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Not long ago we had some guests that wanted to look for frogs. They were specifically looking to find some other variations of the very famous Poison Red Frog (Oophaga pumilio). So, we went to Popa, a nearby island in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago
At the Tranquilo Bay we have two morphs, that are quite similar, the bright orange, almost red with light blue toes and fingers and the bright red with tiny dots on the back.
One of the morphs of the Poisonous Red Frog (Oophaga pumilio) found on Popa Island.
During this trip to Popa Island we got to see some nice variations in color of the Oophaga pumilio, and we also got great looks and pictures of some other species.
Another coloration of the Poisonous Red Frog (Oophaga pumilio) found in Popa Island.
I have to admit that I never get tired of watching the incredible variation in color of O. Pumilio. It isn’t every day that we get a photographic opportunity to capture a photo of the elusive, and very fast amphibian, the Lovely Poison Frog (Phyllobatrs lugubris).
Lovely Poison Frog (Phyllobatrs lugubris)
And if the morning could not get any better, we also found another small inhabitant of the rainforest, a Talamanca Rocket Frog (Allobates talamancae), that showed up and stayed calm for us to photograph him as well.
Picture of Pijipaja or panama hat (https://www.worldguide.eu/t5/Lifestyle-Events-Articles/All-you-have-to-know-about-Hats/ba-p/15386
Probably some of you know the Panama hat is hand-made in Ecuador, a traditional product that began in the 1600´s and was declared by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012. The fibers of the leaves of the Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata), are known as iraca, bellota or toquilla in Spanish. The young leaves of this plant are boiled, cut in narrow strips and bleached to get the pale color fibers used to weave the Panama hat.
Leaf of the Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata)
There are different versions of the story about why this Ecuadorian hat, also known as Jipijapas, took on the name of “Panama hat”, I am going to share just a few.
In the 1830`s and Spanish man, Miguel Alfaro, was the person who changed the industry of these hats. He established a plant in the town of Montecristi and organized a “system of production” with the intention of exporting the hats to Panama, and from there to the rest of the world. By the 1850`s, with the California Gold Rush, the United States was a big buyer of these hats.
Another version says that in the 1880s, when the Panama Canal was under construction, with the famous Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps, in charge of the revolutionary project, he and many of the workers of the Canal wore this hat.
Picture. Members of the technical commission with Ferdinand de Lesseps, in Panama, February 1880. http://www.pancanal.com/esp/photo/historicas/ingenier.jpg
Years later, in 1906, when the Panama Canal was under management by the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States at that time, came to inspect the progress of the Panama Canal, he was wearing a black-banded straw hat, and a picture of him was taken and published.
Picture. President Theodore Roosevelt siting down on the steam shovel, with his Panama hat, during the construction of the Panama Canal, 1906. http://www.czbrats.com/PicWk/picwk008.htm
Which one is the real cause of why the Panama hat goes by this name? I do not know, any of them seem pretty likely to be accurate, but what is important is the history, and how valuable is to preserve it and share it.
Gender bias? Here in Panama, at Tranquilo Bay, not so much, but in many other parts of the world, yes. When many people think of women in science they do not think of the same people who my daughter brings to her mind. Why, well, we are blessed to live on a spot on this earth that brings many scientists to us. And believe it or not, the majority of the scientists that we have met working here in Bocas del Toro, are women.
We welcome scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute out to our place to study whatever it is they are studying. We figure it helps science, we learn something and our kids have an opportunity to meet new scientists on a regular basis.
We have naturalist guides who are on site to work with our guests who have both studied different sciences and who teach us about biology, nature and many different types of science on a daily basis.
We have group leaders who are scientists or naturalists of some form that visit us on a regular basis.
We have a family member who studied ecology and is working with TIDE so that she might become a marine biologist one day.
Why this conversation? Well, one of the scientists we met in October 2015 is also a National Geographic Photographer. Clare Fiesler contacted us to see about working with us on a kayak circumnavigation of Isla Bastimentos while she was studying at STRI. She and her buddy, Becca Skinner, used two portable Orukayaks to complete this expedition. They stayed the first night with us. Both of them have shared some details about their adventure on Nat Geo’s blog and Instagram account.
Since then, Clare suggested that a group of students from UNC Chapel Hill spend some time documenting Bocas del Toro and she kindly gave them our name. The result is this award-winning multimedia website created by the students under the supervision of a great group of professors and coaches. Clare was one of the coaches.
Several years ago, Clare worked on a project: “Outnumbered: Portraits of Women Scientists.” She explains a bit about the project in this video. You can also get more information here: http://college.unc.edu/2014/11/12/outnumbered/.
Most recently Clare used words to explain in An Ecologist’s Guide to Writing Obituaries about the “death” of the Great Barrier Reef as well as obituaries as a genre. We take writing very seriously around here as part of our school curriculum so when we find people who are skilled with this craft, we learn whatever we can from them.
My children have met a number of female scientists and a number of people named Clare, but only one female scientist named Clare. So when I tell them that Clare is in Bocas del Toro working on another research project they immediately know to ask, “Mom, are you talking about the Clare that did the kayak project?” They do this because to them, Clare isn’t the only female scientist they know so they have learned to identify her in a different way. I wish that more people had the same perspective on life – we can work towards whatever interests us and it doesn’t need to fit a specific mold. We can make it into what works for us. Clare’s camera and her words are some of the tools she uses to expand people’s horizons and help tell people’s stories. Many of those stories touch science in one way or another.
Today I am going to talk about a pretty and elusive ball of feathers, the Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant. This bird is one of those species that you can hear many times, but see only a few. Its size and the places where it likes to spend the most part of its time make them a little hard to see.
Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant (Myiornis atricapillus) has a large range of distribution, found from the south of Nicaragua, through western Colombia down to the north Pacific coast of Ecuador. Often found in the canopy of the humid forest, its easy to lose this 2.5 inch bird. And like living in the canopy wasn’t enough to make it hard to find, its call is like an insect.
This adorable little bird is one of the species we can easily hear, not so easily see, as I mentioned before, on to the excursion to the chocolate farm. Green Acres Chocolate Farm is located on the mainland, and is home to many species that we do not have on the islands of the archipelago.
The pictures are not the best ones, but good enough to show this tiny beauty.
Another species of Basilisk lizard we see during some of our excursions is the Emerald Basilisk or Basiliscus plumifrons.
It is, as the striped basilisk, a very large lizard with diurnal, semi-aquatic, semi-arboreal behavior. The Emerald Basilisk is shier than it´s cousins and it´s range of movement is always closer to the water. As with the Striped Basilisk, juveniles appear to be primarily insectivorous, starting an omnivorous diet with a considerable ingestion of plant material like seeds, stems, etc. as grow(they get to 135 mm in standard length).
Their reproductive season is somewhat shorter that the Striped Basilisk, starting in May and finishing in September. During this time, they will lay from 4 to 17 eggs per clutch. In captivity, the hatching time is 55 to 75 days.
This Emerald Basilisk’s distribution range is different in the Caribbean and the Pacific. On the Atlantic it ranges from the humid lowlands of Eastern Honduras to Western Panama, while on the Pacific slope it will be found only in Southwestern Costa Rica and Southwestern Panama.
There are several different excursions where we have found these amazing lizards, ranging from sea level, in the lowland forest of Almirante, to 2400 feet, close to the Bocas del Toro continental divide. Every time we see one, it seems brighter and more striking than the time before. Judge for yourself.
One of our most common neighborhood lizards is the Basilisk lizard, also called Jesus Christ Lizard because of it´s ability to run short distances over the water.
The species of Basilisk lizard that we have in the Tranquilo Bay gardens and sidewalks is the Basiliscus vittatus, a large lizard that we usually find sunbathing while perched on a branch or laying over a rock or a sidewalk. The males of this brown/grayish/olive coloration lizard, are unmistakable because they “wear” a single cephalic crest with a triangular outline. Juveniles and females may be distinguished from their relatives because of the dark cross bands and longitudinal light stripes.
This lizard is much more terrestrial that Congeners B. basiliscus and B. plumifrons and is strictly diurnal, at night it sleeps under leaf litter near the ground or in vegetation up to ten feet above the ground.
During the main reproductive season, from mid February through October they will lay 4-5 clutches with 2 to 18 eggs per clutch. Incubation time ranges from 50 to 70 days depending on weather and nest location conditions (full sun/shade …) Then, young basilisks (32 – 50 mm) will feed on insects and spiders. At around six month’s old they will reach their sexual maturity and change their diet to include a considerable amount of seeds, grasses, fruits, stems, in addition to the insects and spiders.
Basilisk lizards are large lizards so they are also a valuable prey for many predators like White Hawks, Boas and juvenile vine snakes. Campbell’s Amphibians & Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatán & Belize reports that only about 2% of hatchlings survive for two years.
Daniel Dickinson prepared an episode of Panama Wildlife for us focusing this week on butterflies and moths. All of these spectacular winged creatures are found on site at Tranquilo Bay. Many of our guests enjoy combing the grounds for the multitude of species that may be found here. Take a look.
The beautiful bird I am talking about today, often catches the attention of the observer, because of its attractive color. It has a purplish blue plumage accompanied by the bright colors of its beak. When someone sees this bird’s feet for the first time the feet immediately take all the attention. Their very long claws help them to walk on top of the floating vegetation.
The juveniles’ coloration is somewhere between pale brown and green and it helps them hide camouflaged in the vegetation.
Purple Gallinules (Porphyrio martinicus) are omnivores. Their diet includes invertebrates, plants, and sometimes small frogs and fish that they catch in floating plants and shrubby areas.
This species has a large distribution range. It is found from the south-east of United States to the north of Argentina and Chile. This species breeds during spring and summer in North America and may breed almost year round in the tropics (from May until November). The habitat of this species is swamps and wetlands. Habitat loss is the main threat for this species, but it isn’t in endangered at this time.
In Panama extraordinary biodiversity is not a secret. It´s a privileged location on the Earth. It is in a tropical area, joining two formidable masses of land (North and South America) and separating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the same time.
But these facts are not the only reason, its topography, result of the dramatic geological events that lead to its formation, created so many micro-habitats.
From the Pacific and Atlantic shore to the summit of Volcan Baru at 11,398 feet above sea level (3374 meters) many micro-climates occur. They all hold many different forms of life for such a small area of the world.
So, what do you think it happens to the most numerous family in the Plantae Kingdom … the orchids? Well, of the more than 20,000 species that exist in the world, Panama hosts 1,200 of them. Bocas del Toro as a province holds it´s share!
Here are some pictures of common orchids that surround us:
When arriving at Tranquilo Bay, each person has their own expectations on what kind of wildlife they can find here – which species of mammals, birds, reptiles. And, as you know, anything is guaranteed when we are talking about wildlife viewing, but there are some particular species that you can find all year round, no matter if a certain plant is fruiting or flowering, if we are in a dry or a rainy pattern, … they are “almost” always (you never say always with wildlife) here.
One such species is the Crowned Woodnymph (formerly known as Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Thalurania colombica) which can be found “almost” anywhere on Tranquilo Bay’s grounds, but there is one particular area that they really seem to like and you can find them “almost” daily.
If you have ever been to Tranquilo Bay, you probably have already figured out the place. The “hummingbirds’ creek,” a portion of a creek in the forest that they like to use to cool down by bathing in it. It is only a little stretch of the creek that they use, which allows us to sit on benches, waiting comfortably for their explosions of activity.
Male and female Crowned Woodnymph, Purple-crowned Fairy and Striped-throated Hermit bathe throughout the year in those waters. Other visitors will show up from time to time like White-necked Jacobin, Band-tailed Barbthroat and the omnipresent Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and many other birds out of the Hummingbird group. “Almost” every person that witness this behavior, never forgets how graceful they are suspended over the water, submerging their whole body in a glimpse, repeatedly, dipping themselves in the calm water of this section of what we call the ” The Baths of Tranquilo Bay.”