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March 26, 2005



There are 42 species of Toucans found throughout the world. Six of them live in Costa Rica.

A toucan's most recognizable feature is it's beak. The beak is surprisingly light weight, because it is hollow. Scientists continue to be baffled why toucans have such oversized beaks.

Toucans are only found in the tropics. The keel-billed and the chestnut-madibled toucans are the largest toucan in Costa Rica. They live throughout Central America and northwestern South America.

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The male Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan can grow to be as large as 1.5 feet in length. The female is a bit smaller. The beak alone can reach up to 7 inches depending on sex and age. That's about half the bird's body length.

Toucans are considered frugivorous, meaning they eat mostly fruits and seeds. Although toucans will also eat small insects and small reptiles as well. Maybe that's why they have such large beaks: to help them eat a wide variety of foods.

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Scientists aren't sure why toucans have developed such a large beak. But it certainly makes them easy to point out in a crowd.

Toucans live high in the treetops around lowland rainforests. When the nest, they live in small holes inside of hollowed trees.

Toucans are usually seen in pairs, or small groups. During the hottest part of the day, toucans shade themselves in the deep foliage. The most interesting behaviors of this bird are its vocalizations. There are several shrill, yelping sounds this bird makes. One is a yelping "keeuREEK kirick, kirick," or "yo-YIP a-yip, a-yip," often repeated constantly. The most recognized call has to be the "keeyos taday taday" repeated at short intervals. This call has been described by locals as being "Dios te de, te de, te de," which is Spanish for "God keep you."

Posted by dfreeman at 11:06 PM


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Tapirs usually stay close to water, and on hot days have been observed submerged with only their heads above the surface.

Tapirus bairdii

The Tapir is Costa Rica's largest land mammal. It's also been around for a while. It's fossil records go back nearly 20-million years! A Tapir is an interesting animal, and is what you get if you were to cross an rhinoceros with a horse. Ancient tapirs would not have looked much different from the tapirs today, although their noses didn't grow to the present length until the last few million years.

A Tapir is a huge animal. The average adult weighs 330 - 660 pounds and can grow well over 6 feet in length.

A Tapir's thick hide is covered with a short, bristly-haired, dark brown coat. Baby tapirs have a lighter coat brightly marked with white streaks and spots. The most noticeable feature of the tapir is its nose, which looks and functions like a shortened version of an elephant's trunk.

Bairds Tapirs are herbivores. They eat mostly plant matter that they find on the ground or at eye level. They have also been known to scavenge for fallen fruit.

A tapir can be either diurnal or nocturnal, although in areas where they coexist with humans, most of their activity occurs during the night. They are very agile and can run up and down steep slopes with ease.

Tapirs are usually a solitary animal, preferring the company of itself than other tapirs. Their eyesight is quite poor, but their other senses are extremely sharp (hearing, smell). They are easily frightened, and therefore are difficult to see in the wild.

Even though, the tapir might not be the most beautiful animal in the rainforest, it still plays a vital role in the rainforest ecosystem. For centuries, tapirs have been hunted for their meat (which is similar to wild pig or boar). Tapirs are also heavily affected by habitat destruction, causing each of the four species of tapirs to be considered endangered.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:56 PM

Squirrel Monkey

Saimiri spp

Squirrel Monkeys are some of the most commonly seen monkeys in the Central American rainforest's, even though they are very shy and skiddish. They average about 1 foot in length, with the their tails adding on another full foot. Squirrel monkeys weigh 1.5-2.5 lbs, and are diurnal, or active during the daytime.

Your average squirrel monkey lives about 30 meters off the ground in virgin and secondary forests and in cultivated areas, usually along rivers and streams. This allows them access to their favorite foods. A spider monkey's diet includes insects, spiders, bird eggs, young birds, fruit and nuts. About 90% of their diet is composed of soft, tropical fruits.

Squirrel Monkeys can move almost silently through the upper canopy. They are usually quiet, but cry when alarmed. Squirrel Monkeys spend most of their lives in the trees, and are considered Arboreal, although they'll occasionally descend to the ground.

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Woah! Hang on, buddy!

Squirrel Monkeys make their way from tree to tree by jumping. Squirrel Monkeys have thighs that are shorter relative to their lower legs; this allows more jumping force.

When baby squirrel monkeys are born, they spend the first few months of life clinging to their mother's back. The mothers are very protective of their young, and caring for the young squirrel monkeys is a community affair.

Squirrel Monkeys live in groups of 10-30, which is a much larger group than other species of monkeys found in South and Central America.

Like other monkeys in the Central American rainforest, the Squirrel Monkey is facing some problems. Currently, deforestation and habitat destruction due to agriculture and tourism development are the major causes of decline. Insecticide spraying, the pet trade and electrocution from electric power lines have also adversely affected these squirrel monkeys.

Squirrel monkeys are very cute and look like they would make good pets. However, they are wild animals, and pefer the forest much more than a home. Because people have made them pets in the past, their numbers are being threatened. If they were to vanish from the rain forest, we would lose one of the most interesting animals in Central America.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:54 PM

Spider Monkey

Ateles geoffroyi

A spider monkey is named for it's long and thins arms, legs, and tails. Having these strong and long limbs help this animal to be one of the best equipped arboreal (living in the trees) animals found the rainforest.

A spider monkey can swing through the rainforest canopy and hang suspended by their tail. Their long limbs help them pick fruit (their favorite food). They live almost exclusively on fruit and nuts. They also eat young leaves, flowers, sometimes bark and decaying wood, as well as honey.

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Spider monkeys live high in the rainforest canopy. They rarely ever see the forest floor.

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Spider monkeys are 3-5 feet in length, with its tail accounting for about 60%. They weigh about 15-18 pounds.

The Spider Monkey is a diurnal (active during the day) animal that is quite social. Most spider monkeys live in groups of about 30 other spider monkeys.

Spider monkeys are considered an Old World Primate, because they don't have thumbs. Other monkeys in Costa Rica like the Capuchin and Squirrel Monkey have thumbs that help them hang on to branches and peel fruit.

But, just because a Spider Monkey lacks a thumb, doesn't mean it can't get around. Spider monkey are some of the finest examples of animals who get around in the canopy. They swing effortlessly. It's been recorded that with one swing of the arm, a spider monkey can cover 40 feet.


When spider monkeys are on the lookout, it stands or walks on two feet, using the tail to hold on to a support.

Because Spider Monkeys are arboreal animals, they rarely ever touch the rainforest floor. They also require large ranges of unbroken forest. They do not coexist well with humans. Logging, hunting, and habitat destruction have made the spider monkey an endangered species.

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When a spider monkey spots a human, a common response is for it to scream, growl, or jump up and down while shaking the tree limbs. They've even been known to throw fruit at tourists!

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A Spider Monkey's prehensile tail acts like a fifth arm and can be used for balance or just hanging out.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:50 PM


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A sloth has tiny ears and doesn't hear very well. But it has great eyesight, a good sense of smell, and is sensitive to vibrations.


Perhaps my favorite animal found the rainforest is the sloth. Costa Rica is home to two of the five species of sloth, the two-toed (Chollepus hoffmanni) and three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus).

The sloth is the slowest mammal on Earth. It takes a month for a sloth to move 1 kilometer!

Sloths are arboreal animals, which means that they spend most of their lives hanging upside-down from tree branches. They eat, sleep, mate, and give birth upside-down in the trees. They hold onto tree branches with strong, curved claws that are on each of their four feet

Sloths are herbivores. They eat leaves, tender young trees, and fruit. But it's hard to find time to eat during the sloth's busy schedule that includes sleeping about 15-18 hours each day.

The main difference between the two-toed and three-toed sloths (besides the number of toes) is that the three-toed sloth is diurnal and the two-toed sloth is nocturnal. Both of the animals are about 1.5 - 2 feet in length. Both species have a stumpy tail.

Everything a sloth does is slow. It chews slowly, blinks its eyes slowly, and definitely moves slowly. Sloths have a low metabolic rate and a low body temperature (91°F). This allows them to eat very slowly (and only need a little bit of food), and they don't require much water, because they don't expend much energy. It takes nearly a week for a sloth to digest one meal.

Sloths are related to anteaters, a group of mammals known as edentates. Anteaters and other edentates don't have teeth. However, sloths have small teeth which they use to chew up their leafy food.

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Some sloths can rotate the head 270 degrees. This is because they have more neck vertebrae than most mammals (only 7).

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Slowly making its way toward its favorite food: leaves.

A sloth can tolerate larger changes in body temperature than any other mammal: from 74°F - 92°F. At night, its body temperature can drop by as much as 22°F to conserve energy. Its thick hairy coat helps conserve heat and it sleeps in a tight ball to stay warm.

A sloth has very little muscle: it has the lowest muscle to mass ratios of all mammals. So it cannot shiver to keep warm. Three-toed sloths warm up by basking in the sun (in a more open tree) but Two-toed sloths don't appear to do this.

Sloths are hunted by jaguars, harpy eagles, and people. A sloth's main forms of protection are its camouflage (greatly increased by the coating of algae growing on its fur) and its very slow movement; these adaptations make it virtually disappear in the rain forest canopy.

The sloth got its name from its slow movement. It is not lazy, just slow-moving.

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Sloths love hanging around.

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Three-toed sloths are diurnal, and toe-toed sloths are nocturnal. Which species is this one?

Posted by dfreeman at 10:45 PM


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Pumas hunt their prey during the nighttime. They're eyes are specially adapted to help them see in the dark. After a cougar has eaten its fill, it will bury the remains of the kill and save it for a later date!

concolor costaricensis

Pumas are also called cougars, panthers, or mountain lions. That's right, they're all the same animal. Only the jaguar is larger than the cougar in the Western Hemisphere.

Other than humans, pumas are the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Pumas range from northwestern Canada to southern Chile in South America.

Like other large cats, pumas can Inhabit a variety of ecosystems. They are just as comfortable in the dry deserts as they are in the lush tropical rainforests.

Adult males can grow to be up to 9 feet long (including their tail). Female pumas are a bit smaller, but can still reach lengths of 7 feet. Male cougars weigh approximately 150-230 pounds, while the females 80-130 pounds.

Since pumas are such large cats (the only cat larger in Costa Rica is the Jaguar), they need to eat a lot. Pumas choose to hunt during the night time, and they eat just about anything that they come across. They prey on a wide range of large and small mammals including deer and other hoofed animals, raccoon, rabbits and rodents, birds and invertebrates.

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Pumas, mountain lions, cougars, and panthers are all the same animal. They are found in many areas of the western hemisphere from northern Canada to southern South America.

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From a sitting position, pumas have been observed jumping 18 feet onto a tree branch. They can leap horizontally 40 feet !

Pumas require large areas to hunt. An individual puma has a set area where other pumas won't enter. A male puma's range could be over 200 square miles. Therefore, pumas are greatly affected by habitat destruction.

All over the world, pumas are endangered species. Their furs have been hunted for centuries, and often they compete for the same food sources that humans do. Farmers and livestock ranchers often kill pumas, because the puma threatens the farmer's animals.

The removal of pumas, however, has a negative effect on the natural cycle of the rainforest. Where pumas are eliminated, populations of prey animals (such as deer) get too big for the land to accommodate. As prey numbers increase, vegetation is soon overgrazed. As adequate food supplies diminish, deer and other prey animals starve at massive levels. At the human level, animals that were once eaten by pumas and other predators destroy crops. If the world were to lose the puma it would have impacts all over the world.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:45 PM

Poison Dart Frogs


There are approximately 150 species of amphibians living in Costa Rica. Several of these species include some of the most brightly colored frogs found in the rainforest.

This fascinating group of frogs belongs to the family Dendronbatidae. In Costa Rica there are 7 species, 3 of which boldly display the bright and contrasting colors that are a family trademark.

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Strawberry Dart Frogs are beautifully colored. Although their eggs are laid among the leaves, the newly hatched larvae are carried on the backs of the parents to a pool of water or water-filled plant.

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This Strawberry Poison Dart Frog captures their prey using their sticky retractable tongue. This species is the most common Dendronbatidae found in Costa Rica.

Using the reverse psychology of camouflage, poison dart frogs stick out like a sore thumb to warn potential predators to stay away. Usually once an animal has tasted the unpleasant poison of a Dendronbatidae (and they live to tell about it!), they will stay away. When an animal uses this technique its called aposematic coloration.

The toxins of Costa Rica's poison dart frogs are not nearly as venomous as their Colombian cousin, but nonetheless they serve to defend the frogs from predators. An animal that feeds on any member of the Dendrobatidae is likely to suffer from violent sickness or death. The lucky survivors quickly learn to avoid anything with the color pattern that caused such extreme illness. Thus the bright reds, blues, greens, and blacks of the frogs actually serve as a warning.

Most poison dart frogs are active during the day(diurnal). They feed on ants and termites, but will also eat other small insects. Males defend a territory by physical combat (which is much like Greco-Roman wrestling) and vocalizations.

The common name of Poison Arrow Frog or Poison Dart Frog originates from the Choco Indians of Colombia. The Choco knew that the frogs emitted a toxin from their skin. The Choco would rub the tips of their arrows across a frog's body to make the arrow head poisonous.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:39 PM

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The purple orchid, Cattleya skinneri, Costa Rica's National Flower


Costa Rica has been shown to have the most diverse fauna of any country in the world.

One of the most beautiful flowers found in the rainforest is the orchid. The orchid is also perhaps one of most particular and pesky families of flowers found throughout the world.

In Costa Rica alone, there are over 1,300 species of different orchids.

No plant family is more diverse than orchids. After all, the orchid family is the largest plant family, occupying almost all possible environments. In all scientists estimate that there are at least 25,000-30,000 different species of orchid on the planet.

They come in all colors of the rainbow, each with a distinct blossom and environment. Some orchids produce blossoms no larger than a mosquito; other orchid flowers are as large as a dinner plate.

Each species of orchid also has a specific environmental area and range that it occurs in. In fact orchids are so specific that some species are only found in certain trees at certain elevations and only bloom for a few days each year.

Particular orchid species have different requirements depending on where they grow. Many species of orchid grow up tree trunks. The orchid is not a parasite meaning it doesn't hurt the tree at all, and other than stem-support takes nothing from the tree.

Since there are so many different types of orchid, it is hard to describe them generally. Some orchids require lots of sun. Some orchids only need an hour or two or direct sunlight each day.

Orchids have long been sought after by flower collectors. Sadly, orchid species are becoming extinct faster than they can be described and classified. Threats to orchids originate primarily from loss of habitat and collecting.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:33 PM


Felis pardalis

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Large eyes and superior visions are characteristic of an ocelot, which makes this cat a great hunter at night.

About three twice the size of a housecat, the ocelot is one of the smallest felines found in the tropical rainforest. Ocelots can weigh up to 35 pounds, and adults are generally about three feet in length.

Though it is the most common cat in Costa Rica, it is very shy and rarely seen. The ocelot adapts well to a variety of terrain, wet and dry, forested and open areas.

Like most big cats, the ocelot is a nocturnal hunter, but is still somewhat active during the day. Its prey includes small deer, rabbits, rodents, reptiles and when available, fish. The ocelot swims surprisingly well.

An ocelot's fur differs depending on their range and habitat. The fur of the ocelot is yellowish or dark brown and has black or dark spots and stripes.

The ocelot is a terrestrial animal, choosing to spend most of its life on the ground. Even though this animal has the capability to climb extremely well, it rarely leaves the forest floor.

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Sometimes ocelots climb trees for protection, but spend most of their lives on the forest floor.

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The name "ocelot" comes from the Mexican Aztec word "tlalocelot" meaning field tiger.

Ocelots require very dense vegetation to live in and to use as protection. Some scientists believe they prefer the vegetation, because it helps them to keep cool. But some scientists think that the dense vegetation is used for protection only. In any case, if the dense vegetation is disturbed, the ocelot is disturbed.

Individual ocelots, like many big cats, have a specific range that they live in. They mark their territory by leaving scent markings.

For centuries, the ocelot's fur has been prized among people. This has caused the ocelot to be endangered throughout its range. Ocelots once were common throughout the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. Yet, primarily due to habitat loss, there are less than 100 ocelots living in the United States.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:31 PM


Ara macao

Perhaps the most spectacular bird found in the Costa Rican rainforest is the macaw.

These brightly colored birds are enormous. Their bodies can measure nearly 34 inches long and can weigh over 2 pounds.

The scarlet macaw is a member of the parrot family. There are over 300 species of parrots throughout the world, almost all of them live inside the tropical rainforest.

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Scarlet Macaws build their nests high in the rainforest's trees. They spend most of their day in flight, covering huge distances.

Scarlet Macaws live in tall trees that are near rivers and coastal areas. Scarlet Macaws can be found from southern Mexico to the Amazon Basin of Brazil.

Scarlet Macaws have great need for huge areas, or ranges. They build their nests very high off the ground (over 100 feet), where they lay their eggs.

Scarlet macaws aren't very picky eaters. They eat basically any tropical fruits and nuts they can find. Their beaks are well-suited to peeling fruits and breaking into nutshells. Parrots have more movement in their beaks than most other birds, which makes a more powerful bill. This stronger bill gives the macaws and other parrots an advantage, because not a lot of other animals are able to access such a large variety of nuts

Scarlet Macaws mate for life. They are very caring parents and care for their young until the young ones reach maturity (like humans). During the day, the male and female pairs of macaws are rarely seen apart.

At night, macaws tend to roost in large groups. This is to keep them safe from predators like monkeys, toucans, snakes, and other large mammals.

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With their wide strong wings, macaws can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour. They often fly in pairs or small groups and often call to each other in loud voices.

There's no question that the Scarlet Macaw is one of the most beautiful birds in the rainforest. However it's beauty is also adding to its population decline. For centuries macaws have been kept as pets. They're a very smart bird, however, they are facing troubles throughout the rainforest because of hunting, trapping, and habitat destruction. In fact in 1989, the country of Belize (one of the macaws' habitats) was home to a total of only 24 scarlet macaws.

Many people in Costa Rica are helping to bring back the macaw's habitat and protect them from poachers and pet traders. The governments of every country that macaws live in have passed laws to help protect the birds. However, there is still a lot of work and research we need to do before this bird is saved from the brink of extinction.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:27 PM

Leaf Cutter Ants

Atta sexdens

Leaf cutter ants could be the smallest recyclers on the planet. These little ants serve an extremely useful purpose in the rainforest. Leaf cutter ants cut small holes into the leaves of vascular plants. The ants then pick up these giant pieces of leaf and carry them down into their dens.

Once in the burrows, the chunks of leaves are combined with ant waste to turn the leaves into a compost pile that grows fungus. The fungus provides the topsoil with valuable nutrients for plants.

Leaf cutter ants feed on a range of fresh leaves, fruits, flowers, tubers, and stems of plants. Leaf cutter ants aren't the most thorough critter, though. They show a tendency to move on to a new tree before completely devouring the one they are currently feeding on. Leaf cutter ants travel long distances from the nest in order to find better foliage. The ants move in a single line, devouring everything in the way, often leaving visible trails through the forest floor.

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Leaf cutter ants are actually a good source of protein for humans, and they are eaten in parts of Mexico. It is also claimed that the Indians used the jaws of a leaf-cutter as stitches to hold together the edges of a wound.

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Hard at work. Leaf cutter ants work diligently to strip many of the rainforest's trees of their leaves. Yet, the ants are doing the forest floor a service by providing the forest floor with rich nutrients.

Leaf cutter Ants form organized streams down the trunks of trees, through the forest and into their underground colonies. They all work together and share the whole colony's food supply.

In many areas leaf cutter ant is considered a pest because it damages crops. Often the ants have to compete with humans for vegetation and grazing lands.

The leaf cutter ants' society is one that very complex and well-structured. They have a well ordered and efficient form of society. Each worker does its specific task for the benefit of the whole colony.

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"So, where are we going with these?" Leaf cutter ants carry the pieces of leaf down into their burrows to create nutrient-rich fungus that the ants, soil, and plants all benefit from. They're the world's smallest farmers!

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A Leaf Cutter Colony can strip the tallest of trees in a single day. Equivalent consumption of a full grown cow in the same time!

Posted by dfreeman at 10:23 PM


Potos flavus

Kinkajous are some of the most mis-understood mammal of the tropical rainforest.

The kinkajou is found throughout southern Mexico, Central America, and the Amazon basin. They live high in the forest canopy, nearly 100 feet off the ground.

Because they live so high off the ground and are nocturnal, it takes a very dedicated scientist to try and study the behaviors of a kinkajou.

Even though a kinkajou might resemble a monkey in a lot of ways, it actually belongs to the same family as a racoon and a coati. Kinkajous are only about 26 inches long, or about the size of a housecat.. Its tail is 18 inches long and its body is only 8 inches- that’s less than half! Although the kinkajou is a great climber, it doesn't leap from tree to tree like monkey. It uses its long tail as an extra arm- for swinging and climbing.

Kinkajous are classified as carnivores, though scientists believe that they live entirely on fruit. Their skull structure and teeth are similar to carnivores, but recently scientists have discovered that kinkajous love feeding on nectar, figs, and other fruit.

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The Kinkajou belongs to the racoon family and uses its sharp claws to keep itself firmly in place over 100 feet off the ground.

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The kinkajou is an arboreal mammal, meaning that it lives most of its life high in the trees. Their feet are adapted to climbing trees in the canopy.

Over the years, kinkajou population has been hurt by the pet trade. Because of this critter's cute looks, many people think they would make good pets. But, remember that they are nocturnal animals (so you don't get to play with them that often), they are very loud (like other weasals), and they are extremely messy. One zoologist says, "Up all night, and can't be housebroken." Zoos all over the world are flooded with kinkajous that have been removed from their natural habitat and then abandoned by pet owners.


Posted by dfreeman at 10:18 PM

King Vulture

Sarcorhamphus papa
The King Vulture is truely the king of all vultures. The King Vulture the largest of all the vultures. Vultures can be found in all areas of the world and are some of the best scavengers in the animal kingdom.

King Vultures can be found throughout Latin America from Southern Mexico to Southern Argentina. It prefers the lush, tropical lowlands.

King Vultures have an incredible sense of sight and smell. This allows them to find their food from high in the sky. They will often locate food by the presence of the other vulture species. Once the King Vulture lands, though, the other birds make way for it.

Vultures eat carrion, or dead, decaying flesh. Vultures are not considered predators, because they don't hunt for their food, but rely on natural causes of death to provide them with a meal. Vultures rarely attack living animals, and then only when the animal is disabled or dying of disease or injury.

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The King Vulture's extremely thick and strong bill is well adapted for tearing, and the long, thick claws for holding the meat.
Vultures serve a useful purpose in disposing of dead and decaying animal remains, as well as in cleaning up in areas of poor or non-existent sanitation. This, however, does not make them popular with people.

The vulture's head is bald so that it is easily cleaned when devouring prey.

Their feet are designed for perching, and are not adapted to seizing and killing or holding prey, as are those of the Eagles, Hawks, and Owls. Their bills are smaller, compared to other birds of prey, which make them able to penetrate the carcasses of large animals.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:54 PM


Iguana iguana

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Like other reptiles, iguanas accredit their good looks to the dinosaurs that used to roam the Earth.


There are over 200 species of reptiles found in Costa Rica. Some of the more frequently seen reptiles in Costa Rica is the Green Iguana

Most iguanas live in the rainforests of Central and South America but some come from drier areas and along the coasts. Young iguanas are a very light green and blend in well with their natural habitat. Their tail is striped and this also help them blend in. Older iguanas live high up in the trees. All iguanas are excellent climbers. They are also great swimmers. They hold their legs close to their body and propel through the water using their tail, much the same way as crocodiles and alligators swim.

Iguanas can reach a length of 5-7 feet. Weighing as much as 18 pounds. In the wild, iguanas are expected to live for 10-15 years.

Iguanas are pretty strict herbivores, choosing to eat leaves and plants, though sometimes they'll eat small insects to supplement their protein intake.

Green iguanas have good senses of hearing and smell, and superb vision. Their long tail is also quite sharp, and is snapped in the air as a defense mechanism. The tail can also break off if caught by a predator, but grows back without permanent damage. Green iguana skin is very water resistant, and tough to avoid cuts and scratches.

Like many tropical species, the green iguana is also threatened by habitat destruction. The green iguana is also a victim of the pet industry. Many people in the United States and elsewhere want a green iguana for a pet, so there is a big demand for their capture. Although many pet iguanas are now being raised on iguana farms, capture from the wild has lowered their numbers.

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Many people find that iguanas make good pets. However, like other reptiles, they are not easy to care for, and provide a companionship that only a reptile-lover could stand. They are not aggressive, despite looking like a throw-back to the dinosaur age.

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Iguanas are masters of camouflage, blending into their surroundings is their best form of protection from predators.

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Male green iguanas have a special flap of skin called the dewlap. Male iguanas can raise their dewlap to appear bigger than they really are, either to intimidate predators, or to impressive females. Both male and female green iguanas can store fat under their jaws and in their necks for times when there is not much food available.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:37 PM

Howler Monkeys

Alouatta pigra

Howler Monkeys are some of Costa Rica's loudest inhabitants. It is said that the call of a howler monkey can be heard for 3-4 miles even through the thick tropical forest.

Howlers live in small groups of about 12 individuals. Scientists believe that the dominant male of the group uses his loud voice to keep the group spaced out enough so they don't have to compete for food.

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The Howler Monkey is often heard before being seen. Click here to hear what one sounds like!

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Howler Monkeys are vegetarians, and eat mostly leaves, fruits, and flowers.

A Howler Monkey grows to be about 2 feet in length, not including it's 30-inch tail, making it the largest monkey found in the Americas. Howlers weigh about 15 pounds when they reach adulthood. They have a lifespan of about 20 years.

Male Howler Monkeys are black in color, while the females are brown. The brownish color allows the females to camouflage themselves from predators. The young howler monkeys cling to their mother's stomach for the first few months of their lives and are most vulnerable to predators, like the harpy eagle.

Like other herbivorous monkeys, the Howler Monkey eats mostly leaves, fruit and flowers.

Compared to other monkeys, Howler Monkeys don't travel very much. They prefer to stay within their small communities. This makes them very susceptible to habitat destruction. The Howler Monkey is an endangered species throughout its entire range.

Howler Monkeys are arboreal, meaning that they spend their whole lives in the tree tops. Howlers are also diurnal, meaning they're active during the daytime. However, they spend most of their time in the canopy of the lowland rainforests, making them pretty difficult to spot from the ground.

They are hunted for food by local tribes and also exported as pets (though they make terrible pets, because they are social animals and very loud). They are easily located because of their loud calls.

Some scientists estimate the Howler Monkey could become extinct in our lifetime.

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Howler Monkeys are pretty inactive, covering only 400m in a day and sleeping 15 hours a day. This makes them one of the slowest mammals in the tropical forest, except for sloths.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:36 PM

American Crocodile

Crocodylus acutus

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American crocodiles are well-armored with tough, scaley skin.


American crocodiles have long, slender snouts and live in tropical wetlands. Adult crocodiles are usually 7 to 15 feet long and weigh 150 to 450 pounds.

American crocodiles inhabit areas where fresh and salt waters mix, called brackish water, such as coastal wetlands and canals. These Crocodiles are found in southern Florida, the Caribbean, southern Mexico, and along the Central American coast south to Venezuela.

Adult crocs maintain dens near nest sites, which are burrows dug 3-9 m into creek banks, with the entrance at or below the waterline. This is where the females lay their eggs (usually about 40 at a time) The majority of females build mound nests of soil or sand, but some individuals excavate hole nests. The size of nest mounds increase as the females increase in size.

Crocodiles are endangered throughout most of the world. American Crocodiles also occupy the largest range of any crocodilian. They live throughout southern Florida, along the Caribbean coast of Mexico and Central America.

They are often on the receiving end of bad press, and the American Crocodiles are not as aggressive as some of the Crocodiles found in Africa and Australia.

For centuries Crocodiles have been hunted for their hides. Shoes, hats, and belts are often made from their leathery hides.

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American crocodiles are experts at blending into their surroundings and are rarely seen by people. They eat a variety of crabs, fish, waterfowl, and small mammals.

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American crocodiles can be distinguished from American alligators by their longer, more narrow snouts and by their lower teeth, which are visible even when the crocodile's mouth is closed.

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Like all species of Crocodilians, the American Crocodiles spend most of the day lounging on muddy riverbanks. The Crocodiles generally hunt for their prey during the night.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:08 PM

March 25, 2005

Collared Aracari

Pteroglossus torquatus

The Collared Aracari makes its home year-round in the tropical rainforests of southern Mexico and throughout Central America. The most distinctive physical chararcteristic of the Aracari is its amazing beak. Their beaks, about 4 inces long, are almost a quarter of the bird's entire body.

Their bodies are a rainbow of colors, especially their breasts and beaks. On their breasts, Collared Aracaris have yellow, red and green feathers. They also have red or blue plumage surrounding their eyes.

Aracaris are related to the larger Toucans, but are considered Toucanets. The main difference between aracaris and toucans, besides size, is their tail. The Collared Aracari has a much more sharp and pointed tail than the larger Toucans.

Aracaris are highly sociable and usually found in small flocks. They roost communally in tree holes. Young aracaris may be fed by a group of adults instead of just the parents, which is unusual for birds to do.


Aracaris like to eat the fruits from ficus trees and palms. They are also known to consume large numbers of insects, small reptiles, eggs, and even fledgling birds.

Click to hear a Collared Aracari

Posted by dfreeman at 9:51 PM


Nasua narica


The white-nosed coati is closely related to a raccoon. The average adult male coati is about 3.5 feet long and weighs close to 10 pounds. The male coatis are almost twice the size of females.

Coatis spend most of their time on the ground, but they climb trees as easily as a squirrel. When in trees, their long tail seems to function, as does that of a squirrel, mostly used for balance. They also live in some of Costa Rica's rocky canyons.

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The White-Nosed Coati (or cotamundi) is the Costa Rican version of a raccoon. Raccoons are found in Costa Rica as well, but because cotamundis are diurnal, people have a better chance of seeing them.

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Coatis are reddish in color and spend most of their time looking for food on the ground. They'll eat just about anything they come across.

Unlike their cousins, the raccoon, white-nosed coatis are diurnal, meaning they are active during the daytime, like humans. The coati's long snout helps the coati snuffle around on the forest floor looking for insects, fruit and small animals. Coatis are considered carnivorous by most scientists, though they eat vegetation and carrion as well, which would make them omnivores and scavengers alike.

Except for old males, which tend to travel by themselves, coatis are sociable creatures and travel in packs or troops. They are also very well-adapted to human contact, often breaking into people's garbage cans just like the North American Raccoon.

Even though, coatis are diurnal animals that spend most of their time on the ground, they prefer to sleep in the trees. The trees offer them better protection from predators.

Young coatis are constantly noisy and love to play, chasing one another up and down trees. As is usual among social animals, the coati is very vocal, issuing snorts, grunts, screams, whines, and chatters.

Coatis are found all over North, Central, and South America. In the United States, coatis live in Texas and in southwestern Arizona.

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Unlike most other animals, cotamundis are comfortable sharing their habitat with humans. They often break into people's garbage and cause many of the same problems that raccoons do.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:47 PM


Caiman crocodilus

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Juvenile Caimans are yellow in color with black spots and bands on the body and tail. As they mature, they lose this yellow color and the markings become less distinct. Adults are dull olive-green.


Spectacled caimans are the most common species of the crocodilian family. The Spectacled Caiman is one of the smallest crocodilians, but is the largest of the caiman family. Males generally reach 2-2.5 meters (6-7 feet long), with the largest specimens reported to approach 3 meters. But a caiman that is 9 feet long is very rare. Females are smaller, usually reaching a size of 1.5 meters, and rare individuals may reach 2 meters.

Caiman is a Spanish term for "alligator" or any crocodilian. A spectacled Caiman's common name derives from a bony ridge which is found near the front of the eyes appearing to connect the eyes like a pair of spectacles.

Caimans swim very well, mainly using their tails to propel themselves through the water, and also using their webbed feet.


Caimans are nocturnal, preferring to hunt at night. Young caimans eat a variety of aquatic invertebrates (insects, crustaceans, mollusks). As they grow, various vertebrates take up a greater percentage of the diet. These include fish, amphibians, reptiles and water birds. Older animals are capable of taking larger, mammalian prey. It's been said that an adult caiman can hunt a wild pig or even a tapir. Scientists have discovered that when the caiman's habitat becomes drier, during the dry season, caimans stop feeding. Often, a caiman will eat other caimans under such conditions, this is known as cannibalism.

Unlike the bigger crocodilians, like the American Alligator and Freshwater Crocodile, the Caiman population is quite strong. The skin of Caimans is not ideally suited to tanning, so therefore the caiman is not hunted as much as its larger cousins.

Yet, the caiman is still threatened by habitat loss. They live in freshwater habitats in South and Central America, including the Amazon basin. They prefer still water, but also live in lowland wetlands and rivers. When people move into the caiman's habitat, the caiman does not respond well. Caimans need large ranges to hunt their prey.

The caiman is a a protected species throughout much of the world. There are farms throughout the caimans' habitat that is helping to restore the caiman to their natural habitat.

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Caiman farms, like this one, breed caimans and reintroduce them into the wild. Caimans are also common reptile pets, though the spectacled caiman often grows too large to keep as a pet.

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The largest adult caimans usually get to be 6-7 feet long. They hunt their prey like other crocodilians along muddy river banks.

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Adult caimans eat a variety of foods, sometimes including other caimans. Though, generally a caiman's favorite meal is fish and other reptiles.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:45 PM



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Razor-sharp incisors help this bat to find prey in the rainforest. Bats also employ radar techniques to help them locate their prey and keep from flying into tree trunks.

There are over 260 species of mammals found in the Costa Rican rainforest. 50% of the mammals found in Costa Rica are bats. Bats are the only mammals that can fly, but since they are covered in fur, they cannot be classified as birds.

Bats are widely distributed around the world. In fact the only areas that bats aren't found are in the Arctic and Ataractic regions.

Larger bats eat fish, fruit, small animals, while other drink the nectar of flowers or animal blood.

The fruit-eating bats are the largest type of bats found in Costa Rica. In fact the Jamaican Fruit Bat can have up to a 16-inch wingspan. However, for their size don't weigh very much. Even though the Jamaican Fruit Bat is over a foot in length it weighs less than 2 ounces.


Bats are nocturnal. This means that they sleep during the day and are active during the night. During the day, bats roost hollow trees, under wooded roofs, or deep inside caves.

Some species of bats prefer to roost in communities. Communities of bats range in size from 50- 1 million! These bats are known as social bats. There are some bats, though, that prefer to live and hunt by themselves. These are known as solitary bats.

A common misconception about bats is that they are blind. Different species of bats have different types of eyes that range in complexity. Even though bats' eyes tend to be small, they are very well adapted to seeing at night.

Bats do however use high frequency sounds to help them to see better. The echo that they hear when the sound comes back is called 'echo-location'. When the sound that they send out hits the trees, ground, bushes, animals, insects, and other things around them, it bounces around in all different directions. But, the bats are able to tell the direction or angle that the echo is coming back from. This lets the bat know the direction that things are. Now, since sound travels very fast, the bat is also able to tell how long the sounds take to come back to them. So, now the bat knows where the echoes are coming from and how far away things are.

Another amazing bat species found in Costa Rica is the Fishing Bulldog Bat, which lives in the tropical lowlands near Tortuguero. This bat has an impressive 18-inch wingspan and hunts fish using radar. When fish get too close to the surface of the water, the ripples they cause send a radar signal to the bat. The bat then swoops down to the water's surface and catches the fish in its talons, much like a fish-eating raptor (like an eagle or osprey).

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Bats love hanging around. They are a nocturnal animal, so during the day, a visitor to the rainforest can often find them in their roosts.

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Even though a bat's wingspan can be quite large, bats are mostly made up of skin, making them light enough to be the only mammal to fly.

All three species of vampire bats are found in Costa Rica. Unlike other species of bats, vampire bats are well-suited to move on the ground. They can hop, run, or crawl toward their prey, which usually consists of birds and small mammals, though their favorite meal is cattle. Vampire bats have razor-sharp teeth that make a small cut in their prey. Contrary to popular belief vampire bats do not suck the blood, but rather lick it up. Vampire bats' saliva has anticoagulants (chemicals that keep the blood from clotting or hardening) that allow the blood to flow freely.

Vampire bats rarely kill their prey. Afterall the bats are fairly small, and it would have to drink a lot of blood to drain a cow! However, bats are notorious for spreading rabies and other bat-borne diseases. Bats are immune to rabies.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:42 PM


Anhinga Anhinga

The Black Anhinga is an interesting bird that is 32-36 inches in height (a little bit smaller than a Great Blue Heron). This bird has an impressive wingspan of up to 4 feet and weighs up to 3 lbs. Some of the first physical characteristics you'll notice about the Anihina is its blackish, very long, thin, neck. It has a small snakelike head with long pointed bill which makes it very well suited to fishing.

Anhingas dive under water for prey. They spear their prey with their pointed beak like an arrow. Sometimes an Anhinga's thrust is so powerful that it has to swim to shore and pry the fish off its beak by rubbing it against a rock. They primarily eat fish, but will also eat aquatic insects, crayfish, leeches, shrimp, tadpoles, frog eggs, and even young alligators and water snakes.

Usually Anhingas are found nesting and roosting in trees and bushes in freshwater swamps, lakes, sluggish streams in sheltered and murky waters. The Anhinga, like other aquatic birds, loves vegetation.Although it doesn't eat the vegetation, these birds use it for protection from predators. Near coastal areas, Anhingas can be found around brackish lagoons, and in mangroves.

The female anhingas have a pale brown head, neck, and breast The males are almost completely black. A juvenile Anhinga is brownish in color to help it stay camouflaged from predators.

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An Anhinga needs to dry its wings off before it can fly again.

Anhingas can be found in most areas of the Western Hemisperhe. Most resources credit the Anhinga with living from the Southeastern United States (Florida and the Mississippi River delta) all the way down to Argentina.

Unlike like other birds who spend most of their days in water (like a duck), an Anhinga's feathers are not waterproof. This is a good characteristic, because it allows the Anhinga to dive deeper than birds with waterproof feathers. But, it also has it downfalls. When an Anhinga swoops down into a body of water to capture its food, its feathers quickly become water-logged. When an Anhinga is water-logged, it is unable to fly. Thus the Anhinga must dry itself off by holding its wings outstretched, allowing the sun to dry the feathers before it can take off again.

Posted by dfreeman at 9:37 PM

People of the Rainforest

People of the Rainforest

People with Spanish ancestors who live along the rivers of the rain forest are called riberneros or mestizos. They live in small villages or farms. They speak with Spanish accents and have dark skin and dark hair. They wear clothes much like we wear in the United States in warmer weather. They live a very simple life, usually cooking outside whatever they can find from the forest, grow in a small garden, or trade in the city for.

People who are native to a place (their ancestors haved lived there thousands of years) are called indigenous. In the Amazon rain forest, one group of indigenous people is called the Yagua Indians. They have their own language and customs. They sometimes sell things they made or got from the forest to tourists to make money. The Yagua Indians of Peru are an indigenous group of people that live in the rain forest in the Amazon Basin near Iquitos.

These people live a very simple life making handicrafts such as wood carvings, seed necklaces, simple dolls, flutes, baskets, and miniature blow guns. They exist by fishing, hunting, and living off the land. They do not use a monetary system but rather barter for items such as clothing, towels, and red lipstick. Some of these items they keep for themselves and some of them they use to trade again for other supplies with the people that travel up and down the river.

The native dress of the Yagua Indians consists of skirts of palm fiber. They use blowguns to hunt monkeys and other small animals of the forest. The darts are carried in a quiver made from carefully folded palm leaves. The darts themselves are made of palm-leaf midrib and tuffed with silk cotton. As more and more people come to the forest area the culture of the Yagua Indians seems to be changing. Appointments must be made for groups of tourists to come to the village to trade. When a scheduled visit is arranged the members of the community don their native dress of "grass" skirts. When visitors are not around the Yagua Indians can be seen wearing jeans, shorts, and typical western clothing.

The river is very important to the lives of the people. They use rivers for washing clothes, bathing, fishing for food, and for water for cooking. Since there are no roads in the forest, the rivers are the main ways to get places. Adults and children travel by dugout canoes that are hand-made from special trees. Children as young as 5 years old know how to paddle a canoe.

Children attend schools in villages along the rivers. A typical school you might find in the rain forest is a one-room building where one teacher teaches students in many grades. They are a lot like schools in the United States 100 years ago. Usually the teacher lives in a house near the school, which is painted blue so people can identify it easily. Many times mothers helps the teacher at the school. The government owns all the schools in the Amazon Rain Forest in Peru. Most schools don't have very many supplies for students and teachers to use. Even when schools from the United States raise funds and send books to the rain forest, the very damp air makes the books wrinkle and fall apart pretty quickly.

Posted by dfreeman at 2:15 PM

Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve

Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

At 20,800 sq km, this is the largest of Peru's parks and reserves. Typically, Pacaya-Samiria provides local people with food and a home, and protects ecologically important habitats. In this case 42,000 people live in and around the reserve. Juggling the needs of the human inhabitants while protecting wildlife is the job of 20-30 rangers. Staff also teach inhabitants how to best harvest the natural renewable resources to benefit the local people and to maintain thriving populations of plants and animals.

The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, second largest natural protected area in Peru, covers an area of over 2,000,000 hectares and has an amazing biodiversity and is home to a small number of native communities that live off the Reserve’s resources. It is also the largest protected flood forest in the Amazon region.

Located in the heart of Peru’s amazonian sub-equatorial tropics, it is bounded on the north by the Marañon river and on the south by the Ucayali-Puinahua. The Samiria, Pacaya and Yanayacu-Pucate are the three main river basins within its territory.

The reserve is home of aquatic animals such as Amazon manatees, pink and grey river dolphins, two species of caiman, Giant South American river turtles, and many others. Monkeys and birds are abundant.

The climate of the region is tropical moist with an average temperature of 27º C; highly humid; with an annual rainfall up to 3,000 mm; its surface is mostly flat, with seasonal floods, in a setting of luxuriant vegetation and networks of winding rivers.
The best way to visit the reserve is to go by dugout canoe with a guide from Lagunas or Bretana.

Posted by dfreeman at 1:33 PM

Bot Fly

Bot Flies
Dermatobia hominis

Bot flies (Order Diptera, Family Cuterebridae) are large, stout bodied, hairy flies that resemble bumblebees. The botfly egg is deposited by a mosquito or sometimes by another insect. The larva grows in the host's body until it is fairly large. The botfly larva can easily be killed by taking away its air supply -- by putting vaseline or similar on the skin where the lump is, but then you still have to extract the larva. Adult botflies have nonfunctional mouthparts and do not feed. Larvae of this species parasitize wild and domestic rabbits. Females deposit their eggs in or near the entrance of their host's burrow. Bot fly larvae penetrate their host through the skin or natural body openings after hatching. The larvae form a tumor (called a warble) in the subdermal zones of their host and remain at this location until larval development is complete. Larval development varies among species, ranging from 20 to 60 days. Before pupating, the larvae leave the host's skin and drop to the soil.

Generally, the host is not severely damaged by this parasite. The majority of the injury occurs when the larvae exit the host through the warble. Parasitism by the botfly does not affect the edibility of the rabbit (assuming you eat rabbit), generally the area adjacent to the warble is trimmed away, and the rest of the rabbit is suitable to eat.
Is there such a thing as a human bot fly? Yes, we're sorry to say there is. Called the torsalo, Dermatobia hominis, occurs in Mexico and Central America. Fortunately, getting one is an extremely unlikely occurrence for the average visitor.

One of the really cool things about this insect is that it lays its eggs on a mosquito and the eggs hatch when the mosquito feeds on a host. Do humans get warbles? Yes, (are you disgusted yet)?

While the maggot feeds on its host (you) it has to have a hole in the skin so it can continue to breath. It takes about 6 weeks to complete development on its host. There are stories of entomologists rearing torsalos on themselves in order to get a good specimen of an adult (which are rarely captured), but we regard this as taking your profession a little too far.

Posted by dfreeman at 1:03 PM


Wattled Jacana
Jacana jacana

Also known as the lily trotter, the long legged jacana (zhah suh NAH) can indeed walk accross lily pads and other surfac vegetation in floating meadows without getting its feet wet. Those feet, with long, splayed toes and long nails, distribute the bird's weight so it can even spring over the surface of the water.

Jacanas are also good swimmers and divers, but only so-so fliers. The temporary meadows in high-water season offer a floating feast for these birds, harboring insects, snails, small fishes, and vegetation for the picking. The rest of the year, jacanas wade along rivers, oxbow lakes and irrigation ditches looking for food.

Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium

Posted by dfreeman at 12:09 PM


Colossoma macropomum

The tambaqui (tahm bah KEE) life cycle follows the flow of the floods. The young are born in the river channel and are carried by high water into the floodplain, where they live in floating meadows, eating grass seeds. In low-water season, their nursery is the floodplain lake, where they eat microscopic plants. At 4 or 5 years of age, they move into river channels and spawn at the start of the annual floods.

During the floods, tambaqui use their keen sense of smell as well as their vision to find their favorite fruits and seeds in the forest. They especially love rubber tree seeds, crushing them with their large molarlike teeth. (Tambaqui and a few of their close relatives are the only freshwater fishes with such teeth). Tambaqui feast throughout the floods, then move with the receding waters back to the river channel. After the floods, 10 percent of a tambaqui's weight is fat. The fish live off fat stores and don't eat much until the floods come again.

The tambaqui is one of the most important commercial fish species in the flooded forest. But unsustainable fishing practices have caused populations to plummet. Juveniles - which haven't had a chance to breed yet - are heavily fished in floodplain lakes. Furthermore, drastic environmental changes that people have made to the flooded forest - through logging, clearing for agriculture and ranching, and damming - have in many areas destroyed the habitats essential to the tambaqui's life cycle.

Posted by dfreeman at 11:56 AM

Pygmy Marmoset

Pygmy Marmoset
Callithrix pygmaea

This six inch, 6 ounce creature is the world's smallest monkey. Pygmy marmosets are found only in the western Amazon's flodplain forests, where they keep to the middle and lower canopy levels to avoid birds of prey. During the day they feed on fruits, insects, leaves, and spiders.

Marmosets have also specialized in lapping tree sap. With their long lower incisors, they gnaw holes in the tree trunk to tap the sap, then drink it as it oozes out. They will return repeatedly to a tapped site to feed. They move easily around the tree trunks because, except for the first toe, which has a flat nail, all their digits end in curved claws- a feature unique to marmosets and closely related tamarins. At night pygmy marmosets retreat to tree holes.

Posted by dfreeman at 11:50 AM

Giant River Turtle

Giant River Turtle
Podocnemis expansa

Along with many fishes, giant river turtles invade the forest in high-water season to gorge on fruits, seeds, and insects. Then, as the waters recede, the usually solitary turtles migrate as far as 27 miles along river channels to converge on newly exposed sandy river beaches. They mate in the water, then large numbers of females lumber ashore to dig nests in the sand and lay 80 to 90 round white eggs. The hatchlings emerge about 48 days later, just as the rains come and the river begins to rise.

The giant river turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. Females have an average shell length of 2 feet and typically weight 45 to 55 pounds, although they can reach 100 pounds. Males are much smaller. Historically people have hunted the big turtles for their meat and taken their eggs, either for consumption or for oil. The meat and eggs also sell for high prices in urban areas. Because the females nest in large colonies, they are easy targets for overexploitation. The sombination of killing reproductive females and emptying their nests has decimated turtle populations in some areas, and the river turtles are ranked as an endangered species.

From Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium

Posted by dfreeman at 11:39 AM

Bullet Ant


Bullet Ant
Paraponera clevata

In the Amazon, ants account for more than 30 percents of the biomass, or volume of living material. Inch-long bullet ants- one of the worlds largest ant species - help tip the scales. With their large mandibles, or jaws, bullet ants clamp onto food or foes. They are aggressive hunters, preying on termites and other insects and even attacking wasp nests. They also drink nectar and water. They can carry drops of liquid in those big mandibles.

When provoked, bullet ants emit a warning screech and stand their ground. Their thick exoskeletons protect them from even birds and lizards. But their best defense is a toxic sting that causes a fiery pain (likened to a bullet wound), trembling, nausea, and local temporary paralysis.

From Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium.

Posted by dfreeman at 11:13 AM


Silver Arawana

Osteoglossum bicirrhosum

This muscular fish is locally known as the "water monkey" because it can jump out of the floodwaters to snatch beetles and spiders from nearby tree branches. Adults can propel themselves more than 3 feet - their body length - out of the water, targeting small birds, bats, and frogs. The arawana also nabs insects and spiders that fall into the water.

As it swims at the waters surface, its unique horizontally divided eye structure enables it to simultaneously survey two worlds - above and below water - for prey. Two barbels projecting from its chin may help it sense insects' vibrations in the water.

Posted by dfreeman at 11:08 AM

Goliath Bird-Eater


Goliath Bird-Eater Spider
Theraphosa blondi

Spanning 7 inches with its legs and weighing nearly a quarter-pound, this tarantula is the biggest spider in the world. It hunts big prey (but not larger than itself), including insects, lizards, and frogs. Despite its name, it rarely eats birds. During low water season, the bird-eater lives in a burrow and prowls the forest floor at night. When the rains come, it migrates into the trees. Tree trunks are highways for an assortment of animals travelling up from the water to escape the floods and back down when the waters recede. The tarantula waits in ambush and grabs the food on the move.
Local people roast and eat these spiders, which are high in protein. But they have to be careful when they handle bird-eaters, which can deliver a painful, but nonlethal, venemous bite. The tarantulas als have irritating abdominal hairs that can flick at the eyes and skin of attackers, causing humans to itch and smaller animals to have more serious reacions.

From Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:49 AM

Rubber Tree

Rubber Tree
Havea brasiliensis

Well known from the products made from their milky sap, the rubber trees that dot the floodplain forest provide an important source of food to fishes and other animals during the annual floods. During the daily few hours of hot sunlight in the rainy season, the rubber tree's seed capsules mature and explode, sending the seeds flying into the water. Then, throughout the high-water season, the floating seeds are gobbled up by animals capable of cracking or crushing the hard exterior, including large fishes foraging in the flooded forest, and birds and monkeys, which scoop the seeds out of the water. Black piranhas split the seed shells with their razor sharp teeth to eat the kernel inside. Because they digest the seeds, these animals do not act as dispersers.

Seeds that are not eaten can be carried long distances by the flood-waters. and they germinate when the floods recede. Tambaqui love rubber tree seeds so much that they will tear up seedlings to eat the remainder of the nut. Despite all the predation, rubber trees still are among the most common trees in the floodplain forest.

In the 1870's people began harvesting the sap from these trees to make rubber. This caused the Iquitos area of the Amazon basin to grow from 1500 people to nearly 24,000 within a decade. For the next 30 years, Iquitos was at once an area of great wealth and great poverty. The rubber barons became quite wealthy while the local rubber tappers were quite poor. This boom lasted until people began cultivating rubber trees in the Malay Peninsula.

Posted by dfreeman at 10:44 AM


Golden Dourada
Brachyplatystoma flavicans

The shimmering 6 foot golden dourada catfish is one of the most beautiful fishes in the world. It also has one of the largest ranges of a strictly freshwater fish: two-thirds of the length of the Amazon River. Biologists believe douradas spawn only in the upper Amazon. In a matter of weeks, the young ride the swift current east 2,700 miles to the mouth of the river, where they find abundant shrimp and small fishes to eat. As they grow they migrate west in large schools.

Douradas are one of the Amazon's principle predators, attacking other fishes in river channels. Unlike most catfishes, which are nocturnal bottom feeders, douradas feed day and night and hunt from near the surface to mid-depth in the river. As they grow to adult size, douradas comtinue the upstream migration, even tackling swift rapids, to reach the Amazon's headwaters at the base of the Andes to spawn. This return trip takes two to three years.

Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium

Posted by dfreeman at 10:35 AM


Freshwater Stingray
Potamotrygon species

More than any other fishes - including piranhas - freshwater stingrays are feared by people who live along the Amazon and its tributaries. Stingrays bury themselves in the sand or mud bottoms of river shallows. Anyone who accidently steps on one stands a good chance of being lashed with the sharp, serrated spiine that grows out of the stingray's tail. The spine carries painful venom attacks the nervous system and heart.

These stingrays' nearest relatives live in the Pacific Ocean. Their ancestors were marine stingrays that lived in a seaway that connected with the Amazon River east of the Andes. Some would have been trapped in teh river's estuary as sedimentation closed the connection. Adaptations to a freshwater habitat included a change in the salt concentrations in their bodies.

Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium

Posted by dfreeman at 10:02 AM

March 24, 2005


Arapaima gigas

The arapaima (air uh PYE muh) is one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world, growing up to 10 feet and weighing 330 pounds. An aggressive hunter, it prowls floodplain lakes, gulping fishes and insects. Many fishes have trouble surviving as lakes' temperatures rise and dissolved-oxygen levels fall, but the arapaima thrives because it breathes atmpospheric oxygen through its mouth.

For the arapaima, low-water season is a time of gorging and building fat reserves that will nourish it during the floods, when prey are dispersed through the forest and hard to find. Historically, the arapaima has been hunted throughout its Amazon basin range for its scales and rasoy tongue, which are used for tools, and for its tasty flesh. Due to heavy commercial fishing, arapaimas, especially large ones, have become rare.

From Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium.

Posted by dfreeman at 11:45 PM

Annual Killifish

Annual Killifish
Pterolebias species

Diminutive annual killifish take refuge in small pools and puddles left on the forest floor as the floodwaters recede. They lay their eggs in the wet, muddy leaf litter. As standing water evaporates, the adult killifish are stranded and die, but their eggs survive on the moist floor and hatch months later when the rains come again. The babies mature rapidly during high water, reproduce and die, completing the species' annual cycle within the river's yearly rhythms.

Posted by dfreeman at 11:34 PM

Green Anaconda

Green Anaconda
Eunectes murinus

The green anaconda is the largest snake in South America and one of the world's big three (the other two are Asian and African pythons). Most of the herpetologists, or reptile biologists, consider 26 feet to be the maximum length, but anacondas longer than 15 feet are rare in the wild these days.

If it is not the longest snake species, it is definitely the heaviest. A 26-footer can weigh 400 pounds. This great bulk is put to use catching and subduing prey. Anacondas are constrictors. (They are not venemous). These semi-aquatic snakes lie submerged along stream banks to ambush their prey. When a caiman, peccary, deer, or large bird comes within striking distance, an anaconda lunges, bites, and holds the prey while it throws several coils of its body around the animal. Then the snake constricts, tightening the coils when the prey inhales, quickly suffocating it. Food is swallowed whole. Constrictors do not crush their prey - jagged broken bones would damage their digestive systems.

From Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River. Shedd Aquarium

Posted by dfreeman at 10:57 PM