Hummingbird or insect?

Nature is full of incredible adaptations – today I want to review one of many curiosities of nature, a moth that looks like a hummingbird. Known as Hummingbird moths, Bee Moth, Hawk Moth or Bee Hawk Moth, just to mention a few common names, this group of Sphinx moths, are an abundant group, with over 1200 species around the world.

Sphinx moth Pic. Sphinx moth (Aellopos titan) feeding.

The moths have received their name because they have many similarities to hummingbirds:

  • feeding in similar species of flowering plants
  • efficient pollinators
  • the shape of their bodies
  • the tip of their tail opens into a fan
  • some species have bright colors
  • the skill to fly sideways and backwards.

At this point sounds like they are very similar, and it will be hard to tell them a part, but there are also differences between those two sets of creatures – the hummingbird moths, are smaller, have antennae, and are not as aggressive as hummingbirds!

Stripe-throated Hermit Pic. Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) feeding.

If you are a new garden observer, be patient, and in a little bit of time you will be able differentiate one from the other.

Forest floor colorful cups

The world of the fungi is an unknown for many of us. But the truth is that this group of organisms are everywhere and have very important to humans.

The cup fungus group it is composed of many species of mushrooms.   Some of them are easy to recognize, by their cup appearance, but others need to be observed with a microscope for a positive identification.

Today I am writing about the Cookeina, a genus of a cup fungus. This is one of the must common and colorful mushrooms of this group, commonly known as Pink cup fungus (Cookeina speciosa). It grows on decaying wood on the rainforest floor.  It can be observed year round growing individually or in groups.

pink cup fungiiThere isn’t much information available about this species of mushroom on internet.   Mexico has completed the most studies with mushrooms for human consumption, and they report this species can be eaten. However, since there isn’t much information available about this colorful and attractive mushroom, I suggest enjoying them with your eyes.

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.

 

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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Tarpon Working Baitball

So, we received a drone for Christmas and have spent some time learning how to fly it and capture footage around the neighborhood over the past month after the end of high season.

Jay called back on the radio from the boat as he headed out to pick up guests recently telling Jim he needed to go check out the tarpon rolling around a large baitball near the lodge.  Fortunately for us the baitball was near the lodge for a few days.  Check out this footage of the tarpon, sting rays and snapper corralling the bait fish.  The change in shape of the baitball is all due to predators working the smaller bait fish.  Nature at its finest.

Knowledge, beauty and art to share – Part II

John James Audubon´s Birds of America is a really valuable contribution in the form of life-size watercolors and details about the behavior of birds. These compilations of 435 species of birds, over half of the species of United States, included 25 new species and 12 new subspecies. This work was printed between 1827 and 1838. After this project, he compiled a collection of 150 hand-colored lithographs “The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America”.

AudobonBrownPelican

Audubon´s watercolor plate of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

One of the reasons I want to dedicate this series of blog posts to his work, is because, in addition to his incredible talent as an artist, he was a brilliant writer. Reading his very well documented journeys can transport you to the adventure as he experienced it, with exquisite detail of the landscape and the behavior of the birds (available at: http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america , courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Audubon, PA, and the Montgomery County, PA, Audubon Collection). In each one of the up coming photo series, I will be posting some of his plates of our avifauna species, and quote some of his bird biographies.

Sources:
http://johnjames.audubon.org/john-james-audubon-0
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/john-james-audubon-drawn-from-nature/106/
http://www.audubon.org/content/john-james-audubon

Knowledge, beauty and art to share – Part I

John James Audubon was not the first person to collect, illustrate and record detailed information about the birds of North America, but the quality and significance of his work places his name and work as a remarkable reference of the ornithology world.

John Audobon Portrait

Image 1. Paint of John James Audubon, by John Syme (Source: http://www.audubon.org/content/john-james-audubon?_ga=1.144911732.1729398225.1484368019

Jean-Jacques Audubon was born in 1785, in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now known as Haiti). Later in 1803 when he was immigrating to United States, he changed his name to a more Anglicized form: John James Audubon.

During his first years in the new country he spent a lot of his time roaming this very different territory. He was captivated by the wildlife in this new area, a passion that took him from one end of the country to the other. Through the years he saw an extensive area of the country. He changed the way birds were illustrated, “putting the spectator within the natural environment”: accomplishing an extreme similarity with the characteristics of the bird, and the environment where the scene took place. And he also developed the first recorded experiment of bird banding in America.

Sources:
http://johnjames.audubon.org/john-james-audubon-0
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/john-james-audubon-drawn-from-nature/106/
http://www.audubon.org/content/john-james-audubon

 

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