Webs of Gold in the Costa Rica Rainforest

February 24th, 2014

The morning sun filtering through the rainforest foliage at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in Costa Rica shimmers gold as the light catches the strands of the complex web woven by a golden orb spider.

I’m generally not a big fan of spiders, like most people, but the golden orb is fascinating. These large spiders weave enormous pigmented webs, adjusted in color for camouflage, with protecting chemicals, and such incredible strength and elasticity that bioengineers and other scientists are studying ways to mass-produce their silk.

The golden silk orb-weavers (genus Nephila) are noted for the impressive webs they weave, and are also called giant wood spiders or banana spiders, according to Wikipedia. Their name refers to the color of their web silk, although the female spiders do have gold spots on their large bodies and black and yellow striped legs, which are specialized for weaving.

The spiders are widespread in warmer regions around the world – the Americas, Australia, Africa, India and Southeast Asia. They are the oldest surviving genus of spiders, with a fossilized specimen dating to 165 million years ago. You can find golden orb spiders hanging out in their shimmering webs everywhere around Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge and along the trails.

Threads of their webs shine like gold in sunlight. Studies suggest that the silk’s color may serve a dual purpose: sunlit webs ensnare bees and other insects that are attracted to the bright yellow strands, and in the shade, the yellow color blends in with background foliage to act as camouflage. Golden orb spiders can adjust the web’s pigment intensity relative to background light and color. They also secrete a chemical – pyrrolidine alkaloid – on the strands that protects the web from ants.

The fine-meshed spiral webs are gigantic: they can span 20 feet tall (6m) and 6.5 feet wide (2m). When you look at a web, you can’t help noticing the female spider since she is huge; golden orb females reach sizes of 4.8–5.1 cm (1.5–2 in) not including leg span. Those little spiders on the web are the males, being usually 2/3 smaller (less than 2.5 cm, 1 in).

If you should doubt the strength and elasticity of a golden orb weaver web, walk into one. You’ll find it is not easy to remove. When walking the trails at Nicuesa Lodge, I always watch out for golden orb webs – they are beautiful to admire, and you want to avoid being covered in the sticky silk. While the spiders rarely bite humans, their venom is potent with a neurotoxin effect, though not lethal to humans.

During your visit to the unique Costa Rica eco lodge at Playa Nicuesa, be sure to look out for these amazing eight-legged wonders. Capturing the morning or afternoon sunlight on their webs produces beautiful photos.

Article by Shannon Farley

Top U.S. scientists to be guest lecturers at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge

February 6th, 2014

Dr. Howard Topoff and Dr. Carol SimonDrs. Howard Topoff and Carol Simon – both professors emeriti of The City University of New York and Research Associates at the American Museum of Natural History – will be guest lecturers for the week of March 1-7, 2014, at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, a member of Enchanting Hotels & Resorts Costa Rica.

Immersed in the dense tropical rainforest bordering the Piedras Blancas National Park in southern Costa Rica, Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge is a unique Costa Rica eco lodge. The remote wilderness retreat is located on a 165-acre private preserve; the only way to get there is by boat across the pristine waters of the Golfo Dulce from either the towns of Golfito or Puerto Jimenez.

Golfo Dulce and Playa Nicuesa, Costa RicaThe area is part of an immense biological corridor extending from the world-famous Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula to the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve and the Piedras Blancas National Park, down into Panama. The inner sea of Golfo Dulce, known as a tropical fjord, is a critical habitat for migrating Pacific Humpback Whales, and resident and migratory communities of dolphins – Bottlenose, Spotted and Spinner – and sea turtles.

For the past 30 years, Drs. Topoff and Simon have been study trip leaders for The Smithsonian Institute, The American Museum of Natural History, Naturalist Journeys, Elderhostel, and several cruise lines. The husband-and-wife team’s specialty is animal behavior, tropical ecology and evolutionary biology. Their educational programs and entertaining multimedia presentations are highly popular.

Army ants in Costa RicaDr. Topoff has spent nearly 50 years researching the social behavior of animals, notably on army ants and slave-making ants, conducting his field research in Central and South America, Africa, and in the deserts and mountains of Arizona, USA. In addition to his publications in scientific journals, his more popular articles have appeared in magazines such as Scientific American, Natural History and National Geographic. Dr. Simon specializes in ecology, behavior and evolution, principally researching the social behavior of reptiles in North and Central America.

Nicuesa Lodge rainforestAt Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in March, the scientific researchers will give daily multimedia presentations focusing on the natural history of Costa Rica:

  • Introduction to Rainforest Animals & Plants
  • Social Behavior of Monkeys of Central and South America
  • Social Insects of the World
  • The Evolution of Animal Coloration
  • Poisonous Reptiles and Amphibians of the Rainforest
  • The Evolution of Animal Communication
  • Courtship and Mating Strategies of Animals

For more information and reservations, contact Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge. The award-winning eco-lodge offers ecotourism, nature and adventure vacations, family holidays, honeymoon trips, and yoga classes and retreats.

Article by Shannon Farley

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5 Strange and exotic animals you don’t want to miss in Costa Rica

January 27th, 2014

Sandwiched between North and South America and two oceans, Costa Rica is an amazing bridge of biodiversity bursting with natural wonders. For such a small country, it is home to more than 500,000 species; 250 of which are mammals.

Costa Rica’s south Pacific region of Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf) is one of the most intense zones for plants and animals. Surrounded by the Corcovado National Park, Piedras Blancas National Park, and Golfito Wildlife National Refuge, Golfo Dulce is wild jungle at its best.

Here are five strange and exotic mammals you don’t want to miss seeing at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge on Golfo Dulce:

1. The Central American Agouti is a large rodent, kind of like a hamster on steroids, which feeds mainly on fruits and seeds. You can see them roaming the forest foraging during the day. Agoutis have a keen nose and sharp hearing, and make a high pitched noise when frightened.

2. The Tayra, known as a “tolomuco” in Costa Rica, is in the weasel family. Most tayras have either dark brown or black fur with a lighter patch on its chest. Tayras eat mainly rodents, but also fruits, honey, reptiles and birds. They live in hollow trees, underground burrows or nests in tall grass.

3. Also called a coatimundi, the White-nosed Coati is a long-nosed brother of the raccoon. They are omnivores, preferring small vertebrates, insects, eggs, and fruits like bananas and papayas. They can climb trees easily and use their tail for balance, but usually they are on the ground.

4. Sloths are known for being incredibly slow; sloths sleep 16 to 18 hours a day and live high in the tree canopy, coming down only once a week or so to relieve body waste. Although slow in the trees and walking, they are actually strong swimmers. They eat mostly buds, tender shoots and leaves, mainly of Cecropia trees. You can see both the Three-toed sloth and the Two-toed sloth at Playa Nicuesa.

5. The Northern Tamandua is a medium-sized anteater with a prehensile tail that can latch onto tree trunks and branches. Its fur is pale yellow over most of the body, with a distinctive “vest” of black fur. Living mostly in the trees, its tongue is long and covered in sticky saliva able to pick up ants and termites – these animals might eat up to 9,000 insects in one day. Northern Tamanduas are mainly nocturnal.

See these animals and much more at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge on their 165-acre private reserve bordering the Piedras Blancas National Park at Golfo Dulce. The eco-lodge is a great place for travelers interested in ecotourism, nature and adventure. For the best wildlife viewing, go on a guided hike on the lodge’s trails in the early morning or just before sunset.

Article by Shannon Farley

Two top scientists in Nicuesa Lodge

January 21st, 2014

March 1-7: Drs. Howard Topoff and Carol Simon

Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge is excited to host Drs. Howard Topoff and Carol Simon – both formerly professors at the City University of New York and Research Associates at the American Museum of Natural History – during the first week of March. These two research scientists and study leaders of natural history will offer daily multimedia presentations focusing on the Natural History of Costa Rica – including the following topics:

Introduction to Rain Forest Animals & Plants

Social Behavior of Monkeys of Central and South America

Social Insects of the World

The Evolution of Animal Coloration

Poisonous Reptiles and Amphibians of the Rain Forest

The Evolution of Animal Communication

Courtship and Mating Strategies of Animals

Howard Topoff has spent 40+ years researching the social behavior of animals. His field research has been conducted in Central and South America, Africa, and in the deserts and mountains of Arizona. In addition to his publications in scientific journals, his more popular articles have appeared in magazines such as Scientific American and Natural History. His research has been featured on National Geographic Television, and Scientific American Frontiers.

Carol Simon is broadly trained in ecology, behavior and evolution. Her research on the social behavior of reptiles has taken her to many areas of North and Central America. Her current field research on reptile behavior is based in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.

See Scarlet Macaws on a Nicuesa Lodge rainforest adventure.

January 13th, 2014

As far as beautiful tropical birds go, Scarlet Macaws are the kings and queens. There is nothing quite like the flash of brilliant red, blue and yellow of wild Scarlet Macaws flying overhead or their loud raucous squawk to let you know you are in the jungle.

An endangered species, Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) live in tropical forests from Mexico to South America. In Costa Rica, they live in dry, moist, and wet tropical lowland forests along the Pacific Coast where large mature trees provide nesting holes and food of nuts, fruits and flowers. Macaws especially like Costa Rica’s coastal almond trees.

Their distinctive noisy cry carries for miles, so you usually hear them before you see them. When you do sight a Scarlet Macaw in the wild, they are a breathtaking rainbow of colors – fire engine red bodies with sunshine yellow and royal blue wing feathers tinged with a bit of green, and a distinct stark white patch around both eyes. Unfortunately, the birds’ striking colors makes them a favorite on the world illegal pet market, tagging prices of up to several thousands of dollars. Poaching and loss of habitat from deforestation are the main factors for the Macaws’ declining numbers, according to the ARA Project.

The non-profit ARA Project operates a breeding and wilderness release program for the Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) and the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) in Costa Rica. Over the past 13 years, the ARA Project has freed 70 Scarlet Macaws in their Tiskita release site on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. “These macaws have survival rates of about 85% and have successfully reproduced in the wild,” said Project co-director Chris Castles. “There are over 100 macaws there now including the babies born in the wild.”

Macaws can live to be over 60 years old and mate for life. There are an estimated 1,500 Scarlet Macaws living in Costa Rica. You can see them along the Central Pacific Coast from the Carara National Park to Manuel Antonio, and throughout the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce region in the South Pacific.

At Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge on the Golfo Dulce, Scarlet Macaws like to hang out in the almond trees by the beach, munching on the tasty almond fruit. Including the Macaws, at Nicuesa you can see more than 250 species of birds. Nicuesa Lodge is actively involved in wildlife conservation and protects 165 acres of rainforest in a private reserve bordering the Piedras Blancas National Park. The area is a biological corridor connecting to the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park to the west and Panama to the south.

Nicuesa eco-lodge is a great place for travelers interested in ecotourism, nature and adventure. We offer guided birding walks and hiking in the rainforest, among other adventure tours.

Article by Shannon Farley