Panamanian Night Monkeys

The Panamanian Night Monkeys (Aotus zonalis) are one of the species of the Aotus genus. These genus are found in Central and South America. The Panamanian Night Monkey it’s restricted to different areas of the country and the North Western part of Colombia.

They sleep in hollow trees, during the day, and are active at dusk. The family in this picture was two parents and a sub-adult baby, they where sleeping in a dead peach palm tree near the cabins.

These monkeys live in small groups and are socially monogamous.  The female gives birth, usually, one baby at the time, and very sporadically twins. Once the baby is born the male plays a major role in the care of the offspring.

Much information regarding these monkeys is missing.  Many aspects of the species, including the major threats and status of the population are unknown.  They are currently  under the Red List Category and their Criteria is Data Deficient.  It is very likely that habitat destruction is one of the main threats for these beautiful creatures because of the significant forest loss within Panama in recent decades.

A very particular group of plants: Zamia

Cycad plants are found in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. Panama has the most diverse group of cycad plant in the Neotropics. The species found in Panama have a cylindrical trunk, with leaves that grow directly from the trunk, forming a “crown” of evergreen leaves, and a plastic texture, that sometimes could be confused with ferns or palms.

Within the forest of Bocas del Toro, we frequently find this plant defoliated by the larvae of the White-tipped Cycadian (Eumaeus godartii). The larvae can eat the entire plant, but do not kill it.

Eumaeus godartii

Larvae of the White-tipped Cycadian (Eumaeus godartii)

Cycads are gymnosperms (naked seeds), the unfertilized seeds are open to the air to be pollinated. Cones are the reproductive organs of the cycads and are composed by highly modified leaves.

Panama Flora

Female cones of a Zamia plant, at Tranquilo Bay grounds, Bastimentos Island.

Cycad plants are females or males; female cone carried ovules, and every male cone (is smaller in diameter, compared with the female) carries several pollen capsules. There are cases of cycad plants changing sex, but never producing male and female cones at the same time.

Cycad Zamia Male Cone

Male cones of a Zamia plant – Tranquilo Bay, Bastimentos Island

In the past the pollination of cycads was thought to be completed by the wind, but its been proven that it is completed by insects.

Thousands of this plant grow on the white sand beaches of Bastimentos Island.  Here it was observed and has been reported by researchers an unusual occurrence of salt water tolerance.  Cycad seeds can float in the water, allowing the plant to disperse from island to island within the archipelago – this was observed in this group of plants around 2004 in Bocas del Toro.

 

 

 

Dwarf squirrels in Western Panama

Fossil evidence proves that there were no squirrels in South America before the formation of Panama, the natural bridge that allowed migration in both directions, of a wide variety of species, known as the Great American Interchange.

Dwarf squirrels (Microsciurus), are found in evergreen tropical rainforest regions of Central and South America. Their small size, dull coloring, shy behavior and speed make them difficult to find. These are some of the reasons why not much is known about these little mammals.

Palo Seco Protected Forest

The home of the Pygmy Squirrel, evergreen tropical rainforest, Palo Seco Protected Forest, Bocas del Toro.

In Western Panama, two species of this group can be found, the Alfaro´s Pygmy Squirrel (Microsciurus alfari) and the Western Dwarf Squirrel (Microsciurus mimulus).

Both of the species look very much a like. The best way to differentiate them, is by the white ear spots on the Alfaro´s Pygmy Squirrel. However, the ear spots are absent on the animals found in Costa Rica and Western Panama, which makes it difficult to tell them apart in this part of the world, as their distribution overlaps and both species have similar behaviors.

Panama Wildlife

Pygmy Squirrel (Microsciurus spp.) photograph in the Palo Seco Protected Forest, Bocas del Toro.

None of the members of this genus are endangered, but it is hard to know the real numbers of their populations because of the lack of information and studies related to those cute creatures.

 

Coró-coró

The ibises have a very particular appearance overall, long and curved beak, long neck and legs and a chunky body, which makes them easy to recognize from a distance. Five species of ibises are reported in Panama, two of them have very few observations in the country, and are considered as vagrant species. In Bocas del Toro we can find the other three species: Green, Glossy and White Ibis, in this same order of abundance, with the Green Ibis the most common of the three, and the White Ibis the rarest one.

Birding Panama

Mesembrinibis cayennensis

In poor light, the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis), may appear as a black bird, but when you get the right light and angle, the beautiful iridescent feathers on the back of its neck may be appreciated.

In Bocas del Toro the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) is frequently seen near the mangroves and wetlands of the lowlands, where it feeds on aquatic invertebrates (worms, snails, insects, etc.) by walking slowly and digging with its long bill into the mud, dirt, and shallow water.

Easy to recognize and locate by its peculiar loud call, they actively vocalize at dusk and down. Flying calls are a series of corocoro… sound, which explain the reason of the local name in some regions: “the coró-coró”.

Green Ibis call. Downloaded from zeno-canto (http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/WNGXTLHREQ/GreenIbisDamani111028_26.mp3)

Birds are often seen in pairs or singles, but occasionally in small groups up to eight individuals (personal observations). Their nest is built with twigs, high in a tree over water, and separated from other nests of the same species.

Panama Birdwatching

Pair of Green Ibises

Typically, these birds vocalize on a high perch, in a clear area, at dusk or dawn. Notice the particular shape of these birds, it makes them easy to recognize from the distance.

Updated Bird List – Fall 2017

I recently finished updating our Western Caribbean Slope bird list, based on the August 2017 Clements List. This last version shows some significant changes, such as, removing from the Thraupidae family the Rosy Thush-Tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea) and the Dusky-faced Tanager (Mitrospingus cassinii) and putting them in to their own family, Rhodinocichlidae and Mitrospingidae respectively.

As of this update, we have a total of 522 species on our list.  It is very likely that during the year this number will change, owing to Bocas del Toro’s outstanding diversity.

One of the additions to our bird list, is the Forster´s Tern (Sterna forsteri), a rare species for the country; only one bird was observed, resting with a group of Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus), at the Changuinola River mouth, months ago. This species is easy to recognize in its winter plumage, by the black, coma type of shape, ear patch.

Birding Panama

©Brooke A. Miller

You can download the current Clements based bird list on our Birding page.

Beauty and diversity: Part 2

We all have encountered orchids in our lives, some species, such as the Phalaenopsis or moth orchids, are popular as a houseplants. In the tropics we find some plants of this group blooming throughout the year.

Fire star or rainbow orchid

A common orchid found on the roadsides or within the grasslands of the mountains of Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui is the Epidendrum radicans, known in Spanish as a fire star or rainbow orchid.  Its bright yellow, orange, and red flowers gets everyone’s attention. The flower opens with two colors, yellow and orange, and when it gets pollinated it changes color to an uniform bright red color.

Slipper orchid

Not as common, but a good example to show the diversity of this group is the Slipper orchid or Lady´s slippers (Phragmipedium longifolium). It has a wide distribution in the temperate areas from Mexico down to South America. Insects pollinate all Slipper orchids. The insects are deceived because all the species in this particular group of orchids do not produce nectar or any other reward for its pollinators.

Beauty and diversity: Part 1

Everything in nature is fascinating, the adaptations of life to succeed, exceed the imagination. Today I am starting a series of two blogs, about a very diverse and colorful group of plants: the orchids. With over 25,000 species around the world, orchids are one of the most diverse groups in the world. The complexity of its flowers and how pollinating insects evolved to pollinate specific types of flower is just brilliant! They grow in all different habitats, except the poles and extremely dry deserts.

Holy Spirit Orchid

Panama has over 1350 species of orchids. The national flower of the country belong to this group, known as Holy Spirit (Peristeria elata), because the central structures of the flower looks like a dove with open wings.

Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit it is in danger, the extraction of plants from the wild without control, for commercial purposes, it is pushing this orchid, and many others, to the extinction. Efforts to recover the population of the Holy Spirit are in process in Panama, through the MIDA (Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development), with the help of the Taiwanese government.  They have an active breeding program.

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Frog Trip

Poision Dart Frog Tranquilo Bay

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.

Frog Photo

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.

Poison Dart Frog Bocas del Toro

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).

Frog Morphs Panama

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.

Frog Photo Safari Panama

Talamanca Rocket Frog (Allobates talamancae)

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The Panama Hat

Panama Hat

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.

Panama Plant Story

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.
Panama Hats at Panama Canal

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.
Roosevelt Panama Canal

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.

If you want to learn more about the very interesting history of the “Panama hat” you can visit:  https://www.brentblack.com/pages/history.html

 

Women in Science

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.

Bocas del Toro Documentary

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.

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