Today I had the opportunity to give a talk on amphibians and reptiles and explore some forest trails with some very enthusiastic kids ages 4-6 at the Sarapiquí Conservation Learning Center, SCLC (Centro de Aprendizaje para la Conservación en Sarapiquí [CECOS]) and Selva Verde Lodge. The kids got really excited over the Strawberry Poison Frogs, Green and Black Poison Frogs, and (Anole) lizards I brought for show and tell. But of course, all but one kid chanted “EEeeewwww” every time I mentioned the word “culebra” (snake), which I think is very reflective of the general public’s perception of snakes – they are all bad. Hopefully, through activities like these people will grow to be fond of traditionally feared creatures like snakes and what I think are traditionally overlooked creatures (amphibians and reptiles in general) in comparison to groups like birds and mammals.
The enthusiasm of the group of kids was refreshing. Even after the fifteenth poison frog we saw on the trail, the kids still went crazy yelling “rana!” (frog) every time another frog hopped across the trail. The kids, as expected, got excited over the howler monkeys but some also seemed equally excited over all of the different color fungi we spotted along the trail. Maybe there are some budding micologists in the group?
These kids were sharp! During the presentation in the classroom, we played “Quién está cantando?” which was basically just a little game where I played frog calls and gave the kids a selection of pictures of frogs to choose from to guess what species the frog call belonged to. The most commonly heard call around Sarapiquí, Costa Rica, is no doubt the Strawberry Poison Frog (Oophaga pumilio). The males sing and sing and sing, in hopes of attracting females. You can hear and see these things EVEYWHERE in Sarapiquí, forests, pastures, and even my front yard. Interestingly, when I asked the kids if they had seen these frogs before they were a bit wishy washy – “yeah, I have heard people talk about this frog a lot but I have only seen this frog maybe once or twice at some event where someone pointed one out to me” type of response. No one recognized the call at first. But after the game and a little reinforcement along the trail, these kids were picking out the Strawberry Poison Frog call like champs even with all of the other background forest noise going on (insects, birds etc.).
All in all, it was really fun (but exhausting) and only got a little dicey when some of the kids got a little nervous walking on the suspension bridge over the river. At the end of the day, all I hope for is that from this experience, the kids took away a growing love for and curiosity of their natural surroundings. I’ll call it a success.
Looking forward to the next major outreach activity, the 2014 environmental fair at La Selva Biological Station (Feria Ambiental La Selva 2014), November 9th !
When I am not getting stuck in mud, slipping and falling on rocks (I think both of these activities constitute the majority of my time), climbing over or under tree falls, or dropping important things in the water (bye-bye favorite flashlight), stream transects are quite enjoyable!!! Streams have fairly unique assemblages of herpetofauna compared to upland sites and can sometimes feel like a whole different world compared to walking through the forest a mere 10 meters away from a stream (however, I think it is important to mention that there is overlap between forest and riparian assemblages and the connection between riparian and upland habitat can be very important for both the life cycle of species and ecosystem function). One of the perks of stream transects is getting to see glass frogs (family: Centrolenidae). These critters get their common name from their transparent appearance –for example, check out the eggs on that female below!An interesting characteristic of glass frogs is that some species guard their egg clutches (against predation, parasitism, dehydration). The reticulated glass frog, Hyalinobatrachium valerioi, is particularly noteworthy because of the similarity in appearance of the frog to the egg clutch and because the males egg guard not just during the night but also during the day. Up close, the coloration of this frog is mesmerizing, with a pattern of light yellow spots on a lime green background adorned with darker punctuations.
As a consequence of the egg-guarding behavior exhibited by H. valerioi, this nocturnal species can also be spotted during the day. However, they are pretty hard to detect and equally as hard for your camera to focus on! Their coloration and transparency really make it difficult to discern between leaf, spot on leaf, growth on leaf, or frog. Recently, I happened across this pair (below) in the middle of the afternoon, which was a unique find for me. I have seen the male guarding eggs during the day but never a pair. It will be interesting to see what happens when I return to this spot – I expect an egg clutch!
I am spending the first week of my Fulbright Grant in San José, running errands and taking care of necessary paperwork. Although I can’t wait to get out to the forest and see some animals, my stay in Costa Rica’s chaotic capitol is surprisingly pleasant. My first 30 minutes in the taxi ride pretty much sum up the major sentiment I have about San José –the traffic is scary but the people are not. There was nothing particularly notable about my cab ride from the airport to the hostel in San José. The Tico taxi driver and I chat about Costa Rica, his family, my planned research, and we both take great pleasure and erupt in deep laughter imitating the Spanish spoken in many different countries, which can vary substantially in vocabulary and accent, leading to many silly misunderstandings, confused faces, and frustrated gringos who learned “one kind of Spanish” at University. However, in the midst of this every-day conversation, I realize what a perfect fit it was for me to come to Costa Rica for my dissertation research and for my Fulbright grant. The people make me feel at home. I chat and laugh with this cab driver with the kind of comfort that I would with someone that I have known for years and this makes me happy. Here’s to an exciting journey in Tico-landia.