Saturday, January 30, 2010

Costa Rica Jungle After Dark, January 13, Part 3

The Costa Rica jungle comes awake as the last ray of sunlight lays to rest behind the mountains. The night is so black that you can not see your hand in front of your face. (Note: A flashlight is a must after dark) The animal and insect world wakes the silence of the dark by singing, chirping, and screaming as an invitation to others of their kind to join them.


This small cicada has the ability to make the loudest song in the insect world. To find out why, click on the following link. 

I woke my mom about five times the first night and an average of twice a night to reassure me that everything was fine in our tree house bedroom. The screens covering our windows did keep most creatures out, but did not prevent the loud symphony of nature voices to sing us to sleep. It only took an hour of wind and nature noises as well as objects falling on the tin roof, to realize our investment into earplugs was a good one. There still was the shadow, I thought was a large spider attacking me, as well as the numerous trips to the bathroom that earplugs couldn’t prevent!

bag on head

To make the trip to the shower more exciting, I practiced balancing our bathroom bag on my head.

So what is the big deal about going to the bathroom anyway. Okay, let me tell you and you decide! First, I had to climb down from my loft bed in the dark without killing myself on the steps. Then I had to wake my mom up, since she had in earplugs, I had to shake her leg. After she recovered from the scare, that I wasn’t a large monkey kidnapping her from our tree house bedroom, we would then have to hunt for the flashlight.


Next, I would shake out my boots, remembering the scorpion previously found in someone else's boot, and slide open the big wood door. My mom and I would check out the balcony for creatures with our flashlight before proceeding to the stairs. This giant roach was one of our balcony companions. We slowly descended the stairs checking each step. We had to navigate around the dance studio dodging sleeping dogs and large toads.

large toadcentipede

If this wasn’t excitement enough to wake you up, then we had to evaluate our choices of outdoor stalls, to ensure ourselves there was no unwanted guests. After a few nights of uneventful trips to the outhouses, a wood bee and roach decided to visit me at the same time! So what would you do if a large roach is climbing around your feet, while at the same time a wood bee thinks you have invaded its home. My mom was standing guard on the outside, watching my feet going up and down at the same time I was ducking my head! She was trying to get me out, but I was not ready to leave. So imagine us trying not to laugh, while everyone else, also in open air bedrooms, were sleeping nearby. Surviving this night time experience gave me an appreciation for the convenience of an indoor pest free bathroom a few steps from my own bedroom!

Elizabeth’s Travel Tips: Bring organic soaps, shampoos, deodorant, sun tan lotion, and make up, to be eco friendly.


Click on the photo to enlarge it and see the brands we used. Any of the liquids can be put in 3 oz. container for traveling.

I am waiting on a HD system to arrive so I can convert my HD videos filmed in Costa Rica. Thank you for your patience. I will upload them as soon as it arrives.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Costa Rica Photo Identification Contest

Help “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” identify the following plants, insects, and butterflies she found in Costa Rica on January 13th. The first person to correctly identify the picture with its common & scientific name, will receive credit. If the winner wishes, a link  to their blog or web-site can added under each picture they have correctly identified. Only two  wins per person to allow others the chance to guess . Send your entries to . Have fun!

Photo #1 Achiote (Bixa orellana) It’s nickname is the Lipstick Tree. It was use by the Kayapu in the Amazon to make body paint.

Correctly identified by: Dragonfly Lady



Photo #2

butterfly camoflauged

Photo #3

Photo #3

Photo #4


Photo #5

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Photo #6

Photo #6

Photo #7


Photo #8

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Photo #9 White Peacock butterfly (Anartia jatrophae)  

Correctly identified by: Mindy Lighthipe                      




Photo #10

Photo #10

Photo #11

Photo #11

Photo #12 Morning Glory (Ipomoea acuminata)

Correctly identified by: Gerry Williamson


Photo #12

Monday, January 25, 2010

Costa Rica Tour, January 13, 2010 Part 2


On a very large Passiflora vine, caterpillars of the Scarce Silver-spotted Fambeau (Dione juno) were quickly defoliating the leaves. The hundreds of caterpillars clustered together looked much like hanging fruit. I soon realized the “fruits” were alive when I noticed they were wiggling! The unison of munching caterpillars gave away their identity.

White-striped Skipper

Elizabeth’s Thoughts
The long tails on this skipper could be quite an distraction for a bird! Instead of snapping at the vital abdomen, the bird might tear off the ‘tails’. The skipper can then continue its life missing only its fancy ‘tails’.

This skipper butterfly I saw in Costa Rica has extremely long tails protruding from its wings. This is my first time seeing this particular butterfly species and I am trying to learn its identity. It looks like a White-striped longtail (Chioides catillus). Its flight was rapid and it appeared to skip as it flew. It was particularly interested in some chili spices that had fallen on the ground at the jungle community my mom and I were staying with.

Explorations in the Rain Forest


To prepare for the tour of the surrounding rain forests, everyone first checked their boots for scorpions. One of the lady’s discovered this scorpion in her boots!


The owners of the jungle community my mom and I stayed with, showed us their land that they are reforesting.  It was great to see the planted trees that are restoring the land that was cleared for cattle raising. The native wildlife is beginning to repopulate the land that is being replanted.


Along the path we saw fallen branches with bromeliads still attached. The Bromeliads do not extract nutrients from the plant they grow upon instead they use the strong tree as a support. The extra weight from the bromeliads growing on the branch caused it to eventually fall.


One of the plants I saw growing on the ground is commonly known as the Sensitive Plant (mimosa pudica). It earned this name because of its sensitive leaves which close and droop when touched. I had a lot of fun with this particular plant! The small fluffy flowers attract pollinating insects. The leaves serve as food for the caterpillars of the Barred Yellow butterfly.

IMG_3834 chicken

During the expedition I got to see the community chicken coop.  My new friend Kaileah was brave enough to enter the chicken’s home and show me the brown eggs the chickens had laid. I learned that each chicken lays one egg daily and the brown eggs are healthier than the white eggs. The chicken droppings are recycled as a fertilizer for plants.


I also got to see the pond where the Tilapia fish and ducks reside. In the VerdEnergia jungle community they have learned how to raise their own food sustainably. In the jungles it is important to minimize the impact on the environment so your natural resources do not become scarce.

papaya IMG_3841

Papaya trees and pineapples are common fruits grown in Costa Rica. Papaya fruit is good for digestion. I also learned that Costa Rica is the worlds largest producer of pineapples!


After a journey out in the heat, I got to enjoy the waterfall. Climbing it was an adventure. I did slip a couple of times, but I made it to the top! My boots became full of water after walking through the river. It was my first time climbing a waterfall! I will always remember the experience.

Elizabeth’s Travel Tips: Bring natural herbal bug repellant for your journey through forested areas. Wear long jeans and tuck the pants into your boots to keep out biting critters!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Costa Rica Tour, January 13, 2010 Part I

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Our second day in Costa Rica was when my explorations began. My mom and I began our day at about 5:00 a.m. The chirping birds were our natural alarm clock to start each new day. The balcony of our room overlooked the rain forest and the sounds of a nearby waterfall could be heard. It truly was a tropical paradise.

bananas The community has planted a variety of ornamental and food plants to reforest land destroyed for cattle raising.

The jungle community we were staying with was VerdEnergia Their community has an Adopt a Tree program where they are replanting a diversity of rain forests plants. They are working on the reforestation of land that has been cleared for cattle raising. They purchase most of the plants from local schools. The students plant the seeds and then sell them to the jungle community.  The money then goes toward the education of children in the schools. You can learn more about the program at .


The first plant I inspected in the community garden was a vine that is commonly called a Butterfly Pea. Its beautiful purple flowers soon attracted a couple of Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus) butterflies. I found a couple of eggs laid underneath the tender leaves. The flowers of the Butterfly Pea not only serve as food for the Long-tailed skipper butterflies, but are also used to decorate salads! I was very surprised to learn that the purple flowers are edible and tasty too!


The first eggs I found were laid by a Scarce Silver-spotted Flambeau (Dione juno). The butterfly sat under a Passiflora leaf for several minutes while she carefully released each tiny yellow egg. The eggs were laid in huge clusters.


When the butterfly finally finished its work, it flew off. Underneath the leaf I was honored to observe the eggs she had so diligently labored to lay.


On the same vine was a group of caterpillars that had already hatched. They worked together to consume massive amounts of food! I believe that the passiflora plant they were feeding on was Passiflora edulis. The huge vine has to grow fast to keep up with the gregarious caterpillars. The vine receives colorful  flowers that are attractive to insects and humans. The flowers could inspire any painter or photographer to capture its beauty.

spider on passiflora

I soon discovered that the Dione juno caterpillars were not alone. A hungry spider was armed and ready to attack any stray caterpillar that may walk by.

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For breakfast I experienced a new food called Passion fruit. The outside skin was orange and the inside it was filled with slim coated seeds. I personally think they look more like frog eggs than seeds! Not the most appetizing meal for breakfast. Crunching the slimy seeds and swallowing them was quite an accomplishment.


After breakfast, my mom and I gave soccer shoes to Carlos who has never had the pleasure of owning a pair. The sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face gave me an indescribable joy. It is amazing how much joy a simple gift can bring to Costa Ricans. We also had the opportunity to give away six soccer balls and soccer shoes to five different families. Ticos don’t have the privilege to own sport shoes or balls. The community owned one old ball and played barefooted. There is a 100% tax on all imported goods.


Next, I learned where the community starts their new plants. The seedlings have to be started in small pots and kept under a protective structure before being planted in the garden. Surviving in the jungle is tough for a tiny seedling. The hot sun and plant eating insects would quickly kill a young plant. They need to have a strong root system before being transplanted.

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Growing up the screened greenhouse was a vine with large yellow flowers. It has a special purpose for the community. The pods are collected after they are dry and can be used as sponges! You have to be very resourceful when you live up in the jungles.

zebra striped butterfly

This striped butterfly I saw resting on wood and absorbing the sun’s heat. Its patterns are an amazing master piece!


In the morning we heard the familiar sounds of the Scarlet Macaw. To see two Macaws flying free in the wild was exciting! It breaks my heart when I see them behind bars in pet shops. I was happy to witness two flying high above my head and screeching happily.

This long posting is just what I experienced the first couple hours of the day. It will take several more postings just to finish this one day! I look forward to sharing my adventures and discoveries I made during my Costa Rica tour.

Elizabeth’s Travel Tips: Bring plenty of sun screen, a hat, and sun glasses to protect your self during the dry season of Costa Rica.