually just one or two showers a day. It's enough to keep most tourists at bay, but here's a little secret ~ the flights are amazingly cheap, the hotels have openings, and sometimes, you're lucky enough to be the only guests... that was our situation at the lodge. We had the whole place to ourselves, and it definitely added to the secluded experience. Of course it is funny when you're the only two in the dining area...

The soils in the rainforest are extremely shallow. Between the high level of rainfall and heat, organic matter breaks down quickly and the nutrients are washed away. This creates intense competition for nutrients, and causes the trees to produce a shallow and relatively small root system. There is also competition for sunlight, so trees grow tall and straight relatively quickly. Between the shallow roots and fast growth, the trees are not very stable. Some species use buttresses to increase their stability.

Many of the bright colored plant parts that appear as flowers are actually leaves or bracts. Leo told us that the common name for the plant below is the chicken feather plant.

And that, minus the three-toed sloth that we saw (!), was how we spent our daylight hours in the rainforest.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

How spectacular! Thanks for sharing your adventure. I wish I could hop on a plane today.