Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


The Rainmaker preserve

Yesterday’s trip was to a private rainforest preserve called Rainmaker. It was one of the best guided rainforest experiences that I have ever had. We started seeing cool stuff very quickly on the tour. Our guide Saul was very knowledgeable. We found a green and black poison dart frog almost immediately. The trail wound through the bottom of a river canyon. Then we climbed the side of the canyon and walked though the canopy on a series of suspension bridges.

Poison dart frog

The main thing from an insect standpoint that I wanted to see was helicopter damselflies, however I got an even better surprise later in the trip. Helicopter damselflies are the largest member of the dragonfly and damselfly family. They measure up to 7" across, and typically have brightly colored spots at the wing tips. I had mentioned wanting to see them, and Ur-Spo was the person who made the first sighting. I have no pictures from this trip. They are just about impossible to photograph on the wing, and look unexciting when at rest. This photo is from my first Costa Rica adventure in 2004.

Megaloprepus caerulatus, a helicopter damselfly. Sorry, it's the best I could do for a photo.

Our guide was excellent at finding unexpected things. He noticed a hummingbird leaving its nest, and we had the opportunity to peek inside and see the tiny chick. It was about the size of my thumbnail.

Hummingbird chick

We saw a lot of leafcutter ants. These guys cut bits of leaves off of plants and carry them back to their underground nests. Periodically you can see lines of ants carrying bits of leaves like parasols over the forest floor. The ants grind the leaves up, and impregnated with a kind of fungus, which then grows in the decaying leaves. Once they are done with them, the ants carry the used leaves and fungus back up to the surface where they create impressively large middens.

Leafcutter ants dismembering a hedge

Carrying the leaves back to the nest

Leafcutter ant midden

High in the canopy we crossed from tree to tree on suspension bridges. They sway too much for photography- my pictures are all blurry. Here I got the surprise of a lifetime. We had already seen two species of huge bright blue morpho butterflies. In the canopy I saw a third species, Morpho cypris. I have wanted to see one in person since I received a book from my Aunt Fran called Beautiful Butterflies when I was 8 years old. M. cypris in the book can’t hold a candle to the real thing, however. It’s the most iridescent blue butterfly I have ever seen. When it flaps its wings, it looks like a flashing neon sign. I have waited 41 years to see this insect and it was worth the wait.

On a platform high in the canopy. Saul, our guide, to the left of the tree, my friend Michael to the right.

Morpho cypris

As we were leaving, I got to photograph a butterfly that we keep in the exhibit at my museum: Mechanitis polymnia. This one is a female laying eggs. You can see the two white eggs on the leaf just below her abdomen. A fantastic trip, it made even the second crossing of the World’s Scariest Bridge worthwhile.

Mechanitis polymnia laying eggs

On the train for Reno. Actually, on a minibus crossing the World's Scariest Bridge.

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At 13:25, Anonymous Mark H said...

What a rich post. You've just described what I think would be a complete "Fantasy" vacation day so THANKS for sharing that. I'm sure YOU are partly responsible for even knowing about these eco tours....your friends are lucky.

At 21:19, Blogger rodger said...

Too much fun! Well...except for that bridge. That'll give ya' religion.

At 22:53, Blogger Derek said...

wow I've really enjoying all this, thanks for taking us on your wonderful trip. I bet it was the trip of a lifetime, looks that way anyhow!

At 22:59, Blogger lifescolorfulbrushstrokes said...

Doug, you get the best nature photos. If you say poisonous I won't touch it. Why in the world are you holding that damn frog? And crsooing that bridge is just not right on a bus. I would have insisted that the bus driver let me out to cross on my own period!!! I think Rodger's point on the bridge is WELL TAKEN.

At 23:07, Blogger Doug said...

Greetings to all. Everyone was uneasy on the crossing of the bridge. The first time, a tire actually got stuck in some sort of divet in the driving surface. I don't think that anyone wanted to be the first to pipe up with a request to walk over, though we were all thinking it.

The poison dart frog must be handled carefully. Most of the poison is concentrated on the frog's back, and you'll note that the guide is not touching him there. So afar, a wonderful trip. I'm working up more photos from yesterday and today.


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