Friday, December 30, 2011

La Selva

On 12-28-11, we were up early (early) for the 2 1/2 hour drive northeast, to the La Selva Biological Station, a private reseach reserve (where I had wanted to come take a short class last January, but it overlapped a bit with our CC semester.  Alas) .  We all had on the right shoes (no flip-flops or open toes), divided up into 3 groups, and set off for a walk, first across the 50 foot suspension bridge, where we were warned not to bounce too much. 

Our guide told us about research conducted here--dozens of on-going projects, such as studying the vocalization of bats, which apparently have different dialects, even 100 yards away; continuous air sampling, related to climate change studies; and the odd project of getting the deadly fer-de-lance vipers to swallow microphones...(in one of my traveling writing books, we read about someone 'lightly' bitten by this viper; there was a picture of the ugly flesh-dissolved scar, a year later...).  And botanic researchers can rent 'tents' with a certain percent of light, for decades at a time, to study, say, orchids.
Not far over the bridge, the first of several wild peccaries wandered through.
Our guide told us this is part of an odd human sympathy--because we like the 'big cats' (jaguar, puma, etc.) and focus on their possible extinction, and because they like to hunt peccaries, they don't cull the peccaries here, but now the peccaries strip whole areas of nuts and new shoots. 

Meanwhile, we cross several "ant highways," 3 inch wide streaks in the mud, worn there by the passage of ants.  We spotted some of the leaf-cutter ants busy at work.  They estimate these critters can consume 12% of the foliage in the rainforest.  And there is an incredibly complex process of them cutting dead leaves from plants to get new, healthy growth (to harvest), something with wasp larvae, leaf-fermentation, protecting the colony from fungi...Well, ask one of the biology teachers.

And just a few steps away, we find small red 'poison-dart' frog, which also has a complex relation with forest plants, the tadpoles hatching in bromeliads, the mother adding unfertile eggs to feed them.  This guy thought it might be safe under Todd's foot:

Off into the forest, we walk through the secondary growth (this was once a cattle ranch, between the paved path and the river; experiments are allowed in this section, like planting new species, collections, but only observations in the stretch on the other side).  Our guide (need to figure out how to spell his name!) stabbed one tree with his knife, to show us the quick flow of rubber...
And he picked up the small oval fruit of another tree and lit it--it contains so much of a kerosene-like fluid that it will burn (and only once, he said, actually exploded during his demonstration)...

Well, lots more--like the Pringle-break...
And Allison saying she was waiting for a velociraptor to pop out through the green, Steve expecting a visit from a Predator, and a rescue from an ex-governor of California.

We passed a bomba (?) tree, a relative of balsa, whose root-base was so wide I couldn't get a good photo.  Another tree, one filled with other plants, our guide said that researchers had come to study the insect life, at one time spraying it and catching all in nets below, a 'horror show' of spiders and scorpions raining down, with thousands of other critters, 97% of them new species, which they are still working on, years later.

And on the way back, our guide spotted not one, but two green macaws--and what he had never seen before, the macaws mating.  A positive thing, for this very endangered species.

Other groups saw monkeys, other strange plants, have other stories.  A great place.
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