Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Night walk in the mangrove forest

Going for a night walk in the mangrove forest at Drake Bay, we saw a different world. Gustavo, the guide, provided rubber boots and flashlights, and he instructed us to shine our lights around looking for the reflections of eyes. Almost immediately we found the first of many bullfrogs. As big as two fists held together, the bullfrog sat absolutely still, convinced we couldn't see it, though Gustav warned us that if we tried to grab it, it would cry loudly with the sound of a baby crocodile, perhaps in one last hope of scaring off a predator that might fear the mother crocodile was on her way.

Next we saw a tree ear fungus that appeared to be steaming in the darkness. Instead, Gustav told us, it was releasing spores.

So many animals appear to use freezing absolutely still as a defense at night that we were able to get very close to many, including the Jesus Christ lizard, or basilisk, which runs upright across water. We also came very close to a pretty yellow and white bird, a flycatcher. We saw a caiman across the water, and we picked up baby shrimp and even flounder hiding in the sand beneath the brackish swamp water.

We saw spiders - wolf spiders, jumping spiders, and very poisonous Bolivian wandering spiders, which cause necrosis where they bite. Then Gustav went in pursuit of the red-eyed tree frog, which more than anything seems to symbolize Costa Rica. He called to one high in the trees, and after sloshing through the mud he found one too high for us to see well. Using a long stick, he coaxed it off its branch and brought it down for us to see. It's a gracile frog with a white belly and bright green back, and its eyes are truly red.

Around that time I slipped and fell flat in the mud, which was only a little humiliating. We sloshed on. Our last new creature of the night was a marine toad, known as a cane toad in Cuba. It exudes poison from glands in back of its head, so predators don't do that well on it, and although it's a national hero in Cuba for eating the cane beetle, in Australia it has become an invasive nuisance.

We wrapped up our night walk looking through Gustav's telescope at Jupiter and five of its moons.We had probably walked only about a quarter of a mile in all, but all at once the jungle around us had come alive with a whole new layer of secretive fauna.

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